Hopeless Causes and surprises along the way

Today was laundry day.  After almost a week of wearing the same trousers and only a few shirts, we just plunged in (so to speak) and tried the machinethatbothwashesanddries.  We didn’t put in too much soap, and we managed to make the thing start and do what it was supposed to do.  Hooray…the laundry was not a hopeless cause, after all!   We felt a little  like country bumpkins, going in periodically to watch the drum roll around. (We do have a front loader at home but, well, this is the Austrian version, so it’s different.)  Next time, we’ll select a longer drying cycle because apparently 60 minutes is inadequate,  judging from the amount of apparel we have draped over every radiator in the apartment.  The good news is that stuff so arranged dries VERY quickly.

good thing this badezimmer ist gross

The day was beautiful so after we put in the last load, we headed outside for a walk through the woods:  up the hill towards a small grouping of buildings that lie just behind the apartment villa.  (We still don’t know what they are for. Someone obviously lives there, as there is most always a vehicle.  A mystery for another day.)

It is Sunday and that’s when you really see European families out for a Sunday stroll.  There were plenty on the path–runners in duos and alone, children with grandparents, mothers with high tech baby buggies.  The hill we live on is part of the bigger complex of the Leechwald (yes, LEECH Woods), with extensive trails on both wide, maintained paths and through the trees.

well maintained path along the woods

beginning of the running trail – km 1










 The running/walking trail goes for miles kilometers, up on the ridge behind where we live, past the edge of the city, and all the way to the beautiful Mariatrost Church.  We could see it from one of the higher, less obstructed views on our walk today.

Mariatrost Kirche

The day was pretty hazy…not atypical for Graz.  We have the same problem in Missoula, with mountain valley inversions.  How odd, then, that on our walk we should find a rehab center for those with lung diseases.  According to some lovely people we met on the path, that is it’s function and it’s part of the huge state hospital complex for Styria.  (good to be located near a hospital, I think!)  Perhaps the elevation on the Hilmteich is just enough to rise one up out of the smog.

Adalbert Graf Kottulinsky Foundation (the center for those with lung diseases)

So this started out to be a walk to look for and try to identify the birds we had been hearing for the past five days.  As we were peering up at some kind of woodpecker through our binoculars, a couple asked us (auf Deutsch) what we were seeing.  I actually understood that much.  After that, it was pretty much downhill as far as the German speaking went.  I didn’t know the name for woodpecker in German, but was able to stammer out the colors, at least.  They were interested and we shared the binoculars with them and thus began a delightful conversation with Christina and Gernot.  Christina, who has been to Montana and to many places in the Western U.S.  ( even been to Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Reservation!) is a teacher of children ages 6-10.  We’re not sure what Gernot does…it doesn’t matter…but they were charming and were so interested in what we were doing in Graz.  They immediately invited us to their home.  If they call, I think we shall accept.  Warum nicht? (why not?)

the fence where we spoke with Christina and Gernot

Continuing on our way, we passed many feeding stations for birds, identified a few others (blackbirds, nuthatches, magpies,  some very weird looking crows…)  and areas where the forest was being logged.  We aren’t sure if this is someone’s private logging operation, a municipal job or part of maybe a research forest, as in the Lubrecht Forest in Montana.  I wonder if our German will ever be good enough to translate all the signs? Naturally, we forgot the dictionary, again!

one of the many bird houses and feeding stations along the path

logging operation

description of logging operation (we think)

Down the path we continued, eventually coming to a more residential area.  The numbers of people increased and they all seemed to be headed either to or from a particular point.  We decided to continue on to find out what it was.  The ‘what is was’ turned out to be the Häuserl im Wald, a hotel/restaurant which was far bigger than the ‘hut’ that Häuserl implies.  Extensive terraces, gardens, and a children’s playground were all part of this establishment.  We decided to go in and have a coffee or maybe a beer.

Once again, the food looked and smelled so good that we decided to order.  Again, no dictionary, so we did the best we could with what we know already and were delighted at how it turned out!

 Schweinemedaillons in feiner paprikarahmsauce, mit spätzle (pork medallions in red pepper sauce with SPATZLE!

Bill had something equally delicious–roast beef medallions with an onion sauce and rosti (like little potato pancakes.)  Once again, I brought half of this home!  And here is the best part – we managed to do the whole transaction auf Deutsch!

On our way out, we again scouted the birds at the extensive feeding stations (grosbeaks!) and were surprised to see a horse coming down the road.

more surprises!

We had come maybe 3 km, so we clipped back along our same route at a good pace, stopping only to check out one or two birds and pay respects to the shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, Patroness of Impossible Causes, who must have been looking out for us all along!

the shrine of Rita of Cascia

Tomorrow, Vienna.

For now, thanks for reading and…..

Grüß Gott

Avalanches and sherpas

I bet you never thought about avalanches in the city!  I sure never did but as we walked around Graz on Day 3, we passed numerous potential avalanches.  Lucky for us, most of the snow season appears to be over!


warning for avalanche


In case you can’t read it, here it is close up!

We are getting somewhere on figuring out the washing machine/dryer and the dishwasher. But only as far as maybe what kind of soap we need.   Today, after doing at least 2 hours on-line research on where it was and how to get there, we headed across town, taking the street car first and then a city bus, to, of all things, a shopping mall where there was a big store that had groceries, and the possibility of household items as well.  On the list:  washing machine powder, dishwasher soap, a small clothes basket, clothespins and rope (because we hear that the dryer on these machines doesn’t really dry all that well) something to clean the bathroom and counters, a squeegie, a small rug for the foyer to trap all the mud we are tracking in, mustard, vegetables, fruit, and bread.   We ended up with most everything (substituting a drying rack for the clothesline) except the squeegie and the mustard.  I even went back again to look for the mustard.  What do they put on their bratwurst if not mustard????

So you  buy your stuff that is in your cart, unloading it onto the conveyer belt, then you load it back into your cart (for which you have paid 1 Euro deposit), and wheel your cart out of the store into the mall and continue to shop, or in our case, find somewhere to eat.

There are smaller grocery stores–one down the hill from us (think ‘Grizzly Grocery’ for you Missoulians), and another closer to the University–but this by far was the biggest we’d seen.  Not that bigger is better, but in our case, it had most of what we needed.

Then it was back to the bus, transfer to the streetcar

And back up the hill carrying all our stuff.  That’s where the sherpas come in, only there were none to be found!

Tomorrow, we may make a trip to the Hauptbahnhof to see how long it will take us early Monday morning when we go to Vienna for the Fulbright meeting, or head down to the Schloss (castle), or take a hike around the woods with our binoculars.

Thank you for reading, and grüß Gott!


Pumpkin Anything!

Pumpkin.  That’s the regional specialty and it seems to be found everywhere!

Our second and third days here, we walked hiked into town, 3.7 km to the Technical University, and somewhat less to University of Graz.  Naturally all this hiking allows one to work up an appetite.  Our internal clocks weren’t set yet so we were hungry at the oddest times of day–4:30 PM, for instance.

Day 2 found us, after our business was completed, at one of the many platz (plazas) in Graz.  We found a little place to eat, the Glöcksbrau, which was buzzing from everyone just finishing their mittagessen (middle of the day meal) or maybe gathering for an early beer!



outside of the restaurant. It's right next to the the town Glockenspiel

The Glockenspiel is to the right. It plays at noon, 3 and 6 PM, with two people emerging to dance around.  We managed to miss it this time but will look for it again!

We finally found a table, sat down, disregarded the fitness specials:

The Fitness Specials

and ordered the regional specialties:  Cremesuppe vom Muskatkürbis mit Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin cream soup with pumpkin seed oil), Schnitzel mit Beschichtung aus Kürbiskernöl (cutlet with pumpkin seed coating) und hausgemachten Erde Apfel-Salat (house made potato salad) und ein zwei kleine Biere (two small beers).   Bill actually ordered the schnitzel Viennese-style. It was so much we had enough to bring home for another meal, except the soup.  Best thing I have ever tasted!

the soup! soooo good!


the Schnitzel with pumpkinseed covering

Before we left, a quick trip up the stairs to the toilette (D amen for ladies, H erren for men) and wow–check out the cool curvature of the ceiling!

stairs up to die Toilette fur Damen

On the way out who should we see but ARNOLD!!!!  Graz is the home city for Arnold Schwarzenegger!  There is a story about Graz naming a stadium after him and giving him a key to the city.  But then, as Governor of California, he refused to stay an execution, so they took back the name and Arnold gave back the key.  We hear alles ist gut now, but it must have been a little uncomfortable for everyone for a while!

omg-It's Arnold!

We had come into town that day to get our city registration permits.  They were, amazingly, free!  We have to check in with them again after 90 days, even though we have Visas.  Here is where we did that!

outside the bureau where we received our permits to live here: the Meldezettel

After so much excitement, we walked to the streetcar stop and rode it home, because you remember we still have to walk hike back up our hill!



Into the woods

So.  We have been here in Austria three and a half days and it feels like about two weeks, after all the details we’ve had to attend to:  basically in order, we’ve bought groceries, moved in, unpacked, rearranged the small amount of furniture at our flat, and made numerous trips into Graz to get registered at the city registration bureau, work with the Uni Graz IT wizard to get connected to the internet, open an Austrian bank account, and pick up a used printer for our apartment.  Everyone has been absolutely kind and helpful; most people speak English better than we speak German, although we are trying very hard “sprechen auf Deutsch.”

All of you have been clamoring for photos so here they are with ein bisschen (a little bit) of commentary, for clarity’s sake.

Graz is in the south of Austria, not terribly close to the mountains, although there are rolling hills around.  We live on one of those hills at the eastern end of the city, near a small teich or pond, hence the name Hilmteich.  I am still trying to figure out what ‘hilm’ means, and will have to ask someone local because it’s not in any of the 10 dictionary or phrase books we brought along.

On one side of the pond is an imposing edifice…maybe a former small schloss (castle) but nothing appears to be happening there at the moment.

On the other side is the wooded hillside.  The woods are a mixture of deciduous (beech, oaks, maples) and conifers (cedar, firs, spruce).  Along the way up to our apartment we pass a Dancing School and a Wood School.  We are not sure what the wood school is…I thought it might be an educational outreach, as in nature center, but on the other hand, after hearing chain saws nearly every morning (good grief we can’t get away from them, even in Austria!) we wonder if there is some wood sculpting school going on!

the dance school we pass on the way up our hill

wood school at the bottom on the hill, or maybe it’s really at the top!

We’re about a 7 minute walk from the city street, up through the woods.  The woods are absolutely alive with birds chirping.  So far we’ve only had time to identify one bird…it is the Great Tit.  I am not making this up.  It looks like a chickadee but bigger and has an amazing array of songs and calls.

We can’t wait to have a little more time to explore the woods before spring/summer arrive and presumably lots of people.

Here’s why!

part of the Kletterkurs (climbing/ropes course) located on our hill

Not only is this a major climbing/ropes course but also a major fitness center.  There is a 21 km running course (cross country) as well as signs appearing every few meters, urging people on to greater health and fitness.  We see joggers, runners and just people having a walk in beautiful surroundings every day.  Inspirational, but you won’t see me up there among the trees.

Bill on the road up our hill


Right now, the snow is melting a little bit, although it has been cold here—in the 20’s and 30’s F. but sunny. (Yes, I know it has been even colder in Montana!)  Locals say this is ‘unusually cold’ for the end of February.  Doesn’t that sound familiar?

At the end of the walk is our apartment, one of about six in this remodeled villa.

the 100-year-old villa where our apartment is

There are a few other residents here…one family with a baby, and another with a dog, but we haven’t really had an opportunity to meet them yet.  The apartment is spacious.  The description we read in the original literature about the Technical University Guesthouse mentioned two rooms, plus a kitchen and bathroom.  We had no idea it would look like this:  parquet floors, 18 foot ceilings and massive wooden shutters to close over the otherwise unadorned windows!  The furniture is, by contrast, extremely modern.  There is plenty of storage space.  Here are some smaller photos of our Häuschen.

the door must be 100 years old. It is very heavy to open!

the dining room – balcony and terrace to the right









the foyer
the kitchen – galley style but efficient

the bedroom is part of the subdivided big room. It’s partially walled off from a sitting area by the clothes cabinets.









my ‘office’ is the pass through between the bedroom and the dining room

the view from the terrace (large enough for a good size table and chairs)










the bathroom









The latter might be the one point of frustration for us.  It’s the most complicated machine I have ever seen, and our German is definitely not good enough to decipher the manual.  I have never seen a machine that supposedly washes and dries clothes.  We are looking for some rope and clothespins tomorrow when we venture west of town to a bigger shopping center.

this is a washer and a dryer!

One of the pleasures of living in the woods is the fellow inhabitants.  I was charmed to find these guys (girls?) spending their winter between the storm and inside windows.

we have some other guests in the guest house!

This ladybug is small and efficient.  And it’s  like much of what we see in Austria.  I am struck by the small size of refrigerators, kitchens, washing machines, showers, water tanks, spoons, cars and trash receptacles.  Everything that isn’t waste is recycled.  People here have developed an ethic that is somehow missing in the U.S., where bigger is surely better.   We could learn a lot from these folks.

Lastly, for tonight at least, this is for the Dinosaurs in my (old) classroom at UCCC.

The crystal heart is hanging right where the sun can catch it!

Tomorrow, it’s off for some household essentials (those clothespins I mentioned, laundry soap, and a small rug to catch the mud in the foyer) and maybe on Sunday, the historic center of the city.  Thanks for reading and tschüss!

Update February 24 2011

Note:  We are still awaiting internet connections to be set up for our flat.  It is between-semesters break here and many (most) people are on vacation.  Today we walked down to the streetcar stop rode to the stop nearest the University of Graz, and met up with the IT person, Georg, at the University of Graz.  He was able to at least configure our computers so we could use them on either campus (University of Graz and the Technical University).  So very helpful he was!  But the IT person at TU is still away, so any connections at the flat will need to wait until s/he is back.   Will do some more writing about our first days, when we have a little more time to compose and are connected.  Pictures also, once I can figure out Lightroom!

Floating through the sky

Feb. 21-22:

Our last hours in Missoula were ones of quiet preparation.  We got an early start, after shoveling walks for the last time this year.  Six inches of the lightest-ever fluffy stuff had fallen over night.  As I peered out the window at 4 am at the crystalline and sparkling ground, it was hard to imagine that being replaced by the proverbial carpet of green by the next time we would see Missoula.  It was has been a long winter, hasn’t it?   Our friend Chris came along to drive our car back from the airport…he must have been up even earlier, because he was just finishing his own snow blowing operation as we arrived!  Chris— 5 AM!

The trip over the big pond was unbelievably smooth as far as connections go:  No delays whatsoever, interesting eavesdropping on the cockpit-air traffic controllers’ conversation as we approached Washington DC.  English is most definitely the international language of the air.  We enjoyed watching Secretariat, especially this horse lover with Virginia-Kentucky roots!   It was not quite as smooth, ride wise, with fairly severe turbulence from about 200 miles off the coast of Ireland over the entire island.  The captain even directed the flight crew to sit down.  I hoped we wouldn’t be making a first visit to the Emerald Isle unexpectedly (and why did I watch that PBS special on The Worst Airline Disasters three days before?)  Our longest layover was in Frankfurt (5 hours) but the hospitality of the Lufthansa Lounge let us recharge (great coffee, great breads, NUTELLA, a hot dog bar!), stretch out a bit (yes, pretty impossible to sleep sitting up on the airplane, even though we turned off the video and audio) and work harder on our German language skills.

I found myself marveling, as we flew from Missoula to Denver, Denver to Washington Dulles and Dulles to Frankfurt, Germany at the ability at the achievement of technology.  If we can pack 300 or so humans plus all their stuff into a fragile yet resilient container of plastic and metal and transport it all at 38,000 ft over mountains, plains and ocean on the slenderest of wings , why is it we cannot solve the problems confronting our world today?  We know so much, and yet we ‘know’ in the deepest sense of the word, so little.

Off we go!

It’s been almost a month since I last posted and that month has been filled with the many details of preparing to leave for such a long time.   Saying ‘auf Wiedersehen’  to my fifteen preschoolers was hard.  We talked about experiences they had had traveling, and how I was going on a long trip, but not coming back real soon.  One little guy said, ‘why would you ever want to leave us?’  Oh my.  But I am leaving them in great hands with the teacher we hired to take over.  They will have a loving and dedicated leader and they will have each other.

We’re just about ready and as soon as I finish this, the computer will be stored in its carry-on and we will just need to try and sleep before getting up at 4 am.  I’ve been checking the Graz weather daily and see little snowflakes and temperatures only slightly warmer than here in Missoula…little wonder it’s almost at the same latitude.  So, we’ve got winter clothes, spring clothes and summer clothes, crammed into all our suitcases. Voluntary Simplicity is queued up on my Kindle so maybe the number of suitcases will change coming home.  (hee hee)

Our trip will take us through Denver, Washington DC (Dulles) and Frankfurt to Graz, if all goes according to plan.

The next time you hear anything from me, I hope it will be from Austrian soil.  First order of business will be to open a bank account and get registered at the Graz Rathaus.  Then I imagine we’ll provision the flat (thank goodness it is furnished) and explore our surroundings.

Thank you for the many well-wishes and comments, and thank you for reading!