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.

Cable car!

338From our hotel room window in picturesque Heiligenblut, we could see most of the town, including the 600 year old church and the summit of the Großglockner, Austria’s tallest mountain.  We could also see the cable cars filing up the hill towards the summit of Schareck, which sits on the opposite side of the valley from the Großglockner.  Liam was completely entranced.  Every time he saw one, he shouted, “Cable car!”  Every time.  (It was lucky for us and for the one other hotel guest that the cable cars didn’t start running until about 9:30 in the morning, so at least we all got some rest.)

357After breakfast our first morning in Heiligenblut (during which we learned that the Dutch put chocolate sprinkles and butter on their morning bread), there was no question about what Liam wanted to do with his day.  He was just so excited.  So, despite the drizzle and the fog and the knowledge that there would be zero view from the top, we decided to head up the mountain in the “cable car!”

The town was really quite small, so we opted to walk through town to the base of the cable car line.  We got a nice (if rainy) tour of the little town.  When we got to the cable car, Liam did not seem to be disappointed by the rain or the fog — he was delighted to be there.  (B was happy and excited, too, though not quite as thoroughly as Liam.)  As we went up and up, we passed over grazing cows and horses, crossed over part of the High Alpine Road, ascended through a thick cloud layer and went up above the tree line.  I’d seen snow at the tops of the highest mountains as we drove into town, but I was surprised by how much of it we passed over as we went up … and by how cold it was at the top.







And, we were right — lots of fog and no view.  But, on the plus side, there were only two families up there at the top while we were there.  With not much to see, and a cold rain falling (that was very nearly snow), we opted for a quick stop and visit to the restaurant at the top of the mountain . . . and the kids wanted ice cream, of all things (I went for hot chocolate instead).  After a quick snack, we decided to visit the other cable car, which took us from the top of the mountain and then more across than down the other side.  Our destination was alongside the High Alpine Road (which we hadn’t yet gotten a chance to explore) and is in a spot that is only accessible by skiing (and, I guess, by cable car) from mid-October until May 1 of every year.


At the base of that cable car line, we were able to fulfill one wish the kids had had, but which I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to deliver on — we found enough snow for a snowball fight.  The whole hillside was covered with large patches of unmelted snow — very slightly slushy, but still frozen enough to walk on top of (which was good, because we’d brought warm clothes, but not warm enough for the near-winter scenario we were faced with).  At one point during out snowball fight, I actually had the thought, “It’s really beautiful here.  Maybe we should come back in summer . . . wait . . . ”  I had completely forgotten that it was July 2nd, and this was, quite literally, as “summer” as it gets in the high Alps!



After making our way back up to the summit, and then back down to the valley, we all had an awesome nap.  We didn’t get to enjoy the typical view from the summit, but we had gotten the mountain almost entirely to ourselves, and had a snowball fight in July.  It was a great day.


491(And then, when we got back, after our splinter removing debacle from the evening before, B offered to check Liam’s feet for splinters.  These guys are just so sweet to each other.)

Our only snow of the winter

20140311-133902.jpgIt isn’t impossible that we will still get a big snow storm (we got snow in May last year, and frankly, if posting this jinxes us, I’d welcome it).  But the birds are singing, the crocuses and paper whites have bloomed, and it’s light out when we wake up and when Dan gets home from work.  Spring has unofficially come early to Vienna, and winter never really brought us snow this year.

We had a two small snows of 1-2 inches or less, and many days with snow showers or flurries.  But the kids never got to go sledding, and the “Dachlawine!” signs never had to come out for the melting.  We had, as always, plenty of cold and lots of gray skies, but, disappointingly, very little snow.

20140311-133926.jpgThe only snow my boys really got to enjoy this year was a big snow we got in the US when we were home for Christmas (which inconveniently came the night before we were supposed to leave and resulted in an 8+ hour delay for our return flight home).  At the time, I debated whether to let the boys go out and play in the snow — I was worried by how much laundry and packing of wet clothes I would be required to do afterwards.  But I’m so glad I allowed the more fun part of my mind to rule.  I’m so glad that they got two days of digging and playing in the snow, of snow angels and of shoveling the walk “to help the neighbors”.  I’m glad they got to catch snowflakes on their tongues and toss snowballs at each other (and at us).  If it was to be their only opportunity to play and enjoy the snow this winter, I am so very grateful that I didn’t allow worries over damp socks and soggy hats get in the way.


Snow envy

I live in Austria.  AUSTRIA.  Generally, there are two things that come to mind when I tell people I live here: “The Sound of Music” and snow covered mountains.  Vienna, however, is not in the mountains.  It’s a relatively hilly city, and we can often SEE snow covered mountains off to the west, but Vienna itself is not mountainous.


Snow on the mountins, off to the west of Vienna (but not here)

It’s also just not very snowy here.  Vienna, being on the leeward side of the Alps (which are big and stick up way into the sky) is quite a dry place.  All the rain and snow fall on the other side of the mountains (or on top of them).  Considering all forms of precipitation (frozen or otherwise) we get just over half as much as my hometown in the US on average throughout the year.

We get plenty of cold here, but not a lot of moisture, which means that Vienna is not the snow-covered winter wonderland that many imagine.  This year, we’ve gotten only a few snowy days, and only one of those added up to an inch of snow accumulation.  Back at home, meanwhile, they’ve been absolutely inundated, which leaves me in the surprising situation of living in Austria and pining for a Washington, DC winter.

My friends from home think I’m crazy.  But I love the snow, and, living here, we’re pretty much immune to any potential negative consequences of it — we don’t have anything to shovel, we don’t have to clear off a car, we don’t have to drive anywhere.  For us, living in Vienna, snow just makes everything prettier and gives the kids a chance to play and sled with their friends at school.  It would be nice to have at least ONE nice, snowy day this winter.

So far, the only real snow we’ve experienced this year was while we were home in Maryland over Christmas.  Everyone at home is pretty well sick of snow while we’re here waiting for our first real snow of the season . . . and waiting, and waiting . . .

First snow

It’s been chilly for a while here in Vienna.  Highs in the 40s, lows just above freezing.  Perfectly normal, of course, for this time of year in this part of the world.  Because we spend a fair bit of time outside (not having a car means that our daily routines involve a lot of walking and/or waiting for public transportation), it’s easy to lose perspective and feel like 42 with a good breeze is cold.

Vienna was happy to remind us today that THAT is not cold and that we’ve actually been very lucky this year (last year, we had snow before Halloween).  We woke up to 34, snow and real wind.  NOW it’s winter.  Now we remember what cold feels like!  Today (as the temperature fell through the morning — thank you, Vienna) we had the kind of wind that takes your breath away and can, when it gusts, literally move your feet sideways on their way to their intended destination or make forward progress literally impossible.  And that’s for me — the kids are lucky to not actually be blown over.

So it is now really, properly cold here (it’ll get worse, but the forecast for the week indicates that our days of coasting in the 40s are probably over for the season).  We only got a few festive flurries and a light dusting on the grass today, but I’m glad to have had a little snow today.  (If we’re going to be frozen, it might as well feel festive!)  With a strong, cold wind, a little snow, and dusk that falls around 3:30 in the afternoon, it truly feels like winter in Vienna again.  (And, it feels like it really is almost Christmas!)

April (snow) showers

20130403-143428.jpgI think that I like winter more than the average person, and I know that I love a snowy day more than is typical (for an adult).  But, it’s spring.  It’s April.  Vienna doesn’t seem to have gotten the news.

I first wrote something about letting Benjamin take his time getting to school so he could enjoy what might be the last real snow of the season in mid-February, 7 weeks ago.  He’s gotten to enjoy at least half a dozen snowy walks to school since then, and been sledding.  My farewell to winter back when it WAS winter was apparently premature.

It’s snowing again in Vienna.  We woke up to white roofs and big, fat snowflakes falling.  It’s supposed to snow all day, and through much of the night.  Today is the last day on the current weather forecast with snow expected (although in Vienna, that doesn’t mean much) so I’d like to say that maybe this really is the last one.  I wouldn’t want to risk extending the jinx that I might have caused in February, though, so I’ll just say that I’m hoping to get to wear something on my feet other than winter boots sometime soon.

March is still winter in Vienna, too

When we left for our weekend trip to Salzburg last Thursday, it was (amazingly) not snowing.  Lately it has felt like we miss all the good winter weather — the two best snowstorms in Vienna this year happened when we were skiing in central Austria and when we took our trip to Italy.  We left on the first day of spring, and we expected to return to spring (much like we expected to find spring in Salzburg).

014While we were gone, it snowed in Salzburg.  It also snowed in Vienna, which was rather a surprise to us, because there hadn’t been any snow in the forecast for Vienna.  But we woke up yesterday morning to Facebook stories and pictures from our friends, showing a snow-dusted Vienna.

We got back, and it was still snowing.  We had snow accumulation on our uncovered, but somewhat sheltered, terrace.  We went to bed, it was snowing.  We woke up, it was snowing.  It has snowed all day.  The outdoor café tables are covered.  The daffodils and crocuses that had bravely pushed up through the ground are covered.  The forecast calls for more snow tomorrow (all day) and more later in the week, too.  Looks like winter isn’t done with us yet.



March is still winter in Salzburg

239I packed completely wrong for this trip.  I could blame our recent trip to Italy, where we were romanced by a week of spring, but I actually blame the calendar and the weather forecast.  First of all, it really IS spring now, so expecting rain instead of snow isn’t completely unreasonable.  And second, the weather report didn’t prepare me for this at all.  There was a little snow forecast for our first evening, then it was supposed to warm up the next morning to the mid-forties and stay dry.  So that’s what I planned for.

But that’s not what we’ve gotten.  The snow from our first day was enough to sled in.  I didn’t bring sledding stuff. No snow pants, no insulated gloves.  I only opted for snow boots over rain boots at the last minute.  I didn’t even pack a real winter coat for myself — just a fleece and a rain jacket.

251Since then, some (but not all) of the snow has melted, and it has stayed pretty chilly except for yesterday afternoon.  Today, when we ventured into Salzburg, it was surprisingly cold.  And snowing.  Again.  We don’t have the bunting on the stroller (we actually took it off, the morning we left, because we thought we wouldn’t need it), long underwear or lined jeans.  We have our spring clothes, so we were cold.

273We were here in October, and got snow then, which really should have prepared me.  But I thought there would be more springtime starting in the mountains.  At least a little.  I haven’t seen a single crocus blooming, or even a hint of spring plants poking out of the ground.  I had visions of sitting on the balcony, like we did last fall, and enjoying the stars.  Not this time.  Maybe if I had brought warm slippers and a big coat, but I don’t, so it’s too cold.

It is still really winter here.  And winter is beautiful, but I wish we were dressed for it.

An impromptu lunch in Germany

Today was our “drive around and explore” day for this trip.  After yesterday’s snow, we weren’t sure we’d be able to make it work, but by breakfast time this morning, the roads were clear, and by the time we were ready to go, all of the snow on the south-facing slopes was pretty well melted.  The skies were forecasted to be clear and the temperatures in the low forties, so we decided to go for it.

128After an excellent (if cloudy) adventure investigating a nearby mountain (Trattberg) on our trip last fall, Dan voted to start there again today.  We had to go *up* to get there, but that didn’t turn out to be nearly as much of an issue as it was that we had to ascend on the north-facing side of the mountain.  We literally turned a corner and went from clear, dry pavement to snow-covered road bordered by snow-encrusted trees standing in knee-deep snow.  We were surrounded by lots and lots of snow.  Snow.  Everywhere.  We didn’t continue with that plan.  (Especially once we realized the summit was another 800 meters above us on an unsheltered peak.  I have no doubt that the road to the top was not open, and I guarantee our rental minivan, even with manual transmission and snow tires, could not have made it much further than where we turned around.)

129So, we went to our backup plan, which was taking a quick trip across the border into Germany.  It was only about a 20 minute trip, even from our mountainous detour.  We were nearly there when it occurred to me that none of us (except Jo, who I guess is still a responsible American) had our passports with us.  Not just “not with us in the car”, but “not with us on the trip at all”.  My mental response was simply, “Oops!  Well, whatever.”  (Now THAT is certainly something I never could have imagined I would think when about to cross an international border with my family.)

136Driving into Germany, we were thrilled by the beauty of our surroundings.  The water in the river was so clear we could see every rock at the bottom.  The mountain peaks were hugely impressive and beautifully snow-covered (and, thankfully, we weren’t driving up them).  Each corner we turned was lovelier than the last.  We drove happily along until we found the very cute (and infamous, for being the location of Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest”) town of Berchtesgaden.

144We wanted to look around, so we found a spot to park (outside of the Brot u. Speck, or “Bread & Bacon” shop, which totally won me over) and wandered around a bit.  We found some lunch and a nice picnic spot, had an apple strudel, bought some postcards and admired the view.  It was a lovely afternoon in a little German town.

And that was it.  Our adventure for the day was a lovely excursion to Germany for lunch.  Just a routine part of our vacation in the Alps.





We woke up on Thursday of last week to an unexpected snowstorm.  “How nice!”, I thought, “One last chance to enjoy a little snow before we get started on spring for real.”  Because, you see, Vienna isn’t really like the Washington, DC area, where I’m from, which can pretty much count on getting completely slammed by a major March snowstorm at least every other year.  Winters here, although cold, aren’t particularly wet, so we don’t really get all that much snow.  (Your mental image of snow covered mountains in Austria is perfectly legitimate — just not for Vienna.  You’re thinking of the Alps . . . which are further west.)And, what snow Vienna got this year, we mostly managed to miss with travel — the biggest storms this year came while we were (ironically) skiing in the Alps, and while we were in Italy.  So I was happy to enjoy our last winter snowfall last week.

But, not so fast.  Let’s not get excited.  Spring may officially arrive in just a few days, but when we stepped out of B’s school this morning after dropping him off . . . it was snowing again.

007I love winter, I really do.  I love snow.  I think it’s pretty and white and sparkly and makes everything more beautiful and creates this lovely, hushed, glittering, snowglobesque (I just made that up) environment that I LOVE to spend a few days inhabiting.  But today’s relentless mix of rain, snow and sleet did nothing but my turn my wistful attention towards Thursday and the first day of spring.  Seriously, I got rained on, snowed on and sleeted on all during the 10 minute walk to my German lesson tonight (and then again on the way back).

And yet . . . we’ll be in Salzburg for the weekend where . . . they’re calling for snow.