Christmas lights in January

The Christmas lights in Vienna are still up.  It’s the 10th of January.  Advent, Christmas, New Year’s and even the Epiphany have come and gone.  And yet, even the very orderly Austrians don’t seem to be in a hurry to take down the lights.

We had to take our tree down early this year.  By “early”, I mean almost a week ago.  And, in a house where Christmas trees typically threaten to be around for Valentine’s Day, it was a lot earlier than ever before.  That, along with the fact that we get our tree later than I’d like here in Austria, means we didn’t get enough of a chance to enjoy it.  We certainly didn’t have it around long enough to get tired of it.  I was sad to see it go.

So I’m glad that the lights are still up in the city.  I love them.  It makes it still feel a little like Christmas, and they help to brighten the evening streets that get dark so early.  They’ll be down soon, and we can carry on through the cold, dark winter until we can feel the difference of the lengthening days.  But I’m so glad to enjoy them just a little bit longer.  I’m in no hurry.

The cold and the warm

It’s cold here now.  Really cold.  (I’ve heard, though, that it gets colder.  I know, what was I expecting?  I moved to Vienna.)  This is the kind of cold I’ve only had a passing acquaintance with — as in, once every few years of my life I’ve experienced cold like this, only for a few moments, on the way from my house to my car or my car to wherever I was going, and on very few occasions, for longer — when I would have to do something for one of the horses at the barn (but I usually avoided the barn when it was this cold).

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Direct sunlight

Until yesterday, we hadn’t had any direct sunlight in our apartment for months.  Given that we have windows that face all four sides of our building, that’s pretty impressive.  What surprises me is that I hadn’t noticed that the sunlight was gone until it came back — I think I had attributed the darkness to the cloudy, overcast and rainy days we’ve had lately.  But it was more than that — the angle of the sun had actually dipped so low that the sun didn’t crest the side of the building on our south-facing side until it had passed beyond the point that it could shine in our windows.  And the afternoon sun, which in the summer overwhelmed, overheated and dazzled us, can’t make it in to our west facing windows because the angle has changed so much that it’s completely obscured by a neighboring building.

Yesterday morning, I was playing cars with Liam on the floor and I was being persistently blinded, and slightly irritated by, all the light that was streaming into our south facing window in our living room.  After a few minutes of repositioning ourselves around the living room, the sunlight went away — hidden again behind the wall across our courtyard.  Only then, after it was gone, did I realize that all that brightness would be back with us to stay, every morning, from now until November.

I like the winter, with the cold, the wind and especially the snow.  But I’m glad to have the sun back.  I didn’t realize how much I had missed it.  I can’t help having my spirits lifted by its return, and with it, the promise of longer, brighter days soon to come.

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.

Austrian clothes

I’ve been meaning to do some clothes shopping here in Vienna.  I don’t really have a lot of warm winter clothes that I love (and a few of the things I intended to bring got put into storage by mistake).  And, it can be really hard, as a mom, to not feel frumpy most of the time — I make sure I get a shower and brush my hair every day, but some days, that’s it.  There isn’t always a lot of time or opportunity for putting together a fantastic outfit, and I don’t really have the clothes to do it now, even when I am so inclined.  The people here are generally really well put together in terms of fashion and personal appearance, and it’s inspiring — I don’t need to look like I walked off the pages of a fashion magazine every time I leave the house (which is good, because that isn’t going to happen) but I’ve been wanting to make some changes.  It would just be nice to have a few good outfits to go to — at least a few that I know look good on me and that look good togther.

So, I went shopping today.  I went to a place that I walk by all the time.  They have beautiful sweaters, scarves, jackets and hats in the windows, and the window displays are always beautiful — everything is very classically Austrian (without being “traditional” Austrian clothing, which is something else entirely).  It was a little daunting — not only am I not the size I’d like to be right now (making it harder to find things that don’t contribute to the frumpiness) but, in what seems to be very typical of shops here, they only have one of each thing in each color in each size.  So, if the one you like in your size has been sold, that’s it — they don’t have it.  There isn’t a big store room in the back with dozens of the same thing.  With a little perseverance, though, and a lot of help from my sweet and English speaking salesperson, I was able to find quite a few things that I’m very excited about.

IMG_2272Later, I took Benjamin to another shop buy a hat and a new set of gloves.  (We want a set to leave for him at school so he has them to wear when he goes to play in the garden even if we forget them for his trip to school.)  Finding a hat for a 3 year old is not easy, made more challenging by the fact that he’d really rather the shopping trip not be successful at all — Benjamin would probably be happiest if he never had to wear a hat or gloves, ever again.  We were looking through the hats, trying to find one that fit.  I picked one out (with reindeer on it!) for him to try.  The saleswoman thought it would probably be too big, but I wanted him to try it anyway, just to see how cute it was.  Well, it was too big, but he loved it.  As soon as it went on, he decided it was the one he wanted, and he refused to take it off.  He actually turned around and tried to walk out of the store — not just without paying for it, but without me.  He got a little distressed when the saleswoman took it back to remove the tags, but was mollified when she let him stand behind the counter for the transaction (at this point he was wearing his new hat again, too, which helped).

He wore his hat around for most of the rest of the day (even though it was warm in Vienna today).  He couldn’t wait to show it to his Grandma on our Skype — he’s very excited about it.  I understand.  Both Benjamin and I have exciting new Austrian things to wear, which is good.  It’s always nice to have new things to wear that you feel good about.

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.

1 degree


It’s cold in Vienna, already.  We’ve already hit the freezing mark (not officially yet — officially we’ve gotten down to 1, apparently, but there was ice on the sidewalk when we left for the zoo yesterday morning) and the warmest it’s gotten in the past several days is about 12 degrees (low 50s).  This week is forecast to be more of the same, with lots of nights nearly hitting the freezing mark and several days of high temperatures in the single digits.

I absolutely love the onset of colder weather.  I’d much prefer to have a slightly chilly October, rather than a warm one — I much rather be bundled up in scarves, hats and sweaters than to be wearing shorts while pumpkin picking.  This is my kind of October.

I do have to admit, though, that as much as I like the chill in the air, the smell of woodsmoke and the sparkle of frost, it puts me more in mind of November or December than October.  (I’ve already caught myself singing Christmas Carols with the kids a few times!)  And, despite my careful research into relative temperatures, I’m a bit worried about what December, January and February have in store for us.

So far, though, our apartment is warm, I can find coffee and hot chestnuts on the street corners, and (most of) our sweaters and cold-weather clothing safely arrived from home.  If I could just find someplace that sells hot cider, I’d be all set.