Thursday, November 26, 2015

Vienna: outside Schonbrunn a beautiful park and world class zoo

After our pick-me-up it was time to explore the gardens and outbuildings around the Schonbrunn Palace. The spectacular park covers an area of 500 acres and was laid out in the 18th century Baroque style. The flowers and leaves were gone but the gardens were still impressive with wide pathways and perfectly groomed trees and bushes. We wandered along the paths finally reaching Neptune's Fountain, a sculpture based on themes from Greek mythology, including the story of Thetis and her son Achilles. Unfortunately the fountains had been turned off in preparation for the cold weather to come. It was a balmy 18 degrees today but the forecast was for overnight temperatures of minus seven in a couple of days.

The park's most impressive structure was the Palm House. Built in 1883, it was, at the time, the largest greenhouse in Europe and contains three sections in which numerous exotic plants are kept, along with hundreds of species of butterflies. It was massive, and opposite was a similar building, the Desert House. We decided to visit the zoo first and see if we were up to visiting the Palm House after that. We weren't.

In the summer of 1752, Emperor Franz I, Maria Therese's husband, took his royal guests to the newly constructed menagerie in the park at Schönbrunn Palace for the first time. Ever since then, the world's oldest zoo has been operating in Vienna, and is today considered one of the world’s best.

Soon we were watching the pandas munching massive amounts of bamboo and going for rambles in their outdoor enclosure. Both the inside and outside enclosures had a natural design, with lots of greenery and specially designed things for the animals to play with. We were to find this everywhere. The zoo has an excellent record of breeding animals and has produced three panda cubs.

We spent some time watching the giant hippos. I really liked being able to get so close to the animals. One hippo outside wanted to join his mates in the hippo house. He kept banging the outside glass door with his head. In fact it was a bit scary but it finally it opened for him. He promptly ambled into the water where he swam around a bit and persistently kept blowing and surfacing. I think he was showing off for the females.

It was lunchtime so we headed for the old breakfast pavilion. It was at the centre of the zoo’s original 13 buildings, some of which still remain. Inside the pavilion was quite grand with high ceilings, giant ornate mirrors all around the walls and huge chandeliers. I was feeling adventuresome and had semolina pancakes for lunch. When they came they had a light dusting of icing sugar. Even though they were in the entrees section of the menu, I think they were really a dessert; however they were quite tasty.

One of the highlights of the giant Rainforest House was the bat area. We entered the darkened room and could just make out hundreds of bats hanging out while others swooped around. the swooping didn't bother me but the smell was truly disgusting. I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

We watched polar bears, leopards, kangaroos, penguins, seals and lots of other animals on our visit. It was amazing how the zoo's historic charm was preserved while creating modern, interesting enclosures.

At the end of our visit we went to the Orangutang House where we spent ages being entertained. We watched them play with their straw or shavings, climbing, sitting watching a little boy blow bubbles, swinging on the ropes and spinning on a rope until dizzy and playing with giant Lego blocks. Of course the youngest orangutang was a master at annoying the older ones.

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