Auf Wiedersehen aus/von Österreich

Our time in Austria is coming to a close.   This will be our final blog posting from Österreich.

We’ve spent the past few days walking around the city we’ve grown to love:  a last look at Karl Franz Universität; one more church visit –Dreifaltigkeitskirche (the Ursuline Holy Trinity Church), built on the site of the early city moat; shopping for some gifts; trying out a few new restaurants (tapas and traditional Styrian haut cuisine); and stumbling onto some surprises along the way (a Big Band playing in the Hauptplatz during an passive energy fair; a race up to the top of the Schlossberg).   It seems each time we walk, we run into this kind of thing!

main building of Karl Franz Universitat, Graz

 

Bill at the well before his office building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

checking out of Graz; changing our meldung (enrollment) at city hall

water display at Jakominiplatz

Big Band Music – Jazz is basically the same everywhere! (they even have the same playbook our son, David, does!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

race to the Turm at the top of the Sclossberg

love the shoes! they matched his outfit, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

church across from Schlossbergplatz (Ursuline Holy Trinity church)

Bill and his Gekochter Tafelspitz vom Almo at Stainzerbauer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

me with our shared Steirisches Schokoladenmousse mit Rhabarber-Erdbeerragout

me with our shared Steirisches Schokoladenmousse mit Rhabarber-Erdbeerragout

 

the Renaissance courtyard of Stainzerbauer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve also set aside time to be with some of our fondest acquaintances here in Graz – Sebastian, the blooming ornithologist (look out David Sibley!); Steffen and his family; Christina and Gernot, with whom we visited Christina’s childhood home and family on a farm and their alpine Hütte (hut), both on the border with Slovenia, only 1 1/2 hours from Graz, where we were fed (again) and warmly welcomed.

The Birk family

Sebastian and Martina

Gernot and Christina outside at her childhood home near Eibiswald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the bell tower of a small church high on the border of Austria and Slovenia

looking over at Slovenia

OE = Oesterreich

RS = Republic of Slovenia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am standing in Slovenia

we were standing RIGHT THERE when the bells started to ring at noon (101 times!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

looking toward Graz – der Schöckl is the large mountain with the flat top

our dinner after the hike to the church on the border of Slovenia

these flowers looked totally artificial but they were real!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had to change tables three times.  Once to move to a larger table than the only too-small table  available when we arrived, a second time to give a larger family a bigger seating area; the third time because the person sitting next to us dropped his mug of bier and it went all over my hiking shirt, Gernot’s trousers and shoes and the seat cushions.  The person wasn’t drunk or anything – the glass was simply slippery!

Oma Bertha (Christina’s sister in law) and Annelena

Gernot teaching Annelena to play soccer – no wonder these European teams are so good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina raking – there is always work to be done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the spring outlet – water in Austria is mostly UNtreated and totally drinkable. Bill did have some suggestions, though, to help with the ants living in the wood and to keep them out of the water supply!

window in the hutte; the hutte was built by Christina’s sister – no electricity, a cellar for a fridge; and absolutely quiet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve weighed the bags and are reasonably sure hopeful that the scale we borrowed is accurate and that we are underweight on everything!

As we leave we will surely take with us the kindness extended, the smells of the woods, the breathtakingly beautiful scenery, the amazing food, the sheer history of this place. We’ll remember, ein bisschen, the dust, which invaded our apartment no matter how often we cleaned!  Graz is known as a UNESCO City of Design (or maybe it is trying to gain this coveted status).  On one of the storefront windows that slogan was crossed out and now reads:  Graz, City of Design Dust.  ♥  As well, we will recall the smiles of children, how people helped us as we stumbled through our Deutsch, which did improve some during our stay.  Wirklich! (although certainly not enough to write this episode auf Deutsch!)

We’ve seen here many things which remind us of home—the love of nature,  the prevalence of areas set aside for children, the treasure of music and art, the participation in activities out of doors, the attention to silence, the passion for learning.  There have been differences as well, namely how much these Austrians (and other Europeans) walk everywhere, how knowledgeable they are of world affairs, and how they actually take time time for den Genuss und die Freizeit (pleasure and leisure).  Yes, you still see the interruptions of Handys (cell phones) and Fernsehen  (televsions), but people actually take time to linger with friends at a cafe, walk through the woods, sit by a pond, or just stroll on one of the pedestrian Straßen.

boy getting ready to slide onto the next station in the Kletterpark near our apartment in the woods

the rowboats wait on the Teich; when we came the pond was frozen

Today, as I am writing it’s the United States celebration of independence, the 4th of July.  What comes to mind, however, is not independence but interdependence.   Spending some months actually living, observing, and being in another country allows one to see just how similar are the people of the world and how much we need each other.  How much we all –regardless of nationality–long for peace in the world.

peace rose in the garden of Schloss Seggau, near Graz

Tomorrow, 5 der Juli, we will lift off from Graz with a last ride down through the Leechwald and fly to Frankfurt, Newark, Denver and touch down in Missoula more than 24 hours later.   We won’t mind the trip through, because we are coming home to this.

Our new granddaughter.

The Austrians are fond of saying  ‘alles ist gute’ when you shake their hands to say goodby.  I would add to that, “alles ist Gnade” (grace).  We’ve appreciated the support of all our friends, Austrian, French, Swiss, German, and American, and we thank you for reading along as we’ve spent these last 4 ½ months where the hills are most certainly alive with more Gemütlichkeit than you can even imagine and for which we are so very grateful.

view of Graz from the south

Servus and Auf Wiedersehen aus Österreich!

 

 

 

 

 

At last, the Alps!

Six days prior to leaving Austria, we were mourning the fact we hadn’t been able to get into the real mountains of of this beautiful land, which some people say begin in Carinthia; others at the border between Germany and Austria.  In truth, they are both correct as there are three major ranges of the Alps in Austria namely, the Northern Calcareous Alps, Central Alps, and Southern Calcareous Alps. They run west to east across the country of Austria. The Central Alps are mostly granite and consist of the largest and highest peaks of Austria. The Northern Calcareous Alps run from Vorarlberg to Salzburg through Tyrol along the border of Germany. Some of it is also found in the Upper Austria and Lower Austria near the capital city of Vienna. The Southern Calcareous Alps are located on the Carinthia-Slovenia border.  Both of these ranges are mostly limestone.  These are high mountains, but the peaks seem very impressive because you are starting at such a low elevation from the valley floor.

 

On Wednesday, Bill’s colleague at Uni-Graz wondered if Bill would like to go with him and one of his graduate students into the western part of Styria to do some field work! This trip would take us into the eastern edge of the Northern Calcareous Alps.  Part of the research area is located within the Gesaeuse National Park .   I tagged along!  We were so thrilled!  We visited four valley locations (near Johnsbach and Aich – ~ 600 m.) and then drove almost completely to the top (few guardrails + narrow roads = glad I wasn’t driving!) of two of the peaks (~2300 m) at both places.  The purpose was to make some discharge measurements of springs and collect electronic water level data.  Some fancy equipment came along (computers, water level measurers, etc.) but also ordinary things like buckets, a hoe, and table salt!

 

The scenery was beyond beautiful and the weather could not have been more perfect!  Everywhere farm fields reached up to the forests, guesthouses welcomed travelers, flowers and cows dotted the grassy meadows.   The farmer and gasthaus operator who owns the land where Johnsbach (means John’s Creek) flows, has created a Kneippanlage, a place to experience the method of water therapy made popular by Sebastian Kneipp.  (We would see this kind of thing again!)

 

While the scientists did some work at the place where the spring emerges in the valley, I tried out the Kneippanlage.  (Anything to help my poor toe!) It was definitely colder than Flathead Lake and I was reminded that clear running streams are always deeper than they look from the surface!

 

We finished the day on top of the last peak, hiking to the beautiful, easily reached lookout point high above Gröbming and the Ennstal: the Peace Chapel of Emil Ritter von Horstig.  There’s a rope you can pull to ring a little bell, after making a wish or saying a prayer.

 

The Friedenskircherl was built in 1902 by Emil Ritter von Horstig in a rocky niche. What makes the Friedenskircherl interesting is not only its exposed location, but also that it is not affiliated with any denomination. Emil Ritter von Horstig built the Friedenskircherl as a memorial for all believers. The famous Styrian writer Peter Rosegger was walking to the Friedenskircherl in 1904 and wrote: “What should I write in these mountains full of sunshine, I can only be silent in prayer and blessed.”

 

Genau.  Exactly.

 

location of alps in Austria

 

 

 

 

view from the meadow at Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

another view from the meadow, Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

Johnsbach, Austria looking toward the Gasthaus

 

 

 

Johnsbach, looking up to the fields

 

 

such impressive peaks!

 

 

reminds me of bladder campion

 

 

scientists at work

 

 

cows coming home

 

 

 

 

the path back to the spring at Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

the Kneip (place of healing) at Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

 

"water fountain", alpen Austrian-style (very common!)

 

 

view from the bench where I took a catnap

 

 

heading up the mountain above Johnsbach, Austria

 

above Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

flowers here at the higher altitudes, too

 

huts above Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

the stream that becomes the spring above Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

mountains as far as the eye can see, above Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

Gasthaus at Johnsbach, Austria

Gasthaus at Johnsbach, Austria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bringing in the hay Gasthaus at Johnsbach, Austria (maybe the scenery makes the work not so hard?)

 

 

to the Ennstal Valley

 

 

 

the farm where we picked up the key to access the research area and road to the peak

farmhouse - they almost all look like this!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gauging the stream in the Ennstal Valley

 

 

spring drinking fountain (I drank) in the Ennstal (note dowsing rod in foreground!)

 

 

canyon at Ofen

 

 

another Kneippanlage!

adventure park Ennstal Valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

heading up to the Stoderzinken

 

 

looking down on Gröbming

 

glacier on the Dachstein near Ennstal Valley near Aich and Gröbming

 

 

on the trail to the Peace Chapel

 

 

Dr. Gerfried Winkler and his Master's student, Christian - there is always a gasthaus in Austria!

 

 

how would you like to have this playground in your backyard?

 

 

wind vane at gasthaus on the Stoderzinken

 

 

we turn for home

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!

A small hike: nach/aus der Schöckl

On our 2005 trip to Switzerland, we discovered the joys of ‘civilized’ hiking! By that, we mean, a ride to the top of a mountain via a funicular or gondola, and hiking around, to the next valley and down another train …. but not before wandering across a quaint hut selling yoghurt or absolutely the freshest cheese imaginable, or coming ‘round the bend to find a full-scale restaurant, or sitting down to peach cake and beer in a guesthouse plopped right in the middle of a meadow.

 

valley with huts in Switzerland

Friends here in Austria had told us of places like this in Austria (that is, in most of the country) where huts for food and resting were available in the alms (or meadows) of the high peaks. (Hiking ways and guesthouses are also available in the areas that are necessarily mountainous.) We had hoped to be able to do a real trek to one of these higher destinations, or between several, but have simply run out of time!  So, one weekend, we did the next best thing:  we went to the Schöckl, a popular recreational peak 1400 m. above sea level, and about a half-hour away from Graz (ele. 365 m.).  It is known, somewhat jokingly, as Graz’ ‘Hausberg’.

 

the Schöckl from a distance

 

If really good maps of the area exist we couldn’t find any, but downloaded something from the internet.  Our plan was to take the funicular up and hike down. After a bus ride from Graz to St. Radegund bei Graz, we found ourselves at the funicular station.  Everyone disembarked and immediately headed to the bakery counter in the lobby where they loaded up on honey buns and cinnamon rolls.  We decided to wait to get something at the top!

 

Three restaurants appeared at the top along with a playground, a bobsled-like ride, communication towers, and gorgeous scenery.   We figured we’d hike around the top and then try to find the correct route down.  There were several routes – one basically straight down, and others that ran more around the mountain.  The latter is what we were aiming for – not too steep but not too long a hike, either, plus we wanted to end up in the same town where we started.

 

 

the tram station at the top of the Schockl, playground on the edge, the toboggan run, hut

 

 

two Germans we met on the bus; one of three restaurants at the top, communications tower

 

wildflowers everywhere

 

At the top we found a curious structure, a wooden platform of some kind.  We asked some other hikers about this (auf Deutsch) and they explained (in English) that it was the take-off platform for the hang-gliders.  Now that we know something about, except if this were in the US, it would be surrounded with big “danger” signs, or maybe a locked fence.  We could hardly believe how close some of the hikers (and their children) came to the edge!

 

 

take-off point for the hang-gliders, the view

 

We struck up a conversation with the men.  As with every Austrian we have met, they were interested in what we were doing here, (assuming we were on holiday). We, of course, were interested right back in finding out about them! They wondered if we wanted to have a bite to eat or drink in one of the small seasonal huts.  Naturlich! This hut was not an ‘established’ restaurant, but the family who ran it had permission to operate because they also summered their cattle on the mountain.

 

Florian and his dad, Rudolf; flowers; cross at top of mountain

 

We shared the table with the people already inside, who were having cold ‘buschenshank’ type food, or toasts, or cake.  Our new friends ordered hot tea with schnapps, which was another new experience for us!

 

little hut, inside, outdoor restroom (notice how brown is the tree!)

 

At the end of our snack, Florian and Rudolf asked if we wanted to walk down with them and catch a ride back to Graz.  It was, they said, only a hike of about 1 ½ hours. (point to note:  these men were quite physically fit!)  For most of the way, it was basically straight down, over rocky terrain, or through woods.

 

these were not dairy cows; heading down, looking up

 

 

I am not sure we ever would have found whatever trail we had intended to take, as there were a lot of signs pointing in many directions, but to us, the numbering system was not all that clear.   On the way down, we had a great discussion of Austrian and US politics, school systems, and the general state of affairs in the world.  Both Florian and his dad were articulate and well-traveled, with a good deal of knowledge of current events beyond their own borders!  We find this often in Europe and wonder how many Americans can claim the same?  We learned more about how the forests in Austria are managed:  and that while there is ‘state’ ownership, a great deal is privately owned, by individual farmers, or ‘clubs’ and the Roman Catholic church!  This conversation was also great because it took my mind off the fact that my left big toe was being hammered against my hiking boot.  (yes, I am going to lose the nail, now. Time for new hiking boots!)

 

and down....a 'club' guesthouse, flowers

 

Our flat was on the way to theirs but the first stop was a rural guesthouse not too far from us, that we didn’t know existed.  It was Father’s Day in Austria (a week before the USA celebration of the same) so they stopped to pick up some “to-go” desserts from the guesthouse bakery.  Naturally we had to do the same!  The best part of that?  The warm vanilla cream sauce sent home in a jar!  Most often you see vanilliesauce served with apfelstrudel, but they gave us so much we ended up using for days on every possible food we ate!

 

looking down one of the valleys; flowers at the end, by the car

 

One of the pleasures of our Austrian sojourn has been seeing the beautiful scenery – the villages tucked away in lush valleys and surrounded by towering peaks.  But even more memorable are the connections we’ve made – heart to heart and mind to mind – and the generous, spontaneous hospitality of the Austrian people.

 

I hope that one day, as Arnold said, ‘we’ll be back.’

Into the woods…

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

Whitebacked Woodpecker

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

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

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

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

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

Sebastian and his scope

 

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

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

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

This is the Hochschwab

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

Franz, Bill and Christian

 

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

 

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

the woods

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

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

Schneerose - first of wildflowers after the snow melts

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

remains of an avalance – white stuff is gravel

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

 

carpet of Schneerose

 

Franz called this a horse hoof

this was a very small blue flower he picked

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

(notice the sign below!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The broad meadow between the car and the woods

 

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

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

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

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

 

lake at the second stop

 

eating lunch by the small lake

 

 

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

 

 

small stream near second stop

 

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

 

Gold Crest

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

 

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

 

Erika

 

 

lake with Erika blooming on other side

 

Bill was more intersted in the FISH!

 

Really!

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

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

 

one of the few unchannelized streams we've seen

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

 

Grunersee at its low point

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

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

 

Alms - see the sign?

 

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

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

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

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

 

first up was a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

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

 

Sebastian with Hawfinch at Wildtier im Not

releasing the Hawfinch into the aviary for further rehabilitation

 

 

additional aviary at Wildtiere in Not

 

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

Again, gratitude abounds!

 

 

Avalanches and sherpas

I bet you never thought about avalanches in the city!  I sure never did but as we walked around Graz on Day 3, we passed numerous potential avalanches.  Lucky for us, most of the snow season appears to be over!

 

warning for avalanche

 

In case you can’t read it, here it is close up!

We are getting somewhere on figuring out the washing machine/dryer and the dishwasher. But only as far as maybe what kind of soap we need.   Today, after doing at least 2 hours on-line research on where it was and how to get there, we headed across town, taking the street car first and then a city bus, to, of all things, a shopping mall where there was a big store that had groceries, and the possibility of household items as well.  On the list:  washing machine powder, dishwasher soap, a small clothes basket, clothespins and rope (because we hear that the dryer on these machines doesn’t really dry all that well) something to clean the bathroom and counters, a squeegie, a small rug for the foyer to trap all the mud we are tracking in, mustard, vegetables, fruit, and bread.   We ended up with most everything (substituting a drying rack for the clothesline) except the squeegie and the mustard.  I even went back again to look for the mustard.  What do they put on their bratwurst if not mustard????

So you  buy your stuff that is in your cart, unloading it onto the conveyer belt, then you load it back into your cart (for which you have paid 1 Euro deposit), and wheel your cart out of the store into the mall and continue to shop, or in our case, find somewhere to eat.

There are smaller grocery stores–one down the hill from us (think ‘Grizzly Grocery’ for you Missoulians), and another closer to the University–but this by far was the biggest we’d seen.  Not that bigger is better, but in our case, it had most of what we needed.

Then it was back to the bus, transfer to the streetcar

And back up the hill carrying all our stuff.  That’s where the sherpas come in, only there were none to be found!

Tomorrow, we may make a trip to the Hauptbahnhof to see how long it will take us early Monday morning when we go to Vienna for the Fulbright meeting, or head down to the Schloss (castle), or take a hike around the woods with our binoculars.

Thank you for reading, and grüß Gott!