Ice skating and the tower

417It’s become a fun family tradition — every January and February find us strapping on our skates and enjoying the ice rinks over at the Rathaus.  I don’t know that our minimal amount of time on the ice has made us any better at skating, but I think we’ve gotten better at the process of GOING skating over the years.  While we used to find the process of getting the kids in their winter gear, walking over to the Rathaus (which isn’t far), renting the skates, inevitably returning them because something didn’t fit properly, and finally waddling over to the ice so completely overwhelming that often, by the time we got ON to the ice, we were all nearly ready to go home.

We’ve gotten better at it.

We’ve grown accustomed to outfitting the kids in their winter gear — we do it every day.  The walk over to the Rathaus no longer seems arduous — we walk further in our winter gear all the time.  We’ve gotten better at figuring out skate and helmet sizes, plus we’ve gotten a lot better at communicating our needs in German.  We’re accomplished at inching across the wooden floorboards over to the ice.  And, I think we probably HAVE gotten better on the ice (at least on average) because though Liam still needs a “penguin” to be able to skate, Benjamin no longer needs one (though he still sometimes enjoys one).  We can skate around the children’s area pretty skillfully (without falling down, most of the time) and I even make the journey around the more advanced area from time to time without causing any major catastrophes.

459This year, Benjamin and I went over together one morning when he had a day off from school, and we even managed to go around the advanced area together, which was a first for B, and a lot of fun for both of us (though a little scary for me).

And also for the first time this year, they constructed a massive “Vienna Skyliner” tower — an 80 meter tall rotating tower that lifted us up to the height of the Rathaus and gave us an amazing view of Vienna.  (It was an amazing structure for something temporary — it was only there for the duration of the skating at the Rathaus.)  It was created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Ringstrasse — the road that runs around the center of Vienna.  From the top of the tower, we could see many of Vienna’s major landmarks — St. Stephen’s, the Hofburg, the Volksgarten, plus Dan’s work and our apartment.  We also got an amazing view of the top of the Rathaus — something I never expected to see at eye level!


In the dark and cold and short days of winter in Vienna, I’ve come to really look forward to our annual trips to the skating rink.  It’s a particularly refreshing activity to think about right now, when we’re finishing up our fourth (or is it fifth?) week of 35+ degree temperatures (that’s 95+ish for everyone at home, and it’s very unusual for Vienna).  Thinking back to days of having to bundle up to enjoy the ice is somewhat comforting, because I know those days will come again.  And when they do, we’ll be back over at the Rathaus, enjoying the ice again.



Vienna’s winters are very dark, with relatively few hours of daylight.  Between November and February, my kids leave the house before the sun has properly risen, and come home after it has set.  We spend months only playing outside on the weekends, or in the dark (and cold) of early evening.  It’s tough on all of us.  The boys go a bit stir-crazy with tons of unspent energy, bouncing off the walls and bothering each other a lot more than usual, and I get absolutely frozen keeping vigil in the dusky playground while they brave the cold to climb and slide and swing a little.

I suspect that principally because of these long winter months, Vienna has several indoor “play parks”, but, until recently, we had never been to one.  I only had a vague idea of what they entailed, but I imagined massive McDonald’s-play-area-style ball pits and plagues of flu and stomach virus running through the revelers, so we had never gone.  Plus, my kids had never heard of them, so they weren’t asking to go.  I would have happily lived through our Vienna experience, and just skipped it entirely.

But last fall, B and Liam were invited to a friend’s birthday party at “Monkipark“, one of these indoor play places at a shopping mall we’d never been to.  B had heard all about it from the birthday boy, and he was so excited.  I was still apprehensive, but happy to try it out.

445It was not quite what I expected.  It was HUGE inside, and crazy, and chaotic.  In true Viennese style, the parents weren’t particularly hovering over their kids … and there were SO MANY kids, from toddlers to teenagers, running free in the play area.  There was a massive, inflatable climbing and sliding area, where my boys ran first.  (Being me, I did hover, so I went right along with them.)  It was crazy, but it was great fun.  It was like a giant, inflatable obstacle course.  The boys climbed, balanced, swung, bounced, and slid down a two-story-high slide.  And then they did it again.  And again.  And when they got tired of that, there was an indoor climbing wall, and soccer court, a ropes course (which was only for bigger kids), a bank of trampolines and a go-kart track.  And that was in addition to the snack bar and the private party rooms where the birthday boy invited us all for chicken nuggets and birthday cake.  It was impressive, and we all had a great time (though I still imagine that most kids come out of there with some illness they didn’t have before).  We really enjoyed it, and I understand it better now.  And it’s good that we liked it, because I’d put even odds that at least one of my guys will want to have their birthdays there this year.

The light in autumn

The light here is different than it was at home.  The summer days are longer, the winter days are shorter.  The angle of the light changes more noticeably throughout the year — in the winter here, even at noon, the sun is not overhead and we get, at best, a kind of weak sunlight that is neither very cheering nor very warming, even on the brightest of days.  In the autumn, the light is beautiful.  It is mostly golden, and has that wonderful “late afternoon” look all day long.  Everything touched by the sunlight looks like it’s glowing, and the trees, already golden, look like they’re on fire when the light catches them.  Sometime in the fall, the sun stops coming in directly through our kitchen window in the afternoons, and in the mornings, it no longer comes through our living room windows.  We have to wait again until spring comes around again to see it streaming across the floor.  As the autumn moves towards winter, we lose the “afternoon” effect of the light and move into a state where it seems to be perpetually early evening — a state which persists throughout the winter.

Just now, it is spring again, and we’ve begun to get our sunlight back.  Sitting in the living room in the mornings, the sun shines directly on our couch now — something it hasn’t done since the fall.  Just a few days ago, I was suddenly blinded by a ray of sunlight coming through the window, and I had a moment of confusion until I remembered that yes, that is normal — we just haven’t seen it for a while.  Spring is here, and we’re finally getting our sunlight back.

Vienna by night

In Vienna, in the winter, so much of our time is spent in the dark, and in the summer, so little of it is.  From sometime in November until early February, Dan and Benjamin are almost never home during daylight hours.  From early in May until mid-August, my kids hardly ever experience darkness — they wake up and go to bed completely in daylight, for months on end.

The transitions to Daylight Saving Time and back happen at a different time here than at home, too.  Not only does that give me two weeks in the spring and one week in the fall where I have no idea what time it is anywhere, but it means we have 3 weeks more of dark evenings than we had at home.  This year, the Monday after the time change in October was a holiday (Austrian National Day) and we celebrated the fact that the whole family had a day off together by spending it at the swimming pool.

We were out most of the afternoon, and when we started to head home, it was already dark, thanks to the time change the day before.  I found it particularly odd and a little disconcerting, in large part because, strange as it may seem, I am pretty much never out in Vienna at nighttime between April and October.  Stepping out of the brightly lit swimming facility into the dusky evening was like suddenly stepping out into an unfamiliar city.  It happens every year, but it always takes me a little time to get used to experiencing Vienna in the dark … and then once I get used to it, I get to spend months getting REALLY used to it.

Just last week, I picked B up from school and we arrived home with enough daylight that we didn’t immediately have to turn on all the lights — for the first time in nearly 3 months.  It’s the first sign that we’re on our way back to seeing Vienna only by day and likely forgetting, once again, what it’s like here in the dark.

Our only snow of the winter

20140311-133902.jpgIt isn’t impossible that we will still get a big snow storm (we got snow in May last year, and frankly, if posting this jinxes us, I’d welcome it).  But the birds are singing, the crocuses and paper whites have bloomed, and it’s light out when we wake up and when Dan gets home from work.  Spring has unofficially come early to Vienna, and winter never really brought us snow this year.

We had a two small snows of 1-2 inches or less, and many days with snow showers or flurries.  But the kids never got to go sledding, and the “Dachlawine!” signs never had to come out for the melting.  We had, as always, plenty of cold and lots of gray skies, but, disappointingly, very little snow.

20140311-133926.jpgThe only snow my boys really got to enjoy this year was a big snow we got in the US when we were home for Christmas (which inconveniently came the night before we were supposed to leave and resulted in an 8+ hour delay for our return flight home).  At the time, I debated whether to let the boys go out and play in the snow — I was worried by how much laundry and packing of wet clothes I would be required to do afterwards.  But I’m so glad I allowed the more fun part of my mind to rule.  I’m so glad that they got two days of digging and playing in the snow, of snow angels and of shoveling the walk “to help the neighbors”.  I’m glad they got to catch snowflakes on their tongues and toss snowballs at each other (and at us).  If it was to be their only opportunity to play and enjoy the snow this winter, I am so very grateful that I didn’t allow worries over damp socks and soggy hats get in the way.


Snow envy

I live in Austria.  AUSTRIA.  Generally, there are two things that come to mind when I tell people I live here: “The Sound of Music” and snow covered mountains.  Vienna, however, is not in the mountains.  It’s a relatively hilly city, and we can often SEE snow covered mountains off to the west, but Vienna itself is not mountainous.


Snow on the mountins, off to the west of Vienna (but not here)

It’s also just not very snowy here.  Vienna, being on the leeward side of the Alps (which are big and stick up way into the sky) is quite a dry place.  All the rain and snow fall on the other side of the mountains (or on top of them).  Considering all forms of precipitation (frozen or otherwise) we get just over half as much as my hometown in the US on average throughout the year.

We get plenty of cold here, but not a lot of moisture, which means that Vienna is not the snow-covered winter wonderland that many imagine.  This year, we’ve gotten only a few snowy days, and only one of those added up to an inch of snow accumulation.  Back at home, meanwhile, they’ve been absolutely inundated, which leaves me in the surprising situation of living in Austria and pining for a Washington, DC winter.

My friends from home think I’m crazy.  But I love the snow, and, living here, we’re pretty much immune to any potential negative consequences of it — we don’t have anything to shovel, we don’t have to clear off a car, we don’t have to drive anywhere.  For us, living in Vienna, snow just makes everything prettier and gives the kids a chance to play and sled with their friends at school.  It would be nice to have at least ONE nice, snowy day this winter.

So far, the only real snow we’ve experienced this year was while we were home in Maryland over Christmas.  Everyone at home is pretty well sick of snow while we’re here waiting for our first real snow of the season . . . and waiting, and waiting . . .

The day the sun didn’t rise

Living at a more northern latitude this time of year really messes with you.  The sun rises after we’ve all gotten up for the day and sets well before Dan is home from work.  If he didn’t bring the kids home at lunchtime, Dan would never see our apartment in the daylight during the week.  It’s even worse for the kids, who still take mid-day naps.  They wake up twice every day, in the morning and in the afternoon, but both times in complete darkness.  It does a number on their body clocks.  The other day, Liam woke up at 4:00 a.m., ready to go for the day — this from a kid that I have to pull out of bed at 7:00 every morning.

Yesterday was a profoundly cloudy day.  There were heavy, gray clouds with intermittent rain all day.  Liam woke up after nap time (in the dark), and asked, as he often does this time of year, if it was morning or night.  I told him it was night (B corrected me and told me it was evening) and Liam asked me, a little sadly, “Why didn’t the sun come up today?”

I get it.  That’s totally how it feels.  Living here is very dark in the winter, and the days when the sun doesn’t come up at all are a bit of a bummer.  We’re in to the darkest two weeks of the year now, though, and then things will be getting a little brighter.  (Another plus to going home for Christmas — we’ll spend two weeks of the darkest month of the year much further south, with more daylight!)

First snow

It’s been chilly for a while here in Vienna.  Highs in the 40s, lows just above freezing.  Perfectly normal, of course, for this time of year in this part of the world.  Because we spend a fair bit of time outside (not having a car means that our daily routines involve a lot of walking and/or waiting for public transportation), it’s easy to lose perspective and feel like 42 with a good breeze is cold.

Vienna was happy to remind us today that THAT is not cold and that we’ve actually been very lucky this year (last year, we had snow before Halloween).  We woke up to 34, snow and real wind.  NOW it’s winter.  Now we remember what cold feels like!  Today (as the temperature fell through the morning — thank you, Vienna) we had the kind of wind that takes your breath away and can, when it gusts, literally move your feet sideways on their way to their intended destination or make forward progress literally impossible.  And that’s for me — the kids are lucky to not actually be blown over.

So it is now really, properly cold here (it’ll get worse, but the forecast for the week indicates that our days of coasting in the 40s are probably over for the season).  We only got a few festive flurries and a light dusting on the grass today, but I’m glad to have had a little snow today.  (If we’re going to be frozen, it might as well feel festive!)  With a strong, cold wind, a little snow, and dusk that falls around 3:30 in the afternoon, it truly feels like winter in Vienna again.  (And, it feels like it really is almost Christmas!)

March is still winter in Vienna, too

When we left for our weekend trip to Salzburg last Thursday, it was (amazingly) not snowing.  Lately it has felt like we miss all the good winter weather — the two best snowstorms in Vienna this year happened when we were skiing in central Austria and when we took our trip to Italy.  We left on the first day of spring, and we expected to return to spring (much like we expected to find spring in Salzburg).

014While we were gone, it snowed in Salzburg.  It also snowed in Vienna, which was rather a surprise to us, because there hadn’t been any snow in the forecast for Vienna.  But we woke up yesterday morning to Facebook stories and pictures from our friends, showing a snow-dusted Vienna.

We got back, and it was still snowing.  We had snow accumulation on our uncovered, but somewhat sheltered, terrace.  We went to bed, it was snowing.  We woke up, it was snowing.  It has snowed all day.  The outdoor café tables are covered.  The daffodils and crocuses that had bravely pushed up through the ground are covered.  The forecast calls for more snow tomorrow (all day) and more later in the week, too.  Looks like winter isn’t done with us yet.



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.