I gave you the overview before, but let’s talk more about the Schonbrunn Palace. The tour was great, and the included audio guides very welcome indeed. I loved hearing about the history of the palace and the Habsburg family. Without doubt, I would not have gotten as much out of the tour had I forgone the guide! Schonbrunn itself is massive. Besides the 23 plus rooms you do get to see, and that’s not including any of the servant’s quarters or kitchens, there is the expanse in the back of gardens, a maze, a zoo, and the ever impressive Gloriette! Both the inside and outside are stunning, and it’s worth the 12 or so Euros to see the exquisite decor and the family portraits inside. The grounds are free for anyone to explore and we saw many runners taking advantage of the good weather, as well as other tourists strolling about at a more leisurely pace.
The inside has a theme of white and gold about it, and is ornate yet not quite ostentatious. The tour allows you to see rooms such as the emperor’s study, the room where he would meet with individuals, bed chambers, sitting rooms, the ballroom (which is so cool!), the family’s private dining room, and even the emperor’s WC (the significance being that is was the first modern toilet built into the palace – woo!). There are portraits of every member of the family throughout the rooms, murals depicting occasions such as weddings and coronations, even a room full of sketches and drawings done by a few of the family members (they were quite good, actually)! Pictures are not allowed inside the palace, so unfortunately I can’t share anything beyond the visuals my words create. Though I doubt they can adequately express the inside, it’s one of those things you just have see with your own eyes.
Readers, maybe you’ve heard about the Habsburgs before – maybe you’ve been to the palace itself! At any rate, I’ll share a few tid-bits about them I found interesting. Much of the history of the palace has to do with Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I (a Lorraine, not Habsburg), the first of the Habsburgs to take residence in the palace, I believe. Maria Theresa was the only female ruler of the Habsburgs, meaning at the time, Holy Roman Empress. She had 16 children (can you imagine!), 14 daughters and 2 sons. Of her daughters, Maria Christina was her favorite (could have been something about being born on the Empress’s 25th birthday) and the only daughter she allowed to marry for love. Arguably her most famous daughter, though, is Marie Antoinette – and if you haven’t heard of her, go look up the French Revolution…pronto! Well, you’re allowed to finish reading this first; however it is a fascinating part of history.
The other part of the family featuring most prominently in the audio tour on the history of the palace was Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth, better known as “Sisi” or “Sissi”. Elisabeth is a bit of a tragic figure, having to deal with the suicide of her only son, living as Empress yet not being a big fan of court life, and finally, her own assassination in 1898. In death she has become idolized as a free-thinking Empress in literature, film, and stage and it’s hard to say whether we will ever know what her true disposition was like. Though I find it a little sad for her children and husband that she traveled so often, withdrawing into herself, and neglecting to be a part of the family for the majority of her life as Empress.
Franz Joseph was the last Habsburg emperor of true significance. He was a driven bureaucrat, taking his duties toward his people very seriously, yet was still a family man who insisted on family meals and time to play with his children. The man apparently loved his “Tafelspitz” as well – a simple dish of boiled beef – popularizing the dish in Vienna. It was also with Franz Joseph that the well known Austrian dessert, “Kaiserschmarrn” (literally translated as “Emperor nonsense”) originated and stuck as it became a favorite dish of his.
My first experience at the palace was one which left little room to explore the vast grounds after the tour, so I enjoyed taking the next couple of hours to stroll through them. The sun was shining and everywhere there was evidence of summer’s approach. Had we been going this week or next week, we probably would have seen an even more impressive display of the grounds, but as it was we were there just before the trees and flowers would start to bloom. Workers were cleaning paths and fountains, the maze was closed until the next week for final trimmings, I’m sure, and the inside and outside of the palace was being touched up with fresh paint, too. Lots to do at a place I suppose!
Despite the lack of leaves, we walked around one side of the palace before heading past the Neptune Fountain and making our way to the Gloriette. The Gloriette was originally built under the reign of Joseph I (before Franz Joseph), and stands above the palace atop a hill, affording all who make the trek up an amazing view of the city. It was here that we chose to enjoy our packed lunch of fresh bread and fruit. In Joseph I’s time, the Gloriette was also used as a dining room, and in these days a cafe is inside. During World War II, the original Gloriette was destroyed. A few years after the war it was restored and serves as a monument to “Just War” – or war for peace, referring back to the reign of Maria Theresa.
I have to say that I believe the man who was behind the palace’s grounds, architecturally speaking, was a genius. You walk by one statue and admire it…but then you walk down and come to another one where you can stand just right so that the statue you walked by 5 minutes ago lines up perfectly in the distance with this monument or that fountain! Truly, a lot of planning went into making the grounds visually remarkable.
In the afternoon, Iris met up with Betsey, Amanda, and I, and the four of us checked out the Tiergarten. Tiergarten is the oldest zoo in the world. It’s located as part of the grounds of the palace due to the zoo’s beginnings as an imperial menagerie in 1752. Though I stand by that the San Diego Zoo is still the best zoo in the world, this zoo was pretty cool. And a lot roomier than I would have guessed! They have a good set up, a really neat rain forest exhibit, and again, more animals than I would have thought. We had time to see just about everything the zoo had to offer before heading out just before closing. It was a lot fun – you’re never too old to enjoy the zoo!
Well that was our day at the palace, and you know the story from there (just look back at the previous post). I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on the Schonbrunn Palace, and I hope I’ve done it a little bit of justice while not over glorifying it! Seriously though, if you ever find yourself in Vienna, it is something I would highly recommend making the time to see. Here I have to apologize for how long it’s taken me to get this post out, too! But the good news is I’m done with the major paper and minor presentation I had for this week. Now it’s just down to cheering on my white blood cells to keep fighting this cold/bug thing which has been threatening to bring me down – oh, and drinking lots of tea, that too. At any rate I hope you are all staying healthy and happy! Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…