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

Haus der Stille

People often speak of ‘coincidences’ when paths cross or events that seem related but unusual come together in amazing ways.  Personally, I think there are no coincidences, just those times when our awareness has been broken open and our defenses lowered so that we can see the whole picture.

 

So, I did not think it a coincidence to discover that our friends, Gernot and Christina, were active meditators, attended a meditation group several times a month and every few months, attended a meditation retreat at the Haus der Stille.

 

In mid-May and again in late May, they invited us there . The first time was for a Mass at the chapel, and the second time was for a silent weekend retreat.  Bill and I attended together the first, which was followed by a lunch in the reception hall (more opportunity for meeting great Austrian people!), and a hike in the area around the Haus der Stille on the Markus Weg.  I alone attended the second, a Zen-style retreat, with maybe 14 others from various parts of Austria.

 

The Haus der Stille is located in the countryside not too far from Graz.  It’s surrounded by farm houses and fields.  Once, it belonged to a order of RC sisters, but then was purchased by the Franciscans.  A priest ( Fr. Karl Maderner, OFM, friar, priest) had a vision to create a beautiful space for worship and contemplation.   He succeeded in so many ways.

the Haus der Stille, chapel, Peace, reception area and Christina

 

Today the Haus der Stille offers individuals and groups the opportunity for quiet and reflection.  The chapel invites one to the same. The Mass held there is contemplative in nature, although a ‘regular’ mass, and it is very inclusive.   Some people kneel on prayer benches or sit on cushions; others use chairs.  It’s inclusive in other ways as well.  The first thing one sees upon arriving is the word ‘peace’ spelled out in a field being used by sheep to (safely) graze.  The second thing is a semi-circle of monuments to world religions (named) and in the center,one to the unknown Mystery.  As we walked up, I was pinching myself to make sure this was ‘real’!

 

semi-circle of pillars of peace

 

The ‘Stillegarten’, with labyrinth and ‘stations’ for reflection that consist of readings from all the world’s great religions and poets, is lovely.   On my retreat there I walked that area several times a day.

 

 

scenes from the stillegarten at Haus der Stille

 

 

countryside, sundial on residence building, roses along the peace wall

 

Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the Haus der Stille is not only the immediate area but the path known as Markus Weg (Mark’s Way).  It’s a 4 km long trail with 13 stations of words from the Gospel of Mark,  other words of silence, beautiful sculpture/art and a place to rest.  It connects with another trail, “Ermutigungsweg” which features 7 stations with spiritual encouragement, to make a 8.5 km long circuit.   You may walk alone, as part of a group, and you may remain silent, or you may wish to leave thoughts on paper provided at each station.   This was a project of the Haus der Stille, in cooperation with Holy Cross parish, and the political entities in Styria and it was dedicated only two years ago.

 

 

 

along Markus Weg - sharing my life, responsibility for others, the last station

 

Walking the ‘weg’ I was once again reminded that the road we travel is already within us.  As I opened myself to sights, noises, smells, tastes and touch (exterior and interior), I became one with the journey that is the way.

 

 

 

 

Opera

Opera….my aunt introduced it to me when I was a little girl. She lived in Arlington, not too far from our home in Alexandria.  It was just far enough away to seem exotic, at least to an 8-year-old.   Occasionally, I would spend the night with her on Fridays and stay at her apartment through part of Saturday.  She always had the radio on to the MET broadcasts, on Saturdays, and, still dressed in pajamas,  we listened together.  If the MET was not in season, we would listen to 78 rpm opera recordings on her turntable! It was one of the highlights of my childhood.

Since that time, I’ve seen Light Opera in Ohio, operettas and opera theater in other venues, Missoula included.  The MET’s radio broadcast plays on KUFM when we drive up toward the Flathead on weekend.  Somewhere in our collection of vinyls is Madama Butterfly with Leontyne Price in the title role.  I nearly wore that one out!  Still, we never have attended a full-scale opera in what is considered a ‘big’ house.

So, one of the things we knew we wanted to do while in Europe was attend an opera.  We did that early on in Graz (Don Giovanni) and later in mid-May while in Budapest (Otello)and again in Graz [Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues]) with opera-loving friends, when they visited.   And, at the recommendation from these same friends, we made arrangements to see Nabucco in Vienna when we had to be there anyway for a meeting in early May.  We loved the feel of the Wienerstaatsoper, from the elegant yet simple ‘house’ to the custom of storing coats without asking for payment (unlike any of the performance venues we’ve visited here in Graz!).  For attire, we saw everything from elegant long dresses to jeans!

 

It was marvelous.  Although opera companies in Europe are known for their ‘modern’ adaptations of opera, which occasionally startle, this one was exquisite in its contemporary staging.  It was a timeless portrayal of the persecution of Jewish people beyond the experience of great exile into Babylon.  (think WWII)

the 'slaves' chorus for Nabucco

We were treated to a masterful performance by Maria Guleghina as Abigail (Nabucco’s vengeful, power-hungry ‘daughter’) and the Philharmonic was amazing.

Maria - second from left

We had great seats in the mittel-loge

 

we sat here - dead center, second row.

but next time maybe we’ll check out the standing room only tickets at 4€ each!  They were right below us!  (the problem is, you have to stand for 3 hours!)  Even the standing room places have viewing screens with English and German subtitling!  No neck strains here!

On our way to the opera, we visited the sobering Monument Against War and Fascism in the Albertinaplatz.

 

After the opera was over, we walked by the ‘star’ for Nabucco’s composer, Verdi.

 

And we would have finished with a slice of cake at – where else – the Hotel Sacher or the adjacent Sacher Cafe but we had done that the night before! (I know…a pity not to have that much chocolate twice!)

Hotel Sacher with elegant doorman

 

the cafe next door - a little more laid back with rock music playing in the background

sachertorte - must have with schlagoobers!

For those chocoholics among us, you can buy the whole cake!

With or without the accompanying cake,  Bill thinks he may actually like opera as well,  so perhaps we will sign up for the MET series simulcasts in Missoula which are broadcast at the renovated Roxy Theater.   Although it’s fun to dress up for a night of elegance,  Verdi or Puccini sound just as fabulous from the comfort of my jeans.

Pass the popcorn.