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SWMBO heads to the zoo.

The zoo is part of the imperial palace complex of Schönbrunn, located in the suburbs of Vienna.  Schönbrunn was the permanent or summer residence of the Hapsburg Kaisers from the 17th century until the early 20th century.  The palace, gardens and zoo were created together in the Baroque style.  The whole is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (natch) for many reasons, but partially for its emphasis on “Gesamtkunstwerk” (seamless fusion of art forms).  In other words, the whole thing is remarkably harmonious.  The imperial palace, itself, is magnificent but that’s another story and another admission fee.

An example of “Gesamtkunstwerk” - a gorgeous Baroque café close to the Monkey House

An example of “Gesamtkunstwerk” – a gorgeous Baroque café close to the Monkey House

Tiergarten Schönbrunn was the very first zoo in the world (1752) but at that time it was the private “menagerie” of the Kaiser.  I have fully disclosed in the past that I am neither an animal person nor a zoo person but Schönbrunn is the type of place that could cause such a person to waver.  In short, the zoo is beautiful, the animals are well cared for, the enclosures are very large, the animal conservation work is impressive and the education value is high.  Unfortunately, only some of the areas have information in English.  One of the best is the polar bear exhibit where there is a whole mini-museum about the arctic and antarctic in both German and English.

Polar bears, Schönbrunn

Polar bears, Schönbrunn

One of the interesting things you see when you enter the zoo from the parking lot entrance is a beautiful Austrian chalet.  It now houses a café as well as Austrian farm breeds.  It turns out that this house was built in the Tirol mountain region of Austria in 1685.  It was a typical farm house until 1993, when it was completely dismantled, transported and rebuilt in Schönbrunn.  There are a lot of photos and interpretive panels regarding the history of the building and the move.

Tyrol house, 1685

Tirol house, 1685

Walk on by, Tyrol house

Walk on by, Tirol house

Detail, Tyrol house

Detail, Tirol house

The entrance fee might be steep but you certainly don’t regret paying it.  The zoo grounds are so large and shaded that the zoo rarely feels crowded.  The displays are innovative.  For example, for many of the bird houses, you can open a door, walk through a beaded curtain and then sit on a bench right in the humungous bird cage watching the action around you.

Relaxing woodland paths, Tiergarten Schönbrunn

Relaxing woodland paths, Tiergarten Schönbrunn

This is a good thing because many of the animal enclosures are so large that it can be hard to get a good view of the animals.  If you have a camera with a telephoto lens that is one thing but if you are using an ipad or God forbid, the naked eye, good luck.  Tiergarten Schönbrunn addresses this issue by posting times when you can see animals close up as they are being fed or groomed.  In theory, it works but as I said, the zoo is huge and when you go to the zoo you just want to relax and stroll, you don’t want to set timers to dash from elephant washing at 2 pm to penguin feeding at 2:25 pm.

This is about how close you’ll get to the animals

This is about how close you’ll get to the animals

Good zoos are also remarkable places to people watch.  I saw many interesting people but my favourite were a family of three passionate photographers.  They would stop just about everywhere and start snapping away.  Each had an expensive camera and a personal camera bag full of goodies.

Photofamily: the family that snaps together, stays together

Photofamily: the family that snaps together, stays together

I got this one, Mom and Dad

I got this one, Mom and Dad

A trip to Schönbrunn Zoo is an expensive undertaking.  We paid 57 euros ($85 Cdn) for 2 adults, 3 children and one free.  There is so much so see and the zoo is spread over a large distance so you will want to maximize your money by arriving early and leaving late.  You’ll also want to bring all your food and drink because the prices in the zoo are loco.

Monkey house, Schönbrunn

Monkey house, Schönbrunn

There is no family rate: adults pay 16.50 euros ($24.75), children pay 8 euros ($12) and kids under 6 are free.  If you are staying in Vienna longer, there is a family package for 75 euros ($112.50) that covers 4 adults and 6 children and can be used over multiple visits by whomever.

The last time we saw a water buffalo was in Vietnam and we had to ride it!

The last time we saw a water buffalo was in Vietnam and we had to ride it!

Now here’s the funny thing.  Funny strange, not funny ha ha.  You can save 1 euro ($1.50) per ticket if you reserve online.  But, you MUST print a hard copy of the reservation and bring it with you.  You may be able to get on a plane these days by flashing an electronic boarding pass on your iphone but forget about getting into the zoo that way.  After much chit chat with the lady at the entrance wicket about how tourists don’t usually travel with printers, she told me she would let us in if we could show her the confirmation on our ipad.  It was no use explaining to her that we hadn’t risked losing 50 euros by booking online since the website was very clear that only hard copies of the reservation would be acceptable.

One of many elephants, Schönbrunn

One of many elephants, Schönbrunn

The zoo is open every single day of the year, including holidays, so it makes a nice outing on days when there is nothing else to do.  Try to pick a day with good weather because you will be outside a lot.