I love the snow!

015I feel like I never know what the weather is going to be like here.  The forecasts that I get on my phone are notoriously inaccurate, and relatively lacking in detail.  So, although I saw that we were supposed to get some snow here this week, I expected a dusting, or rain (because that’s what’s been happening lately when the forecast has called for snow).  Instead, we woke up yesterday morning to several inches of snow on the ground, and it’s pretty much been falling since.

I think this is a great thing.  I love the snow.  And, having no car and nothing to shovel, there’s very little downside to getting inundated with snow.  So, I say, bring it on.  My kids agree.  Benjamin loves walking in fresh snow.  He loves looking back and seeing that his footprints are the only 019ones through a smooth, otherwise unbroken area of fluffy whiteness.  He loves throwing snowballs, making snowmen and catching snowflakes on his tongue.  At his preschool, they play and sled outside on snowy days, and that has made snowy days some of his favorites at school.  Liam loves the snow, too.  He loves to go for walks in the snow (well, he loves to go for walks anytime) and he treks from one slushy puddle to the next, jumping up and down and making himself an icy mess.  And he loves to throw snowballs, squish snowmen and eat snow.

030Right now, I’m sitting in my living room and watching the snow fall outside.  By the time we went out yesterday to play on our terrace (which is open to the sky, but warmer and more sheltered than a real “outdoors” area, so we often don’t get any snow accumulation out there, even when there are several inches elsewhere), we already had 5.5″ on the ground.  And, since it’s pretty much been falling since then, and is supposed to fall through tonight, I don’t think the estimates of up to 10″ that I’ve seen seem unreasonable.  (Of course, they do a pretty good job of clearing the snow around Vienna, so I haven’t seen any one place with nearly that much accumulated.)

Yesterday, B & I walked out the front door to go to school, and there were already about 4″ of snow on the ground.  He exclaimed, “I love the snow!  My heart thinks it’s great!”  I agree.  My heart thinks so, too.040044

Winter rain

20130129-191909.jpgAs I’ve mentioned before, Vienna in winter is not the snow-covered city that most people seem to imagine.  I, too, was surprised to learn how little snow typically falls here, and how close, climatically, in many ways Vienna is to my home in the US mid-Atlantic.  It averages a little bit colder here (about 5 Fahrenheit degrees lower high temperatures during the winter, on average) so we certainly get plenty of cold weather here — especially when coupled with the often intense wind.  However, it’s a lot drier here — we get significantly less precipitation here, throughout the year, than the DC area weather I’m used to.  But, since it’s colder, when we get precipitation in the winter months, it’s usually snow, and when we do get snow, it tends to stick around.

20130129-191919.jpgWe had a pretty significant snowstorm here about 12 days ago (just as we were leaving Vienna to go skiing).  We’d been getting little bits of snow, almost daily, for a few weeks leading up to the big snow, and we’ve gotten a little bit of snow several times since then.  And nearly all of it has stuck around, since only one day in the past 2 weeks has had a high temperature above freezing (and then, it was only above freezing for about an hour).  Over the past few weeks, we’ve gotten pretty used to the scene of Vienna alternating between fresh whiteness and the less lovely gray/beige of days-old snow that has been sanded, gravelled, and walked in by many feet.

Back at home, the weather often feels like it can’t pick a season.  It’s perfectly expected that a heavy snow or ice storm may be followed, within days (if not hours) by springtime temperatures and sunshine.  But not in Vienna.  We’re just a little colder, and a little drier, but typically, winter stays winter until it’s time for spring.  So today, when the rain started falling, it was very strange.  Just as the temperatures came up above freezing for the first time in a while, the rain started to fall.  It looked, sounded and felt really foreign.  Just the sight of it on the windows was odd, and the splashing in the gutters and on the roof felt like a completely alien sound.

It’s just another one of those little differences that you don’t notice until it happens and then it feels so very strange.  I’ve acclimated to winter in Vienna, I suppose, and my brain wasn’t expecting rain.


People have an image of wintry Vienna that isn’t quite accurate.  I think because Austria is such a mountainous country, and maybe also because Vienna is at such a northern latitude, the popular image of Vienna in the winter includes a lot of snow.

In reality, Vienna averages less snow per year than my previous home in the Washington, DC area.  (Vienna is colder, on average, than DC, but we just don’t get nearly as much precipitation at any part of the year.)

011When we do get snow in Vienna, though, they know how to handle it (although they think they don’t — they say they handle it horribly).  Nothing closes.  The trains and buses still run on time (or pretty close — better than a normal day on Metro).  The roads get sanded, gravelled and plowed.  The sidewalks get gravelled and shoveled. Life goes on, pretty much as usual.

And then, the temperatures come up a bit, everything turns into a wet, yucky mess and the snow that has piled up on the roofs starts to melt and slide off.  The sloped roofs, combined with very narrow streets and sidewalks, leads to a pretty stressful situation if you’re walking, biking or driving around.

003There are these helpful little signs that spring up all over the city, which say “Dachlawine” (roof avalanche).  They’re stuck to red poles that stick out at an angle from the wall and they’re set so as to discourage anyone from walking immediately beneath the overhang of the building. That way, when the inevitable happens and the snow slides off, it’s less likely that there’s anyone walking underneath.

In the past week, a lot of snow fell in Vienna (the most in nearly 20 years) and today was the first day with temperatures staying long above freezing, so the avalanches have been falling.  Sitting here, in my top floor apartment, I occasionally hear the “fumph” of a section of snow sliding off the roof.  And earlier, when I was out, walking around, I was distracted by constantly stealing glances up at the roof edges to see what was waiting to fall.

It’s kind of stressful to be constantly wary roof avalanches as you’re out and about after a snowfall.  Just another part of winter in Vienna, though.  (I’m at least grateful that they have the signs.)

Ski time!

20130117-234003.jpgWe woke up this morning to several fresh inches of snow in Vienna, and more falling. It was a perfect day for heading to the Alps to go skiing . . . which works out, because that’s exactly what we had planned for this weekend. It was pretty exciting to have plans that agreed so well with the weather.

We finished the packing and trekked snowily off to the train station. (Apparently there was enough snow today to snarl Vienna’s roads, and the mountains were even worse — glad we were taking the train!)

It was a perfect day for an Austrian train adventure. We were all nice & cozy on the train while we watched the snowy world go by. Although there was so much snow falling, on the ground and being kicked up by the train, that certain parts of the trip just looked like white on white.

20130117-234021.jpgWe’re pretty seasoned in train travel with the kids, but we had never ridden in an enclosed compartment, which we got to try today. It was excellent. The compartment had 6 seats, and unless there was not a single other seat on the train, it was pretty unlikely that anyone was going to choose the empty spot in our compartment. So, we got a whole little room to ourselves for the entire trip. We could talk, the boys got to watch some shows on the iPad and play angry birds (with sound!). We even played catch for a little while. And when Liam fell asleep, we were all quiet so he could rest. It was nearly a 5 hour trip, but it was the best and easiest train trip we’ve had so far.

20130117-234046.jpgUntil the part at the end, when Dan, who was repacking everything in the suitcases, hit his head on a reading light and cut himself. (Requiring our first task in Alpbach to be finding a doctor to glue Dan’s forehead back together. He really is fine now.)

From what we can tell (in the dark), Alpbach is darling and surrounded by mountains . . . which we will be sliding down tomorrow. I’m a little freaked out. They still have their Christmas lights up here, which is awesome.

It’s certainly been an adventure so far.

Snow day

I am a bad influence.

013We woke up to a good bit of snow this morning — probably about 3 inches, and certainly the most we’ve gotten in a single shot so far this season.  I love the snow, and I started imagining all the fun we were going to have today — building snowmen, throwing snowballs, taking a snowy walk, maybe even finding a good hill for sledding.  And I started thinking that it was really a shame that we had to wait until this afternoon, after B got home from school, to start enjoying the snow.  After all — who knows how long it would last?  Many times I’ve promised B, “We’ll play in the snow after lunch/after nap/tomorrow”, and then, by the time it’s time to play, the snow is all gone.  And, really, it seemed like such a bummer that Dan would have to miss out in all the fun . . .

So I decided we should have a family snow day.

023I asked B if he would rather go to school and play in the snow with his friends or stay home and play in the snow with us — of course, he chose to stay home.  Dan took a BIT more convincing.  As always, I don’t think he thought I was serious at first.  But I persisted, and I also reminded him that we have all been sick and an extra day for us to rest and get better really probably IS a good idea.

So, we all stayed home to play in the snow.  I had fanciful visions of playing together, strolling through the snow-quiet, tree-lined paths of Vienna, and then coming home to warm up — drinking hot chocolate and all snuggling together.  That is not at all how it went.  B was excited to go out, but he only wanted to go out on the terrace.  Liam refused to go out in the snow at all (I’m 024hoping this isn’t a foreshadowing of how enthusiastic he’ll be about skiing this weekend).  So, I stayed in with Liam and we watched Dan and Benjamin build a snow dog and throw snowballs.  When they were cold, they came in and we all played together.  I wanted to go out and enjoy the snow, and, since no one wanted to join me, I went on my own.

So, Benjamin got to play in the snow, as did Dan.  I got to walk on the peaceful, snowy sidewalks of Vienna.  And Liam, who I think really needs a bit more recuperation time, mostly did that.  We didn’t exactly do it all together, but we did have a nice day.  I love snow days.


One more snow

The weather forecasts here in Vienna are surprisingly inaccurate.  We’re not sure why — whether people just care more at home, so more resources are put into forecasting, or whether something about the climate of Vienna makes it hard to predict the weather.  But it’s common for the temperature forecast to be off by 10 Celsius degrees, and occasionally even more.  Likewise, when any kind of precipitation is called for (or not) we don’t really count on that happening.

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Glittery snow

We woke up this morning to an unexpected dusting of snow.  Not enough to make it tricky to get around, just enough to be a little pretty.  As soon as Benjamin saw it, he suggested making a snowman.  I explained that it probably wouldn’t be enough for that, but that we could go out onto the terrace and play in it a little, anyway.  He was excited, so we went (my only additions to his pajamas were boots and a coat — we didn’t stay out long).  He “skated” around and caught a few flakes on his toungue.  Liam came out and wandered around, too.  Then we all got cold and went back in.

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To Innsbruck

First off, I’m going to brag a little: I think I may be the world’s best packer. When we laid out all of the things we needed to bring with us on this trip, I thought there was no way we were going to get away with only packing two suitcases and a backpack . . . but we did. It’s impossible to really pack light with kids, and winter weather makes it harder (snow pants, wool socks, long underwear, hats, gloves, mittens, etc., times two) but we got away with only a little luggage.

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Benjamin’s first mountains

Later this week, we’re taking our first multi-day trip outside of Vienna, to Innsbruck.  Innsbruck is in western Austria, 5 hours from Vienna by train, in the Alps (and probably most famous for twice hosting the Winter Olympics).  We’re all very excited about seeing the mountainous part of Austria, and about getting to (hopefully) play in some significant snow.

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