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

Back in School

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Listen to one of the songs at the Festival  here.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

learning about wild forest animals

 

 

dogs are used for hunting!

 

 

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

 

 

the living bridge

 

picking berries and eyeing beetles

 

 

climbing down the ravine and over the creek

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopeless Causes and surprises along the way

Today was laundry day.  After almost a week of wearing the same trousers and only a few shirts, we just plunged in (so to speak) and tried the machinethatbothwashesanddries.  We didn’t put in too much soap, and we managed to make the thing start and do what it was supposed to do.  Hooray…the laundry was not a hopeless cause, after all!   We felt a little  like country bumpkins, going in periodically to watch the drum roll around. (We do have a front loader at home but, well, this is the Austrian version, so it’s different.)  Next time, we’ll select a longer drying cycle because apparently 60 minutes is inadequate,  judging from the amount of apparel we have draped over every radiator in the apartment.  The good news is that stuff so arranged dries VERY quickly.

good thing this badezimmer ist gross

The day was beautiful so after we put in the last load, we headed outside for a walk through the woods:  up the hill towards a small grouping of buildings that lie just behind the apartment villa.  (We still don’t know what they are for. Someone obviously lives there, as there is most always a vehicle.  A mystery for another day.)

It is Sunday and that’s when you really see European families out for a Sunday stroll.  There were plenty on the path–runners in duos and alone, children with grandparents, mothers with high tech baby buggies.  The hill we live on is part of the bigger complex of the Leechwald (yes, LEECH Woods), with extensive trails on both wide, maintained paths and through the trees.

well maintained path along the woods

beginning of the running trail – km 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The running/walking trail goes for miles kilometers, up on the ridge behind where we live, past the edge of the city, and all the way to the beautiful Mariatrost Church.  We could see it from one of the higher, less obstructed views on our walk today.

Mariatrost Kirche

The day was pretty hazy…not atypical for Graz.  We have the same problem in Missoula, with mountain valley inversions.  How odd, then, that on our walk we should find a rehab center for those with lung diseases.  According to some lovely people we met on the path, that is it’s function and it’s part of the huge state hospital complex for Styria.  (good to be located near a hospital, I think!)  Perhaps the elevation on the Hilmteich is just enough to rise one up out of the smog.

Adalbert Graf Kottulinsky Foundation (the center for those with lung diseases)

So this started out to be a walk to look for and try to identify the birds we had been hearing for the past five days.  As we were peering up at some kind of woodpecker through our binoculars, a couple asked us (auf Deutsch) what we were seeing.  I actually understood that much.  After that, it was pretty much downhill as far as the German speaking went.  I didn’t know the name for woodpecker in German, but was able to stammer out the colors, at least.  They were interested and we shared the binoculars with them and thus began a delightful conversation with Christina and Gernot.  Christina, who has been to Montana and to many places in the Western U.S.  ( even been to Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Reservation!) is a teacher of children ages 6-10.  We’re not sure what Gernot does…it doesn’t matter…but they were charming and were so interested in what we were doing in Graz.  They immediately invited us to their home.  If they call, I think we shall accept.  Warum nicht? (why not?)

the fence where we spoke with Christina and Gernot

Continuing on our way, we passed many feeding stations for birds, identified a few others (blackbirds, nuthatches, magpies,  some very weird looking crows…)  and areas where the forest was being logged.  We aren’t sure if this is someone’s private logging operation, a municipal job or part of maybe a research forest, as in the Lubrecht Forest in Montana.  I wonder if our German will ever be good enough to translate all the signs? Naturally, we forgot the dictionary, again!

one of the many bird houses and feeding stations along the path

logging operation

description of logging operation (we think)

Down the path we continued, eventually coming to a more residential area.  The numbers of people increased and they all seemed to be headed either to or from a particular point.  We decided to continue on to find out what it was.  The ‘what is was’ turned out to be the Häuserl im Wald, a hotel/restaurant which was far bigger than the ‘hut’ that Häuserl implies.  Extensive terraces, gardens, and a children’s playground were all part of this establishment.  We decided to go in and have a coffee or maybe a beer.

Once again, the food looked and smelled so good that we decided to order.  Again, no dictionary, so we did the best we could with what we know already and were delighted at how it turned out!

 Schweinemedaillons in feiner paprikarahmsauce, mit spätzle (pork medallions in red pepper sauce with SPATZLE!

Bill had something equally delicious–roast beef medallions with an onion sauce and rosti (like little potato pancakes.)  Once again, I brought half of this home!  And here is the best part – we managed to do the whole transaction auf Deutsch!

On our way out, we again scouted the birds at the extensive feeding stations (grosbeaks!) and were surprised to see a horse coming down the road.

more surprises!

We had come maybe 3 km, so we clipped back along our same route at a good pace, stopping only to check out one or two birds and pay respects to the shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, Patroness of Impossible Causes, who must have been looking out for us all along!

the shrine of Rita of Cascia

Tomorrow, Vienna.

For now, thanks for reading and…..

Grüß Gott