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Schönbrunn Palace - Vienna
Visiting Schönbrunn Palace
Of all the wonderful places in Vienna, Schöbrunn Palace and its grounds are my favorite. That's why we ended up there at least three times during our trip.
After spending most of our day first day on Vienna in Innere Stadt, we went back to the apartment. After dinner, since it was still daylight outside, we decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.
We knew we were very close to Schöbrunn Palace, and since it was going to be our destination for the next day, we decided to walk in that direction so we would know exactly where to go. Maybe we just wanted to get a glimpse of it.
Starting off in the right direction, we walked through a large, nice park. Going through it, we found a beautiful building, but it was another museum. Feeling lost, though very close to our destination, we turned around, though not before we looked at our phone GPS once more. It wasn't the first time it got us lost. It was telling us that we were there.
As it turned out, we almost were. We just had to cross the street, the six lanes, separated by the train in the middle. We couldn't see the other side. Once we crossed though, we noticed the huge building and the gates, that were still open. Without thinking too much about it, we entered. The site was amazing, the building was absolutely huge!
Built as a summer residence for the Habsburgs, the palace is much nicer than the Hofsburg in town, surrounded by miles of manicured gardens, statues of Roman gods and goddesses, numerous fountains, a maze, and the world's very first zoo.
As the palace was closed at the time, we went around it into the gardens.
In the Gardens - Schlosspark
We walked behind the palace, where the gardens were. It was so much more extensive than I have imagined! After a few steps on the main, wide trail, I decided to walk through a narrow path inside the hedge, under tall bushes that you couldn't see out of.
Walking on one of these paths, surrounded by a tall hedge, beautiful fox walked out of the bushes in front of me. I followed it, leading me out, back into the open area of the flower garden. The fox stopped in the middle of the flower beds, turned around and looked at me, then slowly got back to just wandering through the flowers.
Around the open flower garden the wide main trail is filled on the sides by statues of Roman Gods and Goddesses. There are a few benches along this trail to sit and relax in their shadows. It all leads to the fountain of Neptune, then further up, to the top of the hill, where the Gloriette stands, overlooking the garden and the palace, as well as the city below.
Behind the fountain the trail on both sides of it was going up the hill to the Gloriette, the monument erected by the Habsburgs to commemorate their victory over Prussians in the Battle of Kolin, in 1757. The view from the top was breathtaking, especially this late at night, at sunset. We spent some time there, just enjoying the cool weather, the green around us and the view below.
Locked in Schlosspark
By the time we got off the hill, it was getting dark. However, we were still taking our time, walking through side paths, watching people jog through the garden.
Then we started our way back. When we got to the gate that lead from the Palace to the garden, we found it locked. I have a history of getting locked in different museums, starting with my college years, when my brother and I were locked in an Art Museum (but that's another story), so I just thought it was funny, in a "here we go again" kind of way.
We weren't the only ones though. A younger couple, as well as a young man were also heading to the same gate. The young man looked at it and simply said, "oh, well they already locked it", then tried to unlock it. He realized that it was indeed truly locked, with a key, not just the gate lock.
Cursing once, he said, "We'll just have to jump it." We all did, without a problem, but then I realized that the bigger gate would be a problem, since it was much taller, but mostly because it was right on a major road. We didn't think it would be wise to show up jumping over a gate through the palace late at night. The young man who seemed to know what he was doing, said that they don't lock the main gate, but if they do, we can always just follow him. We did follow him, though we weren't quite sure where he was going.
Suddenly he disappeared behind a door. Well, that's that, we thought. We had an idea that the gardens also open up to another street, after all, how else would joggers be in the park at that hour. However, our young friend reappeared with a key, and asked us to just walk with him. Following him, we entered the palace!
No, we didn't really go through the Royal rooms, open for visitors, much to my disappointment. Instead of walking up the stirs from the main hall, we turned right. here, we were in a hallway, a long corridor, with doors on either side. When I asked why the rooms were numbered, our "guide" told us that they were apartments. "For people who work here?", I asked. No, he said, for just normal people who want to rent here. He assured me that he wasn't joking, part of the palace is an apartment complex. It is extremely high rent, but possible to live there. Can you imagine having your address as the Schönbrunn Palace, apartment 321?
Anyway, our new friend was working at the palace, so we were extremely lucky to meet him and have him give us a free "tour" of the palace, at least the non-tourist part of it. He lead us out at the end of the building, into the street, closer to our apartment than we've been before. We thanked him for his help and went on our way.
Visiting Schlosspark During Regular Daytime Hours
The next morning we went back to the palace. Though we decided not to take the palace tour inside, leaving it for another day, we walked through the park again, going through all of the paths that we have not explored the previous night.
During daytime hours, the fountains were filled with water, flowing, looking like the real fountains they truly were. There is a walkway to a cave inside the Neptune fountain, where you can see through a waterfall, something our kids decided to try.
The Neptune Fountain is just one of the fountains in the garden, though it is the most impressive and best known. Farther down we ran across several others, just as impressive, if not quite as grand.
The Tiergarten, the Oldest Zoo in the World
My youngest daughter really wanted to spend time around animals, so I took her to visit the zoo, the Tiergarten. Established as the Royal Menagerie by Franz Stephan in 1752, it is the oldest zoo in the world.
We spent a few hours in the zoo, visiting a bat cave, a tropical garden, a penguin and a polar bear habitat, a house of monkeys, and among other things, the big cat exhibit, with lions, tigers, cheetahs and jaguars.
Though it seems small, the zoo is large enough that we got lost in it. It has several entrances, and winding path inside in between. Out of the three entrances only one was open at the time, and it was hard for us to make our way back to the same one we entered, through the winding paths, and numerous exhibits.
Since we didn't have time to visit the inside, we made it a point to return the same way and stop in Vienna once more on our way back.
This time we started with the visit of the castle. We took the Imperial Tour, which took us through twenty of the royal rooms. That was enough, especially considering that we have seen the most important ones.
We walked through the living quarters of Sisi, Empress Elizabeth, and some of those of Emperor Franz Joseph, as well as others that date from a century earlier, from the time of Maria Theresa. One of those holds the portraits of all of her children, quite many of them. She had sixteen children, nine of who survived to adulthood. I can't imagine anyone having so many.
We walked through Mirror Hall, the room where Mozart gave his very first concert at the age of seven, in 1762, in the presence of Empress Maria Teresa.
The most spectacular room is without a doubt, the Great Gallery. A huge hall, the room's walls are heavily decorated with stucco, and on the ceiling there are three frescoes by Guglielmo Guglielmi. The hall is not only spectacular, but with a significant historical background. It was used for banquets during the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It was also the place where the historic meeting between J.F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev took place in 1961.