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!

Chestnuts, books and more music

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


the oldest paper store in Graz

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


Dancers dancing at 6 PM


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




Tijuana Restaurant - Menu in German, though


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

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

Instrumental introduction to Stabat Mater

Singschul’s first bars of singing the Stabat Mater


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


Singschul' for Oper Graz

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



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



The Maroni Stand (no angels or visions here)



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



Kastanienoberg Torte


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

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



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