Salmorejo or one of the best tastes of Andalucia

As we were traveling throughout Andalucia, one of the constant offerings on the tapas menu was Salmorejo, a thick gazpacho originating in the area of Cordoba.  We tasted it our first night in Cordoba but enjoyed it, as well, in Gaucin and Sevilla.  You could use bread to dip into it, or just scoop out all the yummy tomato goodness with a big spoon.

I’ve made Gazpacho before – the kind with chunks of vegetables floating in a suspension of tomato puree — and also creamy ‘white’ gazpachos, made with honey dew melon or cantaloupe.   This is a sort of cross between the two – no obvious vegetables, but a thick puree of tomatoes augmented with delicacies of the region.  In Cordoba, ours was served with chopped garlic and Serrano ham on top, with bread on the side.

When our French friends were visiting I wanted to serve something that might be new for them, and yet easy to prepare (or so I thought) that we could eat for either an appetizer or a small meal.  As it turned out, I have no food processor or blender at our flat here in Graz, so made do with the attachment to the electric hand mixer that seems to work quite well for soft foods but makes a bit of a mess at the same time!

Nevertheless, this recipe was perfect.  I didn’t follow exactly because I am a kind of taste as you go cook.  I’ve put my alterations in parentheses.


ingredients for Salmorejo

Spanish Creamy Cold Tomato Soup Recipe

Salmorejo Cordobes adapted from Lisa and Tony Sierra
website here

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes (plus longer to cool in the refrigerator)

Yield: 4 Servings


* 2 eggs – we’d already had eggs that day so I skipped this part

* 2 oz Serrano ham (substitute prosciutto)

* 1 (8 oz) baguette, stale

* 1 large clove garlic – after tasting, I increased to 3 cloves

* 2 lbs (1 kg) ripe tomatoes (or in a pinch or if without a proper blender/processor, use tomato puree)

* 8 oz (250 ml) extra virgin olive oil  – I used only about 1/4 cup olive oil

* 2 oz (60 ml) red wine vinegar – about 1/4 cup  (more traditional recipes use Spanish sherry; I think I added a tablespoon more)

* salt to taste



Hard boil the eggs. Place in ice cold water to cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cut off hard crust from baguette, then cut into slices approximately 1/2-inch thick. (If your baguette is skinny, like mine was, simply slice the whole thing down the middle and pull out the stale bread with your fingers.  Eat the crusts or save for later crumb-making.)

Pour about a 1/4-inch water into a large glass baking dish. Add bread slices and allow bread to soak for 30 minutes. Squeeze excess water out of slices and place in a blender or food processor. (or in a container that will contain any agitation from a hand blender!)

Peel and mince garlic and place in food processor. (I simply pressed the garlic and added it to the above container.)

Peel tomatoes and remove seeds. Add to the food processor and pour in vinegar. Process. (Because of time and tool constraints, I used mostly already prepared puree and a few tomatoes.)

Slowly pour in oil while processing. Continue to process until smooth. If mixture is too thick, pour in a bit of cold water while processing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve: Dice Serrano ham. (I first precooked the prosciutto in the microwave until it was barely crisp.)

(optional:  Peel and quarter hard boiled eggs.)

Pour soup into four bowls. Sprinkle ham over bowls.

(Add two egg quarters to each bowl.)


we ate every bit!

Spain: Charming Córdoba and La Mezquita

Spring break in Austria consists of almost 3 weeks for University students.  We took not quite a week of that to visit Spain, working around field work for Bill and a visit to us from some French friends over the Easter holiday and scheduled meetings after that.  It took us quite a while to figure out where in Spain we wanted to go, but we finally settled on the south of Spain, Andalucía, drawn by reports of its natural beauty and intrigued with Semana Santa.  We toyed with the idea of spending our entire 6 days on a beautiful  Mediterranean beach but discarded that idea for the lure of history, art, tradition and birds.


Andalucía is in the southernmost part of Spain and is the southernmost part of the Iberian peninsula


Our route took us by air to Sevilla, then immediately to Córdoba by the AVE train, back to Seville where we rented a car and then down to the ‘blanco peublo’ of Gaucín, on to Gibraltar, and then back up to Sevilla for a few days before we returned home.

The abundance and/or particularity of birds we had hoped for didn’t materialize, mostly because the weather was somewhat uncooperative during our time in the natural areas.  Nevertheless, what we did see was a veritable feast for the eyes and the spirit.

We left Graz under cloak of darkness, but it wasn’t dark in the airport where one could purchase duty free items.  You would think with these warnings that there would be less smoking in Europe, but in fact Austria has one of the highest smoking populations of all the EU countries.

cartons in the duty free store in the airport. EU means business but it doesn’t stop anyone!

We arrived in Sevilla in a wave of heat and after collecting our bags, made our way to the bus stop to the Santa Justa train station.  This was probably the most uncomfortable part of the trip.  The bus was crowded with people and bags, no place to sit, no room to move and the bus driver just kept piling people on.  Fortunately, Santa Justa was the first stop.  We had a 2 hour wait in the train station so we passed the time snacking and window shopping in the various stores.

Sevilla Santa Justa train station

Entrance to the AVE (high speed) trains (and maybe all trains) is quite controlled.  Luggage passes through screening, and your passports and tickets are checked twice.  The nice thing about the AVE is that all seats are reserved, even in second class.

waiting for the AVE train in Sevilla

‘beak’ of the AVE train…or is it the tail?



AVE is an acronym of Alta Velocidad Española (or literally high-speed trains) but is also a play on words for the Spanish word for bird, ave, which is the symbol of the train!


This was a case where maybe the 45 minutes between the two cities was too fast…hard to enjoy the scenery with everything zipping by at 300 km/h (186 mph).  Still we could see the beautiful orange orchards which morphed into olive orchards as we approached Córdoba and a quick glimpse of a castle on a hill outside the city.



On Google maps, it looked like our hotel in Córdoba was within walking distance of the Córdoba train station.  I had emailed the hotel before we left, asking for better directions, but never heard a word.   Eventually, we got on a city bus which dropped us ‘not too far’ from the old quarter of Córdoba where we were staying.  ‘Not too far’ is far different when it’s 85 degrees outside.  We finally arrived at our hotel, located in the historic heart of the city, on Plaza de Maimónides, near an early 14th century synagogue and La Mezquita – a home now to a Cathedral built in the middle of Islamic Mosque.   That juxtaposition says it all regarding Córdoba.  In the early middle ages it was one of the biggest and most vibrant cities in Europe and North Africa and a prime example of the ability of Jews, Muslims and Christians to live peacefully side by side.  First a Roman outpost (206 BC), it rose to splendor under the rule of Arabs from North Africa (711-1200). In the 10th and 11th centuries, Córdoba was one of the most advanced cities in the world as well as a great cultural, political, financial and economic center.   It declined as the caliphs became less competent and was captured by King Ferdinand III of Castile in 1296.

We first saw the Mezquita from the outside, in late afternoon, as we walked around the narrow streets of Córdoba, and then again in the moonlight after we emerged from our first Spanish tapas experience. (As is typical with Spain and Italy, things close up around 4 PM but then re-open around 6 or 7 PM for the rest of the evening.)

The Mezquita from the outside in the afternoon

You can see the ancient walls of the mosque (begun in 784, open for prayer 785, completed, more or less, in 793), and behind it, part of the Córdoba Cathedral which was built in the middle of the mosque in 1523, taking some 200 years to complete. The shadow is from the mosque’s minaret, which was mostly consumed for the bell tower of the cathedral.  To be fair, Christians worshiped on this spot in the Church of St. Vincent prior to the Muslim takeover in the 700’s.  In fact, the Abd ar-Raham bought first one half and then the other half of the basilica to erect a mosque on the site.  He paid the Christians well for their property and allowed them to build new churches in other parts of Córdoba.

The old quarter of Córdoba, where we stayed, is full of narrow streets, where lovely courtyards surprise you around each turn.  You are mostly welcome to enter the courtyards to look; in fact there is a competition later in the month for the most beautiful one!

narrow streets

one of many courtyards or patios in Córdoba













We also found stores and bodegas (wineries) displaying famous Serrano ham (the same ham sells for 200-300 Euros in the duty free shops!).

After walking through many streets, we finally settled on tapas in the courtyard of a small restaurant or taberna.  Never mind that we were the first people there – at 8 PM, we could wait no longer!  We were given the ‘best table in house’ by the fountain, we are certain, to encourage others to enter.  That they did.  We settled for the tapas of Córdoban gazpacho (Salmorejo), aubergines (eggplant) in honey, calamari, fish, oxtail, and desert all accompanied by half-bottles each of red and white wine and bubbly agua minerale.

the little tapas restuarant we ate in both nights in Cordoba

tapas from another night at the same taberna

Counter-clockwise from about 10 o’clock:  meat, meat, quiche, fried aubergines with honey, fish, anchovies, mussels, squid, lemon, manchego cheese, and in the middle Salmorejo and vegetable croquettes. So good!

Canaries Lolo and Pepe sang at our tapas restaurant in Cordoba. This is Lolo.

Afterwards we strolled through the streets to our hotel.  The Mezquita was lovely in the moonlight.

Mezquita in moonlight


Our first look into the Mezquita would need to wait until the morning.

One of the great pleasures in Spain is enjoying freshly squeezed juice from those luscious orange trees.  We ate our meal in a little cafe right across from La Mezquita.  Although the sign said “abren a las 7:30, the proprietor didn’t open until almost 8.  No matter, the food was delicious and the coffee, well, Turkish coffee.

great breakfast – croissant, café and freshly squeezed juice

The mosque/cathedral is open – and free –  from 8:30 – 10:00 for individuals only, so one is free to explore this wonder in relative silence.  I was wholly unprepared for what happened when we walked in.


Celtic spirituality speaks about thin places – those places in space or in time where the distance between what we call ‘heaven’ and the ‘normal’ human existence is diminished.  Thomas Merton believed, as do I, that the gates of heaven are present in each moment, only we don’t see them, so distracted or blind are we.

When we entered the Mezquita, that felt like one of those thin places.   Awe and wonder ascended as my tears descended.  It was completely overwhelming, in the best way. (Another surprise.)    Beauty, symmetry, spaciousness and a kind of  light surrounded us.  People moved quietly and respectfully, as they danced around one another.  The only sound, really, was the clicking of shutters and the softness of footfall.

the arches and columns recall palm trees in the desert

interlocking arches give the mosque its structural support and its beauty


it appears to go on forever

The 856 columns (originally 1,013) supported a timbered roof and were mostly constructed of materials plundered/recycled from Roman ruins.  There are very few the same.  The newer part of the mosque has more uniform columns and less interesting architecture. The mosque was at its zenith 104 meters long.

timbered roof with colored glass

the Mihrab, the symbolic doorway leading to heaven

to which your eye is drawn

scallop shell symbolism with Arabic calligraphy

scallop shell symbolism with Arabic calligraphy below

close up of calligraphy

ribbed and vaulted ceiling, added later by Al Hakan in 961

other vaulted dome of the mosque (there are 3)

So, into the middle and around the outer edges of this beautiful work of art from three separate architects, was inserted a cathedral.  King Carlos I gave permission (against the wishes of Córdoba’s city council) for the center of the Mezquita to be ripped out to allow construction of the Capilla Mayor (the altar area of the cathedral) and the coro (choir).  According to various accounts, the king regretted his decision and said, after visiting the results, “You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that ws unique in the world.”  The marble and jasper rettable (behind the altar)(17th c) and the carved wood choir stalls from the 18th c. – albeit beuatiful and elegant- seem dark and heavy compared with the exquisite lightness of the mosque.

altar of the capilla mayor in the Mezquita cathedral

choir of the capilla mayor in the Mezquita cathedral

cleaning day in preparation for Palm Sunday

detail of choir seats

detail of the pulpit at the Cathedral

At this point, may I direct you to a wonderful piece of writing and speaking by my good friend and former neighbor, Gary Hawk.  Gary and his wife Joyce took a walking trip of Andalucía several years ago, and Gary preached a sermon in our church around Psalm 19 using this image as one expository point. You can find the sermon, which contains a great deal of history about the mosque/cathedral HERE. When you get to the page, select Gary W. Hawk as speaker and find the sermon “Between The Pulpit and the Bull”.

The cathedral also inserted a number of smaller chapels all around the outside edges of the mosque, as if to reinforce the supremacy of Christianity at that time.

one of the chapels in the cathedral

A moment of beauty prevailed, though, when the priests began to chant from the choir prior to the beginning of the morning mass.

priests chanting prior to mass

I closed my eyes and imagined also the Iman’s call to prayer, the Rabbi’s or Cantor’s chant of the Sh’ma.

“Life is this simple.  We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story.  It is true.  If we abandon ourselves to God, and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently.  The only thing is that we don’t see it.”  … “Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand.  It is wide open.  The sword is taken away…..” – Thomas Merton

Click on the image below to open the movie.

From Spain 2011

As preparations for Palm Sunday began in earnest, we were ushered out of the Mezquita to allow for paying groups to enter.

getting ready for Palm Sunday at Mezquita

More wondrous sights awaited in Córdoba.

Thank you, as always, for reading.  Hasta mañana.


Pummerins, Prancers and Palaces. (Palaces)

So now we come to the third in the trilogy of Vienna:  Palaces.  Vienna is chock full of them.  There are the Imperial Palaces where one can see the jewels and crowns of the Holy Roman Emperors, plus the apartments where the royals lived; and there is Schönbrunn, the ‘country’ palace and grounds which, like so many monuments in Vienna, has morphed from early medieval use to depredation by invaders to lavish restoration by the Hapsburgs.

In truth, Schönbrunn was little more than a hunting lodge and grounds for the earlier Hapsburgs until the time of Emperor Charles VI who gave it to his daughter, Maria Theresia, after which it really took off!

Because of the beautiful gardens, the beautiful day as well as the beautiful rooms, we chose to tour Schönbrunn and were not disappointed!  Because photos inside are prohibited you will have to visit HERE if you would like to see what we saw. There are some very good virtual tours at this site.

Schönbrunn Palace, in the high baroque style, is so immense, it is hard to fit it all in the camera’s view!


the palace from the back or garden side

As you walk out the ‘back door’ so to speak, you are greeted by gardens on either side, an immense statue called Neptune’s statue, and a huge edifice on a hill, the Gloriette, which was used as a sort of secondary dining room for the royals and their guests.  Some kind of almost al fresco dining!


The Gloriette beckons!

Unfortunately, it was just a little too early for the amazing plantings that happen in the gardens at Schönbrunn but we could get a sense of how lovely they might be at the height of summer.



the gardens await!

Everyone was very busy preparing for the summer season.  Even the statues were getting a cleaning from the winter grime (and moss, no doubt)!  This would be a lot of fun on a summer’s day but this day it was really windy, probably not too much ‘fun’ for the hose man!


washing off Neptune and 'friends'


You can get a sense of the layout of the gardens better from (almost) the top of the hill.


looking back at the palace and gardens at Schoenbrunn

There was a reflecting pool with mergansers landing amid other ducks.  Next time we’ll carry our compact binoculars so we can make the definitive identification!



reflecting pool with ducks, joggers, sitters

Also a really great view of Vienna!

We were more than fascinated by the Gloriette, with it’s massive columns and faceless statues.


It echoes perfectly the main palace that sits opposite.  Not a mistake!



'faceless' statue signaling the strength of the Austrian Empire

Austrian water is VERY good and safe to drink….something the Austrians are rightly proud of!


water fountain at the Gloriette

We were delighted to discover that the al fresco dining room of the Hapsburgs has been replaced by a working cafe.  The prices were a little steep but nice to get in out of the wind and enjoy some schokolade!  As with any caffeinated beverage, it is always served with a glass of water and a small spoon for eating up that yummy schlogoobers or whipped cream.




Vienna is famous for the elegance and hospitality of its coffee houses, which I hope to visit more on an upcoming trip.   Evidently Starbucks has tried to open a place or two there without much success.  The Viennese just don’t get drinking coffee from a paper cup and while on the go.  I think the Viennese know a thing or two. 🙂

Behind and beside the Gloriette, there are miles of more gardens and paths, and the Schönbrunn Zoo, one of the first in Europe.  We took a wooded path down and soon found ourselves being stalked by a two footed ‘friend’.



It's a Mandarin Duck, an introduced species, with some breeding pairs on the grounds!

The literature mentioned a Roman ruins, and we thought that would be interesting.   We could see what looked like a ruins from the top.



what looks like 'ruins'....

Alas, with their fondness for antiquity, the architects of the palace had created a Roman Ruins for the entertainment of the royals and their guests.  It did look a bit staged!!!!


Roman "ruins"

Some not so fake beauty lay in the grounds themselves.  Spring just arriving and all that!


spring arrives in the woods around Schoenbrunn

The squirrels were active, and much different looking than the ones we have in Montana!


hello. I am not the Easter Bunny!


We got some great views of a very common bird around Austria.  This one is MY photo! (unlike the previous photo which I had to borrow!)


Great tit in spring plumage

And some interesting flowers which I can’t find the name for in our Blumen book.  Oh well.  Not everything must be named to be enjoyed!


cool wild flowers


Until next time, thanks for reading!  Auf wiedersehen!

Pummerins, Prancers and Palaces. (Prancers)

Our last few days in Vienna were devoted purely to sightseeing.   Bill’s birthday wish was to see the Spanish Riding School again, this time in performance.   OK!  Since I grew up riding, anything with horses is fine with me!

The performance isn’t that much different than the practice session we saw, except it is narrated in German and in English, which is helpful in explaining all the exquisite moves these horses do.  I was able to surreptitiously sneak a few photos before the attendant spotted me and asked me to stop.  (not sure why they didn’t get the guy down the way who was taking FLASH photography… perhaps it has something to do with the overpriced videos they sell in the shop!)



the stables for the Spanish Riding School

one of the stallions


The stables are very clean, and simple.  I’ve seen fancier stalls in Kentucky.  What is amazing is how calm these stallions are…considering they are all stallions!


our view of the hall - great seats!

One of the main differences in the Practice Session and the Performance (besides the huge difference in cost!) is that the track is completely groomed, and attended to during the performance if, say, one of the stallions needs to use the facilities, which they did, much to the delight of the little girls watching!  They must not be from the country!



little girls (most) always love horses, even when the horses poop!

The riders enter in a line and remove and replace their hats to the painting of the royalty opposite from where we sat, all in slow motion.



entering the hall

The horses perform in groups of six, beginning with the youngest stallions, who are about 6 years old, and who are still changing from the black they are born as foals to shades of grey to the full white coat of mature stallions.


they moved in various formations

A lot is made of the airs above the ground moves the horses do, both on long line and with a stirrup-less rider (I never would be able to do that!), but I found the passage (a movement done at the trot, in which the horse has great elevation of stride and seems to pause between putting down its feet –it has a great amount of suspension in the stride) and the quadrilles (a choreographed horse ballet) done at the half-pass or diagonal to be the most interesting to watch!

All in all, a great time!  Piber, the stud farm where the horses are bred, is close to Graz and opened for visitors mid-April, so that will be our next trip concerning horses!



Pummerins, Prancers and Palaces. (Pummerins)

Once we got settled in our hotel in Vienna (the afternoon of April 6), no small feat in itself (another story), we were able to relax a little and start to enjoy all that is Vienna.  Our hotel was right off the Grauben, Vienna’s big shopping street.  It’s a wide pedestrian walkway (except for the early morning delivery hours and then watch out!), and with the warm weather Austria has been having it was packed!  Or maybe it is always that way.  Lots of tourists, lots of regular Viennese, all milling about.

One of the charms of the street are the buskers.  We saw everything from classical musicians to very bad break dancing.  Definitely NOT candidates for So You Think You Can Dance!   This group, however caught our fancy.  Have a listen and see what you think!

From Graz-April 6 2011-to Vienna = train accident and requiem

They were certainly lively and collected a lot of coins!

Many of the people on the Grauben were headed to Stephansdom, and after dinner, so were we!  I’ve already posted (Remember) about the Kentucky High School singers who performed the Mozart Requiem.  The next day, we were able to spend some time in this remarkable cathedral.

Stephansdom dates back to 1147, when the first Romanesque church was erected on-site.  Like most of the churches in Austria (and other parts of Europe) the  building has been added to and reconstructed over the years.  Probably the most famous parts of St. Stephans are the towers, emulated by nearly every church in Austria.  The south tower was finished in 1433 but the north tower languished and finally, with the great Gothic period over, was capped off at 223 ft, or half the height of the south tower in 1578.  The entire structure burned after it was ignited by sparks from a WWII bomb, and the bell, the roof and many main features of the church were destroyed or damaged.  Nevertheless, all of Austria pitched in to rebuild, and it looks like the rebuilding goes on even today!


twin towers or pagan towers - oldest part of Stephansdom


Stephansdom-north tower with its cap

Stephansdom - under construction, again!

We took the elevator ride up to the North Tower, the South Tower being closed (and who wanted to walk 325 steps, anyway?)  There were great views of Vienna, the roof, the street and the Pummerin Bell. The Pummerin (Boomer) officially  is named for St. Mary. Pummerin weights 21,383 kilograms (44,380 pounds). It is the second largest swinging bell in Europe (the biggest one is Peter in Cologne Cathedral).  It only rings on special occasions–we thought it would be ‘fun’ to hear it when we were standing right there.


view from north tower stephansdom

looking down from stephansdom

bicycles for rent, at stephansdom


the south tower over the roof - stephansdom

Pummerin (boomer) Bell in north tower- stephansdom

Bill had to leave mid-morning for his meeting, but I rented one of the audio-tours and was able to access other parts of the cathedral off-limits to people NOT taking the tour.  What is hard to remember is that this, first of all, is a place of worship.  At the same time that individuals and groups were touring, another group was making a film, construction workers were hauling cinder-blocks up to the construction site, and church vestry members were getting ready for the next worship service at Noon, people were lighting candles and praying.  I did my own kind of praying as I considered the exquisite skill that went into carving the pulpit or craft the magnificent pillars, windows and paintings of this church.



candlelighter at stephansdom


construction in stephansdom


one of the chapels open for prayer



pulpit stephansdom

Like so much of the building, the pulpit is replete with symbolism.  The wheels on the stairway roll up or down from heaven, depending on which way you are going.  The church fathers sit on the foundation, giving gravity and substance to the priest’s words, the little dog at the top guards against any ill-conceived thought or sin that happens to make its way to the top. Best of all, though, is the artist of the pulpit who designed himself into it!


wheels turning upward to heaven or back again on pulpit at stephansdom


church fathers and evangelists on pulpit

dog to guard against sins of priest ascending the pulpit at stephansdom

self portrait of artist of pulpit - stephansdom



Prince Eugeny’s Chapel and grave – stephansdom

Mozart funeral mass was held in the Prince Eugeny Chapel.



one of the windows in the transept of the church

The oldest glass is up by the high altar, and was incorporated when the windows were redone after the war.


oldest glass in the church - window to right of high altar - Stephansdom


The old organ (as of the 1950’s) is no longer used at the Stephansdom.


older organ in stephansdom

Instead a newer organ, built during Pope John 23rd’s reforms, is used.


newest organ - stephansdom


font of baptism in chapel at stephansdom – evangelists at bottom, saints around the top


By 11:30, it was time to say goodbye to St. Stephans, as Mass would be starting soon, anyway.  More about Vienna, in future posts!

Nature walk

We were enjoying a quiet evening in the flat last Friday, April 1.  The long work week, replete with talks and classes, was giving way to expectation of wandering the Styrian hills and maybe a trip to Eggenberg Scholss, a large palace complex at the end of Tram Line 1.  Saturday was supposed to be in the high 70’s and we were looking forward to walking around, even without seeing all the flowers that would undoubtedly be planted there if we went later in the season.  But first, time to sleep.

Then the phone rang! (10:00 PM)   It was Sebastian, our birding friend, and ‘did we want to go out birding on Sunday?  He would be leading a BirdLife Austria group and we were invited.  (to be fair to Sebastian, he didn’t think we would have our handys turned on that late at night!)   Then he called back a few minutes later asking if we wanted to go on Saturday as well, if he could reach his birding friend with the car to order to check his schedule.  Then, another call, saying he could not reach him and so Sunday it was.  And so we went to bed, thinking we’d do a few errands on Saturday (remember stores are not open at all on Sunday), and maybe visit the Schloss.

The next morning, awakened by the melodies of birds and the sun already calling ‘get up’ we were actually birding from the bed!  Our apartment windows are at about the same height as the trees surrounding it, so it makes for easy and compelling observation.  It was 7 AM and the phone rang.

Sebastian again, saying he had reached his friend with the car and did we want to go out TODAY?  Could we be ready in ½ hour?  Bill was saying ‘of course’ as I was without coffee mumbling incoherently throwing on clothes.  We inhaled quite possibly the best morning breads we’ve had in Austria, gulped yesterday’s coffee, assembled some sandwiches, and got ourselves downstairs on time.   Whew.

Waiting for us were Sebastian and Wilfried.  Wilfried is the Chair of BirdLife Styria (partnered with Audubon in the US) and also a botany professor at KFU.  How do we keep meeting just the folks who can answer so many of our questions?



Wilfried, Sebastian and Jean 'on the road'

The day’s birding was simply terrific, from the Lapwings nesting in the fields at the Graz Flughafen (seems like a precarious existence to me!) and pheasants, to crested Grebes, Green and Wood Sandpipers, and a variety of ducks on small ponds in the area.


lapwing on nest at the airport


Lapwings are very cool birds.  Both genders are striking in appearance, but the males especially, with their mohawk hair-style feather-style, and funny, floppy wings.  We saw many doing a display flight.   Here is a female sitting on the nest (digiscoped, must improve technique!)



closeup lapwing on nest

The day was simply gorgeous.  We’ve come to almost expect that in Styria.  It seems to rain a bit, just enough to perk up more flowers and nudge more tree leaves into showing up, and then it’s sunny and warm.  The typical haze was gone and we could see snowcapped mountains in the not too far distance.  What you can’t ‘see’ however is the lovely aroma from the farm fields.  Hey, it’s spring and time to fertilize, naturlich, for growing all those pumpkins and corn!  Naturlich means cow, pig and worst-smelling of all, chicken manure!


ein schöner Tag

We crisscrossed the valleys surrounding Graz, going west, then south, then east, looking in fields, by streams and in woods, with us collecting new birds the way children collect stones at the edge of a lake. Our list ‘pockets’ were filling up!

The highlight, though, had to be watching the swans.  These were mute swans. We have them also in the US but they are introduced birds, often seen in city parks.  These swans are in their native habitat, which maybe makes them feistier.   So you’re probably thinking of some stately and peaceful creature, gliding along on the water’s surface as if on ice.


mute swan on pond, deceptively 'serene'

Resplendent in their breeding plumage their behavior is anything but serene.  I have never heard such a racket nor seen such a fight!  At one pond we witnessed a territorial dispute between two cobs.


'just visiting' swan hopes to stay on pond


not if this one has anything to say about it!


It’s a small pond and, sorry, there is only room for one pair.  The male whose mate was nesting at one end repeatedly attacked another pair until they finally got the message and left.


fight between two swan cobs


Unfortunately that piece of grass decided to move right in front of the camera at the wrong moment!  But there were feathers everywhere!

It was pretty exciting!

Click on the photo below to see the swan action and hear the amazing sound of the wings!


Along the way, we saw frogs, toads, and eggs of the same.  Also some very strong beetles moving a squashed toad!  And you thought ants were the musclemen/women of the insect world!


frog or toad eggs in pond



beetles on/under dead toad

More flowers, and yes, even some snipes!


lily (rare) in woods near Kirchberg ponds


yellow wildflower


this one is nick-named 'hansel und gretl' - it changes from blue to pink


white bell shaped flower. need to find the name!

To scare up snipes, Sebastian donned big rubber boots and mucked along through the swamp!


Sebastian mucking about, flushing snipes. It worked! We saw 7!

It was a lovely day for a stroll through the woods.


the guys strolling; me, checking out those wildflowers!

We never DID get to Eggengberg Castle but maybe in May, we can arrange it!

We’ll be traveling now for the next few weeks – Vienna, Spain, Salzburg, Altenpostmarkt, Vienna, and Budapest.  I am almost worn out just thinking about it!

Vielen Dank, as always, for reading and for your comments!



We are in the middle of Lent, that particular time of the Christian year especially given to insightful self-reflection, spiritual discipline, and preparation for the celebration of resurrection. Personally, I believe this kind of work should be our practice every day, for each moment presents the opportunity to accept our death, to die to our self-absorption, and to observe and honor the life that is unfolding before us.  Some begin the Lenten period with the imposition of ashes and hear, “Remember, O mortal, that thou art dust and to dust thou shall return.”  Never in one day have I been reminded so profoundly of the truth of these words.

Wednesday morning, April 6, dawned, and with it the trip to Vienna for the meeting of the European Geological Union, where Bill would give a paper.  We made our way to the tram and then to the underground passageway,  lined with small shops and eating places, leading to the Hauptbahnhof in Graz.

Almost immediately we came upon a group of polizei standing near a body –  a man stretched out in front of one of the shops.  He was dead.  It was so startling and unexpected, and very hard to shake.  I don’t think we are meant to shake off things like this.

After buying our ticket we proceeded to the platform to await the train, a small conveyance – engine and 4 cars – one of the many that travel from Graz and point south to Vienna each day.  Occupying the platform with us was a man, obviously agitated, talking to himself.  We could understand nothing of his speech but the body language was clear.  He waited until one train pulled out and then jumped down and over the tracks to the platform on the opposite side, something I think is strictly verboten.  Soon he returned and leapt across the tracks to our side once again. His agitation increased, he confronted several people standing near us, wagging his middle finger in their faces.  Suddenly, he jumped back down into the track well, just as our train was starting to come in!  He seemed oblivious to this peril.  A woman stepped up and yanked  him out of the well. Yet again he started to turn  into the path of the train.  Another man came forward and pulled him back, motioning to the train which had now arrived.  I wonder what happened to him, after that.  Was he on some substance that made him crazy?  Was he mentally ill?  Was he trying to end his life?  Was he just unaware, as we all are, sometimes, unaware?

We boarded the train.

All was proceeding normally.  We passed through villages and towns whose names had grown familiar to us in our one and a half months residence in Austria.  Looking out the windows we could see the meadows in bright green attire signaling the freshness of the season.  Angling up the hillsides, furrows of dirt, newly turned, awaited seeding, or maybe already held the beginnings of next fall’s pumpkin seed oil or corn.


Spring arriving on the hillsides

We had passed the town of Kapfenberg, and later, the ski area in the mountains with skiers eking out the last turns on rapidly disappearing  fields of white.  We entered a section of forest where one could see both the fresh tips of pine trees and wildflowers emerging.  Who would have thought that these dense woods, so still and yet so bursting with the promise of new life after the winter, would be the scene of something so disastrous?


the woods near Wiener Neustadt

Not too far from the town of Wiener Neustadt the train gave a long whistle and then there was the sound of something impacting the train.  It sounded like stones.

At first we thought there had been a rock slide, but there are no mountains adjacent and no where from rocks to appear.  The train came almost immediately to a stop and over the loudspeaker, an announcement, most of which we could not understand, but we did hear the word gescholssen, which meant closed.  And we were not to get off the train.

The conductor – a young woman – and the concessionaire – a young man – disembarked and began walking the length of the train.  A man who had been riding his bike on the dirt road next to the tracks turned around.  Phone calls were made and soon there appeared an ambulance.  Soon after that, several police cars, and an ÖBB train inspector.  Then a fire truck drove up.  There was much interviewing going on of both the bicyclist and the train engineer.   Intermittently the conductor came back on the loudspeaker to tell us the tracks were still closed, and finally that we would be here at least another hour.  The ambulance left, but was replaced by two other medical personnel.  Next, a photographer and another official donned protective blue gloves and began walking past us to the end of the train.  Finally, two men in a hearse arrived.  All the while the passengers stood or sat peering out the windows, silent for the most part.   What was only a guess early on became clearer as events unfolded:  the train had hit a human being.

It was a horrible moment, that realization.    Several  people wept.   Those on the train reached out to one another in gesture and in words.  Remember, O mortal…

Later we found out that Ernst Weber was the football (i.e. soccer) team manager of the women’s national team and of ÖFB junior selections.  He was, as the newspapers report, 62 years in life. In life.    He is survived by his wife Gabi and a son.  His colleagues said “Ernst Weber was a good coach. But above all, Weber was a uniquely helpful and lovely person.”

Remember O mortal, that dust thou art and to dust thou shall return.  Remember, how fragile is this life and how beautiful a gift. Remember to perceive and honor it with each step, each gaze, each breath.

That night, we went to the Stephansdom, Vienna’s great medieval monument and cathedral, which itself has seen many rebirths through the years.



To approximately one thousand people gathered there, a choir from the Louisville Kentucky Performing Arts High School sang the Mozart Requiem.  They sang for Ernst, for the man in the passageway, for the man on the platform, for those caught in wars and violence not of their own making, for all of us who mourn, for all of us who have or will eventually die, for all of us to remember the preciousness of life.


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis care veniet.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them.
You are praised, God, in Zion,
and homage will be paid to You in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer,
to You all flesh will come.
Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them.


Click on photo to open the video.

From Graz-April 6 2011-to Vienna = train accident and requiem

March(ing) into April

Spring is in full swing here in Graz.  The woodland flowers are blooming all around us; in the major plazas, tulips and crocus and other bulb-driven plants are appearing as if overnight (actually, they are –planted by gardening crews each spring, not springing forth from their winter sleep!); daffodils adorn private yards and maybe best of all, forsythia is turning on the lights in a significant show of flaming yellow!  I love forsythia – it was my Mom’s favorite spring flower and we had a wild and crazy plant out in our front yard when I was growing up in Virginia.

I am watching the forsythia in our front yard here in Graz – it’s a little ‘behind’ because it’s higher up, I guess, and I will post a photo when it’s ‘ready’. Meanwhile, this is what Jakominiplatz in central Graz looks like now:

flowers in Jakominiplatz

Last week was a quiet week – no major concerts or events, except for Bill’s talk in the Seminar Series his department at KFU/TU sponsors.   It was one of the first really warm spring abends (the late afternoon time) and students were enjoying the out of doors, a sight you would see on any university campus!

students relaxing on warm Spring day - KFU Graz


The talk went great, held in an old lecture hall in one of the buildings at KFU.  With each footfall on the worn marble steps I wondered about the history of the hall and of the students and faculty who walked here so long ago.   The university itself dates back to 1585, founded by Archduke Karl II of Inner Austria.  After some permutations, (including a stint as a lycee and a  medical school) it was reopened in 1827 by Emperor Franz I.  The main (old) buildings that exist on campus today were inaugurated in 1895.  Bill’s office is NOT in one of the old buildings.

Institute of Earth Sciences Building at KFU - old water well in foreground

The University hit a low point in 1938, when 17 percent of the teachers, the Nobel Prize winners Otto Loewi, Viktor Hess and Erwin Schrödinger among them, as well as almost two thirds of the students were ousted and expelled for “racist”, religious or political reasons.  Nearly 27,000 students are enrolled today.

The talk went well, attended by about 60 people – students, faculty, the deans of the two programs that are jointly sponsoring this Fulbright appointment.  The hall itself was old also:  long wooden benches arranged in rows, with a place to write in front.  Everything wooden! If not, how else would (no pun intended) we be able to knock on the ‘desk’ tops when the lecture was over?  (No applause in Austrian classrooms; if the students liked the lecture or class, they knock on the table or desk tops as a sign of their respect!)

Lecture Hall where Bill gave his talk - March 29 2011

I certainly knew I was in a science classroom, though!


Bill has some great colleagues here.  One of them is originally from California and is married to an Austrian woman.

Bill with colleague from his department

After the talk, there were lovely refreshments!  Out came a huge variety of Brötchen (a slice of bread topped with cheese, egg, different cuts of meat including sliced blood sausage, salami, fish, vegetables), local wines from east of Graz (white from just east and red from Burgenland, which borders Hungary), several kinds of beer, and juices to be mixed with water (your choice of stille or mit gas).  It was a great opportunity to meet some of the faculty, and some of the spouses as well.

after the talk - the refreshments


Graz is a lovely place to walk and we spent an evening  last week,  just walking around downtown, after bopping into Moser Buchhandlung to purchase, believe it or not, a Spanish-English dictionary.  There were choices in nearly every major language of the world, and only ONE Sp-En dictionary.  We got the last one!  As we walked we noticed that now all the restaurants and cafes have their platztischen (plaza tables) out, and the strolling musicians are there to accompany diners.

We passed the maroni stand,   (John, this one is for you!)

maroni (chestnuts) - about the size of a shooter marble or just a little larger

and the Dom, where the sun was glinting off the angel’s ‘crown’,

Graz Dom - angels in sunlight

and in one of the many courtyards, found the center for the Styrian government (Graz being the seat of Steinmark or Styria).


inner courtyard - Styria government offices

Outside, in a tree, another sure sing of spring!



The weather was so warm on Saturday that we made for our favorite local restaurant Hausrl im Wald, aiming for dinner on the patio.

on the patio at Hausrl im Wald

the 'chestnut' tree


This is a chestnut tree, but we think its a HORSE chestnut and not a true chestnut from which the maroni come.  Its buds signal flowers appearing soon and the arrangement of the branches looks very much like the horse chestnut in our neighbor’s yard at home.

ready to burst forth!

this is the bark


We inhaled enjoyed our dinner,  mostly because we had not eaten since 7:00 AM due to an unexpected trip out of town!

More on that to come!

Thanks for reading!