As promised, here is a round-up of the things we paid to see in Vienna, and my thoughts on whether we would pay to see them again…
As I noted before, the exterior of Schönbrunn, one of Austria’s most important palaces, is a delight to look at, especially from certain vantage points on its grounds. As I also mentioned, the grounds themselves are vast and beautiful, with fountains, mazes, and even a zoo (more on that in a moment). You could easily spend a day here without even going inside the Palace.
But I felt compelled to see what the inside was like, so we did a quick tour. My problem with the interior of palaces is that I get quickly overloaded by detail. Three or four rococo rooms and I’m done, no longer able to see anything new. One thing I did note is that the beds of royalty always seem so disappointingly utilitarian…why would you rather deck out all this furniture that you rarely sit in, instead of the place where you spend one-third of your life sleeping? It’s a mystery to me.
The best thing I saw while touring the palace was actually a fluke — I stuck my head out an open window and saw this strange apparition in a window across the courtyard. I have no idea what it was doing there, but as an anachronism and an unexpected surprise, I found it delightful.
My verdict: The interior of Schönbrunn is worth the price of admission if, like me, you sorta have to go in to settle your curiosity (in that case, buy the cheapest, most limited tour, as I did — it costs about 10 Euros, and you’ll see enough that way). If you love architecture/design, you’d probably find it more interesting than I did, and might want to consider the more deluxe tour options.
Stelian and I love a good zoo. But our time in Vienna was short — were we really going to spend part of it looking at animals we could see in many other places?
Our guidebook mentioned that this is the world’s oldest zoo, which made us decide it was special enough to warrant a visit. But just as we bought the tickets, I started to worry that oldest might equate to most inhumane — I remembered the original bear pits in Bern, for example, and the general inhumanity of menageries in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Happily, like Bern’s bear habitat, the animal enclosures in the Schönbrunn zoo have been expanded and made more species-appropriate. Some of the original cages remain for people to look at, and for kids to play inside of — a few parents were snapping pictures of kids inside the old lion cages, which would make for a cool keepsake. The zoo overall is full of trees and is a lovely place to stroll through (but you have to pay for the privilege, of course). In terms of diversity, we initially thought its offerings would be fairly limited, since it is after all just a side attraction of the palace (and once belonged to a single family!). But after a few hours we had to concede that we wouldn’t be able to see it all. This is a large and serious zoo — it even has exotic animals like pandas and koalas, which I’ve only seen in one or two other places.
My verdict: The Schönbrunn zoo is worth the price of admission (I forget exactly how much, but between 15 and 20 Euros) if you are an animal lover. You have to not mind that most of the other visitors are of the typical zoo-visiting demographic (i.e., parents and occasionally-very-cranky children).
Morning Exercises of the Lipizzaner Stallions
We were interested in seeing a performance by these horses, whose forebears were brought to Austria from Spain in the 16th century, leading their home in Vienna to be called the Spanish Riding School. For hundreds of years, the mostly-white horses have been carefully bred and used to entertain patrician (and now, tourist) audiences. No performances were scheduled during our visit, but we found out that we could see the horses go through their morning exercises. Sounds like fun, we thought. And it was…we watched a succession of horses and trainers running through the strict patterns and dainty, mincing steps that they have been trained for. We got to watch this in the Riding School performance arena, which is impressively opulent. The only problem was that the training session was two and a half hours long, and I reached my saturation point after about half an hour. At about the hour mark we ended up tiptoeing out, along with a number of other people who had grown bored of seeing the same thing done over and over with different horses.
My verdict: I wouldn’t do this again. The price of admission, at 14 Euros, seems quite high in retrospect. Plus, you can see the horses in their stables if you walk past the Riding School stables at night (there are windows that the public can look in). I would only pay for this if you are crazy for horses. The performance area of the Riding School is grand, but so are many other places in Vienna.
Even though a lot of his ideas are no longer in vogue, Freud was a towering presence in my undergraduate psychology degree, and I always thought that if I went to Vienna, I’d go check out his apartment (which doubled as a place where he saw patients). Once we got there, Stelian and I decided to go into the museum (admission is 8 Euros). We soon found that the museum was mostly papers and photographs — you have to have time and patience to go through them (by this point, you may be picking up on a theme — we didn’t have a lot of time and patience for things that felt tedious. And why should you, when on vacation?). It turns out that Freud (like anyone, I guess) wrote a lot of banal correspondence, and appeared in a lot of not-so-exciting photos. In my view, the highlight of the museum was this:
My verdict: The Freud museum felt to me as though someone said, “You know, we really ought to have a museum here,” but then they didn’t put their heart into making it interesting (whereas the Einstein museum in Bern is, in my opinion, an example of a person-based museum that does succeed). I did see this right before lunch, when low blood sugar makes me easily critical, but Stelian also thought it was a bit of a bore.
This one is again tailored to our interests — specifically, to Stelian’s love of dinosaurs. 🙂 It, like the zoo, offered an impressive number of well-designed and interesting exhibits, was a beautiful space in itself, and gave us an opportunity to walk through the lovely Museum Quarter.
My verdict: This was worth the price of admission for us, but Vienna has many museums, and there may well be one of more interest to you. I recommend learning about the options in advance. There were major attractions — such as the Hofburg Palace and the Belvedere — that we chose not to see during our trip. Vienna is a city of many attractions, so the challenge is to spend your time wisely.
Kudos to anyone who read all the way through this post — I hope it was interesting and/or helpful to you. I’m finished talking about Vienna now, I promise!