Stone circle


On neither of our trips to England so far have we made it down to Stonehenge (although it’s on the list, probably for the next trip).  I really want to go — I’m certain it’s very interesting, most likely even more impressive and intriguing in person than in the images I’ve seen, and I imagine it will be goosebump-inducing, on account of its mystique, at the very least.  Besides, it’s “just one of those places” that you want to see when you go to England.  (At least, I do.)


236We found out that there was a stone circle — Castlerigg Stone Circle — in the Lake District, though, very close to where we were staying, and it seemed like an excellent place to check out on a rainy morning with some free time.  Although it lacks the renown of Stonehenge, it was fascinating, very old (one of the oldest stone circles in Britain and all of Europe, constructed around 3200 BC) and also quite beautiful, with misty views of the mountains and valleys of Cumbria in every direction.


238We loved it.  It felt like an appropriate part of our British trip, and, from a practical perspective, it was a great place for the kids to run around a bit outside.  They liked it mainly because rocks are fun to climb on (although it may have been uncouth to do so — we did it anyway) and there were lots of great puddles to splash in.  The circle had a great ambiance and stunning views, and we were lucky to visit between your buses, so it wasn’t very crowded.  For whatever purpose the ancient inhabitants of the area constructed the circle, they certainly chose an excellent spot.  We went just on a whim, and I’m so glad we did.


Am I missing something?

Our experience here feels so BIG.  The struggles and challenges feel massive, the discoveries wonderful, the perfect moments stunningly delightful.  The highs are so high and the lows can be very low.  Before we came, we were told it would be like this.  We’ve told others, who have come since, the same thing:  “Be prepared. It’s a rollercoaster.”

And it is.  And it’s worth it.  For all of the tough moments, all of the frustrations, all of the roadblocks and the loneliness, we’re glad we’re here.  Because the good moments are so very good and we know that life will never be quite like this again.  We know that we will never be the same again.  Being here, living it, it’s overwhelming and all-encompassing.  It’s a huge, mentally monopolizing experience, in that it changes us constantly and it occupies so much of our time and mental energy just to plan and execute daily life.

It’s sometimes shocking to me, then, how different the experience of other people in a similar situation can be.  I don’t get a lot of time to do so (see the “overwhelming” and “monopolizing” comments above) but I sometimes get to read what other American expats in Austria experience, or (even more rarely) actually talk so some of them about it.

Their experiences, while as massive and entirely consuming as ours, are completely different.  Some of them have experiences, regularly, that they define their time in Vienna by — at coffee houses, bars, clubs, art museums — that we have barely seen, if at all.  Some of their favorite places are places I’ve never heard of, let alone been to, and the images, captured in words or pictures, of “their” Vienna seems as foreign to me as mine do to most of my friends at home.

So I wonder, sometimes, am I missing something?  How many of the essential, quintessential Viennese experiences will I never have?  Not just because I’m a mom, and I’m busy with my little ones, but also because of my own tastes and preferences, my own prejudices and perspective.  What will I miss?  What will I never see?  What am I not experiencing that “is* Vienna to someone else?

Because there’s a pressure that comes with living abroad, a feeling that I ought to really get to know Vienna while I”m here.  That I ought to really see and experience it.  That I should go home knowing certain things and having experienced particular aspects of this city, this country, this continent.  And I don’t know if I’m having the Austrian or Viennese experience.

Actually, I know, in so many ways, that I’m not.  We haven’t been to the Opera.  We’ve only eaten once at a “fancy” restaurant.  We don’t shop (except for shoes for the kids and once, regrettably, for a ballgown).  I don’t spend lazy mornings at a coffee house or evenings drinking wine and people-watching.  Our days are spent with playgrounds and kindergarten drop-offs and our evenings are usually full of baths and stories.  I’d wager I’ve seen more parks than an average American expat in Vienna, but haven’t been to many art museums.  I’ve mastered getting around the Christmas markets with a stroller, but haven’t been to the Naschmarkt.  Some days I feel a little proud of the way my experience here has differed from “the norm”, and some days I’m frustrated by it.

The pressure and expectation to have a certain kind of experience come, I know, from me, not from the outside.  I hear about the things other people are doing, and I think, “Am I supposed to be doing that?  Is that what this is about?”

We’ve entered into the final year of our time in Vienna, and I think that makes me feel the pressure more acutely, because the window is closing, this fleeting opportunity is finite and will be over soon.  There’s so much still to see and do, and I want to be sure to hit the highlights while I can.

Vienna with friends

We haven’t had many of our friends take us up on our standing offer to play host here in Vienna, but we’ve had a memorable time on each occasion that someone has.  We’ve hosted my mom, two of my sisters, Dan’s parents, Dan’s uncle, our friends Pam and Joshua, and now our friends Fotis, Claudia and Eva.  We love it, each time.  Of course, it’s wonderful to get to spend so much time hanging out and catching up with friends and family (the sensation of feeling like we’re picking up just where we left off is marvelous) but it also gives us a new appreciation for how fantastic Vienna is.  We get to see it through fresh eyes each time someone comes to see us.

After two years, we’ve established a pretty good repertoire of sightseeing stops and tours.  We always suggest that everyone goes to see St. Stephen’s, the Hofburg, the Volksgarten, the Rathaus, the Graben, Michaelerplatz and Schönbrunn.  We love to help everyone make the most of the amazing public transportation system.  We love sharing all of our favorite sights along the ring.  And, of course, we have our very favorite authentic-but-not-too-touristy restaurants, and our must have local bakery items.

And each time that we share those things with our friends, we appreciate them a little bit more.  It’s surprising to realize it, but after two years of living in Austria, there are parts of it — some of our favorite, most wonderful parts — that we’ve stopped appreciating as much as we ought to.  We take a lot of this lifestyle for granted these days.  Sharing it with friends and family reminds us to be amazed and inspired all over again.


First prayer

It was cold here today — not cool, cold.  Our high was 14 Celcius, it varied between rainy and drizzly all day, and the wind went from a strong breeze to “Oh dear, what was that?!?”  If you had been plopped down in Vienna today, you would absolutely have believed it was April if that’s what you’d been told.  (I was thrilled, actually — I think it’s beautiful weather, and a real treat to have in July, especially after the heat we’ve had lately . . . but I think it may have been a bit too much for our fair-weather-dwelling houseguests.)

Today was, however, our first planned day of sightseeing with our visitors.  They arrived Friday, we did our “chores” yesterday, and today our plan was to see two of the most essential sights of Vienna:  St. Stephen’s and the Hofburg.  Well, it rained and it was cold.  We went anyway.

We went to St. Stephen’s.  We had planned to perhaps do a tour or climb one of the towers, but Dan’s parents weren’t really interesed in the tour and the weather didn’t make the climb in the tower sound too inviting, so we were just going to explore the cathedral on our own.  Of course, when we got there, the cathedreal wasn’t available to visit, but we still were able to wander around in the entry area and get to experience the beautiful church a bit.

It is amazing inside.  It’s huge, and beautiful, full of statues and stained glass.  It smells like incense and it’s just the right amount of dark and mysterious.  There are basins of holy water in the entrance and there are prayer candles in the nooks and alcoves — Benjamin was fascinated (as he was the first time we went, on Easter).  He really wanted to see the candles, so I took him to look.  He asked about them and I did my best to explain.  He asked if a prayer was like making a wish, and I told him that it was — that it was making a wish for good things to happen for people that you love, and that you tell it to God so that he can help you make it happen.  He wanted to make a wish, so we purchased a candle and lit it.  He wished for, “All the people that I love to be happy”.  (I am amazed by him — by his kindness and his understanding.)

And then he asked me if he could blow the candle out, and I had to explain the difference between a prayer candle and a birthday candle.  He seemed ok with it.

On the way home we walked past the Hofburg, through the Volksgarten, past the Parliament and the Rathaus and back to home, where we stayed for the rest of our rainy and cold afternoon.  To me, it was a lovely Sunday, but I’m not sure we did a very good job as hosts and tour guides.  That’s ok — we have 7 more days.


009Our weekend kind of got away from us, and after a day full of organizing and cleaning yesterday, and a morning full of visiting with an old friend of Dan’s and walking around downtown Vienna, we decided to be briefly adventurous and go explore somewhere neither Dan nor I had ever been:  the Prater.  The Prater is a big park in Vienna — it has a “green” section (what you’d think of as a park) and an amusement park section . . . which is almost exactly what you’d expect from an amusement park.  It’s full of everything you’d expect in an amusement park:  wild rides, water rides, games, balloons, bad-for-you food and tons of people.

028There are two weird things about the Prater amusement park.  First, much like the playgrounds here, they aren’t as worried about potential lawsuits, so they take the kinds of rides we have in the US and make them more extreme.  They have things that don’t exist much in the US anymore in those types of parks, too:  like go-carts and pony rides.  The rides are really very much like what you’d see at an amusement park or a carnival . . . but faster, bigger, wilder.  There were rides that looked like they were a direct ticket to whiplash and vomiting (some at the same time).  There was a “swings” ride that went about 100 feet in the air, and a ride that seemed to consist of a bench seat on a pair of bungee cords (maybe you had to be there).

031But the other weird thing about it . . . is that it’s in Vienna.  The Viennese are generally quite conservative, proper, restrained.  This is nothing like that.  This is a very “American” seeming amusement park:  excessive, indulgent and uninhibited.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a collection of Viennese people seeming so un-Viennese!  No one was dressed particularly carefully.  Many of the children had uncombed hair (gasp!).  And, in general, the crowds were more boisterous than we’re used to seeing here.  Of course, the average age was pretty young, as well, which changes the dynamic a bit, but it’s definitely a different demographic than we’ve been seeing near our place in the first district (or anywhere else we’ve been so far).  We seem to have found where the Viennese go to unwind.

We didn’t stay long — it was late afternoon when we got there, and we have a big day tomorrow, so we had to get home.  We’ll go back.  Many of the rides are too grown up for Benjamin (most of the rides, actually) but it was a fun atmosphere, if a little surprising.  We promised Benjamin a ride on the fire truck ride the next time we go, and I think he’ll hold us to it.