Our final day of the trip together in Vienna dawned and after yesterday’s less than successful shenanigans we were determined to make the most the hours we had left. We had previously planned to visit Schonnbrunn today and so after getting our stuff together we left the hotel at 8.30 to take the underground train to Karlsplatz where I managed to pick up a brilliant salmon, egg and mustard sandwich on the traditional grainy Austrian bread from one of the many bakeries before heading out to try and catch the tour bus to Schonnbrunn. Before arriving in Vienna we had purchased Vienna Passes which basically gives you unlimited entrance to a multitude of attractions including free access to the tourist sightseeing bus. Initially, we had worked out we would make a huge saving but with our hungover day the day before the cost effectiveness of the pass had been put to the test. Therefore, we figured if we could take a bus to Schonnbrunn we could make some of the value back we had lost the day before. However, when we exited the station the very helpful bus ticket seller informed us the next yellow bus (Schonnbrunn line) would not be arriving for another 45 mins and so we re-entered the station and caught the tube in about 15 minutes.
It is a few minute walk from the tube station to Schonnbrunn Palace and considering the sub-zero temperatures we moved pretty quickly. We arrived around 9.30 and there wasn’t much of a queue so managed to get 9.40 tickets although since the tour is self-guided I don’t think the time makes much of a difference really. The exterior of the palace is very grand and beautiful and with it being Christmas (or just after) there was a Christmas Market set up in the grounds around the palace courtyard. Since it wasn’t open this early and didn’t make for too nice a view closed we hurried inside to take off some of our many layers before joining the tour. You are given an audio guide with your entry fee that explains a little about each of the rooms you walk through although it is quite basic and some of the rooms don’t have any audio but really you don’t need to know much. The palace itself is absolutely beautiful and unfortunately I have no pictures, as in Austria they tend to have a no-picture rule in all of the palaces/museums etc. Some of my favourite rooms were the Milions Room, which has lots of beautiful black lacquered panel se into the rick woodwork with a few portraits to finish it off, The Great Gallery where the ceiling painting and gold baroque wall decorations were exuberantly grand and made one feel like a real life princess being invited to a grand ball and the porcelain room which looked a bit like a room made of white and blue china and was just beautiful. It was used by Empress Elizabeth as her dressing room and was quite remarkable. Thanks to the informative yet succinct audio guide we learned she was a fiercely independent woman who certainly did not follow her husband around – although unusually for the time he was besottedly in love with her. The Habsburg family went on to create some hugely famous names such as Marie Antoinette who was unfortunately married off to King Louis of France (as was many of her siblings, although some to less disastrous ends) in order to strengthen the ties between the 2 nations
After our history lesson we wandered out and the through the Christmas Market which had now opened for the day and shared a baked potato, sour cream and ham and some Apfelwein. It was lovely to warm up a bit out in the cold and the potatoes were recommended by our friend Manuela and were very delicious. We then meandered through the vast gardens for an amazing view back to the palace from a frozen fountain. The gardens are huge and in summer would be the perfect place to explore for a few hours but in our current frozen state we quickly headed to the entrance to the world’s oldest zoo. The Habsburg dynasty created a huge wealth in Austria at the time and what better way to spend such wealth than to build a huge zoo into the vast gardens of your summer house? The zoo is quite a manageable size and we got round at quite a leisurely pace in around 4 hours. Due to the freezing temperatures outside we worked it so we would do a few outside enclosures and then some of the warmer inside ones in order to make the experience a little more pleasurable.
We entered from the West gate through the palace gardens and immediately came to the Rhino enclosure which was really large and had quite a few different sections to it. The animals were actually quite active given the temperatures – perhaps because they are Indian rhinos who come from the harsher climate of Nepal rather than African ones. We wandered past the Himalayan Tahr and huge pelicans before ducking into the rainforest exhibit. Due to the huge increase in temperature and humidity in this section my camera suffered and so I didn’t manage to catch photos of the Asian Short-clawed Otters playing mischeviously or the many colourful bird species that were able to fly around free in here. There is also a bat walk through which we bypassed having had quite enough bat action in Nicaragua. From here we wandered over to visit the polar bear, which had a really interesting interactive exhibit athough unfortunately he was hiding. We did manage to see the Spectacled Bear standing up though and trying to make friends with the visitors which was rather adorable and one of the many penguin exhibits before heading up and round the hill. There is usually a really cool suspension bridge you can walk over here but unfortunately due to the icy conditions it was closed and so our walk was rather uneventful other than passing through a small educational bee hive. However, at the end was my absolute highlight of the day – the wolves. They were really actively and running around playing and chasing each other (as well as rolling in the mud). It was fascinating to see them behave like this in captivity and hopefully the other visitors that day had their impressions of wolves as evil hunters altered.
The next section was the big cats and it was here we began to see the historical side of the zoo come through, although not necessarily in a good way. There were 3 very active cheetahs next to the jaguar’s and tigers and then some lions, that all had really small enclosures. Having seen many of these big cats in the wild I find this aspect of captivity difficult and so we headed over to the fluffy pandas, who manage to breed very successfully here, and the hippos which again had a really small enclosure in winter, as they are kept inside, in comparison to their vast size. They also had one of the monkey houses in this section so we saw the Collobus Monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys and Red-Ruffed Lemurs before our bellies began to rumble. After all the walking and the intense cold we decided to head to the beautiful Kaiserpavillion restaurant or a hot snack. This old part of the zoo was beautiful and inside the décor was in keeping with the nearby palace. I had a liver dumpling soup which was extremely tasty and a Viennese coffee which definitely helped with the warming up process.It was also quite reasonably priced which was nice and definitely somewhere I would recommend even if just for a coffee and cake respite. We only had a few exhibits still to see and the next one on our list was the orang-utan. I have only ever seen orang-utans in Borneo where I worked at a rehabilitation centre in the jungle to re-release the rescued animals back to the wild and so no matter what their captive enclosure was like I knew it would be difficult to see. The building was very modern although also housed a cafeteria which must have been very noisy for the animals. After the orang-utans we stuck with the primate theme and visited the other monkey house. This one was a lot older in style and housed some huge gibbons and ring-tailed lemurs which were all very active and playful. They had a small dik dik enclosure, again the animals couldn’t be let outside in the cold weather and so their inside accommodation did seem a little cramped before we headed over to the mighty African Elephants. Their new state of the art house seemed great and they even had a baby which was rather adorable.By this point we were losing the feeling in our fingers and toes and so after a quick de-tour back to the polar bear, who was trying to retrieve some food from the inside of a ball – a great enrichment technique, we headed back to the palace and the Christmas Market.
All the way back when I had been in Salzburg for the night on my own, I had made friends with an American exchange student who had recommended trying Kaiserschmarrn a sort of chopped up pancake drizzled with chocolate and icing sugar (or fruits). So when I seen a stall at the market selling it I just had to try it and I am so glad I did. It was so yummy, completely melted in your mouth and while the plate looked huge I managed to finish it off thanks to the help of Carolyn on a few pieces. We then headed out to check the tour bus times and luckily, it was just pulling up to the stop. This was perfect! We got seats upstairs and plugged in our earphones to hear the audio guide about the different museums and attractions we were passing. It was an interesting way to see some more of the city but if it hadn’t been free I wouldn’t have paid for it, none of the commentary was particularly novel or anything you couldn’t have found out for yourself. We did pass the Belvedere which was my plan for the next day and the Opera of last night so it gave us a chance to get our bearings before being dropped off at the Nachtsmarkt for dinner.
Having heard this was the spot to have dinner in Vienna we crossed over and wandered among the many food establishments before deciding on Asian Time for a sushi and thai soup starter. Admittedly I imagine this would be a great place to wander around in summer when you could happily pick up some street food and eat outside. However, at -5 this was less appealing and so we opted for inside sit down restaurants which were a tad warmer and more enjoyable. The sushi was nice but in all Asian Time was nothing much to write home about and the service was particularly lacking. So, we headed over to Neni, a Middle Eastern themed restaurant for a mezze main of hummus and tahini with warm pitta bread, falafel, crispy mince spring rolls, soup and some yummy Turkish apple tea. It was great and somewhere I would definitely recommend for a meal. Feeling very full we wandered back down the street to a wine shop and bar called Wein and Co. to pick up some of our favourite Austrian wines to take home with us.
By this point it was almost time for our Mozart Concert and so we walked through the subway to Karlskirche and which was beautifully lit up before heading inside. Unfortunately, the church was being renovated and so the scaffolding did slightly affect the aesthetic of the location but nonetheless, it was still a beautiful church. We were sat quite near the back but managed to grab some central aisle seats so that we had a good, if far away view of the singers and orchestra. I have to profess, I am not a classical music expert of any sort, but I can appreciate pretty music and the Requiem was a fabulous piece of music to sit back and take it while surrounded by such beauty. It was a great end to a busy day. One point to note, is that the church obviously is not heated and so if visiting in the winter months make sure to wrap up warm, we took 2 of the blankets offered and were still pretty chilly. Thankfully, it was only a short subway ride back to the Ibis where we packed up and got ready to check-out the following day.