The rest of the staycation

So I got away from writing about the staycation a few weeks ago, but I wanted to finish the story of the rest of our week spent enjoying Vienna.  We didn’t do anything else as ambitious as skiing, nothing else as iconic as the Riesenrad, nothing as unexpected as swimming in a giant wave pool.  The end of our staycation was a bit quieter, but still really fun.

Even though our ski trip this time was the easiest of our ski attempts so far, it was still exhausting, and we decided to spend the next day resting at home … and building paper airplanes.


20140310-174341.jpgWe followed that with another great trip to the Vienna zoo, which is one of our favorite places in Vienna to spend a day with the kids.  As always, I was most amazed by the close access visitors have to the animals, and the close oversight required (on my part) to keep everyone safe.  (Why yes, that IS a picture of Liam with his hand in the cheetah enclosure.  I am an awesome parent.)  As I’ve mentioned before, it would be possible — and in many cases quite easy — to climb into quite a few of the animal habitats.  My years spent in America watching people be protected from their stupidest impulses leaves me in a state of constant awe as I wander through the zoo and 20140310-174818.jpgwitness not a single person take advantage of the minimal security at the zoo.

We had a great day.  The weather was warm (for early February) and sunny and we had a beautiful time enjoying Vienna.  We found a honey vending machine near the bee area, where we purchased some local Vienna honey in a jar (because it seemed like the thing to do) and spent a long while playing at the playground where my kids demonstrated what they’re like in their own semi-natural environment.


And after our lovely zoo day, it was time to prepare to get back to work and school and our regular routine.  We had a great week enjoying Vienna.  It is pretty wonderful to get to enjoy a week-long European vacation without leaving home.

Skiing at Hohe Wand

003Last year, we spent 3 beautiful and arduous days in the Austrian Alps, ostensibly skiing.  There was, however, a lot less skiing than there was dragging a ton of equipment and two tired kids all around the hills of Alpbach.

But even though B got worn out, tired of walking and more than a little grouchy about the whole endeavor, he came away excited about skiing and enthusiastic for more.  (Liam, who we never actually got up on skis, remained neutral to the idea, which was really as much as we could have hoped for.  I consider it good fortune that we don’t all break out in hives every time we hear the word “ski”.)

008B has been asking to ski again.  I’ve been theoretically enthusiastic but practically daunted by the idea of taking something like that on again.  With a week off of school and work, though, it felt like the right time.

I was not going to sign up for three days of the kind of effort (and expense) it took for us to not go skiing last time, so I looked into day trip options.  Vienna = Austria = Alps … right?  The rest of the world might think so, but it’s not really like that.  Vienna is IN Austria and many of the Alps are also IN Austria, but Vienna, and the surrounding area, isn’t particularly mountainous.  But I did find one promising-looking option:  Hohe Wand, which is just outside of Vienna.

016So I did my research, we packed up our snow pants, took two U-Bahns and a bus, and an hour later we were there.  As it turns out, it is a “high hill”, indeed — just one, though, with a single drag lift and one big (relatively steep) slope down.  The snow was man-made (which we expected — Vienna has gotten almost none this year) and it very nearly covered the hill.

They have a nice looking ski school for children, but, being the school holidays, it had been booked up since October, so we were on our own in terms of teaching the kids.  Undaunted (and, after last year, fully expecting a day of skiing to be a ton of work) we fueled up with some schnitzel (really), rented skis, boots and helmets for the boys, and got suited up.

023We found a quiet and reasonably flat-ish section near the bottom of the hill, off to one side, and began our practice.  We pushed the boys up the hill, and then ran back down the little slope with them, over and over, for an hour and a half.

It was the best workout I’d had in a long while.  Shortly after we started, B was back in the groove, and he was able to go down quite well on his own.  Liam, frustrated that we couldn’t take the lift to the top, took several snowball-making breaks.  By the time we (Dan & I) got worn out, though, both boys had made many trips down completely on their own (though often with an impressive, self-induced crash to finish … because it’s FUN).  Mission accomplished —

031the boys got to ski, and they had a great time.  It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as tough as what we attempted last year.  Dan & I didn’t manage any skiing of our own, but I imagine that’ll come in future years.

B is already asking to go back.  Next time, we’ll sign B up for ski school before we go (they only take kids over 4), and maybe Dan & I can take turns pushing Liam up the hill.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was close, easy, and relatively inexpensive.  With this place in mind, I’m much more optimistic about our future attempts at skiing.



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.


Swimming in February

Our week of home-grown fun in Vienna continued last week with, of all things, a trip to the pool.  We wanted the boys to really enjoy our stay-cation, so we asked them what they wanted to do during our collective week off.  Liam’s first choice was the Riesenrad, which we visited on our first day, while B’s chose a trip to the pool, which surprised us (we’d been thinking of, and suggesting, more wintry activities, such as skiing or skating).

I thought, since we were on vacation, that maybe we could find something particularly fun, in terms of swimming, rather than just going to our usual pool where the boys took a few lessons last year.  A little poking around online led me to “discover” Dianabad — a very kid-friendly resort-type set up quite close to our apartment (and only two blocks from our first home in Vienna).

It was excellent.  At €23, it was a little expensive for a 2 hour visit (which included the time it took us to locate lockers and get changed — never an easy task for a family of four) but it was well worth it.  I was very pleasantly surprised by how many fun areas there were, and how each area catered to a different age and swimming skill level.  It was basically like a massive indoor water playground, and the kids loved it.

As the boys are not yet good swimmers (although they’d say otherwise) we started in the baby pool, for ages 6 and under.  The water was warm and shallow (knee-deep on Liam) but included an easy to negotiate water slide for the little ones.  The water was shallow enough that the boys were able to crawl around and splash, immediately getting them back to being comfortable in the water.

They bored of that part pretty quickly, though, so we went on to explore the other areas.  In the next level up (in terms of age — for 8 and under), the boys explored a tire swing in the water, a tunnel they could crawl through, another water slide, slightly deeper and cooler water, and huge overhead fountains that sprayed water for a few minutes at a time every so often.  They then moved on to the pirate ship area (for 14 and under) with even more slides — this time, the slides landed in water deep enough to be about chest-height on the boys when they were sitting, and which splashed up into their faces when they arrived at the bottom.  It was *perfect* for stretching their self-imposed limits just a little at a time, while not putting them into any kind of peril.

They had a fantastic time, and so did we.  The variety of activities meant that no one got bored, and each of the boys was able to choose an area that fit their comfort level.  In addition to the kids-specific areas, there was also a “river” with floating inner tubes, a massive wave pool (which Liam loved wading through) and an impressively enthusiastic water slide.  It was more like being at a water park than it was like “just” going to the pool.

And, because it’s Vienna, things were pretty laid back.  Most of the kids over the age of about 8 were only vaguely supervised by their parents, although the behavior of all of the kids was pretty good, and the older ones did a generally good job of watching out for the little ones.  Their were only 2 lifeguards on duty for the entire pool, and they were focused on the big wave pool — parents are expected to watch over their littler kids in the children’s areas . . . and they do.  And there are fewer rules.  Although not running around the pool is a good idea, people weren’t chastised for it.  The pools were mostly too shallow for diving (there were no diving boards) and there were signs posted to that effect.  I didn’t see anyone dive while we were there.  So, we saw a lot of that odd dichotomy that we’ve become accustomed to here — fewer rules, but more sensible behavior; less oversight, and more individual responsibility.

In all, it was a great day.  I only regret that I didn’t get a few pictures.  (Although, with the European sense of acceptance towards less-clothed children, it probably would have been tough for me to get pictures that didn’t include other people’s half-dressed kids.)  My only fear is that with this swimming adventure, we may have set the bar a little high for future swimming trips.

Riesenrad, together

058We had a great “stay-cation” in Vienna last week.  We skied, we skated, we swam, we did touristy stuff, we visited the animals at the zoo and we took some time to just rest and be at home.  It’s great fun living in a city that’s worthy of a European vacation in its own right and which we haven’t nearly finished exploring.  Plus, there was no packing required.

Our first stop on this trip was the Riesenrad, the giant Ferris wheel in Vienna’s Prater.  (If you’ve seen “The Third Ma063n”, that’s the one.)  I went once with a friend, but Dan and the boys had never been, and it was one of the things on our “must do in Vienna” list.

As often happens, our day kind of got away from away from us, and we weren’t ready to trek over there (3 whole U-Bahn stops away) until after nap time.  It was cold, dark and raining when we left the house, but if we waited to do everything in perfect conditions, we’d never get to do anything.  So off we went.

The bonus to going on a 069dark, cold, drizzly February evening is that there was absolutely no line, and we even got our very own car, all to ourselves.  We didn’t have to worry that the boys’ exclamations or their desire to run from one side of the car to another was bothering anyone else (although with only 4 of us in there, every time they did switch sides, the car tilted, which was a little disconcerting).  The rain obscured the view somewhat (more of an issue for the pictures than for the actual view), but the darkness created a lovely scene of Vienna all lit up at night.  It was a worthwhile visit, especially being such an iconic piece of Vienna.  The boys enjoyed their view from the top, and we all enjoyed sharing it as the first piece of our 2014 Vienna stay-cation.




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