Schönbrunn summer concert

Every year, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra puts on an outdoor concert on the grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace here in Vienna.  The concert is recorded and rebroadcast in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) later in the summer, but it actually takes place in May.  (As a result, every summer we get calls and emails from friends and family asking if we are going to a concert that actually happened months earlier.)  It’s a free event, but due to busy schedules, sick kids, and inertia, we’d never been before.  This year, we made the trip out to Schönbrunn to see it.


Weather-wise, we may have chosen the worst year of our time here to finally go.  It was raining, and though we hoped that the drizzle might hold back the crowds, there were lots of people in attendance (though, since we’d never been before, it’s possible that it WAS significantly less crowded than it would have been in great weather).  When we arrived, we got to walk through and under the palace to enter the grounds (a passage I’d never seen open before), and out into the gardens, which were fenced off and organized to corral the people and protect the flowers.  There was no chance of getting a spot (standing only) anywhere near the orchestra, so, after a bit of wandering, we took a position with a good view of one of the tv screens showing the action (the point being to hear the music, anyway).  The Gloriette was lit by colored lights, and the atmosphere among the crowd was happy and relaxed, excited for the concert.




And it was lovely.  The music was fantastic and the setting absolutely stunning.  It was fun to be out for the evening, even in spite of the rain, and the kids enjoyed themselves more than we had expected.  It started relatively late (for us), so we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay for the whole thing, but the boys happily stayed for over an hour of classical music, which was pretty impressive.  They danced and clapped and ran around as much as the crowds allowed.  After about an hour, the boys were getting antsy, and we were all getting a little stiff-legged from standing/holding kids, so we decided to call it a night.  Rather than fight our way back out through the crowds, the way we came in, we opted for a side exit, through the gardens and out towards the zoo.

And that was the most magical part of the night.  We could still hear the music from the concert, but, as we walked through the trees, we were mostly in darkness.  There were spotlights among the trees, which gave us some guidance, and a steady flow of other people also leaving the show, but we were mostly on our own in the warm, summer darkness, in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace.  We let the boys run ahead, warned them to watch out for puddles and for other people, and listened as their laughter came back to us as they ran and leapt through the gardens.  It was so joyful, so peaceful and so beautiful, I could have stayed there forever.  It was an absolutely perfect summer night, in an improbable place, with my most favorite people.  It was like a dream.  I imagine that if my boys remember it, it will be the kind of memory that seems like it wasn’t actually ever real.  I doubt I will ever forget it.

Mother’s Day hike

It’s taken me years to figure out how to make Mother’s Day work at our house.  If we were in the US, we’d get together with my mom and do something nice like a dinner out, most likely, which would be great.  Here, it’s a little less straightforward.  The idea is for the boys to make a nice day for me, but a lot of what I actually need the most is a break from my usual “mom” duties.  I don’t want to spend Mother’s Day doing anything other than being with my boys, though, so I’ve finally discovered the key to having a great day: I get to decide what to do, and no one gets to complain.  (That works better in theory than in practice, though.)

In reality, it’s kind of an opportunity for me to get to do something I’ve been wanting for us all to do but haven’t had the chance.  Over the past few years (though never before on Mother’s Day) we’ve been working on a hike that we’ve cobbled together in bits and pieces (including this past April when I foolishly assumed that pleasant weather down in Vienna would translate to pleasant weather up in the hills — which it did not).  My lone Mother’s Day request was that we complete (or at least continue) that hike.


931And so, we set out to do just that.  We took the bus to the stop where we had quit during our early April snow shower hike.  Luckily for us, it turned out that we had done very nearly all of the uphill hiking on our previous journeys, and we had only to walk down the hill to Vienna.  That also meant that we were also able to start our hike with a gorgeous view over the vineyards and down into Vienna.  And then we set off, down the hill, through the woods.

The boys had brought stuffed friends along with them, as well as binoculars, and we took lots of breaks — to look at bugs, climb on trees, and admire the lovely views.  Our walk through the woods gave way to a walk along the edge of some of western Vienna’s many vineyards, and then along some hilly ridges lining farmland.







1015We walked, and we walked, and we walked, and though the occasional grumble came through, they were remarkably patient with indulging my request for the day.  We picked wildflowers, smelled lilacs, and did our best to stay out of the way of the many bikes that flew past us.  Near the end of our nearly 4 mile long hike (good thing it was mostly downhill!), the route turned steeply downward, crossed through and under what looked like maybe the remains of an old city wall (anyone know what it is — near Nussdorf, Eichelhofstraße?), and then, quite suddenly, we were in Nussdorf, at the end of the hike, and finally, completely finished.

In all, it took many tries over several years, but we did it.  And I had a lovely Mother’s Day with my boys (and I think they enjoyed it at least a little bit, too).


The grounds and gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace are some of our favorite destinations here in Vienna.  We visit the zoo on a regular basis, make a point of going to the Christmas and Easter markets every year, and always enjoy a climb up the hill to the Gloriette, with the lovely view over Vienna as a reward at the end.  Still, with our many visits to Schönbrunn, we had never been to the labyrinth, though we’d always meant to.  So, this past spring, we took a free day and made another trip out to the gardens of Schönbrunn.

Our main goal was to explore the labyrinths, but we were planning to make a day of it, so we got started early.  I had always wondered — what would the labyrinth be like?  Would it be fun?  Boring?  A little scary?  Would we get truly lost?  That was part of why we hadn’t ever done it — we weren’t sure we’d enjoy it, but, with the recommendation of a friend and her slightly older (than my kids) son, we were up to try it.

511There are a few labyrinth choices — one set made of short hedges (that you could see over), and another with 8+ foot high hedges — more of a classic hedge maze.  We decided to start easy with the short one.  It was a good choice.  The kids took off through the maze — literally.  While we adults were limited to the actual paths, the kids could slip between the hedges to switch routes.  They got ahead of, and away from, us very quickly.  The only way it worked was that we could still see their heads as they ran on through the maze.  Though I was slightly concerned that we might lose track of them, we actually didn’t, and I think it was extra fun for them to reach the end of the maze well before we did.  At the end, we were rewarded with some large games — an interactive fountain, some balancing tables, and a big musical instrument the kids played by stomping on it.  A success!  Much fun, and no one got lost.



539After our success in the little labyrinth, we decided to take on the bigger one.  This one, with hedge walls over 8 feet tall, was not a place we could safely get separated.  We stuck together and wound our way through, encountering, at each dead end, a stone block bearing a zodiac symbol (for reasons I don’t understand, but the kids were enthusiastic to learn the symbols).  At the end, we got to enjoy a lovely view of Poseidon’s Fountain.  The journey was relatively short, but we had to discover the way out, as well, so it was a good adventure.  After finding the exit, we stopped for an ice cream and some playtime at the playground — including an elevated eagle structure (whose wings were actually flappable — only in Vienna!).



We wanted to extend our day at Schönbrunn, so we climbed up the hill behind the palace to the Gloriette (something we’ve done many times before).  We took a hike through the woods, had a picnic lunch, and inadvertently took dozens of inchworms along with us on the rest of our hike (they kept dropping out of the trees onto our clothes).  We finished up our day with a climb to the observation area at the top of the Gloriette (our first time up there) for an even better view over Schönbrunn and Vienna.




As usual, we had a fantastic time visiting the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace.  It remains one of my favorite places to take the kids in all of Vienna.  And, even after 4 years here, we were able to experience something new and exciting in a familiar place.



I think the most iconic experience I could have here in Vienna is going to the opera.  (One could argue that going to the ball or visiting a Christmas market might be pretty close, but I don’t think they rise to the level of the opera.)  It’s the thing I’m asked most about by friends back home, and, until this past spring, I had to constantly inform people that I hadn’t yet been.

This was often met with some level of incredulity — we’ve been here 4 years, how can we NOT have been to the opera (especially when most people make it their first priority when they come here)?!?  Well, it’s pretty simple.  The opera isn’t the most kid-friendly proposition, and we’ve opted to use our rare babysitter times on other things (like going to the ball).  Seriously, Dan and I probably go out on average twice a year without the kids — once for the ball, and once for our anniversary (though our first year, and this year, we didn’t go out for our anniversary at all, so maybe we don’t even quite average twice a year).  We really should have made it happen when Jo was here with us a few years ago, but we didn’t.  C’est la vie.

But I’ve finally been to the opera!  (Dan still hasn’t, though.)  This past March, a friend of mine had a birthday, and to celebrate, her husband bought her tickets for her and a friend to attend the opera.  I got to be that friend.


I know next to nothing about opera.  I like music, and I like theater, so it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch that I’d enjoy opera, but I’ve never really been exposed to it, so it remained a big question mark in my life experience.  That said, there was no way I was going to miss out on a chance to experience it!  And, we were lucky enough to go see La Traviata, which is one of the most famous operas of all.  And, frankly, even if I didn’t enjoy the show, I figured it would be a worthwhile experience to get fancied up and enjoy an evening out with a friend, at least!


It was great fun to have a reason to get dressed up, and we were so excited.  Just going inside the opera house and seeing the elaborate interior (the chandeliers!) was a treat.  It’s a beautiful building.  We had box seats, and just getting to find and explore the seating area was exciting, too.  We felt very fancy.



917We wandered around a bit, enjoyed a pre-show glass of champagne, and got ready for some opera.

It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was wonderful.  I expected something closer to musical theater, where there are songs and spoken words intermixed throughout, but that was not the case.  With the exception of about a half dozen spoken words, the entire production was sung.  There was a small screen in front of me that provided a translation, and though I referred to it often, I didn’t really need it to get the broad strokes of the story.


Everyone was amazing.  My reaction was overwhelmingly, “Wow”.  The orchestra was fantastic, the actors/singers were stunning — at one point, the lead actress was lying on the floor, “dying”, and singing operatically in her full voice!  (How does THAT work????)  I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.


I felt very fancy and grown up being at the opera.  And also very international — the performance was in Italian, set in Paris, and I was sitting in Vienna watching it.  It was a wonderful experience, and I’m so glad I got to do it.  And I got to check something else off of my “must-do” Vienna experience list.


Hot chocolate at Michaelerplatz

The last few nights at our house have been rough.  Liam is teething again, and Benjamin was having strange (and apparently unpleasant) dreams about Elmo and Grover being at our house, which had something to do with us having to move.  So, we were ALL up a lot the last few nights.  I managed to sleep in a little bit this morning (thank you Dan) but it was still one of those weird days where I can’t quite seem to get anything to happen the way that I want it to and I somehow make it to 4:30 in the afternoon without having done any of the things I intended to get done.

005It being Friday, this concerned me less than it might have on another day (because having one of “those days” at the end of the week doesn’t tend to spiral into the following days, thus leading to one of “those weeks”).  But still, I wanted to at LEAST get my walk in for the day, so around 4:30 this afternoon I started to get the kids changed, dressed and out the door for a walk.  We made it out by 5:00, Dan was due home by 5:45 and I was wondering if it wasn’t just a silly thing to try to accomplish with my day.

I’m really glad we went.  I walked, Liam rode in the stroller and Benjamin rode his bike.  It was chilly, but really lovely — we made it out in time to still have a little sunlight to enjoy the beauty of Vienna.  I didn’t get a lot of exercise in — Benjamin was easily distracted today, and the dark was closing in quickly — but I really enjoyed a nice time out with my boys.


Heading back, we came through Michaelerplatz.  It was just getting to be dusk, and the chilly air was starting to creep in.  We went past Starbucks, and I couldn’t resist — I took the boys in for hot chocolate (really, just for me and B, Liam just got a little whipped cream).  We sat outside and watched evening come on.  It got darker in the square — the carriage drivers lit their lamps, the cars and bicycles turned on their headlights, and the streetlights came on, one after the other, in front of the Spanish Riding School.  Benjamin proudly carried, and drank, his hot chocolate all by himself.










We sat, and talked about our day.  I wrestled Liam (who desperately wanted to get down and walk around on the cobblestones).  Dan got home and walked down to meet us.  I love these moments with my kids — when we share something completely ordinary, yet very special.  Going “to a cafe” (as Benjamin explained it) and having hot chocolate, together, on a chilly fall day, is pretty special.  Doing it in the heart of Vienna makes it magic.

Church bells

One of the best things about where we live in Vienna is that we get to hear church bells ring every day.  They ring at noon and 5:45 p.m. every day, and then on the weekends they also ring just before 9:30 in the morning.  (I find the times themselves a little random, but I’m guessing it has something to do with church, and if I actually went, I’d probably know.)

We are within hearing distance of at least three sets of bells, maybe more — I’m not even sure which ones I’m hearing at which times.  I absolutely love to hear them, and I’ve already grown accustomed to telling the time by them.  The boys are usually down for their naps by the time the noon bells ring, and Dan gets home right after the bells ring in the evening.  On the weekends, if I hear the morning bells and I haven’t gotten myself in gear to get some things done, I’m probably running late.

Some days, my routine with the kids feels so familiar, it’s actually easy to forget how far from home I am.  No matter how wrapped up I get in my day, I hear the bells and I stop what I’m doing for a moment to listen.  Although I’m used to hearing them, I don’t take them for granted (yet).  They’re magical to me:  anachronistic and yet so perfectly appropriate, so much of Vienna.  It’s like snow on Christmas — it belongs, but its belonging doesn’t diminish your delight when you find it.

In the city

I’ve never lived in a city before:  Tysons Corner was my closest approximation before this (not a bad approximation in terms of the number of people, but a pretty bad approximation in almost every other way).  As such, I sometimes have trouble separating the things I’m enjoying about living in Vienna from the things I’d probably enjoy living in the heart of any city.


I love being in the middle of everything.  It’s incredibly liberating to be able to walk out of my front door and pick up coffee, go to a park, do any kind of shopping, or even get on a bus or train and go anywhere.  It’s also really enriching my experience here to be able to go for a stroll in the afternoon with the boys and easily access many of the culturally and historically significant aspects of Vienna.  We might, just on an afternoon walk, see a massive palace, visit a church older than my country or happen upon an operatic performance (that last one happened just today).  Pretty much anything I could want or need is right at my doorstep.  (We consider it a “long walk” to go get pizza — which takes 12 minutes from our front door.)

029Most of that, though, could be said about many cities in the world (Europe in particular).  In Vienna, I’m enjoying the safety, the richness of the history and the beauty — not only is the architecture like something from a story book, but this city has so much green space.  I’m not sure how much of that I would get anywhere else.

I’m really enjoying time here, but I’m still really a country mouse at heart.  I love Vienna’s architecture, but I long for a view that comes from other than just between two city streets.  I miss the way that grass cleans the dirt from my shoes.  I love the freshness of the smells of grass or hay or woods — wet pavement has a certain pleasantness to it, but it isn’t the same.

I’m really enjoying Vienna, and I think my sanity is preserved, in part, by being right in the heart of everything here.  But really, I’m just visiting.