For some unfathomable reason, the power in our building was scheduled to be off for 5 hours in the middle of the day today. On a Sunday. When it’s over 90 degrees outside. And nothing is open. Faced with the prospect of spending 5 hot hours without fans or air conditioning, and without the tv or computer to help entertain the kids, we made plans to go out.
After asking around and considering our options, we settled on going swimming. There are lots of publicly accessible swimming locations in Vienna (from pools to rivers) but one friend highly recommended a swimming area (bath, or “bad” in German) at a manmade lake just outside of the city.
So, just before 10:00 (when the power was set to go off) we set off for Tulln. It was a quick train trip (less than 45 minutes from our front door to the train station in Tulln) and an easy, pleasant walk from there. (Fair warning for anyone who tries the trip, though — although the bath itself is stroller accessible, the train station, remarkably, was not. In fact, we’re pretty sure it was our first non-stroller-accessible train station in Austria.)
It was a beautiful day (if a little hot for my taste) and the swimming area was really crowded. But it was lovely. The lake was large and clean, surrounded by nice grassy areas (many of them shaded). There was a sandy, gentle slope into the water which was roped off and set aside for little ones, and elsewhere around the lake, there were lots of fun things for more confident swimmers (trampoline islands, water slides, canoes and paddle boats).
Even though we expected it, it was a bit of a culture shock for us. People here are much more comfortable with their bodies, and less judgemental of each other, which all leads to a lot less modesty than we, as relatively prudish Americans, are accustomed to. Men, regardless of their age and physique, were most often in small, tight fitting, Speedo-type suits (although American style trunks and boardshorts were more common than we expected). Most women wore two piece bathing suits, again, regardless of age or physical type. And the kids were often naked. Nearly all of the babies (under 2) were completely unclothed (except for sun hats and water wings) and it wasn’t unusual to see older ones (up to maybe age 5 or 6?) in the buff as well, while the little girls mostly went with bottoms-only all the way up to about age 8 or so. It was really different. I definitely got the sense that people were there to be focused on the experience they were having, enjoying hte day with their families, rather than agonizing about or feeling shameful over how they looked. After a few minutes of adjusting to the difference, it was incredibly refreshing and liberating (although I ended up feeling excessively covered up in my own swimsuit, and my kids were the ONLY ONES with rash guards on). I didn’t see anyone give anyone else a look of contempt for their appearance, and I didn’t hear a snicker or see any pointing (not even by the groups of teenaged girls). Really, it was pretty astonishing.
We had a great time. Liam slept though the first part, very happily, in a shady spot in his stroller, while B & I ventured out to try to practice his swimming. We didn’t quite manage that, but he did wade a bit, and he let me carry him out all the way to the edge of the roped-off baby area (about hip-deep on me, so not very). After his nap, Liam joined the fun, but he was uncertain about the water and the sand, as well, and mostly wanted to be carried around. The boys got in a bit of play time on a rocky, slippery fountain area before we got ice cream and called it a day.
It was another successful adventure, mixing the familiarity of a day spent swimming with the family with a distinctly European sensibility about it. It was a fun, easy and inexpensive day trip out of Vienna. And it was immeasurably better than spending 5 hours with hot and cranky kids in a stuffy apartment. WAY better. And next time, I’ll worry less about what I wear.