Published: January 30th 2009August 29th 2008
Deciding to spend the day visiting Schönbrunn Palace on the outskirts of Vienna we apprehensively asked at reception how to get there via the metro. Despite the couple behind the desk arguing for five minutes about whether to tell me the simplest route, or the quicker route that I 'might get lost' on, getting to Schönbrunn proved to be incredibly easy.
We arrived outside the gates of the impressive yellow palace and spent some time exploring the outside. It was amazing how long we spent there even before going to buy tickets. The front facade of the palace is very impressive and no-one seemed to object to us walking up onto the front balcony and giving a royal wave to our imaginary subjects below. Back in reality the other tourists continued taking photos and taking their horse and carriage rides down below oblivious to the presence of royalty on the balcony above them. Strange that!
We finally went inside to find out about tickets and thanks to those good old International Student Cards again, got a bargain. We opted for the classic ticket which for a mere 14 Euros gave us the grand tour of the palace, access to the privy
garden, gloriette, maze and even the apple strudel show!! (We never actually managed to get to that last) We figured that was more than enough to keep us busy for the day and we could always pay for the zoo seperately if we had time later. We joined the back of a queue as our tickets actually gave us a timed entrance to the palace rooms. We could see the gardens out the back in glorious sunlight and entertained ourselves while waiting by reading the long family tree of the Habsburg line.
Schönbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Habsburg family from the 18th century until 1918. It was designed by the architects Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Nicolaus Pacassi and was intended to rival the Palace of Versailles in Paris, but due to lack of funds had to be downsized. Meaning "beautiful spring", Schönbrunn was built by Leopold I when the threat of Turkish invasion had receded following the siege of 1683. Redeveloped substantially by Empress Maria Theresia to accommodate her 16 children, she added another floor to two of the wings. Incidently she is also responsible for having the palace painted it's distinctive yellow colour. Emperor
Franz Josef I of Austria, the great-great grandson of Maria Theresa, was born in Schönbrunn Palace. He spent the majority of his life there and died there on November 21, 1916 in his sleeping room. It was also in Schönbrunn that the Austro-Hungarian empire came to an end in November 1918 when Karl I signed away his power in the Blue Chinese Salon. During the Second World War, the palace was first the Russian HQ and then the British HQ, before being signed back to the Austrians in 1947.
We took the audio tour around the palace rooms. The tour focused mainly on Maria-Theresa and her descendant Franz Joseph and his ever-popular wife Sisi. The tour was interesting and it was incredible to walk around the large palace rooms. The interior is elaborately decorated and my favourite room has to be the large ballrooms with the detailed ceiling paintings.
At the end of the tour we headed out into the back gardens. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse and as we emerged on the back balcony the sky was overcast and the gardens looked rather dull. Deciding to make the best of it we headed for
the nearest bench and pulled out our lunch - if in doubt always start on lunch, it's amazing how much the wetaher can change in the time it takes to eat!! The sun didn't exactly reappear as we finished the last sandwich but at least it looked a bit brighter and didn't seem to be threatening rain anymore.
We strolled around the gardens which are.... large, to put it mildly. The 'Great Parterre' is a beautifuuly sculpted formal garden with symetrical flower beds and rows of classical sculptures depicting scenes from history and mythology. We walked to the far end where Neptune's Fountain stands. The Neptune Fountain was conceived as part of the overall design of the gardens and park commissioned by Maria Theresa in the 1770s. Excavations for the pool began in 1776 and the fountain was completed four years later, just before the death of the empress. From the impressive sculpture we walked uphill to the Gloriette. It wasn't until we reached the crest of the hill and looked back down on the palace that we realised just how far we'd walked. We retraced our steps and then set about exploring the gardens to the right and left
of the palace. We first went to the maze which disapointingly wasn't very hard to get through but on the plus side the central platform gave us a good view of the surrounding gardens... and the kids below us who weren't as skilled in navigating their way around the maze. We walked towards the palm house passing along the way a water lily pond with a beautiful carved fountain and some rose gardens. We also met quite a few of the local inhabitants which we got very excited about. The grounds of Schönbrunn seem to be home to a large population of red squirrels. As if that weren't exciting enough we also spied many black squirrels (which are a genetic mutation of the red species but still just as cute). We spent a long time chasing squirrels around trying to get a photo and hoping the people giving us strange looks realised just how rare red squirrels now are in Britain and why we were so happy to see so many. Eventually even we got tired of running around after squirrels - annoying little critters just wouldn't stay still at all! We walked around the Japanese style gardens and onto
the palm house and surrounding gardens.
After collapsing on the grass for another good rest we walked all the way back to the opposite side of Schönbrunn's grounds to the Privy Garden and climbed up to the viewing platform. The symetrical gardens are beautiful and the side view of the palace really gives an idea of the full size of the place as even the side wing is large and impressive enough to be a stately home or palace!
Although we all wanted to see the zoo we agreed we were just too tired and the thought of walking anymore didn't really appeal. We returned home to our hostel and spent a couple of hours recovering... yes, enjoying yourself is very hard work. We went out in the evening to a little cafe across the street that did bargain student meals. The food was interesting. The vegetarian option was potatoes, spinach and egg.... I was expecting some kind of bake or quiche so was a little taken aback when presented with two fried eggs on top of creamed spinach with a side serving of potatoes! We went for a walk after our meal and walked down to a little church
at the end of the street which looked very pretty lit up in the dark.
There are more photos below