Haus der Stille

People often speak of ‘coincidences’ when paths cross or events that seem related but unusual come together in amazing ways.  Personally, I think there are no coincidences, just those times when our awareness has been broken open and our defenses lowered so that we can see the whole picture.


So, I did not think it a coincidence to discover that our friends, Gernot and Christina, were active meditators, attended a meditation group several times a month and every few months, attended a meditation retreat at the Haus der Stille.


In mid-May and again in late May, they invited us there . The first time was for a Mass at the chapel, and the second time was for a silent weekend retreat.  Bill and I attended together the first, which was followed by a lunch in the reception hall (more opportunity for meeting great Austrian people!), and a hike in the area around the Haus der Stille on the Markus Weg.  I alone attended the second, a Zen-style retreat, with maybe 14 others from various parts of Austria.


The Haus der Stille is located in the countryside not too far from Graz.  It’s surrounded by farm houses and fields.  Once, it belonged to a order of RC sisters, but then was purchased by the Franciscans.  A priest ( Fr. Karl Maderner, OFM, friar, priest) had a vision to create a beautiful space for worship and contemplation.   He succeeded in so many ways.

the Haus der Stille, chapel, Peace, reception area and Christina


Today the Haus der Stille offers individuals and groups the opportunity for quiet and reflection.  The chapel invites one to the same. The Mass held there is contemplative in nature, although a ‘regular’ mass, and it is very inclusive.   Some people kneel on prayer benches or sit on cushions; others use chairs.  It’s inclusive in other ways as well.  The first thing one sees upon arriving is the word ‘peace’ spelled out in a field being used by sheep to (safely) graze.  The second thing is a semi-circle of monuments to world religions (named) and in the center,one to the unknown Mystery.  As we walked up, I was pinching myself to make sure this was ‘real’!


semi-circle of pillars of peace


The ‘Stillegarten’, with labyrinth and ‘stations’ for reflection that consist of readings from all the world’s great religions and poets, is lovely.   On my retreat there I walked that area several times a day.



scenes from the stillegarten at Haus der Stille



countryside, sundial on residence building, roses along the peace wall


Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the Haus der Stille is not only the immediate area but the path known as Markus Weg (Mark’s Way).  It’s a 4 km long trail with 13 stations of words from the Gospel of Mark,  other words of silence, beautiful sculpture/art and a place to rest.  It connects with another trail, “Ermutigungsweg” which features 7 stations with spiritual encouragement, to make a 8.5 km long circuit.   You may walk alone, as part of a group, and you may remain silent, or you may wish to leave thoughts on paper provided at each station.   This was a project of the Haus der Stille, in cooperation with Holy Cross parish, and the political entities in Styria and it was dedicated only two years ago.




along Markus Weg - sharing my life, responsibility for others, the last station


Walking the ‘weg’ I was once again reminded that the road we travel is already within us.  As I opened myself to sights, noises, smells, tastes and touch (exterior and interior), I became one with the journey that is the way.





It’s for the birds!

When we came to Graz, our plan was to rent a car at some point and tour the Austria we had not previously seen, or at least get to some of the places around the Styria we could not easily visit otherwise.  It turns out that so much the area IS accessible by regional train, or bus!  Plus, we’ve had wonderful friends who have taken us with them on their excursions out of town, so there has been no need for car rental.


Two trips I took in early May and June were ‘for the birds’.  Literally.   Our bird-watching friend, Sebastian, called and asked if we wanted to go see the European Rollers (May 10) and then to “the best birding spot in all of Austria”, the Neusiedlrsee (June 7).  Unfortunately, Bill was teaching both of those days, but happily, I was available!


Austria is the summer/breeding home to many bird species migrating from as close as Italy and as far away as South Africa.  The European Roller (Coracias garrulus) is one of the latter, and I feel very fortunate to have seen it while it still exists!  Sebastian explained that this area of Austria (right on the border with Slovenia) used to support many breeding pairs. Now it’s down to about 8 breeding pairs, and the day we visited, we could only find one breeding pair.


The man who was driving also was interested in looking at one of the more scenic villages, up on a large hill.


looking toward Slovenia; Straden. Austria


Naturally, we didn’t just drive all that way just to see European Rollers.  Any time birders are out, anywhere is a good place to bird.  Part of the trip allowed Sebastian to release a duck family that had been rehabilitating at Wildtier im Not, the small animal shelter/short-term rehab. facility near our flat.   It was funny to watch Sebastian trying to catch all 7 members of this family, racing around after them in the closure with his net.  If I had not been trying to help, there would be photos.  As it is, we saw many other birds – storks, crested grebes on their floating reed nests, and one slightly angry swan defending his nest.



European Roller, angry swan, releasing the ducks, a stork on the roof


The trip to the Neusiedlrsee (see = lake) was more than amazing.  Of course, almost every bird we see in Austria is a ‘new’ bird for us, even if many of the species are closely related to the ones we see in North America.   At the ‘see’ my Austrian bird list ‘doubled.’   Again, we stopped on the way down to the ‘see’, a large steppe lake (36 km long, and  between 6 km and 12 km wide from east to west) but shallow (no more than 1.8 m deep), surrounded by brackish wet-lands, and lying on the border between Hungary and Austria.  In Austria it’s in the Austrian state of Burgenland.    And we birded all the way back.  In fact this was a marathon of bird trips! We left at 5:30  in the morning (which meant I had to be up by 4:30) and, due to running into a huge thunderstorm and torrential downpour, we didn’t get home until midnight!   I think it was worth it!


The Neuseidlrsee area is a National Park in Austria, but only since the 1990’s, so instead of the purely wild landscape of a national park you might see in Montana or California, there are mostly farms, fields, hunting areas, and so on.  This was fascinating to me.   As well, this is an important wine production area, growing the best red wine grapes in Austria.  The ‘see’ straddles the border between Austria and Hungary, thus there are remnants of the communist era – guard towers, barbed wire, and signs. These have been left up, perhaps as a reminder.  Because Hungary is part of the Schengen Area ,  one does not need to check in at the border when passing through from Austria.



a Hungarian regional train, the lay of the land in the national park (lots of farms and fields!)



the border between Austria and Hungary - the canal is the actual border here



on an old farm - storks, horses (Lipizzaners?), and a kestrel nest under the peak of the roof



guard tower from 'former' times, rooks on haystack, an Hungarian village


We saw many birds (waders, geese, raptors, warblers), and both a cuckoo and a nightingale.  Since the latter two are quite elusive, this was a thrill!  In fact, it is due to the skills with hearing and imitating bird song that Sebastian has developed that we found these birds at all. And it was due to Franz’s knowledge and persistence that we found no less than 3 kestrel nests and several hidden owls!  We also found Hungarian Longhorn Cattle, brought back from near extinction after the two world wars and the communist era.  Christian, the driver of this expedition, told me that after WWII, the US sent some Texas longhorn cattle over, and they promptly died!  The environment (grasses/water)  there was too salty!  We also passed through a hamlet where Franz Liszt lived for a period. (It’s his anniversary year this year -a big deal in Hungary!)



vineyards, wetlands, Grey Lag Goose, wildflowers!



drama in the wetlands - stork attacked by lapwing for infringing on territory; stork flies off; lapwing wins (for now)



Hungarian long-horned cattle, kestrel nest, long-eared owl, birdwatching stand


One curious structure was a little hut which my friends said was a ‘shepherd’s’ hut, adjacent to a well.  These were not for sheep herders but for the herders who took care of the cattle and the horses.  Today they are not used, except perhaps by migrants or hikers. I don’t think most of the wells were ‘active’, although there was water in them!



ancient house with stork nest, Lange Lacke, 'shepherd's' hut and well (with tree growing in it)


Perhaps the most beautiful bird of all that we saw was the European Bee Eater, a bird described in an October 2008 National Geographic article as a bird with a life  “like an epic novel, sprawling across continents, teeming with familial intrigue, theft, danger, chicanery, and flamboyant beauty”.  We had hoped to see these in Spain when we were there over our Spring break holiday, but the weather was awful.  Here, they nest in sandy cliffs, along with Jackdaws, Little Owls, and Kestrels who all live in holes previously excavated by the Bee Eaters.  Before the rain came down, it was an amazing sight and a perfect end to the day.



approaching storm, avocet on nest, Franz gets the last look



more vineyards, European Bee Eaters, Little Owls, cliffs for nesting



Jackdaws nesting, Kestrel feeding, the common grape type, heading home



Americans in France: Part 2 – L’Isle d’Abeau and Lyon

As we rode on the CVG train to Lyon and our friends, the fields of wheat, and rapeseed whizzed by, that is, when we could see them.  With high speed trains, apparently we trade scenery for rapid transit, as much of the journey was in a straight and narrow trench with only occasional glimpses of the French countryside.


Lyon, in the Rhône-Alpes region, is another old city, and is known for its role in silk manufacturing.   It seems all great cities have rivers that run through them, and Lyon is no exception, except there are TWO rivers (Rhône and Saône) which converge just south of Lyon and then flow toward the Mediterranean 230 Km away.  We drove on bridges over both in a little car tour of Lyon before we headed toward the town where Chantal and Andre live, about 28 Km south-east.

Enroute we paid a visit to the home of their oldest daughter for introduction to 4 month-old ‘le petit Victor’, the first grandchild.  Finally, we arrived in at their home in L’Isle d’Abeau, adjacent to a large plaza and surrounded by beautiful gardens.  Chantal was in the backyard, in her atelier, guiding students who come for pottery lessons.  After receiving, for so many years, photos of the house, the gardens, and the workshop (which Andre built), it was wonderful to see Chantal and her husband in their surroundings and in action.  Bill enjoyed chatting with the 8 and 9 year-old students, quizzing them about which singers they liked (Lady Gaga – oui!; Justin Bieber – non!) and testing if they could understand any English (they could, but were shy about using it!).


practicing with le petit Victor, Chantal at work in her atelier, Andre watching, la Tartiflette


Paris may have the renowned tourist attractions but Lyon (and environs) gets our vote for the food, and that began with our first delicious meal with our hosts at, oh, about 9 PM.   Chantal whipped up a Tartiflette, a dish from the Savoie region. It is made with potatoes, onions, reblochon cheese, cream, and lardons. So yummy, but pass the med for cholesterol name!  How do the French manage all that fat content? By walking in proportion to what they eat! After dinner, we took an hour walk up to the church and around the town! Fantastique!


walking to the town church, the city 'hotel' (offices), le jardin, the old town well


The next morning was market day, which meant simply stepping out the front door to the stands set up in that big plaza in front of their home:  more cheese, interesting meats, and fresh fruits and veggies.


Chantal buying the lamb, cheese everywhere!


Then it was off to Lyon, via the metro system leading first to the funicular up the hill of the Basilique de Notre-Dame de Fouvière (a basilica with sanctuaries on two levels and gorgeous mosaics!) and eventually down to old-town Lyon.


Outside/inside the bascillica Notre Dame de Fouviere


old town Lyon, the river, the plaza, Notre-Dame de Fourviere


On a street lined with restaurants (Chantal visited at least 3 before deciding which one would do) we ate salad Lyonnaise and les quenelles avec sauce aux écrevisses (crawfish), quite possibly the best food of our lives.  (the foie gras in Paris pales in comparison and I have officially eaten food I never thought I would!)


la rue des restaurants, Le pere Fillon aux les trois cochons (pigs), les quenelles avec sauce aux ecrevisses, salad lyonnaise, Place des Terreaux, fountain of the 4 rivers of France


Old Lyon is largely Renaissance with a very interesting feature:  traboules,  passageways between buildings, and sometimes between streets.  You will find passageways and courtyards in Graz, but rarely do they rise and criss-cross several stories off the ground.  Although most of the traboules lead to private residences, many city-dwellers have opted to keep the historic traboules accessible to the public.  One only has to ring a buzzer and push on the heavy wooden door to stroll through the tunnel and arrive in a light-bathed courtyard offering a photographer’s dream of wells, stairs and gargoyles.


les traboules!


We finished our day with a visit to the Lyon Cathedral with its astronomical clock, and a walk to the river.


The cathedral also has an astronomical clock from the 14th century.


The next morning was for preparing for dinner with le petit Victor and his family, plus the other grandparents (from close to Grenoble) who arrived at 11:30 AM.    On the menu:  l’oignon tarte, homemade foie gras, little breads with various tapenades, sliced terrines, fresh baby radishes, nuts, and several types of liqueurs, including orange liqueur à Chantal. This was a living tableau of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and those were just the aperitifs!


getting ready for Sunday dinner


Dinner was lamb (including the kidneys!) and vegetables en brochette, tabbouleh made with couscous, bread and wine. Following that, the cheese course.   Et en fin, dessert.  Chantal served a cherry clafouti created earlier that day, with 2 or 3 choices of ice cream, which alone seemed perfect.  But we also had visited the bakery on Sunday morning (bakeries there are open on Sunday; closed on Monday) not only for artisan baguettes, but also an insane variety of dessert pastries.


le boulangerie, les grandmeres, the cook!


the table of aperitifs, brothers in law, Olivier, family shot


dinner (for the dog, too), dessert, rest


We lounged a while in the backyard, entertaining the dog, and then it was time for …. a stroll!  This time we walked to an old amphitheater, and by an old quarry for a view of the Alps.  OK you had to squint to see them, but they were there.


after dinner relaxing, and then...the walk and the alps.


The other families departed, Clementine (daughter #2) arrived for a brief visit, and when the conversation drifted to the royal wedding, the modeling began.  Somehow French women just look better in their clothes, and their hats!

Still, the night was young, so we zipped out in the car for a look at the old chateau that was the reception site for Aurélie and Matthieu’s wedding, again with a gorgeous view.  Between the company, the food and the scenery, we felt absolutely complete!


views of the countryside, 3 generations love NY, our hosts, castle ruins

Clementine in her mother's hat, the grandparents adore the baby, Clementine with her parents


All too soon it was time to depart.


leaving Lyon, Chantal's orchid, a view of the alps, a view of Graz


If I were home this would be the point at which I would pull out my worn copy of Le Petit Prince by Lyon’s famous native son, Antoine de St. Exupéry.  When I continued my French studies in college, I wrote a paper about this brave and adventurous man who shared such wisdom in his novella.  As Chantal dropped us off at the airport which bears his name, we both had tears in our eyes:  Sadness at the parting but joy for the time we spent together. And in our hearts, delicious memories.  No words needed.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only

with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

–Antoine de St. Exupery

Saint-Exupery statue

Au revoir pour maintenant.

Americans in Paris: part 1 of our trip to France

Ah France!  The country of my dreams, thanks to a wonderful teacher in high school who instilled a love for that country.


Monsieur McConnell was a Frenchman, or at least a Francophile, in what appeared to be Scottish skin.  He taught all the classes of French at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia, for quite a while until joined by another colleague.  By that time, I had continued on to the higher levels and his classes were the only choice.  Lucky us!   What stands out is the last year of our classes – beyond Plus-que-parfait, Passé compose, and Imparfait verb conjugations (yes we learned those, too!).  The 4th year Français was a year of immersion in culture.  We conversed only en français, created or ate French food nearly every week, and learned about the history of the country, from Clovis to de Gaulle, who was President of France at the time.  Hugo, Voltaire, Molière, St. Exupery, all came alive in that classroom. When the holidays rolled around, we sang “Un Flambeau Jeanette Isabella” accompanied by Mr. McConnell on his autoharp.


Mr. McConnell’s specialty was art (well, maybe his specialty was languages and music, but he certainly knew a lot about art, too!), and everything remotely affiliated with the French “stream” – which included all the European painters and sculptors, from Romanesque to modern – came alive via slide shows, reproductions, and visits to the National Gallery of Art.  We learned about the symbolism of colors in early Gothic and Medieval art, and wove our way right through Poussin, Fragonard, David and Ingres to Manet, Monet, Guagin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Degas, Rodin, Seurat, Utrillo and Chagall.


These are lessons that have stayed with me right up to this day and, when the synapses are all firing (if you don’t use it you lose it), I can manage une petite conversation, as well.  So, imagine my happiness when we learned we would mount a visit to our friends who live near Lyon, with a short trip to Paris beforehand.  Oui!  It was my first.


We had only 2 ½ days in Paris, and saw everything on our ‘short list’: The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, Les Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Champs Élysées, l’Arc du triomphe, La Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, Musée de Moyen Age, the Latin Quarter, Rodin Musée, L’Orangerie,  Montmartre, Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, and a boat ride on the Seine.  We met some great people from Paris, Norway, the Czech Republic, and even Cleveland, Ohio!  We walked much of it, even the entire length of the Champs Élysées and up all the steps of  l’Arc du triomphe. We lingered over late dinners and enjoyed leisurely lunches.  We had only un petit incident with a pickpocket without any luck on his part.  Yes, we spent only 2 hours in the Louvre but saw all that was possible at each of the other museums we visited. (And frankly 2 hours at a museum as big as the Louvre was enough.) Once again, staying in a non-tourist area (the 10th arrondissement) allowed a glimpse of ‘real’ Paris, if such a thing exists!  A wonderful experience at the B and B, with a charming, helpful and articulate host who prepared breakfasts that should be framed, (they were so artistic) simply capped it off.


Back then, I am not sure if any of us had any idea of the extra work and time Mr. McConnell put into his teaching so that we could experience ‘France’ with as much reality as American teenagers in the 1960’s could. Remember, this is before the internet and easily accessed information.  Whatever Mr. McConnell presented, he had to do the research first.  By hand.   But I am quite certain of this:  his words ‘stuck’ and his love of teaching (so entertaining) shone through.  He was, frankly, brilliant.   I am a teacher and my daughter-in-law is a teacher, so I have some idea now of just how much of himself this man brought to his fortunate students.  But then I didn’t.  It’s time to say, ‘thanks’.   So les chapeaux off to you, Monsieur Adair McConnell.   Merci, merci!


les petites déjeuners artistiques; our host, Jozsef; courtyard of B and B


Day One

scenes from le Louvre



at the Eiffel Tower



Pont Neuf, Les Tuileries, Pont des Arts, The Musée d'Orsay


The Musee d”Orsay was being renovated, but most of the upper galleries, with all the impressionism, had been moved down. There was also a top-notch (and very popular) exhibit of the works of Édouard Manet, who is often confused with Monet.  As my father would say, “Not the same animal, at all.”


Up the Champs Elysées - transport, woman begging, l'arc, view to La Defence, King Tut


Day Two

the amazing Sainte-Chapelle! (favorite church ever!)


orchid from our b&b; palais du justice, l'arc in our 'hood, Notre Dame


While Notre Dame was lovely also (we stayed through part of the Mass for the Ascension of Christ),  with some amazing relics and carvings (not to mention the rosette windows), we so enjoyed the Musée du Moyen Age, housed in the former l’hôtel de Cluny.  This is not a hotel, but the headquarters/residences of the abbots from the Cluny Abbey (Burgundy) when they were in Paris.


les fruits de mers; Cluny Museum (of the middle ages) - Latin Qtr.



Lady & the Unicorn (Sixth 'sense' part) tapestry, Dürer stamp, The Annunication


By afternoon, we were at The Rodin Museum with verdant gardens – a nice respite from the sun.  Rodin’s work is so powerful and evocative.


Hôtel Biron at the Rodin Museum, The Kiss, detail from one of groupings

We finished with l’Orangerie, a tribute to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, but also a home for other great art from Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau….really, is there anywhere in Paris that great art is not?


details of Water Lilies, Picasso The Adolescents, a young artist


We were not completely finished with the day, however.  After this, we climbed on one of Les Bateaux Mouches for a ride down the Seine, with approximately 1000 998 other people.  And then topped it off with dinner at Chez Francis while we waited for the Eiffel Tower to begin twinkling.  Chez Francis wasn’t the top of the food chain, gastronomically speaking, but it has an unimpeded view of the Tower….location, location, location!

Bridges, Twinkling Tower, Bateau, St. Genevieve, from the back on Pont de la Tournelle

Bridges, Twinkling Tower, Bateau, St. Genevieve, from the back on Pont de la Tournelle


Day 3


We finished our stay in Paris with a morning trip to Montmartre, that hilly part of Paris that was (is) home to artists, Sacré Couer Bascillica, windmills, great food, and, now many tourists!   We found tasty boulangeries and creperies, interesting art, a movie shoot, and some unexpected sights!   Parisian writer Marcel Aymé lived in Montmartre, and is immortalized with a bit of artwork not far from his former home.   He wrote  Le Passe-Murailles, which roughly translates as “the walker through walls,” a short story about a man who discovers in mid-life that he can pass through walls.   The windmills were part of the culture of the hill, which housed many bakeries that needed, well, flour to create the small brown bread of the same name (galette) sold with a glass of milk.


Sculpture, artist, pâtisserie, Le Moulin de la Galette, Sacre Coeur

We left Paris but not before we took a few more photos of the environs.


metro station, crepe maker, le Moulin rouge, fire fighters in our neighborhood of Paris

On the way to Lyon

We left by the Gare de Lyon to Lyon, on the French high speed train (CVG):  two hours nonstop!  (oh, how I wish the US would get ‘on board’ with rail travel!)  The Gare had a great little ‘refreshment’ stand, sponsored by the water companies we are sure, to encourage people to rehydrate.  We were only too happy to oblige!


Gare de Lyon, place de la bastille monument, rehydration station


Et bientôt, Lyon!

Beautiful Budapest – Part 2

So, if you are ever in Budapest, you must take a ride on the Danube at night.  I know, it’s a touristy thing to do, but it is one of the major highlights of our visit to this magical city.    Our friends had purchased a Hop-On, Hop-off ticket which included the boat ride at night and they invited us along.  Thank you, Mary and Charles!  Not only did we learn a little more history of the city and locate particular landmarks, we also were thrilled with the views.  Unfortunately this is point and shoot digital photography at night, so this is the best I could do.



Matthias Church at night

glass concert on the way to the docks















Buda palaces at night



Chain Bridge



Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church at night

Liberty statue
















Parliament Building










The next day we used our guidebook to find the highly recommended Gerloczy Cafe.  We were not disappointed.  From the menu to the food, the experience was sublime and a great way to start the day!


Breakfast at Gerloczy Cafe (the best)



If ever I open a restaurant, I want to have a menu like this.  I tried to figure out how I could stick one into my already packed handbag, but, in the end, decided to photograph some of the choice pages.

No  one was bothered, or emotional, but the quiche (Hungarian style with spicy sausage) was most definitely all right!  How more wonderful can a place be that features Irish Harp?

Bill with Irish Harp behind


The Gerloczy Cafe from the outside















Outside there is a statue of the united city’s first mayor (Budapest was only united in 1873).


From the cafe, we went to the Great Synagogue.  The synagogue, also known as Dohány Street Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga or Dohány utcai Zsinagóga),  is located in downtown Budapest.  It is the largest synagogue in Eurasia and the second largest in the world, after the Temple Emanu-El.  What is interesting about this synagogue, built between 1854 and 1859 is its Moorish Revival style and elements (rosette window, organ)  that make it seem almost like a church.  (Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns played the original 5,000 tube organ built in 1859.)   Our tour guide told us that was the idea at the time, to ‘fit in’ with the dominant culture.


The Great Synagogue - Budapest



















The synagogue was impressive [has a capacity of 2,964 seats (1,492 for men and 1,472 in the women’s galleries)] but even more so was the Museum, with articles from Judaica all over the world.  The third part of the visit brought us to the sobering Holocaust remembrance.

Our guide called this The Tree of Life, but it is also known as the Weeping Willow, with names of those lost in the Holocaust inscribed on the leaves.  This sculpture is part of Raoul Wallenberg Park, which sits in back of the synagogue.

The words on the structure at the front read:  “Whoever saves a soul for mankind, saves the entire world.”

Both Jewish victims of the Holocaust and ‘righteous gentiles’ are memorialized here.  Some of the ‘righteous gentiles’  include priests and ministers who buried torahs from various synagogues in their church cemeteries to hide them from the Nazis.



Memorial to Raoul Wallenberg














the stained glass memorial

memorial to the victims of the Holocaust













We spent a long time at the synagogue, and after that, took  a long walk to process all that we had seen.  We know of this inhumanity but there is nothing quite like hearing about it from children and grandchildren of those who experienced it, and nothing quite like seeing the reminders of it on the soil where it occurred.  Never forget.



Budapest is known for its thermal baths.  You would think that Bill, of all people, would be most interested in checking these hydrogeologic features out first hand.  We even packed swimming suits!  Alas, we ran out of time to do anything but make a quick trip out to the Szechenyi Baths, not to get in but to at least see them.


To get there, you take Line 1 of the oldest metro system on the continent (London’s is older but it’s not on the continent!).  The trains look very old and the stations even older, but classic in a sort of  late 1890’s way.


Line 1

one of the stations along Line 1












The baths are located in a beautiful park.


Once there, you have a choice of bathing au naturale with people of the same gender or sharing space together with mixed genders, hopefully with some clothing on.  Next time!









We zipped back to our apartment to change for the Opera and go out to dinner.  The feel of Budapest is very liberating; even the restaurants reflect this style.


if it rained, we were all set!


Budapest’s Opera House is large and about as ornate as Vienna’s which seems less ornate than the one in Graz!  The acoustics were superb and the opera itself very well sung:  Otello, another Verdi opera and we knew the story so trying to read the HUNGARIAN text across the top of the stage didn’t matter. (my next language is going to be Italian, however!)



Hungarian State Opera House



Opera goes enjoying refeshments and break on terrace in Budapest

while computer work gets done on the steps














the stage













the boxes

the dome - ok it IS more ornate than Vienna's!









Iago tkaing a bow

Otehello and Desdemona after Act 4











This was a very long opera.  By the time we found our coats, pulled out the umbrellas (no they did NOT come from the restaurant), and walked to a nearby bar/bakery, we found it was closing in 10 minutes.   There was no time to eat in, so we did what all good Americans do…we asked for take out pastry.  I thought the maitre de was going to fall over, but he obliged and even put our desserts to go on a little (cardboard) gold tray!


dessert after the Opera - our 'to go' tray

I don’t remember the name of any of these but it didn’t matter – they were delicious!

We’ll be back, beautiful Budapest.


Budapest: Days 1 and 2

When we told our French friends that we were planning a trip to Budapest in mid-May, André asked, “Which are going to, Buda or Pest?” (He is funny in whatever language he uses!)  To tell you the truth, I didn’t realize that Budapest was separated like that.  I admit it – I am directionally impaired!  Give me a city like Missoula where the big directional landmarks are visible and the streets are (mostly) laid out on NSEW grid, and I am fine.  Put me in a large city with skyscrapers, and I am a goner.  Even though I managed to actually read the map and get us to our first Fulbright meeting in March (earning my husband’s admiration forever)  most of the time I have no idea where I am going, geographically speaking.    Perhaps it is time for a review of geography, lest I fall into the category mentioned in that question the stumbled on by Miss South Carolina  in the 2007  Miss Teen USA contest!


So, we headed East in May from Vienna to Budapest.  By train it’s about 2 1/2 hours, through small villages, past fields of  flaming yellow rapeseed and enormous wind turbines.

on the way to Budapest, Hungary by train

(note – if you want to see any of these photos in greater detail,just click once and then again and they should magnify in a separate screen)


We had previously met up with our friends, Mary and Charles, on the platform at Wien Meidling Bahnhof and when we landed on the platform at the Budapest Keleti station, we were accosted by no less than twenty people offering taxi rides.  What to do?  We waited until we got towards the front of the old (but very beautiful) station and then got into a taxi.  It was, uh, unmarked, which I think is not a good thing, but it didn’t cost four of us too much in the long run to get to our apartment on the Pest side of Budapest.  Why, on the map, does it look so much closer?


Budapest is indeed a city divided by a river that runs through it (Yes, I did know that!):  The Danau (Danube).   Pest is the side with St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Great Synagogue, the government buildings, Hero’s Square, the big shopping streets and much of the working city.  Buda is the hilly side with the old castle/palace, the Matthias Church and plenty of Medieval-Renaissance streets and buildings.  Both sides arose from Celtic roots to military frontier fortresses, Buda and Pest before being unified under a series of kings and finally, made part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1918.  And if you don’t know the rest of the story, you can look it up!


We explored both and loved wandering through the ‘big’ attractions (cathedrals, palaces, Fisherman’s Bastion) but just as much through parts of the city where people actually live and work or in out of the way museums. Staying in an apartment on Király utca, not in a ‘tourist’ area, let us see so much more than we would have staying, say, in a Hilton or a Four Seasons.  We found a morning family fair complete with a Hungarian version of Raffi, and an art festival with booths that went on for miles!  Grocery stores, and bakeries were nearby; learning to work in forints was challenging (think 4 to 6 numeral places-Hungary isn’t totally on the Euro yet, although it is a member of the EU). Reading or speaking in Hungarian (a beautiful sounding language, closer to Estonian or Finnish than any other)  was impossible (for us); even knowing how Kodály is pronounced didn’t help!


I am old enough to remember the 1956 Hungarian uprising as well as the more recent transition from communist satellite to Hungary’s present form and I wondered what we would find in this capital city.  The answer is great beauty and history (back to the Roman age!) and as well, some parts crying out for restoration and maintenance. just like any major city.  Many historic buildings were damaged in WWII or are just feeling their age.  Some are being restored; others are left as ‘reminders’.   The big avenues are clean and bright but so many of the buildings in the inner city (Pest side) needed re-stucco-ing and painting.


People were friendly and helpful and….. always working!  That is one difference between Budapest and, say, Graz, where all stores begin closing on Saturday afternoon and remain closed the next day and on any holiday.  In Budapest, stores were open at all hours of the day and night and people were working (this includes city workers!) even on Sunday! We could hear the jackhammers from our apartment!   Budapest is definitely a city in transition.


Here are some photos from our trip.


breakfast at a little cafe; family fair, city park

The pastries were just as good as in Austria!


little girl in the square in Budapest

easy rider










The tune to this song at the Family Reading Fair sounds familiar but I can’t place it!  Need translation!


St. Stephen’s Cathedral – outside, inside and up top

Stephen was Hungary’s first king and is canonized.  His ‘right hand’ is revered and encased in the cathedral.    We heard an organ concert there the first night we arrived and the next morning, had wonderful views of the city from the top.


Budapest from the top of St. Stephen's Cathedral



Onto the Chain Bridge towards Buda - Budapest

the palace complex (now museums) on the Buda side















Barge traffic on the Danau - Buda on the left; Pest on the right


The Parliament building - pest side of Budapest


Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion seen in reflection of Hilton Hotel - Buda side of Budapest














The Hilton Hotel is a newer, somewhat controversial building on the Buda side of Budapest.  Supermodern in design, it was built right into a 14th-century convent and baroque college.  The Fisherman’s Bastion is not old (just looks that way – it was built in 1905!).

Other scenes….

The Vienna Gate ("be quiet", say parents to kids,"your mouth is as big as the Vienna Gate!)"

national archives building on square near Vienna Gate






Moscow Square - where we had to hike to buy tram tickets

reconstructed window of Mary Magdalene church, bombed out in WW2, on Kapisztran Ter














close up of cannon outside Military History Museum - make love not war!



grave of Abdurraham, last Turkish gov of Budapest "He was a heroic foe."

sign on Orszaghaz utca, street of medieval houses














wedding at Matthias church














It seemed to be the height of wedding season, so we really never experienced the INSIDE of Matthias Church.


on the wedding car the flowers are 'glued" on



There must be a lot of straight A’s  in Budapest!  See below!

statue of Andras Hadik (field marshal in war with Turks) - students rub horse's testicles for good luck before an exam














Birds are an important symbol for Hungary – crow on the left; eagle on the right.

We found Lipizzaners at the end of our walk on the Buda side!  Only 30 € for the show and better seats than we had in Vienna!  We didn’t go, but it was tempting!



wonderful sculptures at an out of the way museum











If nothing else, the Hilton Hotel is great for reflections:  this one is Matthias Church.


We finished our second day in Budapest with a lovely and lingering dinner on the Buda side:  great wine, good Hungarian food, wonderful company in the garden of the Voros Ordog (Red Devil) Restaurant.  Only we weren’t really finished!  We still had a boat ride to take!


Coffee House Repast

One of the things Vienna is known for is der Kaffeehaus.  Tradition has it that you can sit down in one of these establishments, order a cup of coffee, which is served in exquisite china on a silver tray and accompanied, always, by a glass of water and a small spoon; after that first cup, you may spend as long as you want, reading your paper, working on your book, answering email, conversing, playing cheese, whatever, with fresh tap water resupplied at no cost or request.  The word LINGER comes to mind.

I think I mentioned in a previous post about a Starbucks opening in Vienna. We’ve since learned there are FOUR of them.  We saw one, near the Graben, but did not notice one china cup, any trays or water, or any lingering.  I personally think it would be a shame if  Vienna – and the rest of Austria where we have also enjoyed the coffee house gemütlichkeit (warm, relaxed coziness) – were to adopt any of the coffee-grabbing-drink-on-the-run-culture so prevalent in the US.

On our most recent trip to Vienna, we visited the famous Demel Coffee House, which is a konditorei (specialty bakery) with an extensive food menu.  (The actual title is  “K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker Ch. Demel’s Söhne” -“Imperial and Royal Court Confectionary Bakery Ch. Demel’s Sons”). It has changed hands several times since the beginnings in the late 1780’s (in the mid-1800’s at its current location) and is now owned by a corporation.    We were there for the midday meal.  It was crowded but we were a little on the early side and were seated immediately.  Deciding took a while, ordering took a while.  Time for conversation and relaxing.  As we ate, long lines accumulated.  We tried to ignore all that and get into the gemütlichkeit.

The waitress was attentive but did not hover or expect us to hurry along just because there were 25 people waiting to eat.  I do not know if she addressed us in the third person formal (what would SHE like?  What would HE like?)  as is the supposed tradition at Demel.  Mostly she said “Bitte?” which is the more common form of invitation to order.   When it was time for dessert, we were escorted to the throne table of desserts (one on every floor where there is seating), where the tortes, kuchen, strudel,and other confections awaited.  Choosing which one probably took as long as it did to eat our meal!  The gemütlichkeit was working!

On the way out, we watched the pastry chefs work and wandered a bit around the shop to oogle all the enticing treats.   It was too bad we had to catch a train back to Graz, or we might have stayed all day!


the cheese souffle, and ceasar salad, Bill with cappucino, outside of Demel, chandelier from Murano, chocolate truffle cake


Konditoren working at Demel


some of the confections available at Demel

Below, a list of types of coffee to order in Vienna….



Kleiner Schwarzer – small espresso

Grosser Schwarzer – double espresso

Espresso – basically the same as Kleiner Schwarzer

Kleiner Brauner – Kleiner Schwarzer with milk

Grosser Brauner – Grosser Schwarzer with milk

Melange – a less strong Grosser Brauner with a little steamed milk

Mocca – klein oder gross – synonymous with Schwarzer

Kapuziner – black coffee with milk added until its color is that of a Capuchin monk’s robes

Franziskaner – black coffee with still more milk, to achieve the lighter color of a Franciscan monk’s robes

Nussbraun – coffee that resembles the color of nuts

Nussgold – lighter still, like a “golden nut”

Gold – coffee the color of gold, i.e. quite light

Milchkaffee – half coffee, half milk

Verlängerter – an espresso that is “lengthened” by a shot of hot water

Einspänner – originally, the name meant a one-horse carriage. In coffeehouse parlance, it means a Grosser Mocca with whipped  cream on top, sprinkled with cocoa and served in a tall glass

Fiaker – named after Vienna’s horse-drawn carriages and their raucous drivers. Strong, black coffee laced with hot kirsch, topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry

Türkischer – Turkish coffee, sweet and black, served in copper cups

Eiskaffee – cold black coffee with vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream

Capuccino – in some Viennese coffeehouses, black coffee topped with whipped cream; in other coffeehouses and Italian restaurants you get it the original Italian way: topped with steamed foamy milk

Kaffee Maria Theresia – Mocca with orange liqueur and whipped cream



Vienna Walk-About

The great thing about many European cities is that they are immensely walkable.  When we’ve stayed in Vienna for a few days (mostly due to Bill’s professional meetings) I’ve had the time for and pleasure of walking around.  Sometimes there is a small trip via the well-positioned and timely U-bahn but mostly it’s step by step.  It’s my favorite way to explore a city.    Maybe you don’t get to all the tourist destinations but you see so much more that way.

Quite near our favorite pension just off the Grauben, there are two lovely but quite different churches and then a little further away, the amazing and in-the-throes-of-reconstruction Karlskirche.  Vienna is primarily a city that exudes Baroque/Rococo and Neo-classicism.  Aside from Stephansdom, in its Gothic splendor, many of the churches and Important Buildings reflect the embellishment, massiveness and, to modern eyes, sometimes-over-the-top gilding of the late 17th century to early 19th century architectural styles, inside and out.  Ruprechtskirche, a Romanesque church, and the Secession building, offer refreshing oasis in the midst of all this opulence.

Here are a few glimpses of some of the sites and impressions in my walk about Vienna.

On the way to Karlsplatz, one finds the lovely museum, the Secession, an icon of the Secessionist movement in Vienna. From Wikipedia: “Unlike other movements, there is not one style that unites the work of all artists who were part of the Vienna Secession. The Secession building could be considered the icon of the movement. Above its entrance was carved the phrase “to every age its art and to art its freedom”. Secession artists were concerned, above all else, with exploring the possibilities of art outside the confines of academic tradition.”  The building is commemorated on the Austrian € 0,50 piece.

a bit of whimsy! Love it!









Across the street was a surprise, however!  The Nashmarkt – hello Missoula Farmer’s Market X 100 !  Asparagus in 3 varieties: white, green and wild, cheese whose smell knocks one over, fish, meat, flowers, prepared food from any culture you can name!  Too bad it was only 10:00 AM and not time to eat or drink!



As one heads from the Nashmarkt to Karlsplatz, you find the unexpected:  The  Vienna University of Technology with some pretty interesting ornamentation, the old Karlsplatz stadtbahn station (another icon of The Secessionist movement), a park with children, ducks on/people by the reflecting pool in front of the Karlskirche, and someone setting up for maybe an outdoor concert.


And then, right there, is Karlskirche, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI’s tribute to his saint namesake (Charles Borromeo), in gratitude for the end of the plague (1712).



It’s huge.

Inside it’s as baroque as they come,










but the outside is perhaps more famous, with the huge dome and the two towers of bas-relief.  They are working on Karlskirche, restoring the frescos and other elements.  You can take a ride almost all the way up to the very top, and then walk up the rest of the way, so I did.  (You know, in the US, they would never permit people to do this!)  I doubt I will ever be as close to a ceiling fresco again.  It’s amazing how UN-detailed the painting is close up!



view from through a high window, ceiling fresco closeup, money=prayers, the way up


Rick Steves says not to bother with the museum that is also part of Karlskirche but I bothered anyway.  Aside from a wonderful exhibit of modern photos of the church, there was an exhibit of various depictions of Christ.  Amid the drawings and sculptures by school children,  there was this, by artist Oskar Kokoschka whose work I had also seen in the Belvedere a few days before!


Later that day, I wandered into the Peterskirche, another baroque church, and just in time for a horn and organ concert.  If I had been on some kind of timetable, I would have missed it altogether!  This clip is actually from the rehearsal, just prior to the concert.



The next morning, I strolled past Peterskirche, and over toward the Danau Canal, and Ruprechtskirche, quite possibly my favorite church of all I’ve seen in Vienna.

Although there is currently some debate whether the Ruprechtskirche is truly the oldest church in Vienna (possibly founded between 796 and 829), it is simple in design and felt  like an oasis to me.   It is dedicated to Saint Rupert of Salzburg, patron saint of the salt merchants of Vienna and is located in one of the oldest parts of the city, the section of the Roman Vindobona. It’s not a parish church today but used for religious meetings…maybe even meditation?  I had a little conversation (auf Deutsch) with the caretaker who was present about the age of glass (~700 years old).  The one you see in the center below is  Romanesque.


Ruprechtskirche was notable for the absence of tourists – only two other people and myself were there that morning to enjoy the stille.  But we were the lucky ones.

Thanks, as always, for reading!







Opera….my aunt introduced it to me when I was a little girl. She lived in Arlington, not too far from our home in Alexandria.  It was just far enough away to seem exotic, at least to an 8-year-old.   Occasionally, I would spend the night with her on Fridays and stay at her apartment through part of Saturday.  She always had the radio on to the MET broadcasts, on Saturdays, and, still dressed in pajamas,  we listened together.  If the MET was not in season, we would listen to 78 rpm opera recordings on her turntable! It was one of the highlights of my childhood.

Since that time, I’ve seen Light Opera in Ohio, operettas and opera theater in other venues, Missoula included.  The MET’s radio broadcast plays on KUFM when we drive up toward the Flathead on weekend.  Somewhere in our collection of vinyls is Madama Butterfly with Leontyne Price in the title role.  I nearly wore that one out!  Still, we never have attended a full-scale opera in what is considered a ‘big’ house.

So, one of the things we knew we wanted to do while in Europe was attend an opera.  We did that early on in Graz (Don Giovanni) and later in mid-May while in Budapest (Otello)and again in Graz [Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues]) with opera-loving friends, when they visited.   And, at the recommendation from these same friends, we made arrangements to see Nabucco in Vienna when we had to be there anyway for a meeting in early May.  We loved the feel of the Wienerstaatsoper, from the elegant yet simple ‘house’ to the custom of storing coats without asking for payment (unlike any of the performance venues we’ve visited here in Graz!).  For attire, we saw everything from elegant long dresses to jeans!


It was marvelous.  Although opera companies in Europe are known for their ‘modern’ adaptations of opera, which occasionally startle, this one was exquisite in its contemporary staging.  It was a timeless portrayal of the persecution of Jewish people beyond the experience of great exile into Babylon.  (think WWII)

the 'slaves' chorus for Nabucco

We were treated to a masterful performance by Maria Guleghina as Abigail (Nabucco’s vengeful, power-hungry ‘daughter’) and the Philharmonic was amazing.

Maria - second from left

We had great seats in the mittel-loge


we sat here - dead center, second row.

but next time maybe we’ll check out the standing room only tickets at 4€ each!  They were right below us!  (the problem is, you have to stand for 3 hours!)  Even the standing room places have viewing screens with English and German subtitling!  No neck strains here!

On our way to the opera, we visited the sobering Monument Against War and Fascism in the Albertinaplatz.


After the opera was over, we walked by the ‘star’ for Nabucco’s composer, Verdi.


And we would have finished with a slice of cake at – where else – the Hotel Sacher or the adjacent Sacher Cafe but we had done that the night before! (I know…a pity not to have that much chocolate twice!)

Hotel Sacher with elegant doorman


the cafe next door - a little more laid back with rock music playing in the background

sachertorte - must have with schlagoobers!

For those chocoholics among us, you can buy the whole cake!

With or without the accompanying cake,  Bill thinks he may actually like opera as well,  so perhaps we will sign up for the MET series simulcasts in Missoula which are broadcast at the renovated Roxy Theater.   Although it’s fun to dress up for a night of elegance,  Verdi or Puccini sound just as fabulous from the comfort of my jeans.

Pass the popcorn.


Beauty in the eye of….

Vienna is a wonderful city for art.  From classical to modern, it has both in abundance.  On several trips to Austria’s capital city, I’ve had the chance to take in some of each.  In early April, I spent nearly all day in the Kunsthistoriches, Vienna’s collection of pre-modern art.  In early May, I spent maybe too much some time at the MUMOK, one of Vienna’s modern art museums, and then more time at the Belvedere, Prince Eugene of Savoy’s  ‘country’ palace and one of Vienna’s first public art museums.  Some art I had hoped to see was either ‘on loan’ to another museum (good for them, bad for me!) or simply rotated out, but there were plenty of redeeming works to make up for it!

The Kunst has an extensive Reubens collection, a smattering of some from one of my all-time favorites, Caravaggio (the wizard of ‘lighting’ in oil paintings), and a whole roomful of huge assembly of Breugel, to say nothing of a few by Rembrant, Bosch, Dürer, Raphael, etc.

Madonna of the Meadow - Raphael

Caravaggio - the passion of Christ













Hieronymus Bosch

Bruegel - Peasant Wedding















Imagine coming ‘round the corner, expecting but not finding Gone were most of the Arcimboldo works of ‘portrait vegetable art’ – but how could I complain? They were on loan to Washington, D.C. and Italy!



Equally enjoyable was watching modern artists try their hand at reproducing the masters.














The MUMOK (MUseum MOderner Kunst) is the largest Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Central Europe with an extensive Collection of international Art from the 20th Century and the Present.  Unfortunately for me, I didn’t thoroughly check the website before going or I would have learned that much of the collection of was rotated out.

The minimalist abstract art exhibit wasn’t all that bad – it was good for its genre, but there was so little of it.  (heh heh)


Richter - Fuge in Red and Green


However, I started on the bottom floor with “Actionism” and some VERY disturbing photos/videos of self-and other-mutilation.  Perhaps that is the point – to shock.   I found it just plain creepy. And  I didn’t see anyone trying to reproduce this stuff!


John Cage’s music action was simply great, however!  See it here.  My parents used to watch I’ve Got A Secret.  It was funny to hear it dubbed in German! (no dubbing needed for the actual music however!)


But there was nary an Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Joseph Beuys, Jasper Johns and Roy Liechtenstein to be seen anywhere. Boo!

In between the extremely noisy exuberant students who were having a lesson with docents,

group of young students meeting; this was at their quietest. Mostly they were running around all over the rooms!











I found these two gems!

Paul Klee - Boats and Cliffs

Kadinsky - Obstinate









Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely support that art museums encourage love and knowledge of art at an early age and keep right on doing that up through older age.  And I am not the ‘don’t touch the books and don’t make noise librarian-type’, but the activity did make it a wee bit hard to concentrate or even hear the audio guide!  Sometimes the art becomes the people IN the museum, which is maybe what actionism is all about!  The fact that I am still thinking about all that modern art is a testament to its gift to stimulate pondering and discussion!


The Belvedere I visited after our trip (on non-trip) to the American Embassy (whoops – we needed to visit the consulate instead – that’s in another part of town!).    Side note:  A sad sign of the times, apparently – the American Embassy is cordoned off from the rest of the world, where as the French embassy is on a beautiful street, merely surrounded by a simple, elegant wrought iron fence.

The French Embassy in Vienna

The US Embassy in Vienna












No photos were allowed inside the Belvedere, but there I found a happy marriage of the old and the new(er) in this museum devoted mostly to works by artists of the central European region.  The medieval art – the carved altarpieces, and sculptures were stunning.  Works by late 19th and early 20th century artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka both delighted and probed.

All photos courtesy of the Belvedere Museum website.

Gustav Klimt - The Kiss

detail of Znaim Altarpiece











The Kiss is like an icon, both figuratively and literally, with so much gold overlay!  The Znaim altarpiece is the biggest one I have ever seen!  It must have been 15 feet high!

Oskar Kokoschka - TigerLion

Egon Schiele - Embrace











The extensive outside grounds had lots of potential but the gardens were still ‘in preparation.’  It was a cold and blustery day!

Upper Belvedere Palace

Looking toward Lower Belvedere Palace and the Stables

Statue near Upper Belvedere













Patterns of (potential) garden between Upper and Lower Belvedere

Cascade of waterfalls and fountains in the middle of the walkway











Next time I will post about some of the churches we’ve seen while in Vienna.

Thanks as always, for reading!