Back in School

As an educator, I had hoped to be able to see for myself the differences in the Austrian and N. American school systems.  There are some differences.  The day for the Austrian children begins at about 7:45 am and is over by 12:30 pm.  Kindergarten is not public.  Childcare and extra classes (like English) are offered after school but these are fee-based programs.  There are other differences as well, most notably that children enter the ‘high school’ or gymnasium at about age 11, provided they have the test-derived aptitude, and proceed after that to university (which is free for all Austrians!) after graduating at age 18.  At university, one can attend classes or not;  one merely has to pass the test at the end of the class to receive credit but there is NO time limit in which to do so. (well, in Bill’s class at Uni-Graz, there is a time limit, because we won’t be here after the June 30th end to classes.)   Children not passing the end of primary school tests can proceed to a Volkschule where they can learn technical trades and skills (electricians, hotel industry, etc.).


At the primary school level where my friend Christina is a teacher, in Nestlebach-bei-Graz,  the teachers stay with the same group of children for the entire time they are in the school.  She’s had this group of 8 and 9 year-olds since they began at age 6 and will have them for 2 more years.  It’s a small school (maybe 120 students) and the relationships between children and teachers, and teachers and families are close.


In so many way, though, the schools are the same.  (I did notice how unfailingly polite these children were and the respect they had for each other.)  There are many academic levels represented, even within the same class, and, of course, the helpful ones, the ones that need to be close to the teacher, the ones who are strongly independent, the ones who have that certain ‘spark’ in their eye  –  great intelligence and perhaps also ein bisschien mischief mixed in.


I was fortunate to spend two days in Christina’s classroom.  The first visit, we sat in a circle and I taught them English songs.  We sang some of the same songs we sing in my classroom.  They sang back to me some Austrian songs, one with the SAME tune as in the USA, and some beautiful folk songs in harmony, and as a canon.  Christina uses a guitar in her classroom and leads the School Choir.  I watched the group, with the Headmistress of the school, practice a folk dance they would do in a Folk Festival for parents later that month.   Children recited poetry for the class, and presented research projects on squirrels and on the skeletal system.   I was impressed with the level of scholarship, even though I could understand only a few words.  (This is when one realizes the importance of visuals!)   As you can see the classroom is rather typical, with children’s work hanging up and around on the walls.  Compared to many classrooms in the US, the computers are old…..but this is a small school in the ‘countryside’, so perhaps technology is not as easily obtained, at least financially.



Christina's classroom, my project, their project, the playground in back, complete with stream!


I attended the folk festival, with performances from all the classes, on a late Friday afternoon.  Among the similarities of proud parents, lots of cameras, squirmy brothers and sisters I have these two comments:  1) I doubt you’d ever see a school in Missoula holding an event on a Friday afternoon and 2) at the party afterwards, you’d never have beer and wine served!



Children sing and dance; presentation to a descendant of the Hapsburg family!

Listen to one of the songs at the Festival  here.


The second visit included a presentation by me about Montana – I brought in a ‘poster’ and also made a slide show.  But the main part of the day was a field trip to a woods about a half-hour away from the school.  These children who live in Nestlebach-bei-Graz need no introduction to the woods.  They live surrounded by them, at home and at school.  But it was fascinating to see the ‘nature education’ provided that day:  everything from wood economics (logging, hunting) and identification of animals and plants to team building games and skills.   We arrived on a large, and comfortable bus (for Missoulians reading, think ‘beachliner’).  The children on the bus did what children do everywhere – they chatted and laughed and pulled out their electronic devices:  ipods, smartphones, and handys (regular cell phones).  Once in the woods, they were attentive and engaged.   These woods are mixed – deciduous beech and oak, coniferous fir and spruce.  They are quite hilly and at the last station we came to a cliff with a rope to hang onto while we descended and OMG, am I going to have to go down THAT? descended a ravine (by rope)   to a creek where there was a rope bridge.  I did the descent by rope but opted to jump the stream in order to take pictures while the kids came across.


on the bus, bus backing up, arriving at the woods



looking back from the woods; orientation, learning about forestry practices


learning about wild forest animals



dogs are used for hunting!



time for snacks, a juice stand in the woods, plant identification



the living bridge


picking berries and eyeing beetles



climbing down the ravine and over the creek



After that, we returned to by bus to the school. I was glad we didn’t run into any other busses on the narrow road out.  On our trip to the woods, we met another large bus which had to back all the way up the hill to let us pass!


The hills this day were certainly alive, with the sound of children!











Gibraltar: The Rock!

The traffic getting into La Linea (Spain) was as bad as predicted: Long lines of cars and gridlock before we could split off to find underground parking in La Linea near the McDonalds.  Once we parked, it was a long walk to one customs station and then a short hike across the airport runway (it must be the only runway in the world with a traffic light!) and past another customs station, and then into downtown Gibraltar.


our first look at Gibraltar

the airport runway of Gibraltar

crossing the runway

What a transformation from Spanish to British culture!


the familiar British phone box! I know - completely dorky pose!

Gibraltar, as all of Europe, has a long history of occupation by different groups (Neanderthals, Visgoths, Moors, the Hapsburgs, Spanish, British).  Its strategic location at the mouth of the Mediterranean has been very important for the Brisith since the early 18th century.


early fortification on Gibraltar

modern day police action in Gibraltar

The Brits have managed to hang on to it, but not without some protest from Spain.  We grabbed lunch, in pounds, at a fish and chips restaurant, which seemed only appropriate, and headed toward the cable car which could take us to the top.

The weather continued to hold but looked threatening.  We were getting close still had a ways to go, when we bumped into a tour van selling seats for the ride up, stops at 4 destinations, and the ride down – 20 euros.  As we glanced at the gathering clouds it seemed like a good idea.  So we abandoned our idea of the cable car up and the 4 hour hike down and jumped in!  We had great views, (Morocco somewhere over there through the fog!)…..

we saw nearly everything we could (including the aggressive monkeys and Barbary apes),


the caves on Gibraltar

(Can you believe people actually let the monkeys climb on their children’s heads! )

why is this child smiling????

(On the other hand, maybe this an idea for a new ‘hat’ style!)


(Others preferred giving the monkey/ape “the High 5”!)


High-5's all around. Monkeys are paid in farfelli pasta!

and most important, we stayed out of the absolute deluge that began soon after the first stop.


Other highlights of the tour included:


tunnels left over from the Great Siege in the 18th century


The early miners were suffocating so made windows to be able to breathe.


Which they soon realized were perfect for cannons!

There is still a large military presence on Gibraltar.   But maybe they are not so busy anymore, or they stay in good shape by playing football (soccer).  We counted no less than 4 soccer fields!

The commercial airplanes take off between stoppage of traffic between La Linea and Gibraltar and also after the birds nearby have been scattered with explosives.


plane taking off, birds getting scattered

Meanwhile the weather continued to worsen, provided rain isn’t your favorite.

And up there in the sky, those black specks are some kind of eagle (the birdwatchers we saw at the previous stop told us so!)

With a last view of the Union Jack, we descended by van (van being the operative word here).  Sometimes you just have good ideas and need to act on them!  This was one of those times!  We were still congratulating ourselves as we slogged through the constant downpour back to La Linea and drove in the rain toward Sevilla.


lots of wind farms in this part of Spain!

Thank you, as always, for reading!  Cheerio!


Spain: Los pueblos blancos de Andalucía

Our first view of Sevilla during Holy Week came during our trip out of town to Guacin.  I will say more about Semana Santa and this apparel in a later update.

Semana Santa begins in Sevilla

Renting a car from Auriga Crown rental was quick and relatively painless, if you don’t count the insurance and fill-up fee.  We are used to us and the car getting the once over on our way out the gate, but there was no one to report to that our car had a major dent in the passenger side door.

With our limited Spanish vocabulary, we were worried about navigating Spanish roads, but we needn’t have fretted.  The roads were well marked and except for an unanticipated detour into Ronda en route to our destination, we found our way easily. (And, I am so glad to be partnered with a man who does not mind stopping to ask directions at the local petrol station!)

One tends to think of Spain as somewhat arid, but this section of Andalucía – and actually into Malaga Province – quickly becomes mountainous, moving from scrubby vegetation to lush, and adorned with pueblos blancos (white villages) that cling to the mountainsides like shimmering jewels in a crown.  The road between them is reminiscent of the Going to the Sun Highway minus the guardrails and frequent turnouts, hence few pictures along our route!  You will have to imagine the “ooos” and “ahhhs”!  This part of Spain is also a central flyway for birds migrating up from Africa and we planned to do some birdwatching here.


on the way to Guacin

wildflowers blooming on the way to Guacin

pueblo blanco

Guacin is one of the southernmost pueblo blancos, sitting at about 630 km above sea level.    On a clear day, you can view all the way to Morocco from the village. Derived from the Arab word, “guazan” (strong rock), the village is perched on the crest of the Sierra del Hacho, and due to its key strategic position was once a major Roman settlement.  Many ex-pats and artists live here, as well as traditional Spanish families.  The main business is tourism.  The streets are as narrow if not narrower than in Cordoba.  We saw why our car had a dent and realized every car we looked at had similar scrapes and dings.  If you want to know how narrow, think of any movie filmed (or stage filmed) in a European city that has car chases and pedestrians jumping back into doorways as the cars scream by!  That was us in Cordoba and Guacin!


narrow streets in Guacin

Once we managed to rouse the innkeeper at La Fructosa  and figured out where in town to park the car (not on the street!), we headed out to the only restaurant open that evening:   a patio setting for tapas once again, with the freshest possible olives and mediocre red wine.  It started to get chilly so we moved indoors.  I engaged our server about the FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid soccer match we had seen on TV the night before and the second glass of wine was the ‘good stuff’.  Maybe he subscribes to the Cana method.  (The Spanish are near to fanatic about their soccer and posters of the World Cup winning team are posted in most of the train stations!)

courtyard where we ate dinner - Casa Antonia's


We kept our binoculars handy to see the passing Griffon Vulture, but were not rewarded.  So it was off to sleep, dreaming about seeing Africa from our bed, and hoping for good luck in birding the next day.

view looking west from our balcony the first evening

looking toward Africa. If you squint, you can see it, maybe!

La Fructosa, formerly the 3 story Pensión La Española (early 20th century) has been restored by the current owners.  The very lowest floor, where there is an ancient wine press that served for consumption by the original owner’s family and other locals, has been transformed into a restaurant open on the weekends but also where we had breakfast each morning.


the old wine press at La Fructosa

This was the view the next morning.

We headed out on a hike, anyway, guided by a typewritten, two-page extremely detailed description we found in our room. For example: “Continue along the path, pass a rusting black and white sign “Ojo al tren” and you reach a sign “Via Pecuaria”. Here loop sharply to the right, cross the railway track then bear left and follow a narrow path between a fence on the left and brambles on the right.”

We guess it must have been a description written some time ago, with ensuing property and gate changes, as eventually where we were walking and what the paper said no longer matched!  No matter, we enjoyed the cork trees,  the views of El Hacho,  the flowers, Red-legged Partridge, the fields of olives and oranges, and the walk.

olives! (even fresher!)

blue flower in Spain - like shooting star










orange trees

cork trees









el Hacho


If we had continued, we would have been caught in the drenching rain storm that continued for most of the rest of the day!



Based on a recommendation from a birding acquaintance, we drove the 15 km down to El Colmenar on the Rio Guadiaro, to see if we could find the vulture feeding station behind the railway station there.  This road was even narrower and more winding than the one the day before—on the map it looks like a slinky ready to expand and is the sort that could bring on queasy stomachs! When I dared to look, the scenery was breathtakingly gorgeous!

coming into El Colmenar


many goats


organic farming (olives!)

We finally did see Griffon Vultures and a few other choice birds as well, not at the feeding station, but soaring up in the sky where they belong!  That night, Monday, we found another restaurant open and had to go in, not only because it was the only one open but because of its name!


La Taberna del Zorro

Which was, ironically,  located right across from the police station!

Returning to our rural hotel, we found the local church and some signs going up for Semana Santa.


Iglesia de San Sebastian-early 16th century

Maria Dolorosa


which apparently includes a run with a bull!

The next day it was on to Gibraltar. But not before we got up very early for a hike up to the old castle in Guacin.  The Castillo del Aguila (Eagle’s Castle) dates from the Roman era and was later expanded by the Arabs into a fortress.  It wasn’t open on Tuesday, but we thought the hike would make good exercise before breakfast.  What a treat that was!



view from the path up to the castle

castle looking up

We even saw a black kite riding the thermals and a surprise when we reached the summit.


this guy was waiting for us when we reached the top!


view of the descent from the castle

One last view of the village fountain, and we were on our way to Gibraltar.


Gaucin fountain of the 6 pipes

We were holding our breath for good weather and bird-watching en route.  And if birds weren’t in the market, then at least we would see the Rock, with the Mediterranean on the left and views to the Atlantic on the right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

the dance school we pass on the way up our hill

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

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

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

Here’s why!

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

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

Bill on the road up our hill


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

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

the 100-year-old villa where our apartment is

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

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

the dining room – balcony and terrace to the right









the foyer
the kitchen – galley style but efficient

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









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

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










the bathroom









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

this is a washer and a dryer!

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

we have some other guests in the guest house!

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

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

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

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