Skating 2014


After our ride on the Riesenrad and our resort-like swimming experience, we decided that the next piece of our stay-cation should be something close to home and familiar 045(also, easier), so we decided to take our first trip of 2014 over to the Wiener Eistraum — the massive temporary skating complex put on at the Rathaus each winter.

It’s a pretty fantastic setup.  There are two large skating rinks, connected by a series of iced paths through the trees of the park in front of Vienna’s Rathaus.  It’s possible to basically stroll through the park, but on skates.  Then there’s a separate area set aside during the day for children to practice their skating (in the evenings during the week, this area is used as curling lanes).  The children’s area is free to use, so the only cost is renting skates for the boys.  I knew, with it being the school holidays, that the children’s area would be 048busy (although not too much busier than usual — when school is in session, this area is typically crowded with school groups on field trips), but we hadn’t yet been over to skate this year, and I really wanted to overcome the inertia of being out of the habit.

It’s always a fun activity.  The kids love getting their skates on and getting out on the ice.  The thing is, I tend to forget that it ALSO is a ton of work and full of drama.  Yes, the boys love renting their skates and getting out on the ice.  But it’s also a bit frustrating learning a new skill, and there are never quite enough of the practice penguins to go around . . . and an hour of holding up off-balance kids gets exhausting.  B does ok.  He’s gone skating 050enough to basically remember what to do, and he has pretty reasonable expectations for himself (probably more realistic than mine).  Liam, being littler, gets frustrated more easily.  And though I have fond memories of all of our winter skating trips so far in Vienna, in retrospect I think every trip has ended with at least one of the kids angry or in tears (or both).

This was the same.  B did well, but he really wore me out (he wanted to practice as much as possible without the penguin, which just meant I had to hold him up most of the time).  Liam did well, too, but he did get frustrated and then bored.  We stayed less than an hour, but I’m still glad we went.  It’s a very special part of winter in Vienna, 067and I’m glad to start to get ourselves back in the habit of going.  It’s on for another month, so hopefully we’ll get more chances to all go together.

I went again yesterday, by myself while the boys were at school.  I, too, started with enthusiasm and slightly unrealistic expectations.  After about half an hour, my feet and ankles were sore, and I had started to get wobbly from tiring out my muscles.  I decided to call it a day before I fell or pulled something.  Again, I’m glad I went, and I hope I’ve started myself in the habit of going.  I’d like to make the most of the last month of it.  But it gave me a lot of sympathy for the boys, and helped to remind me why it’s never quite as easy to go skating as I imagine it will be.


Skating with a view

031There is a restaurant that we like up in the hills on the west side of Vienna.  The city slopes steeply upward on that end, before ending and becoming Lower Austria.  We’ve been up there a few times, in the summer and the winter.  The food is good but the view is amazing, and it gives the feeling of being out of the city without having left at all.

Nearly next door to the restaurant is an old palace which has been converted into a hotel.  We’ve wandered over there a few times to stroll around the grounds and enjoy the beautiful view of Vienna.  Last winter, I heard that there was a skating rink in the winter alongside a tiny Christmas market in November and December, but by the time I’d decided to go up and check it out, it was too late — the skating was finished for the season.


034Last weekend, though, my in-laws suggested a visit to the restaurant up in the hills.  B has been excitedly asking when we can go skating again, ever since it got cold outside.  It occurred to me that these things would go well together, so on Saturday, we went to check out Wilhelminenberg on Ice.

The skating rink was very small (as was the very little Christmas market alongside).  They only had a few pairs of children’s skates for rent, so we had to wait for someone else to return theirs before we could borrow some for the boys.  We only had to wait a few minutes, though, and it was worth it.  The boys had a great time sliding, skating (and falling) all around the little skating area.  And the view was really 036amazing — all of Vienna lit up down below.  It was just a little skating rink, and obviously not a super busy operation (even on a Saturday evening), but a nice spot with a great view.

Being up on the hill, it was cold and windy, so we didn’t last long (which was ok, because other kids were waiting for our skates, and we had dinner reservation).  But we definitely had a good time.  It was worth the trip up there just to skate around and enjoy the view.


More on skating

034After our overly crowded experience at the Wiener Eistraum few weeks ago, we’ve experimented a bit with various times and days to try to find the best time to skate with the kids.  So far, the weekend evenings are great!  They are much less crowded, and thus easier and more fun, than the daytimes during the weekend.  (We haven’t yet gotten over there in the day during the week, but with the number of kids I’ve seen walking in that direction with skates, I’d guess it’s pretty busy.)  With a fraction of the number of kids in the evenings (more like 10), and a slightly older average age, there is plenty of space to have fun, and lots of practice penguins.  Both of my boys have had a better and more relaxed time on our more recent visits.  (As a note, the children’s area becomes a 073curling rink on weekday evenings, so there’s no children’s area after 4 on weekdays.)

I’ve gone back a few extra times as well — once more with Dan as a date night, and once on my own.  We’re really enjoying it.  It’s a great way to enjoy wintertime Vienna, and it’s a fun way to get outside with the kids this time of year.  Next, I just have to convince Liam that the ice isn’t for eating . . .

I would like to rent some ice skates to you!

Most of the time, I conduct my retail transactions here in German.  It’s something I do a lot, and the variations are relatively minimal, so I’ve gotten a lot of practice.  You walk up, present your item for purchase, you’re given a price, sometimes they ask if you want a bag, I ask if they take bank card (if that’s how I’m paying), I present my payment, receive my change (if applicable), they ask if I want a receipt, they thank me, I say goodbye.  I can do that, MOST of the time, without resorting to English.

Every so often I get a curve ball.  The other day, I was paying for the alterations to my dress for the ball, and in between telling them I wanted to pay with my bank card and the part where they give me my receipt, they asked me a question.  Not a typical question for that scenario, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  It turns out that they were taking a survey and asking for everyone’s home town.  It wasn’t the usual “Woher kommen Sie?” (“Where do you come from?”) that I know how to answer, so I asked them to repeat it, twice, until they resorted to the standard question, which I knew how to answer.  But, most of the time, I do ok.

But every time we’ve been over to the Rathaus to go ice skating, we’ve failed at renting skates.  We do fine with purchasing our tickets and getting a locker key, but we’ve failed each time when we’ve tried to rent skates.  Several times, we had to resort to English, and the one time we thought we’d managed in German it turned out we had accidentally purchased a pass to have our (non-existent) skates sharpened.  We had to go back and fix it, in English.

I couldn’t understand it.  I was reading the German right off of the sign!  Why wasn’t it working?  Why, in this one instance, were we having so much trouble?

So, I asked my German teacher last night, and now I know.  I assumed that what I was reading off of the sign translated to “skate rental” . . . because the sign *has* an English translation, and that’s what it said underneath.  So I was saying, “We would like skate rental”, which, although maybe not perfect, was close enough.  Or so I thought.  A more accurate translation of what I was saying was, “We would like to rent you skates.”  And, because my German pronunciation is pretty good, I was very confusing.  If I’d been butchering the pronunciation, they probably would have huffed at me and rolled their eyes and figured it out.  But I was very confidently and correctly saying, “I’d like to rent you some skates, please!”, and then, I would repeat it when asked.

It turns out, “I would like to rent some skates” is a whole different sentence with a whole different verb.  I think next time will go a lot better.

Skating with the kids

Last year, we took the boys ice skating at the Wiener Eistraum.  We tried to take them back, last week, for the 2013 opening, but the kids’ area was closed.  Dan & I went on Friday (as an actual date), and we were finally able to take the boys again yesterday.

014We had a good time, but our experience was quite different from last year.  The children’s area was surprisingly crowded — probably over 40 kids and nearly as many parents — and, to share between all of them, only 6 practice penguins.  We found the number of people and lack of penguins frustrating and a little daunting — a sentiment that seemed to be shared by many other families.  Overall, we did fine, and I’m glad we went, but I was a little shocked by how crowded it was.  We were there on a Sunday morning, which I think is the same as when we went last year . . . although last year we went much later in February — maybe it gets less popular as the season goes on?

018It was still a generally good experience.  The kids had a pretty good time, although they got tired quickly (as did I) and it was a fun, inexpensive way to get some skating practice.  Like last year, Liam’s skate rental was free, the helmets for both boys were free, and the adults didn’t need skates at all, so our total bill was 4 Euro for about 2 hours of skating.  Not bad.

My guess is that Sunday mornings, early in the season, when the weather is good, are just too popular to be manageable for little ones who need lots of practice and support.  We’re going to experiment a bit — we’re going to try going during the week, going later on a weekend day and going later in the season.  Hopefully we can find a time that isn’t quite so overwhelming.  We definitely like it, so we’re looking forward to an even better experience next time.020

Skate date

026Last year, we took the kids to the Wiener Eistraum (“Viennese Ice Dream”) — which is a massive, temporary skating complex constructed on the grounds of the Rathaus (city hall) here in Vienna. We loved it. The kids had a great time learning to skate a bit, and it was fun to be part of a big, festive Viennese activity.

There are two main parts of the skating facility — a large area with two skating rinks, connected by long ice paths that meander through the woods (on the paved walking trails through the park), and a smaller, enclosed area where the kids can play and practice during the day (it turns into a curling area in the evenings). When we took the boys, we stuck to just the kids’ area. It didn’t require a ticket, and we didn’t even have to rent skates as adults — we rented skates for the boys and we just walked around in our regular winter boots. It made for a fun (and inexpensive) outing.

023Somehow, though, we managed not to have a chance to go over and explore the bigger, “grown up” section last year, and I’ve regretted it since. The Wiener Eistraum reopened just over a week ago for 2013, and Dan & I went over last night, just the two of us, to check out the whole thing.

First of all, I am not a good skater. I’ve skated a few times, but never enough to get good at it. So, at first, my goal was just not to fall down and injure myself. After a few minutes of getting my feet under me, though, I got to relax and really enjoy it. It’s pretty wonderful. Skating on the colorfully lit pathways, through the woods, with the brightly illuminated Rathaus in the background is pretty magical. I was, by far, not the worst skater there (I even managed to help hold Dan up once when he fell!) and I really enjoyed myself.

029The skating part was definitely a challenge though. Although the wooded paths are fun and scenic, they also include very gentle uphill and downhill slopes — something I’d never attempted on skates before. It was pretty tough. The uphills weren’t so bad (as long as someone coming up from behind didn’t run into you — it’s hard to go fast up the hills) but the downhills were a bit scary. Especially after the Zamboni came though, it was easy to get going WAY too fast down the little inclines. (I managed not to crash, but I attribute a lot of that to just luck.)

We had a great time. We skated around, explored the pathways, circled the ice rinks with a few hundred other skaters and just had a fantastic time. We’ll definitely go back. It makes for a fun date night.

Eistraum: opening night

035After the Christmas markets have been cleared away from the area in front of the Rathaus, Vienna makes space for a huge ice skating venue.  It fills the space of the Rathausplatz, and extends through the walking paths all along one side of the Rathaus.  The whole area is lit, temporary restaurants are constructed, and one of Vienna’s popular music radio stations moves in.  It’s quite an event, and it lasts from the end of January until early March.

036Last night was the preview night for Wiener Eistraum — the night before the official opening, they open up for a few hours, for free.  We went over to check it out.  We were hoping to skate, but the children’s area wasn’t open.  Instead, we wandered around a bit.  It was quite a party — there was a performance — we didn’t get a good view, but it had ice skaters, music, acrobats and some kind of fire juggling.

We did get to have our picture taken with some polar bears (or at least people in polar bear costumes).  It’s yet another one of those Vienna events that I really love — everyone being enthusiastic about being outdoors, and about being social.  It was definitely fun, and we can’t wait to go back and actually get to skate.039


From January until March, Vienna transforms the park around the Rathaus into a hugely elaborate ice skating rink.  The paths and walkways typically occupied by people strolling around the town hall are made into winding ice paths through the trees.  It’s beautiful and looks like it would be a ton of fun . . . if I knew how to skate.  I’ve been a few times (mostly birthday parties in elementary and middle school) but I have neither particular skill nor talent for it.

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