Castles, wine AND chocolate – can it get any better?

Just when I thought we had experienced the ultimate in excursions on Friday, our friends Christina and Gernot called to ask if we would like to go out with them on Saturday.  “Natürlich!” we said.  That has to be one of the coolest words in our auf Deutsch vocabulary. It manages to get in all the hardest to make sounds.

So, we took the tram over to the central exchange point,where we saw a demonstration against eating meat.  What?  In Austria?


told by cop he needed to park differently - ended up blocking trams

We got on a second tram and rode it to the end of the line, which was to a place called Mur Park. The Mur is the river that ‘runs through it’ here in Graz.  Bill was expecting a large city park, but whoa…what was this?  A shopping mall!  Just like the City Park mall, maybe bigger.  Funny, calling places of consumerism ‘parks’.  Since we were heading out of town, a place that offered ample parking on the side of town closest to our destination was the best place to meet our Austrian  friends.

They said they were taking us to some places maybe we would have a hard time getting to on our own and that we would spend the whole day seeing things with some surprises thrown in.  Loved it already!

We headed East out of Graz.  The map below shows the quick way.


The road to Riegersburg


Gernot took instead the slow way, winding through the beautiful Styrian countryside.  I don’t know what to compare it to in the US – upstate New York, maybe, or the palouse of eastern Washington with more than wheat.  It’s full of verdant rolling hills with good roads that curve their way past assemblies of houses and farms.  Make that fruit orchards (apples, pears and GRAPES).  In the US we cultivate apples and other fruits mostly in rows of trees; here, as in northern Italy, they are mostly grown staked out like grapes.   At one point we went through a newly constructed tunnel; Gernot rolled down the window to check the sound level as we zoomed through. Gotta love those engineers! 🙂

“Had we ever been to a castle?” was the query.  Not in Austria, unless you count the berg in Graz.  Well, today, we were visiting a proper castle, one that was both a fortress and a dwelling place.  We could see it from a long way off.


Riegersburg Castle

That’s the castle up there on the basalt formation.  It is actually located just at the southern border of Eastern Styria,  in what is known as Vulkanland.   The fortress itself is built on the ancient cone of a long-extinct volcano.  It was never conquered, due to its impenetrability and steep paths.  It was THE strategic outpost against the Turks and the Magyars and anyone else who wanted to invade from the East.

Here is another view of it from the other side.

another view of the castle - check out those cliffs!

As most of you know, castles exist mainly for protection.  In case enemies would come, the serfs in the surrounding village could make their way up through the (sometimes double) moats of the castle and numerous walls into the interior where they would be protected. This castle has double moats, three kilometres of defense walls with loopholes, seven archways and eleven bastions.    It was quite a hike up; I imagine if adrenaline had kicked in, it might have been a faster trip!  A  cable-train on the north side of the castle can take you up in 1½ minutes but it wasn’t open for the season yet. (and I doubt we would have taken it, had it been open.)


Bill, Christina and Gernot - Castle Riegersburg - first gate/archway


hiking up the basalt road

The basalt road is rutted from years of use by wagon wheels, first wooden, then iron.  Yes it was really that steep!


basalt and 'arrow windows'

This gives you a good look at the ‘arrow windows’, so shaped so the archers on the defense could fire down, but arrows fired up would have a harder time getting through the opening.  With such defense, maybe boiling oil wasn’t necessary!


arrow window

The doors (open for us today) were clad in iron and further had a small door for people but not, presumably, camels. (or horses)


small door - 'wicket' in English castles. Christina called it the 'eye of the needle'.

the people door in case the main door was closed

We were among the few people at the castle this day.  There was a group of maybe 20 people on a tour, and a few other families, but that was it.  The castle itself opens for the season beginning April 1, or the next weekend.  But that was ok by us. Another place to put on a list of ‘visit again’!

The archways are supported by giant blocks of basalt.

looking through the doorway - blocks of basalt outlining the edges

This edifice has undergone many transformations, as is true for so much of the architecture in Europe.  The first record of a castle here is from 1138, built by a knight, Rüdiger von Hohenberg.  In the late 16th century, the castle was extended in  Renaissance-style  by the Barons of Stadl.  From 1637 on the castle belonged to Baroness Katharina Elisabeth of Galler, who further enlarged the castle and created the ornate baroque rooms that are the venue for many weddings and other events today.  Unfortunately, because the castle was not officially open, we weren’t able to see the interior.  In 1822, the Duke of Liechtenstein acquired the castle and it still belongs to that family today.


And now, I am going to stop with the commentary and just let you enjoy as we did as we walked through.


view of town over the side wall



the wall - one of them, anyway


further up the road - note wagon wheel ruts


one of the towers



vines on the inside


vines on the outside


vineyards everywhere!

At this point, let me interject that this is a BIG HINT as to what we were in store for next.  But I digress.


better view of town and surrounding farms



one of the bastions



our dear friends



onward and upward



the moat


…and the new guard of the moat! Appropriate for this season!

There was actually a rabbit hutch under the drawbridge!   The Liechtenstein Family lives in the village — perhaps their grandchildren care for the rabbits?


the drawbridge


I wonder if this guy is a spy?

the watchful turk



more gates to go through on our way down


More odd creatures on the way down!


beetle at Riegersburg Castle

We couldn’t see the interior of the castle which includes 100 rooms, twenty-five of which are used for the two museums:  one on Witchcraft (and the witch hunts and trials that went on from 1673 – 1675 and which resulted in many women being burned at the stake) and the other on Legendary Women, including one of the owners of the castle who was an independent woman, unique for that time.

We could however visit the castle chapel which was simply gorgeous.

outside the chapel at Riegersburg Castle

Inside, it was dark as usual but light was streaming through the NEW glass windows.  A glorious sight!


streaming light


Best of all we were treated to an impromptu concert by our friends.  Both Christina and Gernot are musicians.  She directs the children’s choir at her school and he plays the trumpet.  They both sing!  Here they are singing an Austrian folk song.  Enjoy!

Right click on the photo and select ‘open link in a new tab’ and the video will open.

From Graz-3-26-11-Riegersburg Castle-KronbergSchloss-chocolate factory with Christina and Gernot

If the day had ended right there, it would have been enough.  Dayenu!

But there was more!  From the castle we visited a small wine shop close to the castle, which offered free tastes of local wines,  bottled juices from the local farms, and handmade gifts.  We tasted several white wines and one very fruity rose but ended up buying only some juices and needlework there, as our friends said we would go directly to the farmer to buy the wine! This is the part of Austria known for its white wines!

That was our next stop!  Bill’s colleagues at the universities asked me not to mention how good these wines are or for what price they are sold.  It’s one of Austria’s best kept secrets.  I just wish I could figure out a way to bring back more than 2 bottles!


wine barrel at one of the regional winemakers

Many of the wine farmers (wienbauern) also run small restaurants, at which they offer their wines.  These buildings are not in the village, but rather out in the hills you can see from the castle.  We parked next to the barn, walked past the apple storage and into the foyer.   We only bought wine and didn’t stay for dinner because we had a few more stops to make first!

Next up was the furniture maker-restorer, Famille Golles-Valda, which took us back over other hills close to the castle.  On the way we passed several odd looking, wind-driven wooden structures, which Christina said were to keep the birds away.   She called them ‘klip-klaps’ so named for the sound they made, although some could be set up to ‘sing’ musical notes!



When we arrived at the Famille Golles-Valda business, the sign said to call for an appointment on the weekends.  Never mind, with typical Austrian hospitality, we were invited in to look around.  The work was gorgeous, mostly antiques which had been totally refinished or restored, although I can see the Keno twins on Antiques Roadshow cringing a little when you mention antique and refinish in the same sentence!

The view of the castle from the business was breathtaking and gives you a better sense of its height!


view of the castle from Golles-Valda

With all this touring we had worked up quite an appetite, although it was only 4 o’clock and we had consumed delicious Styrian apples on our trek up the castle road.  Nevertheless, to the Buschenschank!  These are little family-run restaurants that offer fresh, local fare, usually cold — served on large wooden platters. Some of the Buschenschanken also offer rooms for overnighting, so they become an ideal way to spend a weekend in the country, eating great food and drinking local, fine wines without worrying about driving home!  We ‘ve noticed that Austrians are VERY observant about not drinking and driving.  The driver almost never drinks alcohol.  (This, of course, is in stark contrast to the embarrassing suggestion of one of our 2011 Montana state legislators who feels that drunk driving laws need to be MORE lax.)

Buschenschank Platter

So we ate and had a great time visiting over delightful plates of food.

But there was still DESSERT!  On to the ‘surprise’ which was a chocolate factory, also right out there in the country!  I don’t  know what the factory is doing out there, away from the population centers, but there were tons of other people who also had the same idea as we, so the Zotter family must be doing something right!

Think Tillamook Cheese factory only with chocolate:  viewing windows with chocolate bars riding by, for the taking (if you pay for the tour), free samples of chocolate from the –oh 200 or so–varieties displayed along one wall of the building, tastes from three different chocolate fountains, or try the liquid over a cacoa bean, or best of all, select a grab bag stuffed with chocolate seconds for only 1,50 € ! (That’s what I did!)  The best thing – it’s all fair trade!


omg-chocolate at Zotter Schokoladen Manufacktur & Theater


chocolate conveyor belt


slot machine for chocoholics - it's how you get free samples


rows and rows of chocolate - and this is only a partial view!



oh, and did I mention the candy counters with individually crafted chocolates?


we make for the car with our loot - whose that guy in the back, left? 🙂

OK, now we were saturated with good food, good sweets, good wine and good views.  Anything else?  You bet!  The final stop on our excursion was Schloss Kornberg, another castle, not in the same league with Riegersburg, but beautiful all the same.  Dating from 1284, it’s now a gallery for arts and items crafted in the area.  Christina and Gernot had wanted to show us the display of 5000 rugs from all over the world, but the vendor for that gallery had closed for the day.  No matter, there was lots more to see!


from the Schloss website - aerial view of the castle

Castle Kornberg as we approach


interior Renaissance courtyard of Kornberg Castle



interesting iron work


And the shops had many handgesmacht items, perhaps most impressive of which were the Easter eggs in all sizes and styles of painting!


hand painted Easter eggs at Castle Kornberg

For those whimsical in nature, there were some adornments for the garden.


funny bird garden decorations at Kornberg Castle

They actually reminded Bill and I of some bird ‘art’ we gave his mother, Flora, for a gift one Christmas.  Sapsucker on Rock, it was called. I think she kindly displayed it for a season. When we went through things after her death, we found it carefully wrapped up in the basement. 🙂

Now we were done touring the countryside and it was time to come home.  I had made a fresh strawberry pie early that morning, a real kochen-coup, considering I don’t have a proper pastry blender or pie pan!  So, we came back to our flat and ate pie and talked for several more hours!

I can’t imagine what could top this, but stay tuned, you never know!  Next week we are off to Vienna for some meetings, so I won’t be posting quite so regularly!

Thanks, as always, for reading!


Into the woods…

in search of the White-backed Woodpecker.  Lest this sound like a snipe hunt, let me assure you that such a bird does indeed exist and we found it! We never would have seen it had it not been for our new friends Sebastian, Christian and Franz.

Whitebacked Woodpecker

Let me start at the beginning!  Shortly after we moved into our flat, we noticed an odd set of buildings just behind the Villa.  We could see a building that looked something like an office but behind it was a covered fence.  People seemed to be at this building most of the day, on weekends, sometimes at night.  Occasionally, we could hear hammering!  We discovered a sign outside “Wildtiere in Not” or wildlife in danger/great distress.  (You see the word Not also on trams, buses, and airplanes, by the emergency exits and emergency stopping devices.)

Eventually, internet sleuthing led me to a webpage and from there to a contact email, which I utilized to inquire what was going on behind us!  I mentioned that we would be interested in seeing the rehabilitation facility, and if they were building an aviary, that we were very interested in birds!

Weeks went by.  Then,  I received an email from Sebastian, who had been forwarded the email.  Turns out he is a lifelong birder, bands birds for the rehabilitation center, and would be willing to take us birding.   The email arrived at an especially busy time for us, so I set it aside for later reply.  We eventually were walking again on the Roseggerweg, the path behind the villa named (we presume) for the famous Styrian author Peter Rosesegger, and ran into two people trying to capture a crow that was hopping around on top of cars parked at Wildtiere in Not.   They were the coordinators of the project and invited us in!  While we were there, Sebastian called and we had a nice conversation.

A week later, he called to invite us to go birdwatching with him and his friend Christian.  We accepted right away!  So, last Friday, we got up before the crack of dawn — you know birdwatchers like to start at a time everyone else thinks is crazy early — so we could walk down to Karl Franz U. to meet Sebastian and Christian at 7 a.m.

When Sebastian said he was a life-long birder, I was prepared for someone in his 40’s at least.  I think Sebastian might be 30, if that.  He’s studying biology, with specialization in avian biology, at KFU, part-time and has to be one of the most knowledgeable birders I’ve ever met!  The others being Franz and Christian, who were retired, and also life-long birders.  Sebastian speaks almost perfect English, knows all the English names for the Austrian birds, (was using the same bird guide we had) and knows all about New World birds as well!

Sebastian and his scope


We climbed into Christian’s car along with Sebastian and Franz and off we went to the Hochschwab area, north of Graz.

Map of the area of the Hochschwab (A) - click to enlarge

We drove up through Bruck an der Mur, the steel town of Kapfenberg, and through sleepy little villages and farm towns.  The day was warm, clear, and the scenery was incredibly beautiful! This was our first up close and personal view of the Styrian countryside, other than from a train window!

This is the Hochschwab

We spent quite a while seeing lots of other birds — most of which were new to us — before we headed to the woods.  That’s typical birding.  It takes an hour to walk half a kilometer!  We were lovin’ it!

Franz, Bill and Christian


Here's one! Might have been the Green Finch!


The compact Leicas we brought with us are not too bad, but I was really wishing for our good ol’ Zeiss 10 x 40’s, left behind to conserve weight.  Fortunately, we had two scopes with us courtesy of Sebastian and Christian!

the woods

The woods where we were looking for the White-backed Woodpecker was an old stand of mixed beech and spruce.  The w.b.woodpecker is one of the rarer woodpeckers for Styria.  It prefers the older growth forests and eats wood-boring beetles. (Hey, we need it in W. Montana!). It requires areas that are undisturbed by forestry operations, so is greatly threatened.   Woods here are mostly private woods, but are open for anyone to go into.  (Hunters of course must ask permission, but bird watchers are welcome!)  We walked quietly, listened and looked for quite a while.  We saw and heard a lot of other woodpeckers – the more common Great Spotted – but no White-backed!

Fortunately, there is always a lot to see when you are out in the woods.  The wildflowers were just emerging.  The woods were full of these!

Schneerose - first of wildflowers after the snow melts







Bill was particularly interested in the deposits of gravel all over the woods.  You can see the gravel in the photo above, as white patches.   These were deposits from avalanche chutes!  There were whole sections of the area ploughed up by avalanches!  We heard several smaller ones while we were in the area, and saw numerous rock and snow slides!


remains of an avalance – white stuff is gravel

There were many wildflowers to look at while we were waiting for the woodpecker to appear!


carpet of Schneerose


Franz called this a horse hoof

this was a very small blue flower he picked









Finally, we decided the woodpecker was too shy for visitors today and turned to go.  As we picked our way through the debris and flowers, we heard the ping-pong ball-like drumming that is typical for the White-backed.  Sebastian imitated the call, and pretty soon, into view it came!  Mission accomplished.  Only we weren’t done yet!

Our new friends decided that we should look next for the Golden Eagle nests, located on the other side of the Hochschwab.  There ensued a discussion of whether we should take the road OVER the mountain or if it would be better to drive around to the other side.  Early spring = probable snow and road impassability.   Around (and not over) it was!

The area where we were birding is one of the primary sources for drinking water not only for Graz but also for Vienna.  Water is collected here and piped, to supplement (at least in Graz) the municipal wells in the city.  The water in Graz is delicious and safe to drink!

(notice the sign below!)








The broad meadow between the car and the woods


So.  Back through the picturesque villages to Kapfenberg and around to the other side of the mountain we went. But not before we viewed a Gämser on the rocky cliffs of the Hochschwab.  Pretty soon we could see a whole herd of them, spooked by some hikers up on one of the snowfields.

if you look closely you can see the paths of a small snow slides

Gämsers are like a cross between what we call pronghorns or antelope and sheep.  They are incredibly agile on the mountainous slopes!  We were excited to see our first large mammals in Austria.  There are also deer, red deer (more like our elk), and others.  No bears, no wolves.

At the next area, there was a small stream, and a beautiful lake that appeared to be fed by springs in the area.  This is where we ate lunch.


lake at the second stop


eating lunch by the small lake



water trough next to spring fed lake - Franz drank from it. Bill was more cautious!



small stream near second stop


We managed to get a good look at the Gold Crest which is the smallest of European birds.  It is a cousin to our Ruby Crowned Kinglet.


Gold Crest

if you squint you can see the gold crest on its forehead


The wildflowers in this area were equally stunning!  Erika was the new one….used here frequently to decorate graves.





lake with Erika blooming on other side


Bill was more intersted in the FISH!



This whole area reminded us of northern Florida, with its extensive limestone-formed springs.  In fact, the geology of this Styrian area is replete with limestone!

We walked further in toward the cliffs of the Hochschwab, passing another stream along the way.


one of the few unchannelized streams we've seen

And finally to the Grünersee (Green Sea) which is another spring-and-snow-melt-fed body of water.  It was at its low point, but if you look here, you can see why it is of special interest especially at maximum snowmelt.  This is definitely worth a trip back in May or June!


Grunersee at its low point

Franz and Christian were disappointed that we couldn’t see the ‘see’ at its maximum, and kept apologizing but there was nothing to apologize for.  Every bit of what we were seeing was simply eye candy!

In the summer, the high meadows, called alms will be filled with sweet grass, and farmers will lead their dairy cows upward to feed.  You can take a gondola up to the top or near the top, and hike along to these alms, where there is invariably a small hut offering at least cheese, and sometimes fresh yoghurt, cake, or…!  We encountered these delightful oases of hospitality in Switzerland when we were there in 2005, and we look forward to trying the Austrian version!


Alms - see the sign?


Oh, and what about the Golden Eagles?  We looked for at least a half an hour at the cliffs, not seeing any nests, but observing plenty of other avian species – peregrine, common buzzards (which are like our red-tail hawk), ravens, all enjoying riding the updrafts of the high mountain.

Once again we started toward the car, defeated in our specific quest, but not dismayed.  However, Franz, who has the – ahem – eagle eye, called us back.  He had spotted two golden eagles soaring high above the towering peaks.  They were specks in the sky, but with the scopes we could see the unmistakable size and configuration of their feather tips.

Christian said of Franz and Sebastian that these are the best birders in all of Styria, maybe in Austria – the old(er) and the young!  We felt so honored to be with them!

Our day was not yet over.  Sebastian needed to visit the place which first brought us into contact: the Wildtiere in Not in order to band (in Austria, it is called ‘ringing’) several rehabilitating birds.


first up was a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

This bird had had an unfortunate run in with an auto, and probably injured in the head, as the rest of the body and wings seemed intact.  The balance was a little off.  I was thinking here of my friend, Kate Davis, who has taken in so many birds at her Raptor Ranch.  Most of the birds (and animals – rabbits, and bats, mostly) at Wildtiere in Not will be released, if they are sufficiently rehabilitated.  The center has numerous folks and some students from the biology department of KFU who volunteer their time.


Sebastian with Hawfinch at Wildtier im Not

releasing the Hawfinch into the aviary for further rehabilitation



additional aviary at Wildtiere in Not


It was absolutely refreshing to be in the company of people who not only pursue birds for their lifelist but also who bring their passion for birds into caring for them in ways that are life-giving.  I am pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming.

Again, gratitude abounds!



Taking it slowly

Barbara Brown Taylor, in An Altar in the World,  has quite a lot to say about walking as a spiritual practice. ( I really commend the entire book to you.)  Recently, something she wrote resonated with me: “Jesus walked a lot, and not only during the last week of his life.  If Jesus had driven a car, instead, it is difficult to imagine how that might have changed his impact.  Surely someone could have loaned him a fast horse.  Instead, he walked everywhere he went.  This gave him time to see things….If he had been moving more quickly—even to reach more people—these things might have become a blur to him.  Because he was moving slowly, they came into focus for him, just as he came into focus for them.

As we have settled into Graz, and settled into the Lenten season, we have been walking everywhere.  Sometimes we take the tram, but even to get to the tram or from the tram’s stopping point to our destination, we must walk. Nonetheless, even though we walk we are usually heading somewhere – to find a store, a concert, to work.    Last week, I decided to slow it down even more by spending the morning walking in a specific area of Graz, not only letting my feet wander but also moving slowly along the way, and observing what came into focus.

I boarded the tram #1 heading in the opposite direction from our usual route, that is,  towards the end of the line, where the bascillica of Mariatrost (Mary of Consolation) stands watch.  (This is the same large church we can see from our walking path near our flat.) There weren’t so many of us onboard, and even the tram moved slowly through the tiny clusters of houses, apartment buildings and parks.  There is one section where the road disappears entirely, and there is only grass on each side of the one-tram-at-a-time track.  Riding with me were a mother and her preschool age child, an older couple, a young woman with magenta streaks through her hair,  a man who might have been developmentally delayed and a few others.  Going slowly, you have time to consider the marvelous and diverse weave of humanity’s fabric.

Mariatrost lies at the very end of Line 1, where the tram turns around to head back into ‘downtown’ Graz.  Getting off, I could see the church in the distance but first there was a path, so the feet followed that.

the turnaround for Line 1

As I rounded the station house, a small collection of shops came into view and invited me on.

a hair salon

a first & second-hand store for children's items

Believe it or not, these were all things I had been wondering about since we arrived in Graz – where to get a hair cut, where I might find some baby items, where there might be a reliable butcher!  Who knew these very shops would be waiting?

Going into the Schlecker, I discovered two items we had been seeking – a squeegie for the shower walls and anti-tick spray!  The clerk  understood my request for the latter and helped me find it.

a 'schlecker' or what we would call a drug store in the US (no pharmacy)


a butcher's shop


With no other buildings in view, I turned toward the Purberg (literally “pure mountain”) that holds Mariatrost.   I passed a house that appeared to be a day-center of some kind.  (Later I learned it was Mariatrost Haus, a nursing care facility and day-center for people who have mental illness and/or mental disability.)  The man who was riding the tram with me earlier was there!

The way to Mariatrost is all uphill, and it is said that climbing the 213 steps themselves represent a sort of pilgrimage.

eine kleine Wallfahrt

I took my time (the steps are arranged in groups of 10 and are easily managed), pausing with each decade of steps to reverently consider specific situations in the world and in my life.  These are some ‘thoughts’ I observed along the way.

statue honoring Joseph - how do we 'honor' the elderly and children today?

some of the first wildflowers of the season - where do we see beauty?

snail on the steps - ah! another slow mover! What triggers my impatience?


"the hand of the angel points the way into the heart of the world"

die Engel. Who points the way for you?


shadows - where we all must go if we are to appreciate the light

old stones - if they spoke, would we listen?


old wall with grotto - what are the walls we erect?


an open door at the Mariatrost - (with post office box in case the usual forms of communication don't work? 🙂

I think the post office box is actually a sign of how huge a destination Mariatrost must be.  Today, though, there was no one else around.

the plaza - Mariatrostplatz with shops (closed for now)-w.w.j.say?


view from the top - looking West

"Here is my place" - one of the few places dogs are not invited in!

waterfountain with bowl for dogs Mariatrost - but they are cared for!

detail of fountain

Water is Life! Indeed.


Mariatrost is a baroque building (begun in 1714 and finished over a 10 year period) but like so many in Graz, has Gothic roots.  There was once both a Pauline Monastery and a Franciscan order  here.  The latter left in the 1990’s.  The church is celebrating their 225th year of being a parish!  It is the second most important Marian shrine in Styria, after the Mariazell Basilica.

Compared to the very simple way up the steps, the inside of the church is either a tribute to or a riot of baroque, depending on how you view it.  Still, a peacefulness was present.  Here are some photos of the inside.

entering Mariatrost

light streams in

detail of ceiling fresco - Mariatrost

Hauptaltar Mariatrost - the Madonna statue is Gothic

side altar Mariatrost - the stone work on the pillars is luminous!


the organ loft and entrance to Mariatrost

sacred bones

detail of pulpit Mariatrost

The word of God…choose a scripture from the basket and read it

I appreciated this interactive part of the church.  My scripture was John 3:18.

painting of St. Francis


confessional - this one was 'staffed' by a Benedictine, or so the sign said.

grotto of Lourdes at Mariatrost

This was a well used replica of the Grotto of Lourdes.   A lovely place to pray.

The fruit of stillness is prayer....


I sat for quite a while in the sanctuary of the church.  So long that the noon bells started to ring.  Maybe you would like to hear them, too!


With that, it felt like it was time to wander home again.  Out the door to gaze once more on the beautiful hills and countryside.


farm fields - what is our daily bread?


And back once again to the tram station, where ‘relics’ of transportation are displayed in the Museum.

the Tram Museum at the end of the line


It was one of the first days I’d experienced with absolutely no planned agenda:  no forms to fill out to take to an agency,  no shopping or laundry to do, no monument or other attraction to view, no meetings or concerts, no place I had to be.   How beautiful is the gift of spaciousness!  I’m grateful.

Chestnuts, books and more music

If you are wondering why no blog entries for a while, we were grossly preoccupied the last few weeks trying to figure out what to do over the Austrian University System Spring Break, which is coming up mid-April to the end of April. Yes, it is for 2 weeks, only we don’t have all that time available to us because of a previously scheduled Fulbright meeting elsewhere in Austria. After much reading and trying to wend our way through the maze of German and Spanish websites (sorry IE and Google, your browsers definitely do NOT translate everything and Firefox, not at all!) we finally decided on 6 nights in Spain, in the Andalucía area (southern Spain).  We will let you know how this turns out since we realized after we had booked the flight that this was over part of Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is a BIG DEAL in Spain.  Researching the options at the local bookstore was delightful, actually, and we were very glad to see that this giant bookstore in Graz was very crowded! Literacy (and the non-electronic kind, too) rules!


Moser Buchhandlung (literally Bookhandler) - even soft chairs for browsing!


Dogs go everywhere in Austria. Did I mention that before?

I wonder what he wants to read? He's in the wrong section for puppy training!


There was also a great kids’ section (with even a kids’ play area), but don’t tell Amy and David I went there I was never there. Also a cafe where you could also read and enjoy a treat.  I wonder where Barnes and Noble got their ideas?

We popped into a few other stores on Herrengasse, which has the most expensive storefronts in Graz.  Also the coolest at which to window shop.   (those shoes a while back?  On Herrengasse)

I bought a packet of gift cards for way too much money in a Paper Store, which is the oldest one of its kind in Graz. But I was pleased because I did the entire transaction auf Deutsch.  I think the lone clerk there was being too kind.


the oldest paper store in Graz

We also learned there that it is good etiquette not to bring your wet umbrella into a store and drip it all over the counter or floor.  Receptacles by the doors are placed there for that reason, bitte.

My favorite storefront, after the shoes, is this one:

ready for Easter! I don't think they are Fabergé eggs but I do want to check more closely! Not sure I can say 'just looking' in German!


On St. Patrick’s Day we tried to celebrate.  I couldn’t find corned beef in Graz, although all the ingredients for Irish Soda Bread were at hand.   There are actually 3 Irish Bars in Graz, each one claiming to be ‘authentic’.  We found all three, but by the time we arrived, others with the same idea had been there for hours already.  They were packed, smokey and loud.  And the beer was green.


the crowd outside the bar on St. Patrick's Day- even more inside!

another bar, with outside seating on the plaza--a little too cool for us and no food!


Foregoing the idea of celebrating the wearing o’ the green, we walked around looking for somewhere interesting to eat.  Graz has a huge network of small streets, courtyards and plazas.  We passed by the Glockenspiel and found the characters were performing!


Dancers dancing at 6 PM


Of all places, we ended up at a Mexican restaurant, eating shrimp in mole sauce, and fajitas, drinking Czech beer.




Tijuana Restaurant - Menu in German, though


Last Sunday, March 20, we took ourselves to yet another beautiful musical event.  This one was in the Stadtpfarrkirche, one of the first churches I mentioned in previous blogs.  (It’s the one with the stained glass windows that include as Jesus’ tormentors Hitler and Mussolini.)

The event was the Graz Opera Youth Choir/Singing School (Graz Oper Singschul’ ) singing the Stabat Mater accompanied by ‘original’ instruments.  We can’t decide which was the more transporting sound:  the timbre of the baroque violone (which is a double bass) and violin-cellos or the sweet, pure voices of the teenagers and younger children singing.  Have a listen and you decide:

Instrumental introduction to Stabat Mater

Singschul’s first bars of singing the Stabat Mater


Unfortunately, this was not the night to discover I’d left the memory card in the computer!  BIG mistake!


Singschul' for Oper Graz

the children were very attentive to the tuning of the 6 instruments, all individually tuned



Near the church, just off Jakominiplatz, is a stand that sells chestnuts, or in German, Maroni.  You see these stands all over the city.  Chestnuts roasting on almost an open fire, drum,15 to 20 Euro cents a chestnut.  We ran into two fellows who were from Canada, living in Graz for 2 years now.  They figured only a tourista would be taking photos of a Maroni Stand and struck up a conversation!



The Maroni Stand (no angels or visions here)



Want to know what else Austrians do with Maroni?  Here is what:



Kastanienoberg Torte


This little slice of heaven had a chestnut -whipped cream filling over a dense cake of something – maybe ground chestnuts – and was topped by a delicious dark chocolate with just a hint of something alcoholic.  We imbibed at the same restaurant (Hauserl im Wald) that’s become our destination on Sunday strolls.  This was the first dessert we’ve tried there, and at this rate, we are going to have to walk a lot farther!

Maybe even over to Mariatrost, which would be quite the hike!  It was lovely bathed in the late afternoon light.



More on Mariatrost in a future blog!  Stay tuned, and Vielen Dank for reading!





A little bit of musical heaven, definitely not singin’ the blues

I didn’t think it was possible to experience more musical delights in one week, but we did!

Late last week (the week of March 7) we finally connected with the folks we had met on the trail (see this post) a few weeks back.  Christina had been trying to reach me via phone but because we hadn’t really learned these new phones yet, we were a) unaware we had received calls and b)couldn’t retrieve a voice mail message at all.  So, after taking ourselves back to the phone store and finding the same clerk who helped us before, we managed to install a system for voice mail.  I hope that after the rapidGermanthatIcannotunderstand finishes, I can just enter my pin and listen!  Texting (or SMSing here in Europe) is infinitely more reliable, once you figure out how to do it! (my adult children can stop rolling their eyes, now!)

Christina and Gernot invited us to a concert in, she said, “the church near the school where I teach.”   She said some of her students and former students would be performing.  We were thinking, ‘kids’ choir concert’ but we were so wrong and completely blown away by what we encountered! (side note:  Concerts happen in churches all the time here in Europe.  When we were in Prague in the mid-90’s, there were at least 2 or 3 different concerts a day in various churches — all open to the public usually for a small fee. Here, they tend to be more formal and people dress up!)

They picked us up near the corner market (how to tell someone where we live?) and we drove about 20 km east of Graz on winding, narrow back roads to the charming town of Nestelbach bei Graz.


location of Nestelbach bei Graz (‘by Graz’)–purple pin is Nestelbach

It was apparent right from the start that this was no small ‘kids concert’ because right away, even though we had arrived 1/2 hour early, there was NO PLACE to park!  (note:  in Austria, there are very few parking lots; you have to find a place on the street, usually, and in big cities like Graz, you must put two of the wheels up onto the sidewalk if you don’t want your car to get clipped by a tram!)  And as we walked into the church, there was also NO PLACE to sit.  Ahh, but Christina’s friend (a mom of a student) had, without being asked, saved us seats.  What seats they were!  We were about 3 rows back from the front and we felt like we were sitting IN the orchestra.  Yes, full orchestra!  Behind them, after the beginning instrumental piece, the choral group – about 30 singers, mostly adults but some youth and one little girl (10 years old) – filed in.


the church in Nestelbach bei Graz - built 1678 ('neu' by Austrian standards!)

What proceeded, after the Allegro in G by Vivaldi, was an amazing concert of alterations of readings from the Bible (creation through the passion, resurrection and ascension of Christ) and choral (satb) or instrumental works.  The very first choral piece was the Gloria from Vivaldi (yes! another point of familiarity!).  These people were not professionals:  mostly it was the church choir and church members, with some students from the university community.  14 pieces in all, mostly choral but the orchestra played on every one.  Absolutely impressive and sung and performed from the heart.    The Austrian audience very respectfully did not clap until the end, but when the last note was sung in the Benedictus, there was uproarious applause, so much so that the groups performed 3 encores!


the orchestra standing at the end; Mag. Hubert Stoppacher, Chorleiter, on the left (glasses).

The choir leader has had no ‘formal’ training as a conductor.  He reads music and he put together the entire program, re-arranging some of the pieces for his groups, and published a 9-page glossy program with photos to accompany the text of the songs. It’s title was “es werde Licht!” or “Let there be Light!”  The groups had been working on this for about 5 months, and it is something they do each year, especially during Lent.  This was the second of two performances this weekend.   Is there something in the leitungswasser (tap water) that leads to such musical talent in this small country? If so, it is time to drink up!



more orchestra


the choir


these folks had the BEST seats! (actually I think they stood for most of it!)

Afterward, there was a reception in the parish hall, with beer, wine, water, Pfirsich-Nektar (peach nectar, right from the orchard up the street), sandwiches and some kind of sweet bread shaped like a treble clef.  Am I in music heaven or what?  Bill and Gernot chatted (we found out he is some kind of sound engineer working with the Austrian highway department — you know those walls you often see separating the interstates from residential areas?  That’s what he designs!)  and I went with Christina as she met all the other people in the room, or so it seemed.  I tried a little German and they tried a lot of English!  We laughed and smiled, and it was just a ‘super’ time!  It was clear she is a much beloved teacher and the feeling between her, her students or former students, and their families is mutual.

At the Fulbright Orientation in Vienna, the program’s director mentioned that Austrians tend to appear outwardly ‘gruff’ but once you got to know them, they are delightfully warm and hospitable.  As we’ve walked around Graz, we have noticed that.  Most people do not look you in the eye or if they do, they rarely smile or speak even if you speak to them.    Bill is sure that is just ‘big city’ culture but this Montana girl was starting to feel a little discouraged, after so many smiles and Grüss gott’s were not returned.

After our visit to Nestelbach bei Graz, it was like the world had changed!  We felt such joy at being with the people there!  In the program notes, the director wrote about this time of Lent being thought of as morose and shadowy.  While he wanted to present a contemplative program, he did not want to ‘sing the blues’.  And after that night, we couldn’t agree more!


Tale of Two M’s

You’ve heard of 3 M?  Welcome to Austria and home of the 4Ms.  We’re not talking tape here, but rather the four ‘biggies’ in the formation and culture of Austria:  Mountains, Music, Mozart, and Maria Theresia.  Last week brought an opportunity to experience two of those M’s first hand:  Music and Mozart.

The two experiences could not have been more different:  an 18th century opera given an ultra-modern treatment in a 19th century hall, and mostly distinctly North American music from the 19th and 20th centuries performed in classical style, with a twist, in the most modern of buildings.

We had high hopes when we booked tickets for Don Giovanni.  I have loved the music of Don Giovanni ever since I played, as a child, the Minuet in G from John Thompson’s Piano Music Book 2!  We were going to an opera in a city that is filled with great musicians and culture.  We dressed up but not too much.  After all, to reach the streetcar we have to hike down the mostly dirt road which is thawing turning into a mudmire more and more every day as spring approaches.  So high heels no heels for me!    And although we are not so uncivilized to expect plays and opera to be performed in their ‘original’ version, we were not quite prepared for this über modern version!  (I have heard, by the way, that über is over-used (no pun intended) but since I am actually in a Deutsch-speaking country, it’s appropriate here!)

But first the opera house!  For an outside view, see the post of Exploring Downtown Graz.  Built in the last years of the 19th century, the house inside is a tribute to opulence grandeur!  It’s really what you might expect of a grand opera house in Europe.


This is what we saw as we entered the foyer



the grand staircase, up to the balcony and boxes



another view of the grand staircase



The stage awaits - sorry a little blurry, shooting without flash!


We were sitting in about the 9th row back, in the middle of the right side.  Great seats!



Box seats - one side of the theater. We're not at the Wilma, Dorothy.



The main chandelier in the theater. Phantom tickets? I think not!

So the orchestra was great.  The singing pretty great.  The baritone who played Don Giovanni was pretty uni-dimensional in his singing and his acting–disappointing.  The set and costuming something else—jarring even and yet very interesting conceptually.  The overall performance was just too much of the same thing (I found myself yawning!).  The designer cast the opera as a commentary on how we are prisoners of our passions: all of us, not just Don Giovanni.   Warning – some “R” rated clips! For a view into what we saw, look here but if you are under the age 16 and reading, best not to proceed.   The cast was all clad in shades of beige (women) and black (men) except for the rake himself–he had an embellished coat or wore a flower in his lapel.  The set was a table, and behind it, a prison.  Kudos to whomever put THAT together!  The biggest cheers came for the bass who played the Commandant, who spent at least 2/3 of the opera with his face in a soup plate.

Contrast that with our visit the next night to the Music and Music Theater’s ultra modern hall, the MUMUTH, for a performance of Witness, a narrated dance and choral music performance on slavery – yesterday and today.  It featured four stories of slavery: the triangular trade (US, Caribbean, Africa), the diary entries of the daughter of a plantation owner circa 1859, a 12-year old in present day India, and twins in present day Salzburg who decide to be Witnesses.   The music included pieces by Phil Collins, Billy Joel, Rhonda Polay, and spirituals (Keep Your Lamps Trimmed, Witness, Bobby McFerrin’s Psalm 23…).  The staging was exquisite – nothing fancy but the choir entered, dressed all in black, looking lost.  They were making a statement.  The completely a cappella singing was even more exquisite and not just because we understood all the words! 🙂  The dancers were high school age from the Youth Ballet of Graz .  As good as the performance was, the other star of the night was the MUMUTH building itself.

It was finished in 2009, designed by a Dutch architect.


MUMUTH being built - twisted steel and concrete, later add glass!

The inside is breathtaking.  We sat in the very back, almost right in front of the people doing the sound and lights.  Never heard a word from them! So professional!  The hall floor can be transformed at the touch into a flat row seating in an arena-style.
Controlled electronics can tailor the acoustics of the room for that performance – from jazz to opera.

the stage and walls


Here is MUMUTH’s ‘grand’ staircase.

grand staircase - to the right



other staircase - not sure what this was for, the singers and dancers were using it!


As at most musical functions we have been to, wine and other drinks are available at intermission (if there is one) or before the performance itself.



wine cart waiting for customers; ushers waiting to open the doors



the performers and narrator, receiving much deserved applause



But here is the coolest thing, bar none.  The whole building changes colors!  Watch, and see.  I’ve shot from both the inside and the outside.








The designs on the windows  (above)  mirror the sound-changing designs on the interior walls of the concert hall.

Here is the outside:



Outside - red


outside - purple

outside blue

outside green

Honestly, I could have stood here forever watching the changes, but I was afraid of being run over by a BMW or Volkswagen.

And that was our night at the


This latter concert cost a fraction of the cost of the opera and we enjoyed it so much more!   Tonight we are invited by the folks we met along the trail to a concert in their church.  “Dress warm,” she said.  We know.

Until later and thanks for reading!  Grüss Gott!




Ethereal.   That’s the only way to describe a cappella music sung in an ancient cathedral.

Ash Wednesday dawned bright and beautiful, although a little cool.   Nearly every Roman Catholic church in Graz offered an Ash Wednesday service but none of the Protestant (Evangelische Kirche) churches did.  We decided to attend the one offered in the Dom, the Cathedral in Graz, which seemed to feature a lot of music as well as the High Mass officiated by the bishop.  The Dom came into view as we passed by the entrance to the oldest part of the city, the Innere Stadt.

It was hard to get photos of the Cathedral in the fading light so I am using a few from the Graz Tourism office, as well as my own.

The Graz Dom or Cathedral, photo from the Tourism Bureau's files

The cathedral complex is really the main church which you can see here and a whole host of other buildings–the Mausoleum where Emperor Ferdinand II is laid to rest, a seminary (not sure if it is still used!) and side chapels.

The Cathedral was designed in late Gothic style in the 15th Century, and built under Frederick III.   It became the Court Church of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1786 when Graz was raised to the rank of a Cathedral and got its own Bishop.

Based on our experience in Munich on Christmas Eve at the Cathedral, when the church was packed, we arrived quite early, not knowing exactly how many people would be there.  Turns out it was just us, a few others and the choir, which was rehearsing.  Since I don’t make it a practice to record or photograph during worship, I was able to get some photos of the inside and outside of the church beforehand, as well as a video of a part of one of the songs being sung.

the organ and choir loft, in the back of the cathedral

This is especially for my organist friends, Alice, Jeff, and Nita.  Information about the organ:

“The present cathedral organ was built in 1978 by the Klais organ factory built. It is built on the 1687 Baroque west gallery. The cathedral organ has four manuals with original 70 registers in mechanical and electrical stop action; in 1998, a trumpet work with three registers were additionally installed. On summer Sundays there are regular organ recitals.” (from the church website)

What do you think, guys?

Most churches like this don’t turn lights on until just before the service begins (and I think the same goes for heat, if any, which I doubt! Can you imagine the cost to heat this huge space?)  So, no photos of the inside of the church, but for a view look here:

You can see the Gothic elements and then all the high baroque elements of this church.

The outside of the church was a little more accessible.

The Mausoleum

You can take tours of the Mausoleum which includes a trip up into the tower.  We will do this eventually!



close up of roof statues on Mausoleum


Plagues Picture

Originally, the cathedral originally had painted facades but these are now largely white, with some remnants of frescoes. Best known is “God’s plagues picture” on the south side of the nave (attributed to the painter Thomas from Villach) which refers to the year 1480, when Graz befell three plagues: plague, war and locusts.

There were some other interesting features in the outside walls, worth looking into at a later date.

Crucifixion Carving- I am guessing that is the Emperor and his Wife inserted into the scene.


other interesting carving - time for an art history course!



The West Portal of the Cathedral--still Gothic with beautiful carvings. No one uses this door! - my shot of this was a little out of focus due to fading light or perhaps just poor photography, so thank you once again, Graz Tourist Bureau!


And now here is the video of the choir singing part of the Miserere Mei by Rihards Dubra.

The text, from Psalm 51, which is traditionally read, sung or recited on Ash Wednesday.  Sorry for the talking of other people towards the end; even the Domkapellmeister was perturbed.  He uttered a loud ‘shhhh!’ at one point.


Miserere mei, Deus, qui dixit:

nolo mortem peccatoris,

sed ut convertatur et vivat

Miserere Mei, Deus.

(English translation of the Latin)

Have mercy on me, O God, who said:

I do not want death of the sinner,

but to be converted, and live

Have mercy on me, O God.



View Video


The church service was beautiful with lots of singing.   References to the scripture passages for Ash Wednesday were familiar and we could at least sing all the songs, since there was actually an order of worship provided, which included all the words.

Our next night’s musical experience was completely different!  More on that, to come!



a “bad” day

I had my first  „bad“ day today.

Today was the Fastnacht Carnival which ran from in front of the Opera toward Jakomimi Platz in Graz.  We were told about the Canival (or parade) by the wonderful and helpful secretary/administrative assistant, Annie, at TU.  It’s a briefer, yet no less exuberant, version of the Mardi Gras in New Orelans.  Here, there are lots of floats, groups and individuals dressed in elaborate costumes, a king and queen of the Carnival, bands, dancers, acrobats, machines that continuously spray the crowd with confetti, and maybe best of all….. donuts!   Graz is a donut capitol, judging from the numbers we see next to the rye bread in the stores.  I am glad to see that people here take the admonition of the gras in Mardi Gras seriously.  The donuts–a.k.a. Berliners– are handed out like candy is thrown on Missoula parade routes, and of course, there is beer.

I was so looking forward to getting down in the midst of it all, taking photographs and taking in the flavor of the culture, and naturlich, a donut (or two).

Bill headed off for his FIRST CLASS this morning, and I browsed around on the internet for cultural events and also the route for the parade, which I am happy to say I found at the Kleine Zeitung (small paper) which seems to hold all the knowledge of Graz on a very well informed webpage!   Kleine Zeitung is also the primary sponsor of the parade!

By the time I staightened the apartment, took  a shower and got dressed,  ate an early lunch (discovered too late that the jar of Dijon mustard was really HORSERADISH mustard (gag), and got the dishwasher going, it was later than I had planned, but there was still plenty of time to jump on the streetcar and make the parade.  So I thought.

Wrong.  Went to open the door, which is always locked, either way, and found there was no key.  Oops.  It WAS there, last night.    Check the purse where I keep the key when I am out.  Not there.  Empty the purse and check again.  Nada. Which could only mean that Bill took my key, as well as his own, to let himself out, locking the door behind him.  I was trapped.

Texted Bill, after figuring out how to text on the unfamiliar phone.  He called back and said he had both keys, but at this point it was too late to make the parade, should he even attempt to come back to the apartment before his class, which seemed silly.

So what to do when locked in?  (jumping down from the second floor, from the terrace didn’t seem ‚bright‘)   I remembered that somewhere in the online article about the parade there was a mention of alternatives if you couldn’t find your way down in person.  Could it be on TV?   Ja!  The television system we have here at the apartment is nothing short of amazing.  Not only are there myriad Austrian channels, but also BBC, WorldCNBC and all-sport channels.  (We are astonished, too, at the world-wide syndication of programming—Germany’s Top Model, Dancing Stars, shopping channels, and so on, in addition to all the programs you’d find on US TV, including Glee, albeit dubbed in German.)  So I started clicking through the channels and finally found the parade – LIVE!

Took some photos with the camera of what I was seeing on television.  All the  images have little lines going through them! .  Does this remind me of the Ed Sullivan Show days or what? (yes I know I am giving away my age, but those were important times!)

So here for your viewing pleasure is the Carnival in Graz. (photos at  bottom of post)    I had planned to get this up on the internet sooner, but when I went to connect, found I could not.  NO  IDEA WHY.  Did the normal thing and shut the computer down and started it again, to no avail.  Looked at all the settings but they looked fine.  Did I mention I was having a bad day?  We also discovered that we left behind the AAA batteries for our computer wireless mice, and now mine is alerting to an 8% battery power left.

Here’s what I have learned from this day.

  1. What I consider a ‚bad‘ day is nowhere near as ‚bad‘ as some people have it in the world. Nowhere near.
  2. When things don’t go ‚right‘ in the way I consider ‚right‘, it’s time to pause and reflect on what it is within myself that is triggering those particular buttons.
  3. It’s time to step out onto the terrace, look out at the bluest sky imaginable, gaze on the beautiful tree rooted so solidly to the earth,  listen to the bird song and breathe, giving thanks for even being alive.

the big tree outside our apartment

This tree is so big, I can’t even fit it all into one shot.  There is probably a reason for that. 🙂

It’s a good thing Ash Wednesday is tomorrow.

Photos via the ORF channel (hope I don’t break any copyright laws, here!)

general view of the parade, thank you ORF TV


this must be the King and Queen of the Carnival


not sure who these folks are but they look 'official' (see medals around the neck of the man)


The crowd is as colorful as the paraders!

Drill Team, one of many entrants whose outfits were coordinated!

The Donuts!

Part of the Polar Express Float

Lots of "para-military" floats

These women not sure...witches? Whatever, they were covered with silly string!

One of the bands


And of course, Brazilian Dancers!

There’s danger in them there woods….

We learned so many interesting things at the Fulbright Orientation in Vienna last week.  One in particular, however, made the hair stand up on the back of our necks and us sit up in rapt attention.

The presenter said, “In a few weeks, you will see giant billboards appearing all over Austria, with the words KILLER TICKS on them.  Take them seriously.”


What he was referring to were two diseases prevalent here in Europe:  Lyme Disease and Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE).  Lyme disease we know about and surely do not want to contract.  Yet, if one fails in prevention and notices the tell-tale red bulls-eye, then at least there are quickly administered antibiotics.

Not so with TBE!  I don’t even want to think about the ramifications, but as the doctor we saw today said, “It is not pretty.”

Of course, it’s not as much a problem if one lives in the middle of Vienna or Graz.  However, remember where we live?  We live in the middle of the woods!  We walk through the woods to get to the streetcar stop.  We love hiking around the woods looking for birds.  Yup, prime candidates we are for this scourge.  According to the Traveler’s Health Yellow Book website some key characteristics are:

Transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick of the Ixodes species, primarily I. ricinus (European subtype) or I. persulcatus (Siberian and Far Eastern subtypes). The virus is maintained in discrete areas of deciduous forest where both the tick vectors and animal hosts (mainly rodents) are found.

The highest incidences are reported in Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Most cases occur during April–November, with peaks in early and late summer when ticks are active.

The incidence and severity of disease are highest in persons >50 years of age.

I can’t begin to tell you how happy all of this made me!  I love nature, but there is one critter that I have never been able to summon  one shred of appreciation, even Darwinian respect, for and that is THE TICK!   Perhaps this has something to do with growing up in the woods of Virginia and regularly picking ticks off self and dogs; or finding seed ticks that had hatched IN OUR HOUSE in Nevada after our dog (who’d never had tick one) had been boarded at a commercial kennel, or knowing several friends who’ve had the unfortunate encounter with Lyme Disease.

Still, there is help here in Austria.  You get vaccinated in advance for the TBE.  And it is so easy!  Merely go into any Apotheka (Pharmacy) and ask for the vaccine over the counter.  That is assuming you can make yourself understood.  Bill tried to pick up the first two doses for us (administered in 3 doses, first two of which we will get) at the corner Apotheka near the University.  He even used the right words, he thought, but the pharmacist looked at him and said “Diabetes?”  Fortunately another customer knew his meaning and helped him out!


the vaccine comes with a little picture of a tick on the box--that's how we knew we had the right stuff!

Then, you can either administer the vaccine yourself, (no way) or you can find a doctor who will administer the vaccine for you!

KEIN PROBLEM!  Fortunately, at the Fulbright Meeting, we were also given an website link to find doctors who speak English here in Austria.  One was on our street car line, at the other end of the city, but easily reached.  I called the office last week, began in German and switched to English to transmit the important details.  Bingo.  Off we went today to see die Ärztin (female doctor, general practitioner) at 10 AM.



ringing in at the doctor's office--the sign says "Arzt"

So, most places you go, as in official offices or buildings, require a ring-in to be able to get in.  We had to ring in three times at different points to reach the Fulbright Office in Vienna and once here for the doctor.   The office waiting room was fairly full, and spartan by US standards.  Just simple wooden chairs, a coat rack and some magazines for browsing.  The reception area was in another room altogether, to insure privacy.  (US medical establishment, take note!)

The receptionists couldn’t have been more helpful.  We tried a little German and they tried a lot of English, and very well at that.  We only waited maybe 5 minutes once seated back in the waiting room, when the call for Familie Woessner (with the real pronunciation of that name!) came ringing out.  We almost missed it!

We went back in…no exam room…and met the doctor in her office, who stood up and shook our hands and we had a good discussion about ticks.  No side effects from the vaccine,  and next time,  she will provide the vaccine which is cheaper at her office.  (Oh my gosh, USA medical community, are you listening?)

Then she gave us the vaccines.  She, herself.  No nurses.  She explained that nurses in Austria are well trained but perhaps not legally able to give shots, so the doctors do it.  We found the whole experience completely painless and so interesting.   We return in two weeks to get round # 2. (we are getting the ‘rapid immunization, as we are just on the cusp of tick emergence here!)  If we can acquire round #3, and have it administered in the US, then we will be protected for about 3 years.


I still plan to watch birds, walk through the woods, and enjoy living in the beautiful Hilmteich.  But forewarned is forearmed.

Now, where is my can of DEET?



stay away, keep out! this means YOU!



Nach das Schloß : of castles and crystals

The Schlossberg or city castle/fortress is the predominant visual point in Graz skyline.  Actually, there are two castles…the inner city castle and the Schloss Eggenberg, at the western edge of the city.  It was the Schlossberg we were heading toward on Saturday and is the feature you see on the banner photo of this blog.

To get there, though, you need to wind your way around the streets of old Graz.  The city dates back to 1128 or 1129 (first mention), achieving walled town status in 1230.  Graz was the imperial residence under Friedrich III in the mid-1400’s, so not only are there examples of Gothic architecture but numerous Renaissance and Baroque structures also.

one of the intersting buildings we passed - note the emblem of Styria above the door

The streets were filled with shoppers, families and street musicians.  Stores were having ‘sidewalk’ sales, winter clothes 1/2 -off!  (unfortunately that didn’t extend to the shoes and shoes are the coolest clothing item I’ve seen in Austria, so far!)

Hammered dulcimer player - I've never seen one busking before!



We found the ‘Good Food Store’ of Graz!  I will probably never be able to find it again!

near as we could tell these are gluten free corn puffs!

Just before we headed up to road to the Schloß, we found another church.  This one was immediately captivating, being an Oases of Quiet!

an oases of quiet

The Stiegenkirche is actually one of the oldest churches in Graz, dating back to 1343.  It’s known chiefly as a church for students.  How very different its interior was from the Stadtpfarrkirche!  And interesting access, up two whole flight of steps!

totally modernistic inside!

with some beautiful old elements preserved

Graz has more courtyards than almost any city in Austria.  Not all of them are accessible.  This one dates back to 1630.


So, finally we find the way up to the Schloß.


it's uphill all the way!

It’s a steep incline all the way up!  And this is the easy route!

layout of the schloß area--it is actually quite forested all the way up and also on top!

It is a beautiful day for a walk!

old gutter system, castle fortifications on right

There are actually apartments on the road up to the Castle!

How would you like to have this address?

Once you get to the top, the views just get better and better.  The castle itself is pretty much gone…only a few elements remain, but now it is a wonderful venue for walking, sunning, eating (2 restaurants) and enjoying the view (through the haze).

view from the castle, looking east. Just left of the middle of the photo, you can see the faraway spires of the Mariatrost church sticking up. That's the general direction of our place!


great place to catch some rays and some zzzz's


"fearless and faithful" (not sure exactly what this refers to....more research needed!)

the clock tower--28 meters high, it strikes the hour with precision, and since 1712. Originally it was a medieval defense tower, slightly remodeled in 1560.

The castle area is multi-level. We're up high looking down on park!

interesting tree in front of remaining bits of the original castle walls

more of the castle walls (brick part added later)

Of course, since we have a hydrogeologist here, we must have this next photo!  The Turkish Well was constructed from 1554-1558.  It’s a 94 meter hand dug well down to the groundwater of the Mur River, in order to be able to provide enough water during prolonged sieges.  The name, given in the 19th century, is said to be because there were Turkish prisoners digging it.

the Turkish Well

Up until 1787, there were four alarm cannons to warn the populace of approaching enemies and fires and housed in the armory of the castle.  They were called the “Four Evangelists”.  Oh dear.  What would Jesus say?

Cannons fell into French hands anyway, in 1809. So much for early warning. These are smaller cannons and ceremonial only. (I hope)

From the very highest point of the castle, the view is truly spectacular.  We’re looking down on the Murinsel, a floating ‘shell’ created by Vito Acconci (N.Y.), which links two sides of the Mur by footbridges.  Inside are a cafe and an amphitheater.


The Murinsel

The Bell Tower is the other really tall structure left of the castle and fort.  It dates back to the 11th century but has undergone some renovations and weathering!


The Bell Tower with St. Thomas Chapel

Graz has a lot of churches and it seems most of them have bells!  They ring at 7 AM, at Noon and at 6 PM—it is a gorgeous sound!



Area once for prisoners, now a concert venue!


Gardens are abundant in the several park areas on the Castle grounds.  Looks like spring is just beginning to arrive!



everywhere, the same!

Water feature alert! The Great Well, actually a Cistern, was built between 1544 and 1547, contains 5 well shafts arranged in a circle and holding 900,000 litres of water.  Rainwater was ducted, filtered and collected by communicating well-shafts.  Today this serves as a stand-by water reservoir for fire-fighters.

The Great Well (Cistern)

The way down is infinitely easier and still beautiful.


Some surprises in the trees.  You know us, you have to know we have our binoculars with us AT ALL TIMES!


a blackbird


Hooded Crow


This is one of the best strollers we’ve seen!  We decided that if this were sold in the US, it’d never fly because the little step for standing on would be deemed too dangerous!


Before we reached the bottom, we came to a tunnel:  enter at your own risk.  We took the risk.  This is a passageway – a shortcut – underneath the castle/fort complex.  Now it houses the little railway one can take up to the top.  (What?? That’s ok, we needed the exercise after the huge Greek lunch we had had!)  It was constructed during World War II and could house up to 50,000 people during air-raids.  15% of the buildings in Graz were damaged or destroyed by bombing…not such a high percentage compared with some cities.  This has to be one of the most unique tunnels ever.  Mozart’s music playing all the way through!!!!


one of the side tunnels for waiting out the bombs

light at the end of the tunnel!

street musician, a harpist

As we emerged from the tunnel, we were greeted by yet another unique street musician, this time a harpist!  The little girl is giving her some money.  As I am snapping away, Bill says, “you are missing the real picture, turn around.”

And here is where we were…and yet another way to get up!

the stairs up to the schloss

And so, we made our way home but not before running into the iconographic Austrian store, Swavorski, maker of fine crystal. This has to be the only store I have ever seen with crystals embedded into the entrance doors!


Crystals absolutely everywhere!  Next time I will go inside!

That’s our day at the Schloss.  More adventures to come, I am sure.  Thanks, as always, for reading!