Spring, finally

I’m afraid to get my hopes up after the seemingly endless winter we had this year, but I think spring has finally arrived in Vienna.

20130411-145229.jpgYesterday, we actually got rained on (I don’t remember the last time we got precipitation that wasn’t snow). And although it was wet and chilly in the morning, by the afternoon, it was nearly 60 degrees outside. And we’ve had more of the strong, steady breeze I’ve learned to associate with springtime in Vienna.

Today, we’re nearly up to 60 again, and all of the temperatures I see on the forecast are actually positive. (In fact, they’re all above 40, and Saturday is supposed to get up to the mid-60s with sun!)

I haven’t seen much evidence of spring around Vienna yet, but I think it’s here. I hope it’s here. I’m ready to enjoy it.



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.

Winter to spring to winter

038When we left Vienna for our trip to Italy last week, it was definitely winter.  We’d gotten a little snow earlier in the week, and then we were surprised with some more the morning of our departure.  There was even more, fairly significant, snow forecast here in Vienna for our first few days in Italy.  We were really cold the night we got on the train and headed for Rome.  Our train was delayed by about 20 minutes, but they didn’t announce that until we were already arranged on the platform, in sub-freezing temperatures with snow and wind.  We weren’t quite dressed warmly enough, because we didn’t want to over pack for Italy, so we stood, waiting for the train and shivering.

258We woke up on the train to a northern Italian landscape covered in snow (it was so snowy we shared a moment of worry that we were in the wrong place).  And then we arrived in Rome, and although it wasn’t as warm as we’d expected, it didn’t feel like winter.  The plants were green, the rain was rain, not snow, and none of the puddles were icy in the mornings.  I think I probably enjoy winter more than the average person, but even I was won over by our visit to spring.

And then, completely contrary to our expectations, Venice was warm (and even dry).  It was so lovely.  We were sometimes a little chilly in the shade, but a few moments in the sun warmed us right up.  The boys ventured out a few times in fleeces instead of parkas, and I didn’t put my hat or gloves on once (not even on our evening gondola ride).  Liam did get a little cold once when we stopped for gelato, but otherwise, Venice was truly a taste of spring.

And then we arrived home in Vienna to 38 degrees and a strong breeze.  Brr.  But, even here, spring snuck in while we were away.  The days are suddenly and noticeably longer.  There are flowers peeking out from window boxes and beneath bushes in the park.  We still need to bundle up, but the thaw has definitely begun.  It’s a good thing, because as much as I love winter, Italy spoiled me with spring, and I’m ready for it now.

Jumping in puddles

002We have, rather suddenly and unexpectedly, spring weather today in Vienna.  It’s currently over 50 degrees outside.  The snow has nearly all melted and we had rain for most of yesterday.  That makes it an excellent day for jumping in puddles.

Both of my boys love jumping in puddles.  Benjamin currently believes that the bigger the puddle, the better, and you have to keep an eye on him, because he’ll leap into one, spraying everyone within 15 feet with muddy puddle water, with absolutely no notice or remorse.  B is happy to splash in the same puddle, over and over, until he is soaked or the puddle is empty.  Liam, on the other hand, doesn’t discriminate based on puddle size.  He carefully examines the ground around 004him for good candidates, runs up to them, and very sweetly asks, “May I jump in this puddle?” before giving it a well-planned splash or two and then moving on to the next one, asking, “Can we find another puddle?!”

They are both so sweet.  Watching their joyful enthusiasm for jumping into puddles is so wonderful.  I wish I could ink these moments permanently into my brain.  I wish I could hold on to the image, perfectly and forever, of holding hands with my little ones while they smile and giggle and splash.  I love how happy it makes them, and how happy they just ARE.  It’s infectious.  I can’t be around them while they’re doing this and not be joyful myself.  Part of it is watching my kids be happy, but the other part of it is just being reminded of how simple joys can be and of how everything is wonderful if you look at it the right way.  They’re teaching me.  I jumped in some puddles today, too.  I don’t know if I enjoyed it as much as they did, but I’m glad we were able to do it together.006

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.

First snow in Vienna

Walking to pick Benjamin up from school today, I got to experience my first snow in Vienna.  It wasn’t much — just enough to put a thin coating on the grassy areas and fallen leaves, but I got excited anyway.  I love the snow.  I love how it covers everything over with a sparkling white blanket, making even familiar landscapes magical.  I love how sounds change when there’s snow on the ground, or when it’s falling — everything is a little more quiet.  And I guess I still associate snow with getting to have an unexpected break in my normal routine — even though I haven’t had a real “snow day” in years, I tend to treat very snowy days a little differently, as days to play more than I work, to drink hot chocolate and read a book, to not worry about whether everything gets done.

People seem to think of Vienna as a snowy city, but it’s really not.  Vienna is a pretty dry place, compared to where I come from (even in the winter).  I guess it’s the image of Alpine Austria that puts everyone in that mindset.  It’s certainly cold enough for snow here (I think we’ve been a few days in a row now without going above freezing).  As I understand it, Vienna is cold all winter, with regular, but pretty small, snowfalls.  We actually get about half the winter precipitation here that got at home (but more “wet days”, so it’s just spread out more).

When I got to the school and met Benjamin in his classroom, he took me over to the glass doors so he could show me that it was snowing outside.  He was so excited.  We went outside, and he immediately bent down and started scooping snow out of a leaf to make a snowman.  When I explained that we’d need a little more snow for that, he put the snow in his mouth so he could “catch it on his tongue”.  I also explained that it’d probably be better to actually catch them from the air, instead of eating them off of a leaf.

It snowed on and off all day, and we found ourselves out in it several times.  Benjamin was equally enthusiastic each time.  I’m as excited as he is, and I’m having a lot of fun watching him enjoy it.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a lot of snow this year in Vienna . . . especially between now and Christmas!

Keeping warm

It’s Vienna, it’s nearly winter.  It’s cold — that isn’t exactly shocking.  The temperature does different things here than I’m used to, though — for example, the high temperature for the day here is usually very late in the day (often just after sunset) and then the temperature plummets, often dropping several degrees an hour.  It’s not unusual to go out, in the late afternoon or early evening to nearly 50 degrees, only to come back, just a few hours later, absolutely frozen.  It’s also very common for the temperature to very widely in different parts of the city — I can leave the house very comfortable and step out into frigid conditions when I get off the train to pick Benjamin up at school.  And none of this is made easier by the fact that the weather forecast often lists a temperature as much as 15 degrees off from what we really experience.


We’re getting used to it, though.  If we go out, pretty much anywhere, I carry with me a bag of extra cold weather accessories:  hats and mittens, scarves and gloves, plus a warm blanket for the stroller.  The boys have warm winter coats, and Liam also has a IMG_2627few buntings to choose from (or rather, for me to choose from — I don’t trust his judgement yet, he still likes to eat chalk).  I also recently did some shopping for myself — I bought some new gloves and a cape/cloak/poncho (I have no idea what it really is, and makes me sound like I’m trying to be a superhero/a wizard/a Mexican depending on what I call it).  Even when it feels REALLY cold outside (below freezing, with a breeze), when I put on my new, woolly things, the cold doesn’t get to me too much.

We’re starting to get used to the cold here.  I know it’s only going to get colder — winter is just around the corner.  I hope we can stay well equipped as the temperatures drop — it’s nice to stay warm and cozy.

Christmas comes early

Halloween is barely celebrated here, and Thanksgiving doesn’t exist.  There have been beautiful advent calendars and Christmas sweaters in the shop windows for weeks, and preparations are well underway for the extensive Christmas markets that will soon be open.  Unlike at home, no one is embarrassed or exasperated about it — without Halloween and Thanksgiving, there’s really no reason NOT to start the celebration of Christmas.

As if on cue, the weather here today felt like something out of Dickens (minus the snow).  This evening in Vienna was cold, foggy and damp.  Walking through Michaelerplatz, watching the horse drawn carriages go by, I could easily imagine the opening scenes to “A Christmas Carol”.

Our Halloween pumpkins are still in good form, but soon, it’ll be time to deck our halls, too.  I’m very excited about Christmas — it’s the time of year I’m most looking forward to experiencing in Vienna.  Culturally, Christmas is bound to be very different here — I suspect Austria will celebrate more religiously than I’m used to at home.  And the secular icons are different, as well — they have Saint Nicholas here, rather than Santa Claus, and the Christmas tree tradition is executed differently.

I’d better find out the salient differences, because with Benjamin being in school, he’s going to hear about them.  He’s has already started his mental Christmas list for Santa — and one for Liam, too — and he told me this evening that he’s concerned that Santa will be able to get in to our house, but maybe not out again.  He’s planning ahead.  Me too.

Happiness is a Spider-Man umbrella

Benjamin saw it in the window of a shop down the block, and he’s been talking about it ever since.  It’s a clear, plastic child’s umbrella, featuring Spider-Man.  He fell in love with it.

026He doesn’t have any particular affinity for Spider-Man — in fact, I think this may be his first exposure to the concept (he’s been calling it the “spider umbrella” — I think it’s the spider part of the design that attracted him).  But, since the first time he saw it, he’s been asking us for it.  I asked him if he’d rather us find him a Lightning McQueen umbrella (which is his current favorite character), but he said no, he’d actually prefer “the spider one”.

The truth is, an umbrella is a pretty reasonable purchase for him (I just bought myself one, as too) since he’s out, back and forth to school, every day.  Besides, we wanted to indulge him.  His asking (very sweetly, with lots of “please”s) over and over was actually really cute — he managed stay persistent without getting annoying.

031So today, after school, we went and got it.  I had completely forgotten, but the second I touched, heard and smelled the plastic, I remembered exactly the sensation of holding a plastic umbrella as a little girl.  I used to have one just like it (not with Spider-Man, though — my mom remembers it as Hello Kitty).

He is thrilled.  He carried it all around the store, all the way home, and around the house for a while.  He was so excited to show it to his Grandma on Skype today, and then to Daddy when he got home from work.  Later this evening, when he went out with Dan, to pick up dinner, he took it with him (it was raining, so it got its first real use).  It was so much fun for me, too, to get it for him.  It’s fun to be able to spoil him sometimes (and I’m so glad to be able to do that).

Wearing a hat

I live in Austria.  I don’t have a car, I go out every day (rain, shine, cold or wind) at least to pick up Benjamin at school.  It’s only October, and we’re already below freezing in the mornings.  I can’t avoid it any longer:  I need a hat.

I do own a few hats — wooly, winter hats, built for warmth rather than appearance.  At home, that was fine, since I hardly ever wore them unless I was bundled up to go out in the snow with the kids, or out to the barn with the horses, and in either situation, function outweighs form in terms of selecting apparel.

But, with my new location, and the inevitability of it becoming more a daily accessory, I want to do better — I want to do what I can to find something warm and cute.  It’s a challenge.

Vienna has many specialty hat stores.  Hats are a ubiquitous item here, and people also like to be fashionable, so there are lots of options.  This is both good and bad.  On the one hand, I get to try on a lot of different things:  if I don’t like the first thing I see, that’s no problem — there are dozens of other choices.  On the other hand, there are dozens of choices and I really have no idea what I’m looking for, and that makes it a little overwhelming.

I went to the closest hat store (located on my block) and threw myself on the mercy of the first English speaking shopkeeper I found.  She was great — she asked me about my winter coats, about where and how often I’d be wearing a hat, and made a few suggestions.  I tried them all on, and felt silly with every single one.  Why is that?!?  I see other people wearing hats, all the time, looking cute — looking warm and fashionable and as though wearing a hat is a totally normal thing.  Each one I put on looks like part of a costume, or like it belongs to someone else and I just stuck it on to keep from being frozen.  The ones that I like the best on the shelf look the most ridiculous on me, the ones I liked the next best made me look like I’d borrowed something from an elderly person and the ones I like the least turned out to be the least offensive when I actually put them on my head and looked in the mirror.

056I still felt silly, though.  It still feels like playing dress up in something that belongs to someone else.  I narrowed it down to my favorite three choices, and then asked my new hat sales clerk friend for an opinion.  She picked the one I was the least drawn to, but I went with her idea (she is a professional, and she looks at people in hats all day long — AND she was honest with me about some less than attractive choices I tried).  It’s warm, but it’s BIG (apparently, it’s fashionable).  I feel silly when I put it on, but I’m glad my head is warm.  My hope is that I’ll get used to it, and that maybe, as the winter goes on, I’ll grow bolder and more comfortable with the idea of a hat, and maybe even be able to bravely experiment with other styles.  If I need to wear one every day (and if I need it in October, I imagine it won’t really be an option in January) I’m hoping I can find something that I really like — and maybe become one of those cute hat wearing people, too.