The light in autumn

The light here is different than it was at home.  The summer days are longer, the winter days are shorter.  The angle of the light changes more noticeably throughout the year — in the winter here, even at noon, the sun is not overhead and we get, at best, a kind of weak sunlight that is neither very cheering nor very warming, even on the brightest of days.  In the autumn, the light is beautiful.  It is mostly golden, and has that wonderful “late afternoon” look all day long.  Everything touched by the sunlight looks like it’s glowing, and the trees, already golden, look like they’re on fire when the light catches them.  Sometime in the fall, the sun stops coming in directly through our kitchen window in the afternoons, and in the mornings, it no longer comes through our living room windows.  We have to wait again until spring comes around again to see it streaming across the floor.  As the autumn moves towards winter, we lose the “afternoon” effect of the light and move into a state where it seems to be perpetually early evening — a state which persists throughout the winter.

Just now, it is spring again, and we’ve begun to get our sunlight back.  Sitting in the living room in the mornings, the sun shines directly on our couch now — something it hasn’t done since the fall.  Just a few days ago, I was suddenly blinded by a ray of sunlight coming through the window, and I had a moment of confusion until I remembered that yes, that is normal — we just haven’t seen it for a while.  Spring is here, and we’re finally getting our sunlight back.

Kürbisfest for the fourth time

It is our longest running tradition here in Vienna, and we look forward to it every year.  The annual pumpkin festival is one of the few nearly Halloween-like celebrations here, and it reminds me so much of the decades of pumpkin picking and carving I’ve done back in the US.


545Over the years, we’ve gotten better at the whole thing.  The first few times, it took us hours longer to get ready and get ourselves there than it should have, and we always ended up out there either very much over or under dressed.  But now, we’re getting it.  We know how to get there, we come prepared with warm clothes and big bags with which to carry home our pumpkins.  We made it out there in the foggy morning (with the help of B, who acted as our navigator since he was learning about maps at school).  We had faces painted, enjoyed our favorite Lángos and pumpkin soup, chose and carved our pumpkins, and played on the recently renovated playground (still daring, even by Austrian standards).  And this year, we brought friends.




Elaine and Phil had been here nearly two years at the time (more than 2 years now), but this was their first pumpkin festival.  They were amazingly good sports in enduring the speed (or lack thereof) and attention spans (or lack thereof) of the kids while we shopped, enjoyed and explored.  We introduced them to Lángos, shopped together for pumpkin seed pesto and chose pumpkins.  Then we all sat down to carve them together — it was Elaine’s first time!  We finished out the day with some playground time (for us) and a warm drink around the fire (for Phil and Elaine).  It was a great day.


667The Kürbisfest remains one of my favorite annual Vienna traditions.  It reminds me of home, yet is also distinctly Austrian.  It celebrates autumn and helps us prepare for Halloween.  It is a wonderful day spent in the countryside with a marvelous view of Vienna.  And, getting to introduce friends to our much-loved tradition made it even more special this year.


Kürbisfest, again

005We love Kürbisfest.  This is the third year that we went to the one just outside of Vienna at Am Himmel, which this year was held the last weekend of October.  (Our first October, we also made the trek to Retz for the Kürbisfest there, and we planned to go back last year but got rained out.  This year, we kept it simple and just went to Am Himmel.)  Each time, it’s been just lovely, and now, after having been 3 times, we feel like we’re starting to master the art of attending this particular Kürbisfest.

011In German, a Kürbis is a pumpkin, so Kürbisfest is, principally, a pumpkin festival.  It’s more than that, too, though.  Besides the crates of pumpkins and gourds, the long tables set out for pumpkin carving, the pumpkin soup, pumpkin seed oil, pumpkin bread, pumpkin sausage and pumpkin seed pesto, there are all kinds of other vendors selling apples, grapes, candles, knit items, juices, ciders, wines and meats.  There are polka bands, face painting and kite-making tents.  There’s certainly a lot to do with pumpkins, but it’s really a celebration of everything autumnal from in and around Vienna.  And it’s pretty fantastic.


This year, the day started cool and foggy, so we bundled up in the morning.  By the time we got out to the hills beyond Vienna, though, the fog had started to burn off and it got really quite warm.  We walked through the festival, and took in all of our favorite parts.  024The boys chose pumpkins.  Benjamin got his face painted (he went for an orange dragon this year — Liam opted out).  We all had some of our favorite Lángos (made fresh, and covered with garlic and pumpkin seed pesto) and some pumpkin soup.  We scooped and carved the pumpkins we had bought.  We shopped for Styrian ham and pumpkin seed sausage, as well as pumpkin seed pesto (which is my absolute favorite).  We sampled some fresh apple and grape juices while listening to live polka music and finally finished up with a stop at the playground, and then dragged ourselves back to the center of the city, exhausted but very happy with our day, and feeling very seasonally appropriate.

040This year, for the first time, we started to feel like we’d figured out some important things.  We went first thing in the morning (always our goal, but this year we actually managed it).  We made the playground the last stop in our day, not the first, so the kids weren’t worn out until it was time to leave.  We brought a backpack and a shopping bag to carry our purchases, and we hollowed out our pumpkins before carrying them home.  All important lessons, learned over the years!

This year, we truly had another great time.  It was a great day, and going to the Kürbisfest has become one of my favorite Vienna traditions.

Again, autumn

We woke up this morning to cool, crisp air.  Fall comes on pretty early in Vienna.  A few weeks ago, near the end of August, we woke up one morning and we knew that summer was over.  That’s how it happens here.  Something in the air and the light changes, and you just know that summer has left Vienna and it won’t be back until June or July next year.  The heat is gone, there is no more humidity, the breezes are cool, the evening starts to come noticeably earlier.  Summer was over.

Today feels like the next piece of the transformation.  Today doesn’t just feel like “not summer”, today feels like fall.  It’s still warm today, but last night was quite cool.  Each morning, for the past few days, there have been little piles of leaves in the courtyards and at the bottom of the escalators in the U-bahn stations.  I know we’ll use the a/c less and less, it will start to rain more often, and, in what feels like just moments, it will be time to bundle up the whole family every time we leave the house.

For now, though, it’s fall, my favorite season.  And fall in Vienna is really lovely.  Cool, crisp, breezy and beautiful.  Vienna is such a lovely city, and there are so many outdoor areas to explore.  The pumpkins are showing up at the market already (to eat, not to carve), as well as the apples.  Fall has arrived.  And now that I have some free time (Liam is doing a great job of adjusting to school — I think tomorrow may be my first day of not lingering in the area of the school, just in case he needs me), I am looking forward to exploring.

Christmas comes early

Halloween is barely celebrated here, and Thanksgiving doesn’t exist.  There have been beautiful advent calendars and Christmas sweaters in the shop windows for weeks, and preparations are well underway for the extensive Christmas markets that will soon be open.  Unlike at home, no one is embarrassed or exasperated about it — without Halloween and Thanksgiving, there’s really no reason NOT to start the celebration of Christmas.

As if on cue, the weather here today felt like something out of Dickens (minus the snow).  This evening in Vienna was cold, foggy and damp.  Walking through Michaelerplatz, watching the horse drawn carriages go by, I could easily imagine the opening scenes to “A Christmas Carol”.

Our Halloween pumpkins are still in good form, but soon, it’ll be time to deck our halls, too.  I’m very excited about Christmas — it’s the time of year I’m most looking forward to experiencing in Vienna.  Culturally, Christmas is bound to be very different here — I suspect Austria will celebrate more religiously than I’m used to at home.  And the secular icons are different, as well — they have Saint Nicholas here, rather than Santa Claus, and the Christmas tree tradition is executed differently.

I’d better find out the salient differences, because with Benjamin being in school, he’s going to hear about them.  He’s has already started his mental Christmas list for Santa — and one for Liam, too — and he told me this evening that he’s concerned that Santa will be able to get in to our house, but maybe not out again.  He’s planning ahead.  Me too.

Kurbis Fest

We’re not exactly sure how they celebrate Halloween here in Austria, but it’s definitely different than back at home.  We’ve had pumpkins available to buy in the grocery stores for weeks now (just like at home) but they come pre-painted.  There are a lot of pumpkin and scarecrow decorations to be found around, but very little else — no black cats, ghosts or witches, no vampires, bats, mummies or monsters.  There aren’t bushels of trick-or-treat Halloween candy for sale at the stores.  The focus seems to be on the harvest, on pumpkins, on the season.  It isn’t a bad thing, just different.

We don’t know what to expect as we come up to Halloween.  Benjamin is old enough to look forward to it, so we’ve been trying to come up with our own way to celebrate (we’ve heard rumors that there are neighborhoods that do host trick-or-treating, but we don’t know for sure, and we also want there to be a “season” to it, not just a night of candy-induced hysteria).  It’s actually been a little hard to do — at home,  you’d be able to go pumpkin or apple picking from mid-September, go on hay rides, shop and plan for Halloween costumes.  We can’t find costumes anywhere (my mom is sending over some of mine and my brothers’ from when we were kids) and we haven’t been able to find any “Halloweeny” activities to participate in at all . . . until this weekend.

This weekend was the first of two Kurbis (Pumpkin) Festivals in Vienna.  (There may be more, but my semi-extensive internet research got me information on two.)  First thing this morning, we headed out on the Strassenbahn, and then the (very crowded) bus, up to the top of one of the hills overlooking Vienna, up to Am Himmel.  It was chilly, and we got lost on the way.  But it was FANTASTIC.

006It was everything we’d been missing about celebrating fall.  It was sunny, cool and beautiful.  Benjamin chose pumpkins for himself and Liam — we could have carved them there at the festival (they had specialized scooping and cutting tools and everything) but Benjamin wanted to wait until we got home (and honestly, they were cleaner and easier to transport whole).  Benjamin and I built and flew a kite together (with help from a VERY kind assistant who translated the German instructions for us).  We drank cider, ate pumpkin soup and fresh bread, sampled pumpkin cream liquor, selected some local ham, ate langos (a kind of fried bread with pumpkin seed pesto and a lot of garlic) and enjoyed some warm apple wine.  Benjamin played on an extensive playground, Liam practiced his walking (he’s not so good off road yet — he kept getting hay wrapped around his legs and trying to fall down).


022Enjoying all that autumn had to offer, I couldn’t help but miss my family a lot.  We all really enjoy the fall and preparing for Halloween, and I wish we could have all been together today.  (Although I did feel very connected with them all — especially my Dad while building the kite — throughout the day.)  We enjoyed the beautiful day, we played and ate and drank outside, and then, chilly and a little chapped from the wind, we walked back down the hill, climbed onto the bus and headed back home.  It was a good day.  And next week, if we want to, we can try another kurbis fest.  Hooray for fall!


027 (1)049 (1)








1 degree


It’s cold in Vienna, already.  We’ve already hit the freezing mark (not officially yet — officially we’ve gotten down to 1, apparently, but there was ice on the sidewalk when we left for the zoo yesterday morning) and the warmest it’s gotten in the past several days is about 12 degrees (low 50s).  This week is forecast to be more of the same, with lots of nights nearly hitting the freezing mark and several days of high temperatures in the single digits.

I absolutely love the onset of colder weather.  I’d much prefer to have a slightly chilly October, rather than a warm one — I much rather be bundled up in scarves, hats and sweaters than to be wearing shorts while pumpkin picking.  This is my kind of October.

I do have to admit, though, that as much as I like the chill in the air, the smell of woodsmoke and the sparkle of frost, it puts me more in mind of November or December than October.  (I’ve already caught myself singing Christmas Carols with the kids a few times!)  And, despite my careful research into relative temperatures, I’m a bit worried about what December, January and February have in store for us.

So far, though, our apartment is warm, I can find coffee and hot chestnuts on the street corners, and (most of) our sweaters and cold-weather clothing safely arrived from home.  If I could just find someplace that sells hot cider, I’d be all set.

An adventurous weekend

024 (1)The passing of our six month milestone here, along with the rapid onset of cooler temperatures and earlier sunsets have really kicked me into gear in terms of getting out and doing the things we want to do around Vienna.  The days are short (and getting shorter), cold (and getting colder) and numbered, so we must get out and see what there is to see.

With Benjamin in school until noon every day, we don’t get home until around 1:00.  Then it’s time for lunch, then a nap.  By the time they’re up and about, it’s typically 3:30 at the earliest.  Even this leaves us a few hours until Dan’s return home and the beginning of the dinner/evening/bedtime routine around here, so I’m going to be making a point to use those precious hours, as well.  But, for longer excursions, it’s got to be the weekends, and we’re going to make the most of them.


This weekend, we definitely worked toward that end.  Our Saturday morning was spent in our usual manner of going to the grocery store, vacuuming, folding laundry and doing 049other small chores around the house.  But, after nap time on Saturday, we were done with chores and tasks.  We set out to do some hiking/walking around (to me, the difference is whether or not the surface is paved, and we did a little of each) and to have dinner up on the side of the mountain overlooking Vienna.  It was chilly when we left home (about 10 degrees Celsius) and it started getting dark (and colder) almost immediately after we started our walk.  We had an excellent time.  We saw some beautiful sights, explored (may have trespassed at) a gorgeous hotel overlooking the city, and had an amazing dinner by candlelight.


Today, we left, first thing, for the zoo.  The plan had been to get out of the house as early as possible (we left around 9:30, which is pretty good) and to be back for nap time 024 (2)(around 1:00/1:30).  In a shocking (for me) display of flexibility and enjoying the moment, we didn’t get home until after 4:30.  Benjamin made a list, last night, of the animals he wanted to see.  We saw them all (he liked the flamingos the best).  We rode the train (twice).  We walked from the back exit of the zoo to the Gloriette of Schonbrunn and looked down on Vienna (Liam walked a significant part of the way, holding Dan’s hand — he did NOT want to ride in the stroller or be carried).  We had an impromptu lunch in the sun on a bench, the boys threw several fits (each) and we all came home worn out, a bit out of sorts and completely off of our normal schedule.

037It was great.  I wouldn’t change anything about it, and I’m already thinking about what we’ll do next weekend.

It’s not easy for me.  I make a list of the chores and tasks to be done around the house every weekend, and it drives me a little crazy if they don’t get done.  I have to let go of that if I want to make the most of our weekend in terms of exploring.  This weekend, we left more than half of our to-do list undone (much of it not even begun).  I’m also making a serious effort to live more in the moment — to enjoy what’s happening around me instead of thinking about what needs to happen next (and when) or obsessing about what’s still to be done at home.  I don’t feel the need to cram every moment full of “experiences” (staying home and cuddling on the couch is an experience, too) but I do want to prioritize having fun over having a clean house, being together and enjoying ourselves over feeling accomplished at checking “something” off of our to do list.


We don’t have an infinite amount of time here.  I want to make the most of the time we have.  I don’t want to leave here with any regrets about things I wanted to see, or do, or experience with the boys.  Realizing this about my time in Vienna makes me realize how true this is of life in general.


The vacuuming can wait.  The flamingos can’t.


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

It was cold and rainy this morning in Vienna.  I quite liked it.  My weekly Sunday trip to Starbucks was ill-effected, though, because since it was rainy and cold, everyone wanted to drink hot coffee, everyone wanted to sit inside and drink their hot coffee, and (literally) I think a tour bus dropped off an entire load of people while I was there.  Which is all fine, but made for a rather loud and crowded Starbucks visit (I got the last seat at a table when I arrived, and then people started cramming into small, odd spaces — I had one woman standing over me for a significant portion of my white mocha).

It still served my purposes — an hour out, on my own, not worrying about the kids — but I decided to leave a bit early and go on a stroll.

On my way back home, I came upon a chestnut vendor.  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire — for real — served in a little paper cup.  So, I got some (12, to be exact).  Oh, so yummy.  And warm.  And happy in my tummy.  Just the thing for a cold, rainy, autumn day.

I brought them home to share with Dan and the boys.  Benjamin did not care for them.  Liam thinks they’re fantastic (or so I interpret his persistent toddling up to me, pointing at the paper cup and shouting, “Da!”).

Score another point for Vienna:  chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  There are things I really love about this place.

The elements

I’ve always considered myself to be an outdoorsy person.  I like to be outside.  I’m a horseback rider, and have been for over 25 years.  I’ve taught riding, on and off for years, too.  I like to walk outside, go camping and swim, too.  So, it has come as a bit of a shock to me that now, with no outdoor hobbies, I am more in touch with the weather and it’s slight permutations than I ever have been before.

Part of it is our apartment.  At home, we lived in a north-facing apartment with windows on only one wall.  At both of my last two jobs, before leaving the workforce when Benjamin was born, I rarely even saw outside, and was only out in the weather on my way to or from work.  On the other hand, our apartment here has windows on all 4 sides, and a terrace in the middle.  I can go outside without leaving my apartment.  We don’t have central air, and (ironically) our heat is somewhat centrally controlled by the City of Vienna (I’m still learning about how this works, as it’s just starting to get cold).  I’m much more aware of the amount of cloud cover, precipitation and temperature than I ever have been before while indoors, to be sure.  Now that Benjamin is in school, I also have an hour long commute to pick him up and bring him home every day.

I don’t have a car, so when I do go out, into the weather, it’s not just a quick dash from door to car, and then from car to school and back.  I’m out, walking in the weather (whatever it may be) at least every weekday.

Today was a rainy, cold day in Vienna.  It was a major reminder of something I’ve been slowly realizing:  I can’t just grit my teeth, “make do” and get through the weather in Vienna (especially the upcoming winter).  Today was rough, and it’s October.  We just don’t have the equipment.  My boys have rain coats, but not enough layering pieces to put underneath when it’s cold and rainy but not so inclement as to pull out the winter parkas.  And, their legs are mostly unprotected from the elements (particularly an issue for Liam, who is in the stroller, legs out).  Neither of them have rain boots (or, for that matter, snow boots) right now.  I don’t own a functional umbrella.

When I first got here, I was surprised by all the “weather gear” I saw.  The Viennese seem to have about 12 different kinds of coats, twice that many kinds of footwear, scarves for use in all types of weather (literally — they wear them in July), plus hats, gloves, mittens, balaclavas.  They have rain covers as well as snow buntings for their strollers.  Their strollers even have holsters for their umbrellas.

Today was a good lesson in outerwear.  I wore my raincoat and boots — I was fine.  Benjamin wore his raincoat and sneakers — he was ok, but was worried about getting his light-up shoes in the rain puddles, lest it short them out (not something I had thought of?).  Poor Liam.  I put him in fleece pajamas, to make sure he was snug and covered, and then put his raincoat on top.  His clothes got pretty wet, but he stayed dry.  Of course, once we went inside the trains and the school, he got overheated in about a second.

007 (1)

It’s only October.  I need to get myself equipped.