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.

“Die Osterhasen”

20130316-150923.jpgThe Easter markets opened today in Vienna. Unlike the Christmas markets, which are plentiful and sprinkled throughout the city, there are only two major Easter markets in Vienna each year (that I know of, at least). One of these, the Altwiener Ostermarkt is on the Freyung, which is very close to our house (on the block directly across the street from our house).

We love the Easter markets. Not only are they fun and festive, with yummy treats and intricate, beautifully beaded and hand painted eggs, but their arrival informally marks our Viennese anniversary.

Our first spring here, Easter was later, in April, and one of the first fun, Viennese things we did after our arrival was to visit the very Easter market that is now across the street from our house. (We were living elsewhere at the time, which kind of makes it a fun coincidence that we once visited what would become our neighborhood, back before we knew it would be.)

20130316-150935.jpgI look forward to the markets each spring. We take the kids and wander through, sampling treats and window shopping. The amazing eggs are wonderful to admire (although I constantly worry about knocking over an entire display). And, tucked at the back of this market, there is always a stall where the bunnies live — just two or three, hanging out (usually sleeping or snacking). The kids can stop by and visit with the bunnies, watching them do their bunny thing.

Today, when we visited the bunny stall (the bunnies this year are HUGE), B was entranced. He stood and watched the bunnies — one slept while the other hopped around and had a snack. He turned to me, after a few minutes, and said, “You know, at school, I learned that these are called ‘Osterhasen’ in German.”

20130316-150946.jpgI think that is so cool. (I didn’t know that.) Watching B enjoy the Osterhasen, and remembering back to our first Easter market trip, nearly two years ago, I’m pretty amazed at how far we’ve come. Two years ago, we barely got through a visit like that, and it was far more stressful to do it. Now it feels like a familiar tradition, and we kind of even understand what’s going on.

Outside seating!

I’ve always loved being outside.  I don’t mind the weather — getting cold or wet doesn’t bother me.  I don’t even mind the summer heat if I’m outside and can stay out of the sun.  When I was in middle school and high school and my friends and I would get bored, I always suggested going for a walk.  (Which also partly explains why I have so few interestingly wild stories from that era.)

So I wait, all winter.  During the coldest and darkest months of the year, I still get out a fair bit, but winter takes away one of my favorite pieces of European living — sitting in a sidewalk cafe.  Going out for a cup of coffee is a treat anytime of year, but getting to enjoy it on the sidewalks of a grand Viennese square, reading a good book and watching the horse-drawn carriages go by is especially sweet.  And going out to eat, especially with the kids, is much more relaxed and enjoyable under the stars, where volume matters less and there’s always a place for them to get down and play.

I don’t really know if I can adequately convey how much enjoyment I get from sitting in the open air, enjoying Vienna and soaking every bit of it in.  It is one of my favorite parts of living here.  I like it way more than is probably reasonable.  I think it’s fantastic and wonderful and it brings together so many things I like at the same time — being outside, drinking coffee, relaxing, great people-watching opportunities and getting to really BE in Europe (because the inside of cafes are pretty much the same anywhere).

And now, my long, indoor, winter hibernation is ending.  The cafes are spilling out onto the sidewalks again, the street side tables are out, the umbrellas are going up.  Vienna is preparing for spring, and I am so happy to be able to enjoy the city in this way again.

Grinzing vineyard walk, again

Late last spring, I tucked Liam into the stroller and climbed aboard one of Vienna’s trams (the 38) and rode out to the end.  My destination was a picturesque vineyard hike through the foothills of Vienna’s outskirts, called Stadtwanderweg 1.

I was only moderately successful.  I had a tough time getting from the end of the tram line to the beginning of the hiking route (too many stairs), and although I’d imagined the walk as semi-rural, I wasn’t quite prepared for how isolated parts of the path would be.  I ended up walking just a short distance before heading home, kind of disappointed.

004When Jo moved here, revisiting the vineyard walk was on my list of things to do.  With more information and a companion, I knew I’d do better.  Of course, she arrived in October and leaves at the end of the month, and I hadn’t done anything about it yet.  We were running out of time, so yesterday, we took advantage of the beautiful springlike weather in Vienna and hit the trail.

To start, we took the D tram line out to the end, instead of the 38.  This landed us in Nussdorf instead of Grinzing.  As it turns out, the D tram line certainly was an easier access point to the trail, and the part of the trail it connects to is more suburban and less isolated.  The tradeoff comes, though, in the lack of amazing views — although there’s a pretty creek along the trail, we were mostly walking past fenced yards and driveways.

005We had a nice walk, though.  Spring is in the air (although I suspect winter isn’t yet done with us).  We saw crocuses, butterflies and a bee.  We heard the birds chirping, and even got warm enough as we walked to stow our coats in the stroller.

The entire loop would have been about 6 miles (although it’s extremely hilly — the estimated time given for the route is 3.5-4 hours, and that doesn’t count walking parts of the route at toddler speed).  We only had two hours before the end of B’s school day, so we walked just a little way and then doubled back.  Our pace was slowed by Liam walking on his own, but he was happy to be free, and we were happy to enjoy the sunshine.

006We walked far enough to find the spot where I eventually joined the trail last year.  That section, plus the part beyond where I had previously turned around, was the prettiest we saw, with views up the mountain and over sweeping hillsides lined with grapevines.  Spring is just beginning to wake everything up, so there was a lot of brown and only bits of green (and even some piles of snow left in the shadows), but it was pretty and invigorating as only an outdoor, uphill, country walk can be.

I want to go back again, in the summer or maybe the fall, hopefully on a weekend where we can take our time, stop for lunch along the way, and see the rest of the trail.  I love to walk and hike and see what there is to see, and I’d love to see more of this lovely part of Vienna.  I suspect the view will be even better as we explore further along the path, and I look forward to discovering it.

Sitting outside

It’s still chilly in Vienna.  When I went out to get coffee (and an hour to myself) this morning, it was about 40.  Not too bad, but not yet quite springlike (especially with the nearly ever present wind).  But it must be almost spring here, because when I got to Starbucks, they had set up the outdoor seating area.

I hadn’t expected it, so I wasn’t dressed for it — I was dressed to spend an hour sitting inside drinking tea, which calls for significantly different attire than sitting outside in the wind drinking tea.  But I got my chai and grabbed a spot outside — not under an umbrella — I wanted to absorb every small bit of sunlight that managed to straggle through the clouds.  (I was surprised and impressed at how popular the outdoor seats were.  I don’t know if the rest of Vienna is as glad as I am to be able to enjoy their coffee outdoors again, or if all the smokers are just grateful to be able to drink their coffee and smoke at the same time.)

I was cold.  By the end of my hour, I was wrapped in my coat, had pulled my wool hat on as far as it would go and struggled to turn the pages in my book with my thickly gloved hands.  But it was glorious.  I hadn’t realized just how much I missed getting to enjoy the center of the city with a cup of tea and a good book.  My hours spent on my own will be more therapeutic and restorative now that they get to take place in the open air.

I had forgotten, too, how quiet Vienna has been in the winter.  It’s like the city has been hibernating since Christmas.  The squares have been sparsely populated.  By contrast, today was bustling — tourists with cameras bumping in to each other to get the best shot of the dome of the Spanish Riding School; bicycles flying up and down the streets, with and against traffic; horse drawn carriages, full of bundled people taking in the sights.  It reminded me that this is just a fraction of the activity that will fill the square as the weather gets warmer.

Being out on the square, being able to take all of this in while I relax and enjoy the city, is really why I love being able to sit outside.  I feel like I’m able to see and experience so much more, and, since I’m just sitting, I’m able to quietly observe the sights, sounds, smells and feel of Vienna much more deeply.  Sitting outside at Michealerplatz every week is part of what helped me fall in love with living in Vienna, and I’m so excited to have that back.

Toddling around the playground

Pam & Joshua must have brought the good weather with them from the States — it almost could have passed for springtime here in Vienna.  The 40 degree temperature felt quite warm after weeks where we never got above (or even very near) freezing for a high temperature.  This morning, the sun came out from behind the clouds and filled our apartment with light.  (Benjamin declared that since the sun was so bright, it must be very hot outside.)  The boys took one look at the blue skies and decided they wanted to go to the playground, so off we went.  (Which makes it sound very easy, while in reality the logistics of coordinating the preparatino of 3 adults and 3 children, along with a grocery store trip and a broken elevator, are very complicated, and although we started getting ready to leave the house around 9:30 this morning, it was after 2:00 when we actually left.)

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