Tuesday 25 September 2018

Gödöllő Palace: Sisi’s favourite lodgings

I'm delighted to welcome Julia Meister to the salon once more, as your guide to Gödöllő Palace, the favourite billet of Sisi!


For anyone as obsessed with the Habsburgs and Empress Elisabeth of Austria – the famous Sisi! – as I am, it is almost a duty to have visited Gödöllő Palace at least once in a lifetime. The trouble is that, once you’ve been there, you will most likely want to visit the Palace again and again. It’s that special! 

A memorial to Sisi
The lovely town of Gödöllő is only a short train ride away from Budapest, Hungary’s magnificent capital. I strongly recommend a visit to Gödöllő if you happen to be in Budapest – if you can manage to drag yourself away from all the Sisi-related sights (Buda Castle with its imperial splendour, the Gerbeaud café, where Sisi used to devour hot chocolate…), that is! Just tell yourself that Sisi would have done the same: She simply loved to escape to Gödöllő Palace. In fact, she stayed there for a total of 2000 days over the span of her life, which obviously created quite a stir in Vienna. The Empress did not enjoy staying at the Hofburg and Schönbrunn Palace at all, and that is putting it mildly! 

Sisi was not only the Queen of Hungary, but also a Hungarian at heart. She loved their way of life, their fierce pride of their home country, their language, and, maybe most importantly, their passion for horse riding. To me, Gödöllő Palace, out of all the Habsburg palaces, is the place which captures Sisi’s spirit the most; you can almost still feel her presence there. 

So just hop onto an HÉV train (line H8) at Örs vezér tere (you can reach this station via metro line 2; the fares are very cheap, which is always a bonus), and enjoy the relaxing ride to Gödöllő in a lovely train that has a very nostalgic feel to it (the trains were actually built 40 years ago in Berlin!). The landscape along the way doesn’t hurt, either! 

Then, by all means, get out at Gödöllő, Erzsébet park, so that, before reaching the Palace, you can visit the Empress herself in her own special park, which can be found on the left hand side of the train station. Just walk straight through the alley of lush, green trees – and by then, you will have already spotted her: Sisi, umbrella in hand, pleased to meet you! Certainly the perfect photo opportunity for every devoted fan. The statue is, in my opinion, one of the best ones of the Empress ever made. Although we don’t really know what she looked in high definition, and given her daughter Marie Valerie’s mention that there has never been a picture that truly does Sisi justice, in my head, that statue almost one hundred percent visualises what I think she looked like (confusing, I know!). Moving on straight ahead, there are yet more Elisabeth memorials to be discovered: Yes, the Hungarians really still do love and cherish her as much as she did them! 
The castle entrance

Now it’s time to visit the actual Palace. If you go back to the main road and walk in the direction of the train you’ve just been on, you will get to Gödöllő Palace in no time. You will fall in love with it the minute you see it: It’s the biggest Baroque palace in Hungary, and, with its bright pink and blue paint, looks very much like it has just been transported to Earth from a fairytale. Tickets can be bought at the ticket shop in the vast entrance hall (the staff is always very friendly and helpful; I can only imagine how much they must love working there!). 

From the minute you step into the actual rooms of the Palace, given that it is not too crowded with other tourists, you almost forget that you needed to buy tickets at all: It feels like you are visiting it as a friend of Sisi’s, or shall I say Erzsebet’s? While still being grand and worthy of an Empress, the Palace also feels cosy and homely. You can really imagine Sisi sitting down for tea, conversing with court lady Ida Ferenczy, and with little Marie Valerie, ‘the Hungarian child’, running around. The rooms are all furnished with bright colours, with Sisi’s rooms being dominated by the colour violet, her favourite one. There are numerous pictures and paintings of the Empress herself to be discovered (the Palace features a Memorial Exhibition), but also of her family, her spouse Franz Joseph, her children, her court ladies, and, of course, her horses! 

One particular painting to watch out for is that of the Hungarian Coronation, which took place in 1867 and will, in fact, be commemorated in Budapest in 2017. The painting is of an enormous size, and its grandeur and how it perfectly captures that moment in Hungarian history still take my breath away every time I see it in person (I have been lucky enough to have visited the Palace twice already, but I don’t think I will ever tire of this painting!). 
In 1751, when Gödöllő Palace still belonged to its original owner, Count Antal Grassalkovich, Empress Maria Theresia stayed at the Palace for a very short time. Grassalkovich had a succession of rooms furnished to meet Maria Theresia’s needs. Today, a section of these rooms is still dedicated to the memory of Maria Theresia, with a huge painting of hers. Standing in front of it, I have to admit it gave me goose bumps: To think that this forward-thinking, remarkable lady had once stayed right here, and that I’m standing where she once might have stood! 

A proper statue of Maria Theresia can actually be found in the grounds of the Palace Gardens. If the weather is decent, I’d highly recommend for you to take a stroll through the gardens. Sisi, Franz Joseph and her children used to lead an almost bourgeois existence here, without the inhibitions of the strict etiquette of the Viennese court. In Gödöllő, they could enjoy a life of leisure with their children and – always an important point for Sisi! – their animals, too! Sisi loved large dogs, and you can imagine how much these dogs enjoyed the freedom the gardens of Gödöllő Palace brought. And so did Sisi, who has often been called the best horsewoman of her time; the gardens of Gödöllő Palace and the surrounding woods were perfect for horse riding. She often invited fellow horsemen to Gödöllő Palace, so they could all go on hunts together. Sisi also honed her dressage riding skills in the riding hall of the Palace.

I’d love to hear from any readers who have been to Gödöllő and have fallen in love with the Palace, too! Please share your memories and anecdotes of the Palace in the comment section. Köszönöm, barátaim!

Julia Meister is an 18th/19th Century enthusiast, and is especially interested in the social history of women. She has a vast knowledge of royal mistresses and is fascinated by their political power. Whilst she loves British and French history, her main passion is the Habsburg Empire: When on holiday, she can most likely be found visiting a castle within the realms of the former Austro-Hungarian region that has once been inhabited by Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Buda Castle, Gödöllő Palace and Vienna’s Hofburg are among her favourites). In 2016, Julia wrote and recorded the texts for Marienfließ Convent’s audioguide – the first female Cistercian convent in the Brandenburg area of Germany, founded in 1231. She is currently seeking new ways of indulging her passion for history and writing.


Demetrius said...

In her visits to England and Ireland she was an admired rider of horses, notably in the hunts. In fact she was "out" with the major hunts of The Shires and with "Bay" Middleton as her pilot,a leading "sporting" figure of his time when it was field sports that took the headlines. I read somewhere she also shot with the Prince of Wales, a leader in that at the time. Assuming she went to the parties and dinners that followed these occasions, she would have had a very lively social life.

David Neilson said...

Really interested to read about this, since I tend to follow the Habsburg trail but have never managed to see Gödöllő. My image of Sisi is coloured, as I’m sure most people’s is, by the films with Romy Schneider (“Aber ich *will* nicht Kaiserin von Österreich werden!":) ) but on the plus, serious, side of the account, only this morning I recommended a visit to the Achilleon to someone who’s on Corfu at the moment. Brigitte Hamann has a lot to say about Sisi’s prowess on horseback, confirming everything here, and of course the Hungarian connection was as powerful as you say: one still sees Hungarian flowers laid on her tomb in the Kapuzinergruft. My own novels, the Sophie Rathenau series, are set in Maria Theresia’s time, but I'm convinced that finding out about this extraordinary, actually rather strange, woman was a major impetus for me.