Friday, July 28, 2006

(Simple pictures of Day 3 in Vienna) Today, Caitie and I got adventurous. First we walked from the hotel to SchoenBruen Schloess. If you find yourself in Vienna, you need to make the trip. You also need to NOT walk there from downtown. It was hot as ----, and the footpath that runs along another Viennese canal from KarlPlatz to SchoenBruen is devoid of anything interesting at which to look. The best sight on the way there was a Burger King (which was plastered with posters of the European Football (not soccer, but american football) league. weird, eh?). As terrible (not that terrible, it was just a bit long and boring) as the walk to SchoenBruen Schloess was, it was well worth it. The palace and its grounds are absolutely ginormous. I mean huge. There is no way that the pictures will convey the sheer size of the place . Of course, this affords the perfect opportunity for a short panoramic film:. The landscaping (it should be referred to as landscape architecture or something as grandiose as its appearance) is also maintained in the most beautiful and intricate gardens. As expansive as Schoen Bruen's grounds are, the gardens are still tended with the finest details. The flower beds you see in these pictures are lined with miniature hedges that stand 4 or 5 inches tall. I'd estimate that there are 500 yards of these hedge rows, and they must be trimmed with scissors, because they are too tiny for clippers. The amount of labor to maintain the place is mind-boggling, and somehow, adds to the perceived beauty of the place. Lending further mystique are the "new" landscape elements, which I think have been growing since the end of WWII. These include the impressive tree arches that run in almost all directions from the palace . In the distance, atop a massive hill, sits the Glorietta -- a monument built by the Empress to celebrate ... herself and her reign. The Glorietta serves no functional purpose whatsoever. It is, as I have said before, purely decorative. It is the architectural equivalent of kitsch, except it cost a fortune and probably a few lives to construct. Despite the complete lack of purpose, the Glorietta is still a beaut and provides a commanding view of the palace and the surrounding city . Of course, Emperors are notoriously difficult to entertain. So, besides the jaw-dropping beauty of the formal gardens and the Glorietta, replete with miles of horse-trotting paths, you need to have diversions to really have proper a palace. I'm talking shrubberies formed into mazes . But not even a collection of lawn mazes would suffice. What you really need is a full-blown zoo, an Imperial Zoo actually. The Imperial Zoo at ScheonBruen Schluss deserves a day to itself. They have everything from rodents of unusual size to reindeer to a rhinoceros . They have both kinds of buffalo: american and water . There is a selection of "BigCats" and freaking huge bugs. There's a family of hedge hogs , a jack-ass , other large rodents , two camels , a still wider array of large rodents , barking seals that dive for fish snacks , black bears , brown bears , polar bears , small penguins, emperor penguins , and a free-range peacock . As amazing as the variety of animals is, nothing, and I mean nothing prepares you for the walk-in "Rain Forest". A giant three-story greenhouse filled with flora, fauna, and hot steam. As we walked into the display, Caitie and I remarked how wonderful it was to be able to get close to the animals. We marveled at how well designed and engineered the entire facility was, how ingeniously the architects of this wonderland had crafted displays that managed to protect the animals, the visitors, and still bring the two as close together as possible. Brand new, we immediately appreciated the same aesthetic and design in the Rain Forest exhibit. We saw tadpoles ("look they are on a branch by your head!"), we saw turtles ("I could practically touch his shell!"), and then we saw this sign: .
"It says be very quiet," I offered to Caitie, who began to detect that something had gone amiss with the Rain Forest exhibit. Seems like a pretty typical warning in a zoo right? Sort of along the same lines as: please don't tap on the glass, or don't feed the gorillas. They post these sort of things to avoid liability suits, and to provide an excuse for ejecting unruly and obnoxious park-guests. To the right of the sign was a double layer door made from strips of hanging plastic, which resembled a car wash exit. The entrance looked harmless enough. Maybe there was more mist inside, that they were trying to hold back? Maybe there are cooler temperatures? Still, the sign was in very large red letters, and my German is far from fluent. So, Caitie and I decided to wait for a group of native speakers to go first. A gaggle of Austrians, stepped into the gap and took a long hard look at the sign. Said the mother Austrian: "BrillenBlattNasen?" "Sie sind sehr kleiner" replied the Father Austrian. In went the whole family. No noise, no problems. So Caitie and I decided to go ahead. As we pulled back the door covers, I heard a familiar sound -- a kind of flapping, swooshing sound. Then, right in our faces, that god awful black fluttering, flittering, f-ing horrible shape of leathery wings. Then, in an impressive stage whisper, Caitie alerted the entire zoo:
THERE ARE BATS IN HERE!!!!!!
And we dove backward out of the "Fledermausehohle" or in english "Bat Cave". At this point we took a nearby elevator, which allegedly lead to the nearest exit. The elevator doors opened on the open air level, where you can enjoy close views of the animals that live in the "canopy" of the rainforest. Guess what lives in jungle canopies? GIANT BATS . The elevator plants you eye to eye with the biggest flying rodents in creation. Caitie ran in every direction at once, and disappeared out the door. At this point I returned to photograph the sign, and took the time to look up some key words in the german-english dictionary.
The sign reads in full (and you have to say this in your head with the voice of the kid in Sixth Sense saying "I see dead people"):
ATTENTION NEW ANIMALS! PLEASE BE EXTREMELY QUIET!
Here live Seba's Short-tail (flying mouse, or bat) and you are the guest not the host.
I hung around for a few minutes, to see what other "guests" thought of these "hosts". The patrons of the Imperial Zoo hail from all over the world, and speak many, many different languages. However, all humans (except apparently Austrians, all of whom did not flinch in the face of a Fledermausenhole) run in place waving their arms, and make precisely the same sound when the first realize that they are in a confined space with bats: wahooohahahahahaeeee! So, with that adrenaline rush, we headed for the Zoo exits and home. Of course, we got one more picture of a very large (non-winged) rodent .