Schneeberg revisited

When people think of Austria, they think of the Alps.  And rightly so.  The vast majority of Austria is mountainous (over 3/4 of Austria is in the Alps), and a good bit of it is uninhabitable due to the height and steepness of the peaks through the center and west of the country.

Vienna, however, is in the far east of Austria, and, rather than being in the mountains, it is located in the gently sloping valley carved out by the Danube.  Vienna is hilly, but not mountainous (my apartment is only at 186 m above sea level, for example).  So, if we want mountains, we have to travel.  We’ve been all over Austria’s central mountains (including very near the highest, the Grossglockner), through the Italian Alps on a train (which resulted in a bit of a shock when we woke up and saw ourselves surrounded by snow), and have visited both of Vienna’s “local mountains”, Rax and Schneeberg. Though we spent lovely days at both of the local mountains, the trip back and forth to Schneeberg was definitely simpler, so this past May, when winter was behind us and we felt like getting out to the mountains for a bit, we went back to Schneeberg.

Our only significant complaint about our last trip to Schneeberg was that, due to a lack of detailed planning, we didn’t get enough time to explore.  So this time, knowing that the trip there was long-ish, and that in order to maximize our mountain hiking time, we’d have to plan our connections (3 different trains, not including Vienna’s public transit) carefully, we planned ahead.  The desire to plan ahead was tempered by our desire to have at least decent weather at the top, so though we planned ahead, we didn’t want to buy our actual tickets too far ahead.  But we were (theoretically) prepared.  The morning of our trip, we got up early, and left the house with nearly an hour to catch our train (the trip to the train station is less than 25 min) … and yet, we somehow missed our train.

I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.  We left the house with plenty of time.  We had to wait a while for our first U-Bahn, and then a bit for the second, but sometime shortly after we got on that second U-Bahn, I realized we were, at best, barely going to make our train.  As soon as we got to the train station, we started running.  It’s a big train station (which was part of the miscalculation — I had counted “arriving at the train station” as “being at the tracks”, which is about a 10 minute underestimate when traveling with kids), so we ran across the whole thing.  I still had to print our tickets, too, and I was shaking with the stress and adrenaline, so I entered the confirmation number incorrectly.  And that was it.  Dan and the boys had run up to the tracks to wait for me, but I never even got up there.  They were on their way back down, having seen the train pull away, before I got there.

It wasn’t really a big deal — the next train was in an hour — but I was so disappointed.  I felt awful for dragging us all out of bed extra early for no good reason.  I was embarrassed that I had failed to allow for enough time.  I felt guilty that I’d made my kids sprint through the train station for no reason.  I felt terrible that they felt stressed and worried about our day.  So I cried (which did not improve the stress and worry situation, which made me feel worse).  But, all was not lost, and so I went into the ticket office and got us new tickets for the next train.  I found out when our new connections would be and we crossed our fingers that we’d be able to change our reservation for the Salamander train that would take us up the mountain.  Then we got breakfast, regrouped, and got on the next train without a problem.



If you make the connections properly, it’s not a long trip — only about 2 hours from the center of Vienna, and quite lovely.  First, you take a big train to one of Vienna’s outlying suburbs, and then a tiny electric train (which honestly feels more like a bus) out into the countryside and to the base of the mountains.  When we arrived, we were scolded a bit for missing the train we had been booked on, and informed that we were lucky to get a spot on a later train, but we did get a spot.  Because of our less than ideal departure from Vienna, we ended up with nearly an hour of downtime until the special Salamander train up the mountain.  (For those keeping track, that means we would get to the top of the mountain 2 full hours later than we had intended.)  But, no worries.  To fill the time, we got some coffee (for Dan & I) and made our way to a nearby salamander-themed playground (for the boys).

At the appointed time, we went back to the train station and got on the Salamander train for the 45 minute ride to the top of the mountain.  At the bottom of the mountain, it was late spring, nearly summer.  Everything was green and lush, the kids didn’t need their jackets, and I was thinking I may have over-prepared for our adventure.  As we ascended, however, things changed quickly.  By halfway up the mountain, our surroundings looked more like early spring than late May.  The trees were just budding, the wildflowers just starting to think about blooming, and, as we ascended, there was more and more snow everywhere.  Rather than being over-prepared, I started to worry that we might be under-dressed in our fleeces and raincoats.

At the top, it felt like early March, rather than late May.  The kids climbed on massive snow piles, and most of the play area at the summit was unusable due to the amount of snow cover.  The wind whipped around us, dark clouds hung overhead, and banks of fog curled around the rocks.  It did not feel like it was nearly summer.  It was winter again.


Undaunted, we began our hike.  Our plan was to continue along the path we had started on our previous visit, and then to go further, possibly as far as one of the two peaks.  But though we were (relatively) enthusiastic (me and Dan more than the kids), we just weren’t going to make it that far.  It was cold and windy.  Very cold and windy, and slightly misty.  We had come prepared for a springtime hike, but not for a winter one.

But though we accepted we would not be going as far as we’d planned, we were still going to enjoy our mountain adventure!  So, after about half a mile, we stopped into an Almhutte for a break from the wind and a warm treat (goulash and hot chocolate) before continuing on.  We were not, at all, the only people put hiking, though we may have been the only non-Austrians).

IMG_0004After a bit more hiking, we came upon a fun discovery — one of several sources of Vienna’s lovely drinking water.  I knew that our clean and tasty drinking water came “from the mountains”, but I didn’t realize that one of the sources would be a big pile of snow (presumably over a frozen lake or spring), surrounded in less than intimidating barbed wire, along the side of a wide hiking trail.  (There was a young girl who had climbed down into the snow pictured here, but that seemed like an extraordinarily bad idea, so we wouldn’t let the boys join her.)

But after that, we were pretty much done.  Our vision of an entire afternoon spent hiking several miles was overly ambitious given the conditions (or at least due to our level of preparation).  We were just thwarted by the cold and the wind … and the fact that it was basically still winter up there.  And though we enjoyed our colder-than-expected hike on the mountaintop, we definitely learned that late spring is still a bit early to hike in the high Alps.  On the bright side, as it turned out, my morning miscalculation didn’t really cost us any precious mountain time (because we wouldn’t have stayed longer anyway, and we got to be there in the “warmest” part of the day, relatively speaking).  In the end, it was another adventure, and another learning experience, and I think we’ll save our next mountain hike for summer.



Mother’s Day hike

It’s taken me years to figure out how to make Mother’s Day work at our house.  If we were in the US, we’d get together with my mom and do something nice like a dinner out, most likely, which would be great.  Here, it’s a little less straightforward.  The idea is for the boys to make a nice day for me, but a lot of what I actually need the most is a break from my usual “mom” duties.  I don’t want to spend Mother’s Day doing anything other than being with my boys, though, so I’ve finally discovered the key to having a great day: I get to decide what to do, and no one gets to complain.  (That works better in theory than in practice, though.)

In reality, it’s kind of an opportunity for me to get to do something I’ve been wanting for us all to do but haven’t had the chance.  Over the past few years (though never before on Mother’s Day) we’ve been working on a hike that we’ve cobbled together in bits and pieces (including this past April when I foolishly assumed that pleasant weather down in Vienna would translate to pleasant weather up in the hills — which it did not).  My lone Mother’s Day request was that we complete (or at least continue) that hike.


931And so, we set out to do just that.  We took the bus to the stop where we had quit during our early April snow shower hike.  Luckily for us, it turned out that we had done very nearly all of the uphill hiking on our previous journeys, and we had only to walk down the hill to Vienna.  That also meant that we were also able to start our hike with a gorgeous view over the vineyards and down into Vienna.  And then we set off, down the hill, through the woods.

The boys had brought stuffed friends along with them, as well as binoculars, and we took lots of breaks — to look at bugs, climb on trees, and admire the lovely views.  Our walk through the woods gave way to a walk along the edge of some of western Vienna’s many vineyards, and then along some hilly ridges lining farmland.







1015We walked, and we walked, and we walked, and though the occasional grumble came through, they were remarkably patient with indulging my request for the day.  We picked wildflowers, smelled lilacs, and did our best to stay out of the way of the many bikes that flew past us.  Near the end of our nearly 4 mile long hike (good thing it was mostly downhill!), the route turned steeply downward, crossed through and under what looked like maybe the remains of an old city wall (anyone know what it is — near Nussdorf, Eichelhofstraße?), and then, quite suddenly, we were in Nussdorf, at the end of the hike, and finally, completely finished.

In all, it took many tries over several years, but we did it.  And I had a lovely Mother’s Day with my boys (and I think they enjoyed it at least a little bit, too).

4th Viennaversary

We arrived here in early April of 2011, amid the persistent wind and intermittent rain that characterize what is still early spring here.  I remember standing outside of the airport in a cold drizzle wondering what I had gotten myself into and feeling slightly mystified that I had truly moved my family to another continent.

That feeling of mystification returns every year when the anniversary of our arrival passes.  Each time I have to double check my math — we’ve been here HOW long?  And this year was the same.  The weeks leading up to our “Viennaversary” were spent stressing about whether Dan’s new contract would really be signed, so then, suddenly, it was the beginning of April and I was again counting years on my fingers to ensure I hadn’t fumbled the math.  We really have been here 4 years.

This year, our “anniversary” fell on the Monday after Easter, so Dan had the day off of work and the boys were out of school, so we were able to do something to mark the occasion.  The weather was a bit chilly and breezy with lots of big, fluffy springtime clouds, but the sun that was getting through was bright and we had recently had temperatures which were some of the warmest we’d seen since the fall, so we (I) decided we should mark the occasion with a hike in the Vienna Woods to a part of Vienna we had yet to visit.

We had done the first part of this hike last spring, so the plan was to catch up with the trail (by bus) where we had left off and to complete the rest of the route, which was largely downhill.  To get to our starting point, we had to take the bus up to the hills overlooking the northwest of Vienna, and it would take us nearly an hour to get out there.  The kids were less enthusiastic than Dan and I, (when I say “hike”, the whining usually starts right away), but they, too, were suffering from a bit of Vienna winter stir craziness and were complaining more out of habit, I think, than actual objection.  They packed a few toys and supplies (i.e., candy from their Easter baskets) and dutifully suited up for the day’s adventure.

I had made a slight miscalculation, however.  While it had been breezy, sunny and warmish in the heart of the city, it was windy, solidly overcast and quite cold at the top of the hill.  We had brought hats and gloves, but we were dressed for 50 degrees and breezy with sun, not 30 degrees and windy with no sun.  We were all pretty cold, but wanted to make the most of our trip.  On the plus side, we were able to sneak a few peaks through the leafless branches, views that would have been obscured by greenery later in the spring or summer.  We were looking for crocuses and daffodils among the leaves, and attempting to keep the kids interested, which worked relatively well.  But by the time we’d been walking for 20 minutes, it has begun to snow.


I love being outdoors, and I’m up for a hike in almost any weather, but even I had to admit that this wasn’t quite what I’d meant to sign us all up for (nor was it what we’d come prepared for).  We trekked on down the hill to Kahlenberg, with a beautiful 1377(though cloudy) view over the city, and made it about another 100 yards before Liam began stridently complaining about his frozen face, and we all decided that perhaps this battle would best be fought another day.

In all, we lasted only about 45 minutes and about 1.2 miles before we gave up and headed for home.  We had walked the distance between two adjacent bus stops.

But, it was, as so much of this adventure has been, at least memorable.  I learned my lesson that marginal hiking conditions at 500 feet above sea level do not necessarily reflect acceptable hiking conditions at 1600 feet.  And, though it was brief, we did, indeed, see a part of Vienna we had not seen before.

We all went home to thaw out, and I was undaunted in my wish to one day finish the hike.  As for our 4th Viennaversary, however, we finished the celebration cozy at home.

Stadtwanderweg 1

074I’d been out there before, several times.  Enough that I no longer really remember the chronology.  I know that the first time, I couldn’t quite get from where I started to the trail with the stroller, so I spent an hour or so trying to find a way around.  And then when I finally figured it out, it was time to go back home again.  I know I went out there at least once when Jo was with us.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve been at least one other time, but that’s where my memory is less clear.  I could have sworn I’d been out there at least once with Dan and both of the kids, but he says he’d never been before.  I’m not sure.  But I do know that each of the times I’ve been before I’ve basically walked back and forth over the same mile of the 7 mile loop.  I’ve walked just far enough to arrive at the first of the vineyards, and then turned around.  Each successive time, I’ve actually made it one vineyard further along the trail before I turned around, but I’ve never made it very far.

079I love to walk and to hike.  I love to explore and to see a place on foot.  (On horseback is even better, but I haven’t had that chance for a few years now.)  It’s truly something I enjoy.  And Vienna understands me.  The city has 11 signed and maintained hiking/walking trails throughout the most scenic parts of the city.  Each is 6-10 miles long, none is completely stroller friendly, and since they are in scenic places, they also tend towards being quite isolated, so I’ve never gone far on one alone.  So, though these are exactly the kind of thing I’d love to explore, we’ve only done little pieces of 3 of the trails.

088This past Sunday was my turn to choose a family activity, so I decided to try for another piece of the Stadtwanderweg 1 (city hiking trail 1) — the one I’ve visited most often.  I had no illusions that we’d complete the whole thing, as it’s about 7 miles long.  The purpose wasn’t to complete the loop, but to go further than I had before.  We put on our sunscreen and our sturdy shoes, packed a picnic and headed out.

It was a lovely walk, with (as I’d seen before) some lovely views of the vineyards of Grinzing.  The kids were fascinated, at first, by every flower and bug, but after the first mile they became fixated on lunch instead (though it wasn’t yet 11).  It turns out that the section of trail I had chosen was almost entirely uphill, unfortunately.  We hiked a couple of miles before finding a suitable picnic spot, and the tentative plan was to turn around after that and head home.  I had covered 089almost a mile of new trail, the kids were happy to have had a picnic, and we all still had a bit of energy left.

Looking up the bus routes on my phone, though, we realized that it would be a much shorter, though more uphill, walk to the bus to continue along the trail.  And it also looked like there might be a restaurant up ahead, which might serve the ice cream Liam was really hoping for.  So we continued.  And though the walk got lovelier, and very shaded as we went truly into the woods (except for one section where there had been some logging), it also got steeper and rougher.  Less than an hour later, hot and grouchy, we did eventually pop out of the woods.  We found ourselves right at a bus stop (closer than the one on my map) AND at the foot of a driveway to a restaurant which served ice cream.  So, after our 4.3 mile trek, and over 2 hours of walking, we headed home.  It was a tough adventure, but a good one.


093And now, for next time, we know exactly which bus stop to head for in order to pick up the trail for the next (almost entirely downhill) section.  We may complete the first trail one day after all.

(As a note, though we did fine, I wouldn’t really recommend this part of the trail — clockwise around from Nußdorf to Sulzwiese — to families with small kids unless you have a very sturdy stroller or are prepared to carry the kids a lot.  We carried our boys most of the way.  It’s not an unpleasant walk at all, but it is long and truly almost entirely uphill.)


For our last full day in the Alps south of Salzburg, we decided to drive up a mountain close to the farm where we were staying.  Twice before, we’ve stayed at this farm, and each time, we’ve attempted to drive up this mountain.  Both times before, we were thwarted by snow.

108The first time (last October), what was a gentle drizzle at the farm became an icy mess and furious flurries with seriously obscured visibility as we made our way almost to the top.  The second time (late last March), the road was simply impassable due to heavy amounts of snow.  But, the third time is theoretically the charm, so we decided to try again.  The weather was relatively warm (nearly 60 at the farm — closer to 40 at the top) and although there had been snow several days before, the forecast was for clear skies.  We went to the grocery store, selected picnic items, and set off.


Unlike our previous attempts, this time the visibility was good, and we got to enjoy the view.  Every time we go up into the Alps, I’m amazed by the vastness of the expanse of peaks we can see marching off into the distance — although the valleys in between are cozy, with tiny towns, the mountains are jagged and gray and, even in mid-October, mostly snow covered.  They are intimidating, they are wild, and we were driving up the side of one of them.


In addition to a criss-cross of stone, wood and wire fencing used to section off cattle who graze up here in the summer, Trattbergalm has lots of hiking/cross country skiing trails (all marked as “moderate” or “significant” challenges — in other words, not for hiking with the kids), several parking areas, and even a few mountain hut restaurants.  We found a parking area with a scenic spot nearby (with extra credit for the fences situated between us and the edge) and enjoyed our picnic overlooking a stretch of the central Austrian Alps.

131On our way back to the car, we were intrigued by a large-ish, furry looking, black and white shape coming down from the peak behind a couple of hikers.  Was it a dog?  It looked too big.  Was it a cow?  It moved pretty quickly for a cow on the kind of slope, and besides, they would have all gone back down to their valley or mountainside farms at the end of the summer.  Honestly, I was thinking it was a pony or maybe a small donkey, until it came farther down the slope and we saw that it was a (for real) mountain goat, with a black front half, a white back half and massive horns.


After watching it descend the hill and wander towards the parking lot, we retreated to the car, but kept watching.  (None of my many pictures came out very well — I felt like I was trying to photograph the Loch Ness Monster.)  It wandered around the parking area for a bit, and then walked off down the road.  According to the hikers we saw coming down with it, they had climbed to the top of the mountain, and started back down when they suddenly realized there was this sizable goat following right behind them.  (That must have been pretty nerve-wracking!)


After a bit, and a short way (away from the goat), we got back in the car and drove on (after the goat) and eventually came to end of the road.  We parked again and followed the path (and some signs) to a mountain restaurant where we enjoyed mugs of hot 148chocolate while the kids played on the playground and washed their hands in mountain spring water.  It had gotten quite chilly as the sun set behind the peak, and we soon headed back to the car to warm up.

We had a great day — and I’m glad we finally made it up the mountain as far as we could drive.  So many of the things we’ve seen on these adventures seem so perfect, so lovely and exactly what we’d wish to see, that it’s hard to remember at times that they aren’t just a put on for the tourists.  The mountain goat, the Alpine view, the hot chocolate from the hut at the top of the snow-dotted mountain, the fresh mountain spring, the cattle grids for the cows that spend the hot summers on the top of the cool mountain … that’s just how it is there.  You start to 158wonder if there isn’t someone in the background saying, “Cue the goat!”, but it’s really just life in this part of the world.  We just happened to visit and get to enjoy it on a (relatively) warm Monday in October.

On the way back to the farm, we drove through a tiny town whose church bells were ringing the hour and past a pair of deer grazing along the side of the road without concern, neither of which did anything to erase the impression of too-perfectness.  But that’s how it was.  Just almost too perfect, and a wonderful end to this adventure in the mountains.

Public footpaths

049All across England, Scotland and Ireland, we encountered signs marking public footpaths.  These are (relatively) maintained walking paths that the public has a right to use.  It’s remarkable to me because, out in the country, they’re everywhere — not just along the edge of the road, or through parks or other public spaces, but very often through and across private land.

Following several of these public footpaths in England (we did less exploring on foot in Ireland and Scotland) we went across meadows, around lakes, into forests and through (occupied) sheep pastures.  (All of the pictures I’ve included in this post were taken while we were on a public footpath.)  Many of these areas are enclosed by fences and you have to pass 132through a gate (or a stile) in order to enter the field.  As a horse owner, and someone who spent a lot of time during my growing up years on a sheep farm, I’m astonished that this actually works.  (But, I guess it must, because I imagine that otherwise, something would change.)  I would have nightmares about my animals getting out, or someone getting trampled and suing (although things are different outside of the States when it comes to litigation).  Most of the gates we encountered were either kissing gates (basically a livestock comparison to an airlock door) or weighted to fall closed on their own, which is good, because people are generally bad at remembering to close gates (especially when the animals in question aren’t theirs).


Even so, I think it’s a wonderful system, and I’m amazed, yet thrilled, that it exists.  Vast parts of the English countryside are open to the public, allowing so much of the beautiful land to be explored.  We weren’t limited to public parks and sidewalks, we really were able to explore.  It was fantastic.






Grinzing vineyard walk, again

Late last spring, I tucked Liam into the stroller and climbed aboard one of Vienna’s trams (the 38) and rode out to the end.  My destination was a picturesque vineyard hike through the foothills of Vienna’s outskirts, called Stadtwanderweg 1.

I was only moderately successful.  I had a tough time getting from the end of the tram line to the beginning of the hiking route (too many stairs), and although I’d imagined the walk as semi-rural, I wasn’t quite prepared for how isolated parts of the path would be.  I ended up walking just a short distance before heading home, kind of disappointed.

004When Jo moved here, revisiting the vineyard walk was on my list of things to do.  With more information and a companion, I knew I’d do better.  Of course, she arrived in October and leaves at the end of the month, and I hadn’t done anything about it yet.  We were running out of time, so yesterday, we took advantage of the beautiful springlike weather in Vienna and hit the trail.

To start, we took the D tram line out to the end, instead of the 38.  This landed us in Nussdorf instead of Grinzing.  As it turns out, the D tram line certainly was an easier access point to the trail, and the part of the trail it connects to is more suburban and less isolated.  The tradeoff comes, though, in the lack of amazing views — although there’s a pretty creek along the trail, we were mostly walking past fenced yards and driveways.

005We had a nice walk, though.  Spring is in the air (although I suspect winter isn’t yet done with us).  We saw crocuses, butterflies and a bee.  We heard the birds chirping, and even got warm enough as we walked to stow our coats in the stroller.

The entire loop would have been about 6 miles (although it’s extremely hilly — the estimated time given for the route is 3.5-4 hours, and that doesn’t count walking parts of the route at toddler speed).  We only had two hours before the end of B’s school day, so we walked just a little way and then doubled back.  Our pace was slowed by Liam walking on his own, but he was happy to be free, and we were happy to enjoy the sunshine.

006We walked far enough to find the spot where I eventually joined the trail last year.  That section, plus the part beyond where I had previously turned around, was the prettiest we saw, with views up the mountain and over sweeping hillsides lined with grapevines.  Spring is just beginning to wake everything up, so there was a lot of brown and only bits of green (and even some piles of snow left in the shadows), but it was pretty and invigorating as only an outdoor, uphill, country walk can be.

I want to go back again, in the summer or maybe the fall, hopefully on a weekend where we can take our time, stop for lunch along the way, and see the rest of the trail.  I love to walk and hike and see what there is to see, and I’d love to see more of this lovely part of Vienna.  I suspect the view will be even better as we explore further along the path, and I look forward to discovering it.

Let’s go up the hill!

Today was a huge improvement over yesterday’s torturous adventure. (We’re learning already!) We started out by searching for a place to ski somewhere between totally boring and suicidal. We found a spot, right in town. It had a little “button” ski lift (a type of drag lift with a seat) and a not too imposing hill.

We actually began by trying to interest the boys in a little sledding. Although they were interested in BRINGING their sleds, we couldn’t actually manage any sledding. I think that until you know how much fun sledding can be, the whole thing is just too much work to feel worth it (kind of like skiing, actually).

We knew we wouldn’t be up to a lot of skiing today — especially Jo and I, because we were sore and tired from our lesson yesterday. So, we shared a lift ticket and took turns. Dan went on his own (just to remind himself how to ski — it’s been 10 years and he didn’t ski yesterday) but then he took a very excited B up with him and they skied together.

20130120-003250.jpgIt was wonderful to see. B was so thrilled to be out there, and so brave. He kept insisting that he could go on his own (but we insisted otherwise). He loved it. He did a great job. He’s really a skier now! The smile on his face each time he reached the bottom made every bit of carrying, dragging and aching completely worth it.

Then I took a turn. I was really freaked out. It’s been 10 years for me, too, but I’ve only skied twice and I was never any good. Parts of what I worked on yesterday were a challenge, and that was elementary. Just getting on the lift was difficult, and my legs were shaking from tension, fear and exertion before I even got to the top. I got off the lift, got turned around, and suddenly realized I was up very high. But, my 4 year old had just done it a few times, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try, so off I went. I went very fast and suddenly couldn’t remember anything my instructor had taught me. I managed to slow down enough to gain some control. I managed a few turns, but my legs were shaking and I was going too fast. I fell. It wasn’t too bad. The snow wasn’t icy, and I didn’t fall particularly hard. But I was then faced with the always challenging task of getting up again. My first attempt nearly sent me backwards down the hill, but I finally got it together and got up again . . . and it wasn’t too bad. I had time to take a few breaths and clear my head, and then, as I started down again, I was able to remember my instructor’s advice and actually have a pretty decent time. I was still working very hard, though, and my legs were shaking so hard by the time I got to the bottom that Jo had to get me out of my skis. But, I did it! I skied in the Alps!

Dan & B went a few more times, and then Jo tried, and after I’d rested, I went again. I was worried I was maybe doing too much — that maybe I should end on my first successful run and leave on a positive note. I’m so glad I didn’t. With the confidence that came from a reasonable first run, the second was even better. I was relaxed, thinking clearly, and comfortable enough to even enjoy my surroundings a bit. It was so beautiful up there. I had a view of all the surrounding, snow-covered mountains, some in sunlight, some in shadow, and of the cute little town below me. It was amazing, and beautiful and as peaceful as it can be when you’re gradually accelerating down a mountain in a standing position. I think I got a small glimpse into what people love about skiing. My second run was great. No falls, even!

20130120-003315.jpgAfter that, B decided he was done, and Dan took a few final runs. We had been worried that Liam would not handle a day out in the snow well (since he didn’t yesterday), but he did great. He played, ate snow and ran around. He was a happy little guy. (Maybe skiing next time.) The whole area where we skied today was perfect for kids. In fact, we saw quite a few other families in the same situation as us — a preschooler on skis and a toddler with a sled, with both parents trying to keep everyone safe & happy. It was great to see that we weren’t the only ones.

After skiing, we had lunch, returned our skis (which might have actually been my favorite moment of the weekend) and went back for a rest in our hotel.

This evening, though, we ventured out again for a walk, and the boys optimistically brought their sleds along. B chose our direction, and just a short ways from our hotel we were lucky to find a hiking trail, very snow covered and perfect for sledding. After a few tries, he figured it out and had a great time. Liam didn’t want to try, though, so after a bit, we let Liam choose what to do next. He wanted to keep walking. And when we asked where he wanted to go, he said, “Let’s go up the hill!”, so we continued on, up the hiking trail, into the dark.

This is just how Liam is. He likes to walk, he likes to hike, he likes to climb. Mountains make him happy. We thought he’d be really into skiing (maybe one day). But, he likes to go UP, not down.

20130120-003451.jpgWe walked up a short distance, beyond the buildings of the town and into a clearing. And we were treated to the most beautiful view I’ve had in Austria. We were up, a bit above the town. There was snow everywhere, a deep cushion over the field where we were standing and on all the roofs below us. Alongside the packed down path where we were walking, right next to us, there was a stream gurgling under the snow. Below us, the village of Alpbach was illuminated — the church, the Alpine houses still decked out in Christmas lights — and we could see the little dots of light on the mountain facing us, all the little buildings and outposts of the ski resorts. Our clearing was lit by the moon and the stars (some of which actually appeared lower in the sky than some of the lights on the mountains) and behind us, further up the hill, closer to the foot of the mountain cliffs behind them, were the houses of the next village, with Christmas trees decorated all around. Other than the sounds of the stream, everything was quiet, and we all stood and soaked up the magic of the moment.

We had such a remarkable day. The challenge of yesterday has been completely overshadowed by the delights of today. I loved seeing the joy B got from learning to ski and the drive Liam has to explore. Seeing B come down the mountain, the view I had at the top, the breathtaking moment of seeing an Alpine postcard fantasy in real life, the feeling of my little ones’ hands in mine while we walked through the snow — I hope I can hold on to all of these memories. I had some truly special moments today.

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.



009We’ve been in Austria for nearly 5 months, and there’s been something lacking from our experience so far:  mountains.  Today, we rectified that omission.

We headed out this morning — we were trying for “first thing” this morning, but didn’t actually leave the house until nearly 11.  As it always seems to happen with kids, the preparation and departure took far longer than expected.  We took the U-bahn to the train station and boarded a train (a big, double decker one) that took us an hour and a half southwest of Vienna.  We were a little concerned about two hours of train travel with the kids, but it actually went fine.  The scenery was varied enough to keep B busy for a while, and Liam promptly fell asleep.  I was planning on using my iPhone to entertain B if necessary, but I didn’t need to.  The time passed really quickly.  After we left Vienna, we were quickly in the countryside, and 016the hills and plains gave way to mountains and valleys — it was beautiful.  The mountains in this area seem to be very large, green and steep . . . less rolling than the Blue Ridge at home, and bigger, too (I think).

Our train dropped us off at a tiny train station outside of a tiny town, and we hopped on a bus.  The little town we rode through was beautiful.  Surrounded by huge mountains, full of cute little Austrian houses with pink and purple flowers spilling out of the flower boxes, a crystal clear stream running through the town.  I rode on the bus, looking foolish with my mouth popped open nearly the entire way.

018After our short bus ride, we got out, climbed up a very steep set of steps and bought our tickets for our gondola ride up the mountain.  We explained to Benjamin that it was kind of like a flying train car — which turned out to be quite apt.  I’ve been on ski lifts before, so I expected this to be like that, only larger and enclosed.  And, it was, roughly.  But in a whole different league.  This thing zoomed up the mountain, bumping and swaying.  There are windows all around, so you can see gorgeous mountain views, all while being whisked up about a mile in just over 5 minutes.  I had not really expected how high this mountain was — we just kept going up and up an up!  The three hours in transit were almost worth the gondola ride alone.


But, then we got to the top and stepped out and were stunned by the views, by the feeling of the air, by everything.  It was exactly what I wanted it to be — gorgeous, cool, crisp and fresh.  The air felt and tasted like early spring and smelled like Christmas.  Benjamin immediately requested his sweatshirt (which he shortly abandoned, once we started actually walking).  We could see down into the valley we had just come out of, as well as look across at huge mountains we had been gazing up at from the valley floor just a few moments before.


After appreciating the vistas, we decided to go for a short hike.  The trail map listed a loop that went from where we started, up a “moderate” slope, to a little cafe about 35 minutes walk away, and then back again (another 35 minutes).  Not in a hurry, and 033-MOTIONwanting to enjoy ourselves, we figured that even with Liam in the Ergo and Benjamin walking, we could probably do the walk in an hour or so.  We set off, up the hill, through the meadows of mountain laurel and forests of perfect Christmas trees..  About 90 seconds into the hike, Benjamin was asking for a break.  We continued a little further, found a picnic bench and took a break, and then continued on, still climbing.  We actually climbed high enough that we realized, looking around, and looking across at the other mountains, that we had, apparently, reached the top of the tree line.  We still had lots of ground plants and even a few stunted pine trees (pine bushes?) but no more trees.  We walked and we walked, up and up.

There were two things wrong with our “hike to the cafe” plan.  1.  The 35 minute walk that was described was estimated by an Austrian.  They walk faster, and are generally in better shape than Americans.  They take their walking, particularly mountain walking, very seriously.  (It’s not uncommon to see people walking through Vienna — which is pretty flat — with what look like ski poles.  It’s apparently called “nordic walking”.  Up on the mountain, nearly everyone had these ski poles/walking sticks.)  2.  The “moderate slope” bit was also, I imagine, described by an Austrian.  We were not, at any point, in danger of falling to our deaths, and neither were we required to rappel up or down anything.  So, I guess that means it’s moderate.  (In their defence, there were a lot of people doing this walk who did appear to find it only moderate, including quite a few who were probably twice my age and at least one young man with an artificial leg.  So, again, I suspect the issue is that my American idea of “moderate” does not match with an Austrian idea.)

It didn’t matter — we had a great time.  We probably got about halfway to the cafe (we estimate) in about 45 minutes.  We sat at another picnic table to rest, and to feed and change Liam, and decided not to go on any further.  Benjamin had a great time playing on the mountainside.  Dan and I enjoyed the views.  Liam wanted to get down and crawl around (we limited his independent mountain exploration to the blanket we brought for him).

042After soaking in the sun, the air and the sights, we decided to head back, and opted for an “off the trail” trail that we were sure would parallel and join up shortly with the well marked, well worn and well travelled trail we had come up on.  It didn’t.  We hadn’t gone far when we realized that instead of going steeply (sorry, “moderately”) downhill, as we should be, we were staying level . . . or maybe even climbing very slightly.  Hmm.  We came out from a wooded section of our trail, and my stomach did a little flip when I looked down, several hundred yards, to see the trail we had been aiming for, and no apparent way to get to where we wanted to be.  We didn’t panic, but I admit to being a bit concerned and having pieces of episodes of “Survivorman” and “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” run through my head.  We had our bearings, though, and continued on, choosing paths that brought us closer and closer to where we needed to be.  We came out into another clearing (which actually turned out to be a cleared area under a ski lift) and found we were now only about 50 yards (of “moderate” slope, full of weeds and undergrowth but nothing too bad) above our path.  Woo hoo!

We made it back and treated ourselves to ice cream (me and Benjamin) and coffee (me and Dan) before heading back down on the gondola.  (Which goes down faster than it comes up, creating a definite roller coaster feeling of leaving your stomach behind).


It took us about twice as long to get there as we actually spent on the mountain, but it was totally worth it.  We trekked out of Vienna, got up to the top (kind of) of the mountain, hiked around, got lost, found our way, and made it back home.  Our kids are tired, but happy.  That’s definitely a success.  I also impressed myself (and probably Dan, too) by going with the flow.  I actually let him make the travel plans, and I didn’t once stress about what time we had to be anywhere.  This is very much unlike me, but I’m finding that the energy I spend trying to make things work out perfectly really gets in the way of having a good time, and doesn’t gain me much in terms of the experience.  I’m discovering that it’s worth risking having to spend an hour standing around in a beautiful location because I didn’t optimize my train/bus connection if it means that I’m not watching the clock the entire time and stressing out about what’s supposed to happen next instead of enjoying what’s happening in the moment.

We had a great day.  I don’t know if the hills are alive, but we really enjoyed them.