The French in Graz, or what language do we speak now?

When our daughter was almost 15, she participated in an exchange program to France:  touring Paris, other cities down toward the south of France and a few weeks home-stay with a French family.  She came home a confirmed Francophile/phone (and I had someone with whom I could hone my many years of studying that language).

One of the lovely consequences of her travel was the beginning of a long-term friendship with our friends, Chantal and Andre.  They mothered and fathered her in France when she was a typical goofy teenager, and helped her with her French vocabulary.  Over the years, we have watched and celebrated, via photos and packages, mail and email, the Christmas holidays, their move to a new city, new jobs and enterprises, our children matriculate through high school and into higher education, their oldest daughter and our son marry, and most recently, the birth of their first grandchild, a boy, and the anticipated arrival of our first grandchild, a girl.

They’ve been once to Montana, and our children visited them again during respective short and long-term residencies in Europe.  So we were thrilled when they wrote to say they could visit us in Austria, while en vacances in Italy.  Between our trip to Spain and a planned meeting in the Salzburg, Austria area, the timing was perfect!

The French occupied Graz at least once before, Napoleon in 1797, and laid siege to the Schloßberg in 1809.  The Austrians successfully defended against 8 attacks but had to surrender after Austria was defeated by Napoleonic forces at the Battle of Wagram.  All the Schloßberg fortifications were ordered destroyed but the bell tower and the civic clock tower, often used as the symbol of Graz, were spared after the people of Graz paid a ransom for their preservation.  The Schloßberg is marked with plaques with references to Bonaparte and to the French in general.

Napoleon’s troops didn’t have a GPS to find Graz.  Our French had one but it was fairly useless for direction into the Leechwald where we live! Our French arrived the day before Easter Sunday, bearing not arms but gifts:  French cheese, wine, salami, house gifts, Italian Easter Bread and best of all, themselves!



Andre and Chantal on the funicular up to the schloss

busker at the top

never have seen a Renaissance busker with a program before!













Chantal, who's an artist, loved the artistic bird houses!

Bill, Chantal and Andre













the gardens in Graz are coming along!


The second day of their short visit, which was Easter Sunday, we took a trip out to the Piber Horse Farm, about 25 km from Graz.  It’s the farm where the Lipizzaner Horses are bred and raised until they are about 4 years old, at which point, stallions who seem ready are sent to Vienna and the Spanish Riding School to continue their training.  The mares stay on the farm to raise more foals!  The stallions return to Piber when they are 25-28 years old to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

It was a gorgeous day!  Piber has a schloss (palace), an old church, a small but informative museum, and the farm!


the little church in Piber


and the Schloss










We tried a little driving practice while we waited for our tour. Kein Glück, es war gebrochen!

Chantal tried her hand at braiding. Very important skill (for Moms and Lipizzaner owners)!

Andre tried out the wind up merry-go-round




But the real attraction at Piber is, of course, the horses.  There were some new or soon to be new additions to the Lipizzaner family.  The foals are born black or brown.  At about 6 months they would join other 6-month old foals and their moms in a cohort of black, brown and white.  Later, they would be branded, depending which of the of 6 Piber stallion ancestry lines they are born out of.    And (gasp) some would be sold!  One in about 100 is born black and stays that way.  I wonder if we could get a discount on him?

4-day old foal and Mom

We're soooo cute!

Buy me! Only 12.000 € !

the 1/100 throwback to the black horses!

brands, first of which dates back to Leopold I

pretty nice retirement, n'est-ce pas?


I don’t think we can ever resist seeing the inside of these Austrian churches!

Romanesque beginnings, baroque overlay

Lots of people were coming in their holiday best to Piber.  This is a traditional Styrian look:  green for the intense green of the land, blue for the sky and sometimes dotted with pink for the wildflowers.

The last day of their visit, Chantal wanted Sachertorte.  Never mind that it’s in Vienna, many specialty bakeries or konditorei try their hands at the famous dessert.  We found a great konditorei – no Sachertorte that day,  but it did have some awesome desserts.  We  brought them back to split up after lunch.  We also shared with Kristina via Skype! She was, after all, the reason for our original connection!

Philip Konditorei: cakes, breads AND ice cream!

mmmmm (no translation needed)

Skyping the desserts

Although we weren’t sure, having just arrived back from Spain, what language we were speaking  at any moment, there are some things that simply transcend differences in dialects and les langues maternelles.  Friendship is one of those.

guys and engines - everywhere the same!

Friendship needs no language except that of the heart.

Merci bien for reading!  Jusqu’à ce que plus tard!

© photos, unless noted, are property of the blog writer and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

Pummerins, Prancers and Palaces. (Prancers)

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

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



the stables for the Spanish Riding School

one of the stallions


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


our view of the hall - great seats!

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



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

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



entering the hall

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


they moved in various formations

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

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



Vienna, the Imperial City

Our visit to Vienna got off to a less than auspicious beginning.   We arrived in plenty of time at the Hauptbahnhof to even have a cup of coffee at, of all places, McDonalds!  Locals here told us that the coffee at McDonalds is delicious and they weren’t wrong.  Here everything is served in a very classy way…even at McD’s, your coffee or cappuccino comes in a ceramic cup, served on tray with a glass of water.  Just the ticket early in the morning.  Afterward, we loaded onto the train and waited.

Bill waiting on the train to Vienna


It is not necessary to ride first class on trains, at least in Austra.  Second class seating is almost as comfortable, and that is how we went.

After 30 minutes of waiting, the announcement came that we must get off the train and make our way out of the station to buses which would take us to the first stop, Bruck an der Mur, (about 57 km north) where we would, presumably, catch the train.  Of course, we understood only a small portion of this almost none of this and were rescued by a nice young woman heading to her finance job in Vienna.  What was to have taken 2 1/2 hours now turned into more like 3 1/2.  Very unusual, we hear, for Austrian trains to break down.  By the time we met up with the train in Bruck an der Mur, the second class seating was completely overwhelmed and we ended up sitting in first class, the only available seating.  The conductor didn’t bat an eye and neither did we.

The trip was great…through the mountains (not the biggest ones), past small villages, into and out of tunnels, to Vienna.  Then, onto the U-bahn (underground train) system of Vienna, catching the U-6, then changing to the U-3 and finally jumping onto the U-2 to reach our hotel.  I was fond of that last train…good name!  What you must realize is that Vienna is like any other big city in this respect, with crowded trains, and almost never anywhere to sit down.  But poles and straps for hanging on are readily available.

Our first night there, we enjoyed dessert of course, with amazing Viennese specialties.

afpel strudel (with vanilla cream sauce and whipped cream) No calories, promise!

mohr in hemd (Moor in skirt)--chocolate overload, if that is possible!










Our reason for going to Vienna was for the Fulbright Commission’s Orientation, attended by most of the Fulbright Scholars in Austria, as we all began our Summer Semester terms.

Fulbright Office in the 'hip' Museumsquartier

The MuseumsQuartier is home to many businesses and nonprofits.  Neighbors to the Fulbright Office are the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, both home to numerous modern and contemporary pieces of art, which we will visit on future trips to Vienna.

The Leopold Museum

The Museum of Modern Art


Everyone but Bill was in history, law, languages, political science, psychology, philosophy, anthropology and art.  Not another natural scientist in the otherwise very distinguished bunch! A few other spouses attended, and some children did as well.  We spent the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday in meetings, learning about Senator Fulbright, the history of Austria, current politics in Austria, US-Austrian-EU relationships, and receiving some teaching and university tips from previous Fulbrighters.  All good stuff. I realized, however, I am not used to sitting all day in meetings! Good thing we had a brisk walk to our hotel each day. The orientation finished with a tour around the Hofburg area–the Ringstrasse— by our host and the head of the Fulbright Commission in Austria, Dr. Lonnie Johnson. He has lived in Austria a long time and is so knowledgeable.  Here are some scenes of what we saw.

looking down on the Hofburg. Main gate to the right

we approach the main gate

From Wikipedia:  “The Hofburg in Vienna is the former imperial residence. From 1438 to 1583 and from 1612 to 1806, it was the seat of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, thereafter the seat of the Emperor of Austria until 1918. Today it is the official seat of the Austrian Federal President.”  The biggest and most imposing buildings were created at the direction of the Emperor Franz Joseph, who took down the city walls to create both open areas and the buildings there today.  Walking further in, you come to the older sections of the Imperial City.

coaches and drivers wait for business

the Michaelertrakt (Michael wing) of the Hofburg Complex

excavation of roman ruins (stone is Romanesque; bricks are not!)

crown of the holy roman emperor (you can see the real one in the museum)

Schweizertor (Swiss) Gateway-hofburg

Ferdinand Holy Roman Emperor of Germany, Hungary and Bohemia, King of Spain, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy in the year 1552

No I did not remember all my Latin.  Thank goodness for historians on the tour and also google translate!

Michaelerkirche - Hofburg Quarter

balcony from where Hitler made his "anchluss" speech to Austria in 1938

statue of Maria Theresia surrounded by her many advisors

close up of statuary on building--lots of 'power' implied here!

LONE polizei standing guard outside the Chancellor's office. We are not in the USA!

Loos Haus opposite Michaelerplatz

Coming out on the other side, you enter into the business and chic district of Vienna.  Tiffany, Chanel, and all the big names are along these streets.  We window shopped only.  (sorry Kristina)  The Loos building (above) apparently so enraged the emperor that he never went inside. It was too ‘plain’ for him.

Vienna was and still is a city known for its coffee houses.  Many of them were specialized…for politicians, literary types, artists, etc.  Most still exist in some form or another.  Here is the Literary Coffee House.

Cafe Griensteidl, the 'literary' coffee house

looking down Kohl Markt

Volksgarten on the Hofburg grounds

One of the nice things the Emperor did was to create lots of open spaces for the people, these on the grounds that were formerly used to absorb cannon fire in battles for the city.  The Volksgarten looks like it will be beautiful in the Spring.  We plan to make a return trip to see for ourselves.  The Roses await!

covered roses in Volksgarten

Rathaus (City Hall) at dusk

back of Athena, in front of Parliament Building - the word is 'she has turned her back on the parliament'

Vienna’s imperial architecture is filled with nods to Greek Democracy.  Too bad women weren’t part of the official scene back then (unless you  count Maria Theresia).  But not in the official government in the 1800’s.  Maybe that’s why Athena is looking the other way!

Dome as we pass through one of the many gates, covered in netting, for, you know,the pigeons!

Very near this dome is the headquarters of the Spanish Riding School.    It was one of the few places we actually had time to visit, on the Wednesday after the meetings and before we came home to Graz.  We were only able to see the morning exercise and training session, but I was thrilled to see this, having grown up riding and doing a little dressage myself.  Technically, it is absolutely forbidden to take photos, but seeing as how some official photographer was snapping away WITH FLASH, here are some that I magically happened onto. 🙂  The Lipizzaner horses are bred on a farm very near Graz. 

inside the Spanish Riding school arena

The riders remove their bicorn hats as they enter the ring.


this horse and rider are almost trotting in place-the piaffe


We saw the pirouettepassage and even one horse doing the levade (asking the horse to hold a position approximately 30-35 degrees from the ground. ) At the end, the riders line up, dismount, couch their stirrups, and give their horse a treat hidden in their back pockets!


riders dismount and hoist stirrups, Spanish Riding School, Vienna

outside the Natural History Museum in Vienna

Two of the most beautiful buildings are now Museums…the Art History Museum and the Natural History Museum.   We could see many school groups waiting to go in.     Maybe they were from a school like this:


city school in Vienna

These will have to wait until our next trip to Vienna, when we have at least a week to browse.  We can’t wait!


close up of statues Natural History Museum, Vienna