It’s not every Saturday that I enjoy High Tea at the America Grand Hotel with anyone, let alone dear friends with whom I tramped the streets of Vienna! The occasion sort of commemorated the 10th anniversary of our Austrian adventure. Mingling memories with hot chocolate, scones, and tiny sandwiches was the perfect way to rehearse the details of our trip to that beautiful city.
I’ve always associated sipping cocoa on a wintry day with my childhood, but now I also travel back to the Vienna Woods and Hermes Villa on a January day in 1999. Emperor Franz Josef presented the villa to his wife Elizabeth (Sisi) as a gift, a “Castle of Dreams,” with the hopes of keeping her home in Austria. You see, poor Sisi suffered from “wanderlust.”
While we might define this condition as a “love of travel,” the emporess’ state exemplified the dictionary definition: “a STRONG, INNATE DESIRE to rove or travel about.” If Sisi wasn’t on the road, she suffered tremendously from physical ailments and mental depression; but time spent in Greece, Hungary, or Great Britain restored her health and sense of well-being for a time.
As magical as Hermes Villa seems, however, the Castle of Dreams failed to captivate Sisi. Not even bedroom walls painted with scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream enchanted her royal highness. The romantic mansion, located on a former game preserve on the outskirts of Vienna, was not far enough away for Elizabeth’s escape from the pressures of the royal court and the prying eyes of a controlling mother-in-law.
That day, hoarfrost-covered trees lined the paths that meandered through the Vienna Woods leading to the villa, adding a visual chill to the frozen air. The cold beauty and the overcast skies introduced us to the melancholy that haunted the grounds and the rooms of the mansion. Sisi’s displayed dresses, combs, brushes, jewelry, and other personal effects only added to the emptiness of a sad life and a broken marriage.
Drinking hot chocolate in the Hermes Villa café, my friends and I talked of the Empress at length. For whatever reason, we felt more of a closeness to her that day in that place than we did at any of her other castles. It was there that we realized Sisi could NEVER have satisfied her search for happiness because she knew what she wanted to escape, but she didn’t know what she sought.
Nevertheless, the people of Austria and Hungary loved the empress, and they still do. In spite of Sisi’s idiosyncracies, they admire her beauty, her athleticism, her intelligence. She was passionate and compassionate. Many compare her to Princess Diana of Great Britain, and there exists a few interesting similarities, including tragic deaths.
Empress Elizabeth brought us all to Vienna once upon a January, and so it’s only fitting that we bring her to Salt Lake City once in awhile to join us for hot chocolate and warm friendship.