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.




































































































Springtime in Graz

Spring comes early to this part of Austria.  By early April this year, the snow had melted and the vegetation, with its unmistakable chartreuse hue and resplendent flowering, appeared as if by magic.

the sweet fresh green and white of spring

By mid-April, children were picking and vendors hawking  the budding catkins for Palm Sunday festivities, another plus for the European ethic of using what it plentifully at hand.  In the US, it’s typical for churches simply to order palms in for this festival; if you exclude the southern tier of states where palms might grow anyway, where is the ethos in that?

By May, lilies of the valley sprang up in gardens. It is the ‘mutters tag’ flower.   



Aside from Mother’s day, May in Austria brings two other celebrations:  The raising of the May Pole (Maibaum) and May or Labor Day.

The Maibaum dates back to at least the 16th century in Germany and Austria, and perhaps is older than that, if one considers Celtic festivals or Freudian theory.  We were lucky enough to see the former, being freshly installed, as we ate in a traditional rural restaurant with our friends Gernot and Christina following their performance of a Haydn Mass at Mariatrost Basilica the Sunday after Easter.  In Austria, each baum’s ribbons or other decoration reflects the region where it is installed:  green and blue for Styria, red and yellow for Burgenland.   As we travel the countryside now, we see maibaum erected in nearly every village and often by local bars and restaurants, such as the one in Kainbach bei Graz, below.

the maibaum, located near a rural restaurant

it's decorated with carvings and the date













better view of the baum

Restaurant in Kainbach bei Graz-best backhanderl (fried chicken) ever!










traditional colors of Burgenland - red and yellow.

Here is another, a little more than a month old, near the border of Austria and Hungary.

The other May Day celebration is a nod to the political process, and the ‘workers parties’.   It featured, in both Graz and Vienna, large parades.  We knew about them because they disrupted our normal route to the train station as we headed to Vienna! No trams were running.  Fortunately, we did get to the train station and on to Vienna for the week, a trip which will be featured in the next installment.

"red" flag still flies in Vienna, 1 day after May Day (Labor Day)

In early May, we also finally made it to the Schloss Eggenberg.  Besides being the terminus of our tram line in Graz, it’s one of the most impressive remnants of the baroque era in Austria.  It dates back to the late medieval period (1460) and was the property of advisors/financiers to Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor.

Because the weather was warm and sunny, we chose not to tour the palace itself but to remain outdoors in the lovely gardens.  Both the palace and the gardens reflect elements of cosmological theory:  for example, the palace has 365 windows, one for every day in the year; the bushes and shrubs are arranged as a planetary garden, with groupings of plants given names like “Mars”, “Jupiter”, the “Sun”, “Earth” and “Venus”.  We were intrigued and so glad we went!   Where we found the gardens of the big palaces in Vienna devoid of spring flowers (presumably because they are annuals and must be planted each year), the gardens at Eggenberg, with mostly perennials, were bursting with color and scent and sound!  Ahhh, spring!

a perfect spot for wedding photos

Peacocks are everywhere!















we grow these back in Montana

tree with magnificent burl










amazing peonies

close up of burl - I know some woodworkers who'd like to get their hands on this!










azaleas leading into the 'sun' part of the garden

arbors of yellow wisteria represented the rays of the sun











this hedge is part of the Venus grouping. Can you see it is a heart?



purple wisteria, too!

and here is the goddess, herself










Everyone was enjoying the day!

a reader

children checking out the fish






the peacocks
Especially the peacocks!  (click on the link, above, to open video)  There was some kind of sporting event going on in the stadium adjacent to the schloss.  Every time the crowd would roar, the peacocks would answer!

We thought perhaps it was a soccer match, so we stopped by on our way to the bus stop, to see what was happening.  Here’s what it was!


American football!!!












Castles and football in the spring…who knew?  Just another day in Graz!

Thanks for reading!


Springtime..not in the Rockies

Many of you have written, wondering if we had fallen off the face of the earth, because there have been no posts for about a month!  We most assuredly have not, but it has been a busy spring here in Graz, and to points beyond.  Honestly,  I am still trying to decide how best to organize the month of activities so as to convey the most interesting information with the best pictures.  For now, here is a little taste of late April/early May for us, right after the visit of our friends from France at Easter.

First of all, they brought all this cheese:  five or six different types, mostly unpasteurized.  We ate as much as we could but two people can only consume so much! Plus we were leaving for a week in Vienna.  So, in a desire to honor their gift and enjoy the flavors au mélange, we created a pizza!

the French cheese - starting with noon position: St. Felicien du Dauphine, Chevre avec cumin, Reblochon de Savoie, Le Brebion pur Brebis (sheep); Beaufort fromage (like Guyere)


Then it was just a matter of creating the pizza with everything else we had in the refrigerator.  Absolutely the best ever!

Fresh mozzarella, olives and tomatoes (this was before the e-coli scare!)



crisped prosciutto

and fresh basil, feta chunks and bits of pimento

grated cheese: combination of Holland Gouda and French Beaufort fromage


In general, Austrian produce, dairy and meat is very fresh and of high quality.  If you don’t buy your food directly from the farmer or butcher, you most certainly know from which farm it came, because everything is labeled that way, even in the grocery store!


Meanwhile, the dough was slightly rising with the yeast I bought a month ago.  Finally another use for yeast since the Easter hot cross buns!

whole wheat crust glazed with olive oil, sprinkled with pressed garlic, Italian herbs, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Add sliced salami and slighly cooked onion slices












partially baked pizza with salami and onion gets some grated cheese on top

and tomato, fresh mozzarella, other cheese, feta, olives, pimentos and basil











Back into the oven for the final cooking….


meanwhile, the local beer while we wait
















Eh, Voila…..the pizza au mélange!

While eating, we enjoyed a beautiful view out our window.  At this point, it is warm enough to be out on the terrace, and we don’t have to worry any longer about rutschgefahr (slipping) on the surface.

a hot air balloon appears just beyond our forest. we want to go up in it!

wisteria in bloom everywhere!













this is the old stop at Hilmteich

and here is the one we use!










In my opinion, there is no contest as to which one is lovelier.

the local Billa...ubiquitous grocery stores throughout Austria


So I will be working tomorrow on getting out some more photos of our many excursions in and  out of Graz.  Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

March(ing) into April

Spring is in full swing here in Graz.  The woodland flowers are blooming all around us; in the major plazas, tulips and crocus and other bulb-driven plants are appearing as if overnight (actually, they are –planted by gardening crews each spring, not springing forth from their winter sleep!); daffodils adorn private yards and maybe best of all, forsythia is turning on the lights in a significant show of flaming yellow!  I love forsythia – it was my Mom’s favorite spring flower and we had a wild and crazy plant out in our front yard when I was growing up in Virginia.

I am watching the forsythia in our front yard here in Graz – it’s a little ‘behind’ because it’s higher up, I guess, and I will post a photo when it’s ‘ready’. Meanwhile, this is what Jakominiplatz in central Graz looks like now:

flowers in Jakominiplatz

Last week was a quiet week – no major concerts or events, except for Bill’s talk in the Seminar Series his department at KFU/TU sponsors.   It was one of the first really warm spring abends (the late afternoon time) and students were enjoying the out of doors, a sight you would see on any university campus!

students relaxing on warm Spring day - KFU Graz


The talk went great, held in an old lecture hall in one of the buildings at KFU.  With each footfall on the worn marble steps I wondered about the history of the hall and of the students and faculty who walked here so long ago.   The university itself dates back to 1585, founded by Archduke Karl II of Inner Austria.  After some permutations, (including a stint as a lycee and a  medical school) it was reopened in 1827 by Emperor Franz I.  The main (old) buildings that exist on campus today were inaugurated in 1895.  Bill’s office is NOT in one of the old buildings.

Institute of Earth Sciences Building at KFU - old water well in foreground

The University hit a low point in 1938, when 17 percent of the teachers, the Nobel Prize winners Otto Loewi, Viktor Hess and Erwin Schrödinger among them, as well as almost two thirds of the students were ousted and expelled for “racist”, religious or political reasons.  Nearly 27,000 students are enrolled today.

The talk went well, attended by about 60 people – students, faculty, the deans of the two programs that are jointly sponsoring this Fulbright appointment.  The hall itself was old also:  long wooden benches arranged in rows, with a place to write in front.  Everything wooden! If not, how else would (no pun intended) we be able to knock on the ‘desk’ tops when the lecture was over?  (No applause in Austrian classrooms; if the students liked the lecture or class, they knock on the table or desk tops as a sign of their respect!)

Lecture Hall where Bill gave his talk - March 29 2011

I certainly knew I was in a science classroom, though!


Bill has some great colleagues here.  One of them is originally from California and is married to an Austrian woman.

Bill with colleague from his department

After the talk, there were lovely refreshments!  Out came a huge variety of Brötchen (a slice of bread topped with cheese, egg, different cuts of meat including sliced blood sausage, salami, fish, vegetables), local wines from east of Graz (white from just east and red from Burgenland, which borders Hungary), several kinds of beer, and juices to be mixed with water (your choice of stille or mit gas).  It was a great opportunity to meet some of the faculty, and some of the spouses as well.

after the talk - the refreshments


Graz is a lovely place to walk and we spent an evening  last week,  just walking around downtown, after bopping into Moser Buchhandlung to purchase, believe it or not, a Spanish-English dictionary.  There were choices in nearly every major language of the world, and only ONE Sp-En dictionary.  We got the last one!  As we walked we noticed that now all the restaurants and cafes have their platztischen (plaza tables) out, and the strolling musicians are there to accompany diners.

We passed the maroni stand,   (John, this one is for you!)

maroni (chestnuts) - about the size of a shooter marble or just a little larger

and the Dom, where the sun was glinting off the angel’s ‘crown’,

Graz Dom - angels in sunlight

and in one of the many courtyards, found the center for the Styrian government (Graz being the seat of Steinmark or Styria).


inner courtyard - Styria government offices

Outside, in a tree, another sure sing of spring!



The weather was so warm on Saturday that we made for our favorite local restaurant Hausrl im Wald, aiming for dinner on the patio.

on the patio at Hausrl im Wald

the 'chestnut' tree


This is a chestnut tree, but we think its a HORSE chestnut and not a true chestnut from which the maroni come.  Its buds signal flowers appearing soon and the arrangement of the branches looks very much like the horse chestnut in our neighbor’s yard at home.

ready to burst forth!

this is the bark


We inhaled enjoyed our dinner,  mostly because we had not eaten since 7:00 AM due to an unexpected trip out of town!

More on that to come!

Thanks for reading!