2 January 2016 – A very cold day at Schonbrunn Zoo and Palace in Vienna!
The plan for the day was to visit the impressive Schonbrunn Palace and gardens. Schonbrunn is a former imperial Summer residence. The gardens also happen to contain a large zoo! Unfortunately, Winter was well and truly with us so it was a rather freezing day. If you’ve followed our adventures over the last few trips, you’ll know that a zoo in the snow is right up our alley…
Everyone is up for the day at 7.30am, when of course it is still dark! Both the weather forecast and the view outside makes it look like its going to be a cold day. As we had not managed to aquire much in the way of groceries due to all the public holidays Anto headed out foraging. After stocking up on some much needed supplies and we had a good breakfast and got everyone suited up for a trip to the Vienna (Schonbrunn) Zoo, which was a pretty easy stroll from the apartment.
Through some luck and promises of zoo animals we managed to leave the apartment a bit after 9am, there was still some snow in the shady areas. With lots of fog, the temperature was about minus 3 before adding in the wind chill (officially cold.) Luckily the kids seemed warm and comfy in their Winter gear. In part of the on-going quest to retrieve Astrid’s tablet that was left behind in Berlin (and we had managed to locate and have posted ahead to Vienna), Anto heads to post office to see if the postal system has managed to transfer it the couple of hundred kilometres from Berlin. While he fights the Austrian postal system everyone else strolls off to the zoo.
The Vienna Zoo is located in the grounds of Schonbrunn Palace, and was founded in 1752 making it the oldest zoo in the world. The zoo has a large number of historical buildings, both for the animal enclosures and the restaurants and cafes. They do have some example cages (without animals) that show how the enclosures are so much nicer and more natural (and bigger) than they were back in the ‘olden times’. Some of the animals have part of their enclosures in the old style exhibits with bigger, newer ‘extensions’ on the back. You’ll notice some of the photos the animals look like they are behind bars. This was usually only a front fence and the enclosures were extended out the back. Due to the temperatures they experience in Winter in Vienna, pretty much all the animals had a large indoor area for their enclosure, so they could escape the cold. You’ll notice in many of the photos that the animals look like they are indoors! It turns out that vast sections of the zoo are indoors, which is handy for such cold weather.
We started out by visiting the Koalas and Pandas. Both were cosy and warm inside and sleeping/eating their way through the day.
We wandered through quite a few heated areas inside exhibits, which provided some relief from the cold, even if they did result in glasses and cameras fogging up awfully. Most of the enclosures permit the animals to wander inside and outside as they wish – which resulted in most of the sensible animals being inside. All the non-cold weather animals were sensibly hiding inside. Luckily as we could access the inside areas we could actually see most of the animals, although the fogged up lenses did prevent many photos being taken.
It was quite funny seeing hippos inside, but the kids were quite a fan of playing with the pretend hippos too!. We did manage to find some tigers and leopards outside (at least briefly), except for the ones inside in their comfy straw. Most of the primates were hanging out in the heated areas, or in some cases on their heat lamps….. given the outside temperatures we didn’t blame them!
There were quite a number of animals more suited to the current outdoor temperatures, namely the polar bears and penguins. The kids love the penguins, and have become quite fond of polar bears after our visit to one at the Copenhagen zoo. This polar bear was nowhere near as big and playful as the Copenhagen one, but still interesting to watch.
Even the pelicans were looking a bit cold! After virtually no success with the Austrian/German postal service Anto caught up with us at the polar bears. In the meantime the temperature had dropped to a fairly frigid minus 4 degrees and the apparent temperature was sitting at minus 9. After a quick walk around we headed inside to the warm Kaiser pavilion for hot choc/coffee – the pavilion was both a beautiful building and wonderfully warm escape from the cold.
As we wandered around the zoo it was pretty quiet, being cold and the middle of Winter so we didn’t have too much trouble with crowds, as we (and about 5 other people) were the only silly ones are out in the cold. A fun wander was had through lots of exhibits.
We did find lots of animals that were more suited to the cold, the bison and reindeers seemed particularly non-plussed about the rather cold temperatures…… as were the rhino (both real and statue)!
Interestingly there were a number of domestic cats sitting on laps for cuddles in some of the heated areas, they seemed to enjoy both the warmth and pats. Although they seem terrified of the children and Astrid ended up with a ‘swiped’ hand after the poor animal had enough of a 4 year olds attention. The non-children members of groups enjoyed all the cat attention though.
Astrid quickly got over her cat incident with some visits to some more animals. The hairy donkeys were amusing (again not fussed by the cold) and we had to laugh at the exhibit of ‘domestic rabbits’. What was funnier is that we saw a similar exhibit at a zoo in Innsbruck later on our trip. The kids enjoyed seeing the goats getting up to mischief. We also answered the question of ‘what happens to all the left over Christmas trees?’……. they get given to zoo animals to eat. Pretty much every enclosure was filled with old Christmas trees and they were being eaten by all manner of animals.
The hycuna were very cute. They reminded us so much of our alpacas. They weren’t the least bit cold and were playing and jumping around outside but sneaking in the doors to the inside areas of some of the other animals, like the Tapir, and stealing their food!
The kids were rapidly getting tired, so we did a quick whip around the inner bit of the zoo to see the zebras, elephants and flamingos….. all of whom were hiding in their inside enclosures! Much to Soren’s disgust the zoo train was not running today (although the numbers of visitors had picked up by lunch time).
Unfortunately all good things had to come to an end so our hour of wandering post morning tea was about it before the kids desperately needed rest. When Astrid is requesting a rest (and to leave a zoo) you know she is tired… On the way out with Anto they saw a few more animals. After the 10 minute walk ‘home’ the kids had a nice warm lunch of toasted sandwiches and were deposited into their respective beds for a nap.
Everyone else (Mikl, Alan and Nic) wandered up through wooded area and saw arctic wolves and horses, Tyrol goats and cows. This area of the zoo was quite steep but most of the animals were more suited to the cold weather so were happily playing. The arctic wolves were amusing and looked like they wanted to eat all the visiting children for lunch!
Due to the cold weather lots of paths were closed due to ice and snow. As the temperature continued to drop and the wind picked up the apparent temperature was sitting around minus 11. Surprisingly the zoo was somehow getting busier. We decided that we’d better head off to our afternoon activity (Schonbrunn Palace) and do the kid unfriendly bits before Anto returned with some rested children. On the way back down we saw the seals out playing, and the crowds were definitely building up through the other exhibits. We had to make tracks though and had seen probably more than 3/4 of the zoo in our few hours of wandering.
We headed out into the Tiergarten and towards the Palace, and decided to wander the gardens before it got even colder, as the temperature only seemed to be heading one direction. The Zoo actually sits within the grounds of Schonbrunn palace. The gardens are enormous and contain a palm house, several mazes, an orangerie, a botanical garden and Roman Ruins. We started our walk past the palm houses (which we hadn’t paid to go into) and past several of the mazes and sculpted trees.
Owing to the lack of leaves we could see through maze in places, which could be considered cheating, however as there is still snow on ground, combined with increase in the fog we thought it was a fair advantage.
The lines of very straight trees and frozen ponds were quite picturesque, although we are sure, would look entirely different in Summer! We did note the ‘pigeon ramp’ into several of the ponds, so that the pigeons could climb in and out, and more old Christmas trees used to cover up garden beds.
Once we had the Palace in sight, we figured we’d finish off the garden tour before hiding inside in the warm. We strolled up the zigzagged path to Arch of Maria Teresa. The hill is quite steep and the paths zig-zag for quite a distance. There was quite heavy fog and it was hard to see the Palace from the gardens. From the top of the hill there are supposed to be views across Vienna, all the tourists were laughing as we could all barely see 50 metres from where we were standing.
All the ponds had frozen over and on top of it all, it was now snowing lightly, which looks pretty – but seems to only occur when it’s cold! The statues and fountains up the top were rather pretty (of course the fountains weren’t running as they were frozen solid), so we got our tourist shots and headed up to the Arch to check out the cafe. The statues were amazing (and huge). If only the weather had of cooperated and we could actually see properly over the city!
As the cafe up the top was very busy, we decided to walk back down to visit the Palace, or at least find food somewhere that didn’t have a multi-hour wait. The walk down was somewhat easier on the legs than the walk up, but it was starting to snow a lot and the path was getting icy. We were very thankful the kids were napping and not being dragged around in the cold, as they probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it very much, as scenic as we thought it was!
We had to wander from the side of the Palace adjacent to the gardens and fountains around to the Courtyard side to do the Palace tour. The Palace is very large, at only a mere 1,441 rooms. In keeping with the Baroque style, the outside is more understated than some of the Palaces we had visited.
It was now pretty well into the afternoon and we were quite hungry. Luckily, we discovered a New Year’s market in front of Palace full of yummy and warm food and drinks. As it was now about minus 12 everyone was starting to feel the cold and would have eaten anything that warmed us up. Luckily there were a number of stalls selling gluhwein which was fairly rapidly purchased and consumed. It either warmed us up or made us forget about the cold while we purchased food. Alan and Mikl decide to have goulash, Nic has fetta and spinach toasted on bread which has lots of garlic through it and is rather tasty. We decided to have dessert when kids come down, and head on inside for the Palace tour.
We had bought a combined Palace ‘grand tour’ and Zoo ticket. There were no time restrictions on the ticket, although it was rather busy, so we were hoping to get the tour mostly done before the kids turned up. We had to check all our bags for the tour and no cameras were allowed. Of course quite a few people were walking in with them, and trying to take sneaky shots when the guides and security staff weren’t looking. Nic and Alan checked our cameras like good little tourists and didn’t take any photos.
The palace tour was rather busy, packed is probably an understatement. We didn’t bother with the audio-guides, and as it was shoulder to shoulder we probably wouldn’t have gotten much out of it anyway, as you were pretty much pushed along with the crowd. We tried our best to avoid the large tour groups. Despite the crush, the Palace interior was quite pretty. Unlike some Palaces we had visited, Schonbrunn is very ornate, with lots of gold, moldings, and very lush furniture. We lost count of how many sitting rooms and dining rooms we toured, all were set up nicely. Despite the vast size of the Palace, only about 30 rooms were open to the public, and even our ‘grand tour’ was fairly brief and only took us about 40 mins. We had left our coats on for the tour and we weren’t hot, so the interior couldn’t have been well heated.
While everyone else wandered around in the cold the kids had a pretty decent sleep, but all good things must come to an end and they eventually woke up. They were fairly quickly arranged into their snowsuits and wandered down towards the palace (Nic had messaged Anto to advise of the current frigid temperatures). Owing to Astrid having to walk, and with Soren in the Ergo it took Anto and the kids awhile to meet up with us get so we were left to wander some more of the gardens that we hadn’t seen that morning. Under the principle of ‘if you stop moving you might freeze to death’ we kept walking….. unfortunately, most of the other areas were closed, so a quick visit into the marionette museum was made, mostly because it was warm. The rest of the gardens were pretty much the same as what we’d seen earlier, just in a different location! Lots of straight hedges and trees, frozen ponds and hedge mazes.
We finally all met up with Anto and kids, a task made much more difficult as our phones appeared to dislike the cold and turned off…..not convenient as it was rapidly getting dark and the Palace grounds are enormous. Yes, you can get it cold enough to make both iphones and Android phones not want to work! As a (temporary) cure for the cold we all had gluhwein, apple wine, baileys punch and then crepes – sugar and cinnamon, berry and vanilla and apple and cinnamon. While the food and drink did warm us up a bit it was somewhat disconcerting that it was so cold that the paper froze to the crepes. The crepes that were hot a couple of minutes earlier!
As it was pretty miserable outside, and approaching dark, we decided to take the kids back to apartment while Anto did his palace tour (he had also bought the combined ticket as we figured he’d happily do the condensed version). With the light rapidly fading the cold was really setting in (apparent was now at minus 13) so everyone (except Anto) was glad to get back to warm apartment.
After Anto’s (fairly quick) tour of the palace, once again filled with trying to dodge around tour groups, he wandered back past the zoo – scaring a very big bear on the way……. Or at least a bear peering out of a window in the Zoo scaring him.
Anto had pre-cooked pasta with vegies and meat for kids dinner. A novelty, to stay in and not have to deal with over-tried kids at a restaurant!! We were hopeful of an early night for the kids as there was an early start for our trip to Bratislava the next morning…….. but the kids still took awhile to go to sleep. The adults eventually won the battle, and also had a lazy home cooked pasta for dinner.
Statistics for the 2nd of January in Vienna, Austria – the minimum temperature was minus 8 degrees, the maximum temperature was minus 2 degrees. With a mean temperature of minus 4 degrees. While that doesn’t sound that awful, the fog and wind meant the apparent temperature was below minus 10 for the majority of the day. I had been taking one of my gloves off to take photos (I can’t operate the camera settings with my big gloves on) and nearly got frostbite in my hand! The total walking for the day was 15.5km, at least that kept us warm!