Schönbrunn summer concert

Every year, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra puts on an outdoor concert on the grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace here in Vienna.  The concert is recorded and rebroadcast in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) later in the summer, but it actually takes place in May.  (As a result, every summer we get calls and emails from friends and family asking if we are going to a concert that actually happened months earlier.)  It’s a free event, but due to busy schedules, sick kids, and inertia, we’d never been before.  This year, we made the trip out to Schönbrunn to see it.


Weather-wise, we may have chosen the worst year of our time here to finally go.  It was raining, and though we hoped that the drizzle might hold back the crowds, there were lots of people in attendance (though, since we’d never been before, it’s possible that it WAS significantly less crowded than it would have been in great weather).  When we arrived, we got to walk through and under the palace to enter the grounds (a passage I’d never seen open before), and out into the gardens, which were fenced off and organized to corral the people and protect the flowers.  There was no chance of getting a spot (standing only) anywhere near the orchestra, so, after a bit of wandering, we took a position with a good view of one of the tv screens showing the action (the point being to hear the music, anyway).  The Gloriette was lit by colored lights, and the atmosphere among the crowd was happy and relaxed, excited for the concert.




And it was lovely.  The music was fantastic and the setting absolutely stunning.  It was fun to be out for the evening, even in spite of the rain, and the kids enjoyed themselves more than we had expected.  It started relatively late (for us), so we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay for the whole thing, but the boys happily stayed for over an hour of classical music, which was pretty impressive.  They danced and clapped and ran around as much as the crowds allowed.  After about an hour, the boys were getting antsy, and we were all getting a little stiff-legged from standing/holding kids, so we decided to call it a night.  Rather than fight our way back out through the crowds, the way we came in, we opted for a side exit, through the gardens and out towards the zoo.

And that was the most magical part of the night.  We could still hear the music from the concert, but, as we walked through the trees, we were mostly in darkness.  There were spotlights among the trees, which gave us some guidance, and a steady flow of other people also leaving the show, but we were mostly on our own in the warm, summer darkness, in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace.  We let the boys run ahead, warned them to watch out for puddles and for other people, and listened as their laughter came back to us as they ran and leapt through the gardens.  It was so joyful, so peaceful and so beautiful, I could have stayed there forever.  It was an absolutely perfect summer night, in an improbable place, with my most favorite people.  It was like a dream.  I imagine that if my boys remember it, it will be the kind of memory that seems like it wasn’t actually ever real.  I doubt I will ever forget it.


The grounds and gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace are some of our favorite destinations here in Vienna.  We visit the zoo on a regular basis, make a point of going to the Christmas and Easter markets every year, and always enjoy a climb up the hill to the Gloriette, with the lovely view over Vienna as a reward at the end.  Still, with our many visits to Schönbrunn, we had never been to the labyrinth, though we’d always meant to.  So, this past spring, we took a free day and made another trip out to the gardens of Schönbrunn.

Our main goal was to explore the labyrinths, but we were planning to make a day of it, so we got started early.  I had always wondered — what would the labyrinth be like?  Would it be fun?  Boring?  A little scary?  Would we get truly lost?  That was part of why we hadn’t ever done it — we weren’t sure we’d enjoy it, but, with the recommendation of a friend and her slightly older (than my kids) son, we were up to try it.

511There are a few labyrinth choices — one set made of short hedges (that you could see over), and another with 8+ foot high hedges — more of a classic hedge maze.  We decided to start easy with the short one.  It was a good choice.  The kids took off through the maze — literally.  While we adults were limited to the actual paths, the kids could slip between the hedges to switch routes.  They got ahead of, and away from, us very quickly.  The only way it worked was that we could still see their heads as they ran on through the maze.  Though I was slightly concerned that we might lose track of them, we actually didn’t, and I think it was extra fun for them to reach the end of the maze well before we did.  At the end, we were rewarded with some large games — an interactive fountain, some balancing tables, and a big musical instrument the kids played by stomping on it.  A success!  Much fun, and no one got lost.



539After our success in the little labyrinth, we decided to take on the bigger one.  This one, with hedge walls over 8 feet tall, was not a place we could safely get separated.  We stuck together and wound our way through, encountering, at each dead end, a stone block bearing a zodiac symbol (for reasons I don’t understand, but the kids were enthusiastic to learn the symbols).  At the end, we got to enjoy a lovely view of Poseidon’s Fountain.  The journey was relatively short, but we had to discover the way out, as well, so it was a good adventure.  After finding the exit, we stopped for an ice cream and some playtime at the playground — including an elevated eagle structure (whose wings were actually flappable — only in Vienna!).



We wanted to extend our day at Schönbrunn, so we climbed up the hill behind the palace to the Gloriette (something we’ve done many times before).  We took a hike through the woods, had a picnic lunch, and inadvertently took dozens of inchworms along with us on the rest of our hike (they kept dropping out of the trees onto our clothes).  We finished up our day with a climb to the observation area at the top of the Gloriette (our first time up there) for an even better view over Schönbrunn and Vienna.




As usual, we had a fantastic time visiting the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace.  It remains one of my favorite places to take the kids in all of Vienna.  And, even after 4 years here, we were able to experience something new and exciting in a familiar place.


Schönbrunn in the spring

20130428-160412.jpgOur first two Aprils in Vienna were pretty much the same — lots of wind, a fair bit of rain and mostly chilly days, with just enough warm and sunny moments to give us hope that spring was really coming.  This year has been completely different.  Less than a month ago, we were lamenting the snow and continuing winter, wondering when we’d be able to enjoy the outdoors again and waiting for the flowers to bloom.  And today — this whole past week, actually — has been sunny and warm.  Shorts weather.  Bordering on hot, and necessitating sunscreen.

20130428-160447.jpgIt’s like we skipped spring altogether, which is kind of unfortunate, since it’s been one of my favorite things about living in Vienna.  (The US mid-Atlantic, where I’m from, is notorious for skipping right from winter to summer. It’s considered perfectly normal to switch from using the central heating to the air conditioning in less that a week’s time.)

But, although I do kind of wish we’d made a more gradual transition to warm temperatures, I’m not going to waste the beautiful weather worrying about it (besides, it’s equally likely that May will be cold and wet since April really hasn’t been).  So today we got outside to enjoy it.

20130428-160519.jpgWe gave B a selection of options to choose from for our day, and he chose a trip to Schönbrunn, so we packed ourselves up and headed out there.  We ran down shaded pathways, looked in the dirt at lots of bugs, visited Neptune’s Fountain, and climbed part of the way up the hill to the Gloriette (and then, of course, ran back down).  We enjoyed the sun and the beautiful blue sky and the wonderful backdrop of imperial Vienna.  And we marveled at the fact that while we sweated and worried about shade and sunburn today, we were at the Schönbrunn Easter market less than a month ago, shivering in our winter coats.

It’s been a strange spring in Vienna, but we were glad to make the most of a summery day at Schönbrunn today.  B made a great choice, and we had a great day.





Schonbrunn Easter Market

The downside to having Easter come so early this year is that being out and about at the Easter markets has been somewhat less comfortable and pleasant than in years past.  Our first time, we went in short sleeves and sandals.  Not so this year, where the winter weather has stuck around longer than is typical and Easter came earlier than usual.  All in all, it feels more like visiting the Christmas markets than the Easter ones!

But, we weren’t completely discouraged from attending — just wise . . . or so we thought.  We waited until the last possible day to visit the Schonbrunn Easter market, because we figured it would be the warmest.  We also watched the weather reports which seemed to support our hypothesis.  All week, the weather for today has looked the best of the week — partly sunny with a balmy high of 44.  Compared to what we’ve been getting, that’s nearly like summer.

012Alas, it was not to be.  Yesterday, which dawned cold and rainy, actuallly had a lovely sunny afternoon with highs in the mid-40s.  We missed our chance on that, though.  Today was cloudy, drizzling, and didn’t get out of the mid-30s.  Brr.  But still, we went.  We wanted to visit beautiful Schonbrunn, and we wanted to show Jo the lovely Easter market there.  Unfortunately, the entire population of Vienna appears to have had the same idea — so there were thick crowds of people packed into the market, in spite of the weather.

014Despite the chilly temperatures, we had a really nice time.  Upon our arrival, the kids immediately got caught up in a series of children’s games and acitivities.  In Vienna, you never know — sometimes a “children’s program” is a fairly uninteresting performance or a tiny corner of poorly set up arts and crafts.  And sometimes it’s a comprehensive, compelling collections of games, toys, rides and acitivities that captivates the kids for hours.  We went to the market today with no expectations except for doing some shopping and eating some food.  But the boys had a great time with a maze game with a wooden duck on strings with a ball (it’s not the easiest thing to describe), some 015chicken air hockey (not a real chicken), and a swan race (also, not a real swan).  They also tried out walking on stilts and got to talk to a guy on stilts in a chicken suit, who spoke English (as if walking on stilts in a chicken suit isn’t impressive enough).  It was a good time.

We ate too much food, shopped for handmade cards, hand-painted eggs and too much chocolate and got to practice lots of our German.  Even though it still feels like winter, it was a good day at the Easter market.




Celebrating: day two

050Yesterday was my & Dan’s 11th wedding anniversary, and we decided to divide the celebration into two pieces — one, because our plans included the kids and two, because then you get to celebrate on two days, and what’s the downside to that?  I say “we” decided, but it was really me — Dan & I have had a tradition (now 8 years old) of taking turns planning our anniversary celebration.  We mostly do it as a surprise for the other, and it really makes it a lot of fun — rather than compromising and collaborating every year, we take turns, so we alternately get the fun of making and executing the plans or enjoying the surprise.


Yesterday, Dan came home from work a bit early and we packed the kids up and headed out to the Schonbrun Palace.  Even though I’ve now seen a bit more of the city, 133I still think it’s the most beautiful part that I’ve seen so far.  We hired a horse & carriage, and rode all around the grounds of the palace.  It was lovely — the grounds are beautiful and peaceful, and seeing them in a carriage really lets you imagine yourself in a different era, pulling up in front of one of the grandest palaces of all time.  Pretty amazing.  And the kids did great:  Benjamin loved it (he’s been asking to go on a “horse trailer ride” since we got here) and even Liam did pretty well for most of the ride.  We finished up with a quick dinner (it was getting late) at the cafe at the palace, and then made it home before the rain started.

016I had also picked out a restaurant that I thought would be reasonably romantic and kid-friendly at the same time (not the easiest of tasks).  We saved that for tonight, so this evening we rode the tram and a bus out to the west of Vienna, and up onto the closest “berg” to the city.  It was perfect.  It was reasonably busy without being crowded, but there was plenty of room for Benjamin to run laps around the table without being in anyone’s way.  The outside seating was shaded from all but some dappled sunlight, and as the evening came on, it was cool but not too chilly (reminded me more of late September than June).  The view was amazing:  you could look across the garden and outdoor seating and look right onto Vienna and the mountains beyond.  There was a little overlook at the edge of the yard where we went and found exactly where we live (or, at least, the church on the next block, so near enough).  And there was a wedding reception going on in a little hall beside the garden seating, which just seemed perfect.  We ate, we drank wine, we explored with Benjamin and cuddled Liam.  We stayed out much later than we usually do and then we trekked back home and put the kids to bed.  It was lovely.


And, it wasn’t diminished in the least by having the kids with us.  We usually make a point of going out on our anniversary alone together, but that wasn’t an option this year, as we don’t have childcare established yet.  I thought it was wonderful to have Benjamin and Liam with us, both for our “horse trailer ride” yesterday and for our dinner today.  We explained to Benjamin that we were celebrating our anniversary, and he asked lots of questions and told us both “Happy Anniversary!” several times.  It was wonderful to include them in our celebration.  I’m sure there will be times in the future where we’ll enjoy some alone time for our anniversary, but this year, our celebration was absolutely perfect and I would not have changed a single thing.

Schönbrunn Palace

006So, Schönbrunn Palace.  Wow.  Amazing.  Unbelievable.  Truly on a scale beyond anything I had ever seen before, or even imagined.  I’m not overselling it — those of you who have never seen it will STILL be amazed by it when you see it.  And we didn’t even go inside — this is just my reaction from seeing a part of the gardens.  Opulent, excessive, beautiful, lush and peaceful.  I loved it.  Easily my favorite place in Vienna so far.

011Dan, Benjamin, Liam and I went today, and we had just a wonderful time.  They have an Easter market going on now, which was fun (and made getting lunch easy) and then we explored the grounds and marveled at the exterior of the palace itself.  It just defies explanation to try and convey the scope of this place.  We saw only a small part of what the palace grounds have to offer (we didn’t visit the labyrinth/maze or the zoo, for example) and they aren’t even yet in their full splendor (they’re in the 013process of planting the yellow tulips, but nothing else is in yet).  I just loved it.  We played hide and seek among the trees.  We visited the koi pond (there’s probably more than one).  We saw amazing statues and topiary.  We kept Benjamin out of the fountains (he asked me several times to take his shoes off).  Benjamin just ran and ran.  At one point, I was holding Liam as he gazed up through the trees, and I imagined what the princes and princesses must have experienced when they strolled the 016grounds.  It was so fun and beautiful.  We saw just a little bit of the “wilder” (the less manicured, forest-like) sections, but that part was too hilly for us to explore too deeply with the stroller.  The only downside is that we had to stick to the shade, because (of course) all of our sunscreen is in the air shipment that we can’t get to.  (We’re going to go out and purchase some more tomorrow.)  On the way home, Liam made eyes at an entire family on our tram.  What a great day!

021All that, and it was only about 10 minutes on the tram from our current apartment.  I can imagine that it’s somewhere I may even go with the boys on nice afternoons while Dan is at work.  What an amazing place to be able to visit, just on a whim, whenever we like!  What a treat.  We loved it.  We’ll go back.  Soon.028053