No Direction Home

This humble blog was started to document our travels around the country during the summer of 2006, We have opted to continue updating it due to the requests from family & friends. Enjoy!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wiener Riesenrad

October 10, 2013

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Wiener Riesenrad

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Located in the second district of Vienna, the Leopoldstadt, is the famous Vienna amusement park known as the Wurstelprater or to most locals simply as “The Prater”. The large amusement park holds one of Vienna’s most recognizable landmarks the Wiener Riesenrad or Viennese giant wheel or just the Ferris Wheel.  The huge wheel sits at the entrance to the park and has become for many a symbol of Vienna, because it has been made famous by appearing in many films and because it has survived for so long after many near brushes with destruction.

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We wanted to see and ride the famous wheel and to check out the Prater and enjoy the amusement park so we took the metro to the prater stop and made our way the short walk to the park. The park is open year round, is free but you have to pay for each individual ride individually and of course the Wiener Risenrad is the most popular attraction.

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It was sort of cool and somewhat surreal to wonder around the mostly desolate amusement park, which nonetheless was fully open and operational while we were there. In addition to the huge wheel, the park also features various rides, bumper cars, carousels, roller coasters, shooting galleries, ghost trains, a Madame Tussauds wax works cabinet and much more. Apart from the rides, the park features various famous traditional Viennese restaurants (such as the Schweizerhaus and the Walfisch) and souvenir shops.

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The park dates back to the time of the Austrian Empire, when Emperor Josef II. made the Prater (which has been serving as Imperial hunting ground until then) open to public in 1766. Soon the first snack bars, stalls and bowling alleys opened up on the grounds and the Wurstelprater was born.

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Clearly the highlight of the park is the huge 212 ft. tall wheel, which was constructed in 1897 by the English engineer Lieutenant Walter Bassett Bassett . Its purpose was to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. The Riesenrad was one of the earliest Ferris wheels ever built. Bassett's Ferris wheel manufacturing business was not a commercial success, and he died in 1907 almost bankrupt.

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A permit for its demolition was issued in 1916, but due to a lack of funds with which to carry out the destruction, it survived. It originally had 30 gondolas, but was severely damaged in World War II and when subsequently rebuilt only 15 gondolas were replaced. The wheel is driven by a circumferential cable which leaves the wheel and passes through the drive mechanism under the base, and its spokes are steel cables, in tension.

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The Riesenrad famously appeared in the 1949 post-war film noir “The Third Man”, and also featured in the 1973 spy thriller “Scorpio”, and the 1987 James Bond film, “The Living Daylights.” It also appears in “The Star of Kazan” by Eva Ibbotson, Max Ophüls' “Letter from an Unknown Woman” and its Generation X counterpart, Richard Linklater's “Before Sunrise”, and “The Glass Room” by Simon Mawer.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tiergarten Schönbrunn

October 9, 2013

Tiergarten Schönbrunn

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One of the things that I made certain that we did while in Vienna was to visit the beautiful and expansive Tiergarten Schönbrunn, also known as the Vienna Zoo. I always enjoy visiting zoos and was especially interested in seeing this one as it is the oldest zoo in the world as well as one of the best zoos in the world, certainly in Europe.

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Our hotel was located a short walk from the zoo which is located on the amazing grounds of the famous Schönbrunn Palace. Founded as an imperial menagerie in 1752, Tiergarten Schönbrunn is considered and regards itself as a scientifically administered zoo which sees its main purpose as a center for species conservation as well as in the fulfillment of the education mandate given to it by the legislation. The still preserved buildings of the baroque era, which have been complemented in the last years by elements of modern zoo architecture, convey still a good impression of the 18th century menagerie-buildings.

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Part of the imperial summer residence of Schönbrunn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the zoo is indeed an unforgettable experience, and one that no visitor to Vienna should miss. Along with the historic complexes of the former "menagerie" of Emperor Francis Stephen of  Lorraine, visitors discover what is perhaps the world's most beautiful zoo in a unique setting where culture and nature blend. More than 700 animal species, some of them threatened, have found a home here and a chance for survival as a species.

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Visiting the Schönbrunn Zoo is a tour through every continent in the fascinating world of animals. There are giant pandas, Siberian tigers, orangutans, elephants and more and you can immerse yourself in the Amazon in the walk through an Amazon river exhibit and experience the tropical rain forest.
The very first elephant ever born in captivity was born here in 1906 and the tradition continues as there are two very young and one newborn elephant there now. The zoo has survived and thrived despite suffering intense bombing during WW II and now has totally modernized from the original menagerie setting.

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After visiting the zoo, Kathy and I headed downtown to visit the large outdoor market and to wander around more downtown. We walked around the central district, checking out the Parliament building and other museums, opera houses and other historically significant buildings and even threw in a little shopping at more modern stores as well.

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Perhaps the most interesting thing we did was to visit the Naschmarkt which is Vienna's most popular market. Located at the Wienzeile over the Wien River it is about 1.5 kilometers long. It has existed since the 16th century when mainly milk bottles were sold. From 1793 onwards, all fruits and vegetables brought to Vienna with carts had to be sold here, while goods arriving on the Danube were sold elsewhere. Nowadays, you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world, exotic herbs, cheese, baked goods such as bread, kaiser rolls, and torte, meats, and seafood.

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