Wachau Valley: On the “blue’ Danube

(note: it is possible to see photos in larger format by clicking once on them and then clicking again.)


After consulting wetter.com, we picked Saturday, June 25, as the better day to head up river on the Danau (Danube) to explore the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria.  It’s famous for the production of Grüner Veltliner and Riesling wines as well as scenic beauty.    Our plan was to catch the train in Vienna through St. Polten, where we changed trains, and then on to Melk.  From Melk we would ride the boat up river to Dürnstein, and then take the boat back down the river to Krems, where we would get the train back to Vienna.  Sounds easy, right?


memorial (to children of Holocaust) statue in West Bahnhof on way to Melk


Mostly it was.  The train station agent wasn’t sure if we could use the KOMBI ticket on either day (our choice of Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather). We could (up to 10 days after purchase) and she finally found the information that confirmed this.  The train ride to Melk was fascinating….loaded with bikers and their bikes.   The ride up and down this route along the Danau is gorgeous and not too much of a strain.  We’ve never seen so many helmets assembled at one time!


bikers disembarking at Melk and this was just a fraction!



Melk is famous for the Abbey at Melk, a Benedictine monastery that dates from the 11th century.   Melk was first built as a fort, then a castle for Austria’s Babenberg rulers in the 10th Century. Sitting atop a hill, the location was an ideal spot for trade, to watch for approaching enemies and/or to admire the sheer beauty of the Danube River and the surrounding countryside. In 1089, Leopold II, a member of the Babenberg family who had become unhappy with the town’s reigning clergy, transferred Melk to Benedictine monks. They converted it into an abbey which is now recognized as one of the finest in the world.

It has since undergone many challenges (fire in 1297, Turkish Wars in the early 1500’s,  occupation by Napolen’s and Hitler’s troops) and reconstructions.  The current construction in the baroque style dates from 1711, with a more modern 12-year renovation completed in 1995, financed in part by the sale of the abbey’s Gutenberg Bible to Harvard!!!  The Abbey houses a superb gymnasium (high school) of which our tour guide was a graduate!  The old imperial residences are part of the tour, as is a well-done museum, and the world renowned library. Formal and informal gardens surround the buildings.  It’s also home to a community of monks, although at least half of them live outside the cloister, doing their work.  (This is typical for Benedictine orders.) The monastery is supported by the agriculture from the lands it owns and tourism.  The town of Melk is beautiful as well, with old streets, and quaint shops.   We ate lunch there before continuing on.


The Melk Stift (Abbey)




follow the yellow brick road (gold for Abbey, blue for Danau)


wedding shots in the garden of the abbey

Benedict's Way - a side path in the garten. This was accompanied by piped in choral music!

















part of a series of monuments: Uns ist in Paradies

herb and vegetable gardens at Abbey Melk
















top of the gate to the Abbey

Imperial hallway, now part of the Abbey Museum














front of the Abbey

looking out on the Danau Valley from the Abbey















ladder and bookcases in Abbey library-home to 100,000 volumes (ancient and new)

the marble hall
















ceiling frescos of the Melk stift

stairs up.down with mirror













the view from St. Coloman Courtyard - named for an Irish prince martyred near Vienna in 1082. He's buried now at Melk.


After several attempts, we found the DDSG Blue Danube Prinz Eugen (remember Prince Eugeny of Saxony, from the earlier post about Vienna?).  It was necessary to exchange our KOMBI receipt for an actual ticket onto the boat, a fact no one told us.  We could recommend that they label the ticket offices, as really, there are at least two other boat companies!  We stepped aboard and they pulled up the gangplank!  Couldn’t believe we were the last ones on, but we are so glad they waited for us!


last ones on!


the Melk Abbey from the boat


The ride up the Danau (I am sorry Johann Strauss II, nowhere did we see blue water – that must be for the headwaters or perhaps this is the high water time!) is breathtakingly picturesque.  We have decided we really like the relaxing ride via boat.  (who knew? maybe a cruise is in our future!)  More quaint towns and castles drifted by (notably Willendorf), along with a ready-to-go bonfire with scarecrow(?) hanging over it.  We haven’t been able to figure that one out.  Usually there are big bonfires on Summer Solstice, but we were way past that!  We could see bikers along the route as well as residents having fun!  We dodged rain storms all the way up. (so much for wetter.com or as Bill says, it’s a forecast!)


The Danau-decidedly not blue!


castle at Willendorf


ready bonfire with effigy and maipole


families enjoying the river - including a ropeswing


another castle on a steeply terraced vineyard hillside


and more vineyards


the Danau is used for tourism and commercial barge travel as well

Now, there's a name we recognized-Admiral Tegettoff


The next stop was Dürnstein, home to a castle which imprisoned Richard the Lion-Hearted in 1193.  While the weather was partially sunny (and hot) we hiked up to the ruined castle—warning, short legged people beware or make use of the rack beforehand—and down by a dirt road.  The region invites rock climbers and we could see those brave adventurers, as well as great views, from our perch.  I am not sure how they do it without getting blown off the face of the earth!  It was very windy at the top!



this way up!



where we are going


great views but we aren't there yet!



still not there


this was--er--the path


the top


stop on the way down


through the archway we spy.....another Abbey!


looking down on Durnstein



and people rock climbing


We met a couple from California on the boat, and together we hiked down from the castle and visited a gracious and hospitable wine-producer.  He invited us for tastes (tastes here meant full-fledged pours of wine).  After glasses of two different wines, learning he was a retired school principal with a new kidney, a tour of his production equipment, and a sampling of his schnapps, we stumbled made our way down past his vineyards (all picking is done by hand due to the steep terraces) through the little shops lining the pedestrian-only street of Dürnstein and then realized it was probably time to go!  Next time, Dürnstein would be a great place to spend the night.


old Durnstein


wine tasting


and the winemaker


his vineyard (and is that another castle ruin, up there?)


Unfortunately, the boat ride from Dürnstein to Krems was canceled for the afternoon, and it seemed as though the train was not coming either (the office was closed).  We found a bus stop, and waited for the bus along with at least 20 other people.


waiting for the bus


We all squeezed on and the bus driver, who knew the schedule for the next train from Krems to Vienna was tight, drove like he was qualifying for the Le Mans, calling out queries about necessary stops along the way.  People hollered back, “Ja” or “Nein”!  If no one needed to get off, he just sailed right through!  We hopped on the train with moments to spare and got off—surprise—at Spittleu in time to see the Hundertwasser thermal plant in full daylight.


back in Vienna - hundertwasser power plant


Now THIS is blue!

detail of the stack



What a day!

Thanks for reading!

Springtime in Graz

Spring comes early to this part of Austria.  By early April this year, the snow had melted and the vegetation, with its unmistakable chartreuse hue and resplendent flowering, appeared as if by magic.

the sweet fresh green and white of spring

By mid-April, children were picking and vendors hawking  the budding catkins for Palm Sunday festivities, another plus for the European ethic of using what it plentifully at hand.  In the US, it’s typical for churches simply to order palms in for this festival; if you exclude the southern tier of states where palms might grow anyway, where is the ethos in that?

By May, lilies of the valley sprang up in gardens. It is the ‘mutters tag’ flower.   



Aside from Mother’s day, May in Austria brings two other celebrations:  The raising of the May Pole (Maibaum) and May or Labor Day.

The Maibaum dates back to at least the 16th century in Germany and Austria, and perhaps is older than that, if one considers Celtic festivals or Freudian theory.  We were lucky enough to see the former, being freshly installed, as we ate in a traditional rural restaurant with our friends Gernot and Christina following their performance of a Haydn Mass at Mariatrost Basilica the Sunday after Easter.  In Austria, each baum’s ribbons or other decoration reflects the region where it is installed:  green and blue for Styria, red and yellow for Burgenland.   As we travel the countryside now, we see maibaum erected in nearly every village and often by local bars and restaurants, such as the one in Kainbach bei Graz, below.

the maibaum, located near a rural restaurant

it's decorated with carvings and the date













better view of the baum

Restaurant in Kainbach bei Graz-best backhanderl (fried chicken) ever!










traditional colors of Burgenland - red and yellow.

Here is another, a little more than a month old, near the border of Austria and Hungary.

The other May Day celebration is a nod to the political process, and the ‘workers parties’.   It featured, in both Graz and Vienna, large parades.  We knew about them because they disrupted our normal route to the train station as we headed to Vienna! No trams were running.  Fortunately, we did get to the train station and on to Vienna for the week, a trip which will be featured in the next installment.

"red" flag still flies in Vienna, 1 day after May Day (Labor Day)

In early May, we also finally made it to the Schloss Eggenberg.  Besides being the terminus of our tram line in Graz, it’s one of the most impressive remnants of the baroque era in Austria.  It dates back to the late medieval period (1460) and was the property of advisors/financiers to Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor.

Because the weather was warm and sunny, we chose not to tour the palace itself but to remain outdoors in the lovely gardens.  Both the palace and the gardens reflect elements of cosmological theory:  for example, the palace has 365 windows, one for every day in the year; the bushes and shrubs are arranged as a planetary garden, with groupings of plants given names like “Mars”, “Jupiter”, the “Sun”, “Earth” and “Venus”.  We were intrigued and so glad we went!   Where we found the gardens of the big palaces in Vienna devoid of spring flowers (presumably because they are annuals and must be planted each year), the gardens at Eggenberg, with mostly perennials, were bursting with color and scent and sound!  Ahhh, spring!

a perfect spot for wedding photos

Peacocks are everywhere!















we grow these back in Montana

tree with magnificent burl










amazing peonies

close up of burl - I know some woodworkers who'd like to get their hands on this!










azaleas leading into the 'sun' part of the garden

arbors of yellow wisteria represented the rays of the sun











this hedge is part of the Venus grouping. Can you see it is a heart?



purple wisteria, too!

and here is the goddess, herself










Everyone was enjoying the day!

a reader

children checking out the fish






the peacocks
Especially the peacocks!  (click on the link, above, to open video)  There was some kind of sporting event going on in the stadium adjacent to the schloss.  Every time the crowd would roar, the peacocks would answer!

We thought perhaps it was a soccer match, so we stopped by on our way to the bus stop, to see what was happening.  Here’s what it was!


American football!!!












Castles and football in the spring…who knew?  Just another day in Graz!

Thanks for reading!


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!


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!