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!






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.’

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!











Nature walk

We were enjoying a quiet evening in the flat last Friday, April 1.  The long work week, replete with talks and classes, was giving way to expectation of wandering the Styrian hills and maybe a trip to Eggenberg Scholss, a large palace complex at the end of Tram Line 1.  Saturday was supposed to be in the high 70’s and we were looking forward to walking around, even without seeing all the flowers that would undoubtedly be planted there if we went later in the season.  But first, time to sleep.

Then the phone rang! (10:00 PM)   It was Sebastian, our birding friend, and ‘did we want to go out birding on Sunday?  He would be leading a BirdLife Austria group and we were invited.  (to be fair to Sebastian, he didn’t think we would have our handys turned on that late at night!)   Then he called back a few minutes later asking if we wanted to go on Saturday as well, if he could reach his birding friend with the car to order to check his schedule.  Then, another call, saying he could not reach him and so Sunday it was.  And so we went to bed, thinking we’d do a few errands on Saturday (remember stores are not open at all on Sunday), and maybe visit the Schloss.

The next morning, awakened by the melodies of birds and the sun already calling ‘get up’ we were actually birding from the bed!  Our apartment windows are at about the same height as the trees surrounding it, so it makes for easy and compelling observation.  It was 7 AM and the phone rang.

Sebastian again, saying he had reached his friend with the car and did we want to go out TODAY?  Could we be ready in ½ hour?  Bill was saying ‘of course’ as I was without coffee mumbling incoherently throwing on clothes.  We inhaled quite possibly the best morning breads we’ve had in Austria, gulped yesterday’s coffee, assembled some sandwiches, and got ourselves downstairs on time.   Whew.

Waiting for us were Sebastian and Wilfried.  Wilfried is the Chair of BirdLife Styria (partnered with Audubon in the US) and also a botany professor at KFU.  How do we keep meeting just the folks who can answer so many of our questions?



Wilfried, Sebastian and Jean 'on the road'

The day’s birding was simply terrific, from the Lapwings nesting in the fields at the Graz Flughafen (seems like a precarious existence to me!) and pheasants, to crested Grebes, Green and Wood Sandpipers, and a variety of ducks on small ponds in the area.


lapwing on nest at the airport


Lapwings are very cool birds.  Both genders are striking in appearance, but the males especially, with their mohawk hair-style feather-style, and funny, floppy wings.  We saw many doing a display flight.   Here is a female sitting on the nest (digiscoped, must improve technique!)



closeup lapwing on nest

The day was simply gorgeous.  We’ve come to almost expect that in Styria.  It seems to rain a bit, just enough to perk up more flowers and nudge more tree leaves into showing up, and then it’s sunny and warm.  The typical haze was gone and we could see snowcapped mountains in the not too far distance.  What you can’t ‘see’ however is the lovely aroma from the farm fields.  Hey, it’s spring and time to fertilize, naturlich, for growing all those pumpkins and corn!  Naturlich means cow, pig and worst-smelling of all, chicken manure!


ein schöner Tag

We crisscrossed the valleys surrounding Graz, going west, then south, then east, looking in fields, by streams and in woods, with us collecting new birds the way children collect stones at the edge of a lake. Our list ‘pockets’ were filling up!

The highlight, though, had to be watching the swans.  These were mute swans. We have them also in the US but they are introduced birds, often seen in city parks.  These swans are in their native habitat, which maybe makes them feistier.   So you’re probably thinking of some stately and peaceful creature, gliding along on the water’s surface as if on ice.


mute swan on pond, deceptively 'serene'

Resplendent in their breeding plumage their behavior is anything but serene.  I have never heard such a racket nor seen such a fight!  At one pond we witnessed a territorial dispute between two cobs.


'just visiting' swan hopes to stay on pond


not if this one has anything to say about it!


It’s a small pond and, sorry, there is only room for one pair.  The male whose mate was nesting at one end repeatedly attacked another pair until they finally got the message and left.


fight between two swan cobs


Unfortunately that piece of grass decided to move right in front of the camera at the wrong moment!  But there were feathers everywhere!

It was pretty exciting!

Click on the photo below to see the swan action and hear the amazing sound of the wings!


Along the way, we saw frogs, toads, and eggs of the same.  Also some very strong beetles moving a squashed toad!  And you thought ants were the musclemen/women of the insect world!


frog or toad eggs in pond



beetles on/under dead toad

More flowers, and yes, even some snipes!


lily (rare) in woods near Kirchberg ponds


yellow wildflower


this one is nick-named 'hansel und gretl' - it changes from blue to pink


white bell shaped flower. need to find the name!

To scare up snipes, Sebastian donned big rubber boots and mucked along through the swamp!


Sebastian mucking about, flushing snipes. It worked! We saw 7!

It was a lovely day for a stroll through the woods.


the guys strolling; me, checking out those wildflowers!

We never DID get to Eggengberg Castle but maybe in May, we can arrange it!

We’ll be traveling now for the next few weeks – Vienna, Spain, Salzburg, Altenpostmarkt, Vienna, and Budapest.  I am almost worn out just thinking about it!

Vielen Dank, as always, for reading and for your comments!

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.





lake with Erika blooming on other side


Bill was more intersted in the FISH!



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…!  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!



There’s danger in them there woods….

We learned so many interesting things at the Fulbright Orientation in Vienna last week.  One in particular, however, made the hair stand up on the back of our necks and us sit up in rapt attention.

The presenter said, “In a few weeks, you will see giant billboards appearing all over Austria, with the words KILLER TICKS on them.  Take them seriously.”


What he was referring to were two diseases prevalent here in Europe:  Lyme Disease and Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE).  Lyme disease we know about and surely do not want to contract.  Yet, if one fails in prevention and notices the tell-tale red bulls-eye, then at least there are quickly administered antibiotics.

Not so with TBE!  I don’t even want to think about the ramifications, but as the doctor we saw today said, “It is not pretty.”

Of course, it’s not as much a problem if one lives in the middle of Vienna or Graz.  However, remember where we live?  We live in the middle of the woods!  We walk through the woods to get to the streetcar stop.  We love hiking around the woods looking for birds.  Yup, prime candidates we are for this scourge.  According to the Traveler’s Health Yellow Book website some key characteristics are:

Transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick of the Ixodes species, primarily I. ricinus (European subtype) or I. persulcatus (Siberian and Far Eastern subtypes). The virus is maintained in discrete areas of deciduous forest where both the tick vectors and animal hosts (mainly rodents) are found.

The highest incidences are reported in Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Most cases occur during April–November, with peaks in early and late summer when ticks are active.

The incidence and severity of disease are highest in persons >50 years of age.

I can’t begin to tell you how happy all of this made me!  I love nature, but there is one critter that I have never been able to summon  one shred of appreciation, even Darwinian respect, for and that is THE TICK!   Perhaps this has something to do with growing up in the woods of Virginia and regularly picking ticks off self and dogs; or finding seed ticks that had hatched IN OUR HOUSE in Nevada after our dog (who’d never had tick one) had been boarded at a commercial kennel, or knowing several friends who’ve had the unfortunate encounter with Lyme Disease.

Still, there is help here in Austria.  You get vaccinated in advance for the TBE.  And it is so easy!  Merely go into any Apotheka (Pharmacy) and ask for the vaccine over the counter.  That is assuming you can make yourself understood.  Bill tried to pick up the first two doses for us (administered in 3 doses, first two of which we will get) at the corner Apotheka near the University.  He even used the right words, he thought, but the pharmacist looked at him and said “Diabetes?”  Fortunately another customer knew his meaning and helped him out!


the vaccine comes with a little picture of a tick on the box--that's how we knew we had the right stuff!

Then, you can either administer the vaccine yourself, (no way) or you can find a doctor who will administer the vaccine for you!

KEIN PROBLEM!  Fortunately, at the Fulbright Meeting, we were also given an website link to find doctors who speak English here in Austria.  One was on our street car line, at the other end of the city, but easily reached.  I called the office last week, began in German and switched to English to transmit the important details.  Bingo.  Off we went today to see die Ärztin (female doctor, general practitioner) at 10 AM.



ringing in at the doctor's office--the sign says "Arzt"

So, most places you go, as in official offices or buildings, require a ring-in to be able to get in.  We had to ring in three times at different points to reach the Fulbright Office in Vienna and once here for the doctor.   The office waiting room was fairly full, and spartan by US standards.  Just simple wooden chairs, a coat rack and some magazines for browsing.  The reception area was in another room altogether, to insure privacy.  (US medical establishment, take note!)

The receptionists couldn’t have been more helpful.  We tried a little German and they tried a lot of English, and very well at that.  We only waited maybe 5 minutes once seated back in the waiting room, when the call for Familie Woessner (with the real pronunciation of that name!) came ringing out.  We almost missed it!

We went back in…no exam room…and met the doctor in her office, who stood up and shook our hands and we had a good discussion about ticks.  No side effects from the vaccine,  and next time,  she will provide the vaccine which is cheaper at her office.  (Oh my gosh, USA medical community, are you listening?)

Then she gave us the vaccines.  She, herself.  No nurses.  She explained that nurses in Austria are well trained but perhaps not legally able to give shots, so the doctors do it.  We found the whole experience completely painless and so interesting.   We return in two weeks to get round # 2. (we are getting the ‘rapid immunization, as we are just on the cusp of tick emergence here!)  If we can acquire round #3, and have it administered in the US, then we will be protected for about 3 years.


I still plan to watch birds, walk through the woods, and enjoy living in the beautiful Hilmteich.  But forewarned is forearmed.

Now, where is my can of DEET?



stay away, keep out! this means YOU!



Into the woods

So.  We have been here in Austria three and a half days and it feels like about two weeks, after all the details we’ve had to attend to:  basically in order, we’ve bought groceries, moved in, unpacked, rearranged the small amount of furniture at our flat, and made numerous trips into Graz to get registered at the city registration bureau, work with the Uni Graz IT wizard to get connected to the internet, open an Austrian bank account, and pick up a used printer for our apartment.  Everyone has been absolutely kind and helpful; most people speak English better than we speak German, although we are trying very hard “sprechen auf Deutsch.”

All of you have been clamoring for photos so here they are with ein bisschen (a little bit) of commentary, for clarity’s sake.

Graz is in the south of Austria, not terribly close to the mountains, although there are rolling hills around.  We live on one of those hills at the eastern end of the city, near a small teich or pond, hence the name Hilmteich.  I am still trying to figure out what ‘hilm’ means, and will have to ask someone local because it’s not in any of the 10 dictionary or phrase books we brought along.

On one side of the pond is an imposing edifice…maybe a former small schloss (castle) but nothing appears to be happening there at the moment.

On the other side is the wooded hillside.  The woods are a mixture of deciduous (beech, oaks, maples) and conifers (cedar, firs, spruce).  Along the way up to our apartment we pass a Dancing School and a Wood School.  We are not sure what the wood school is…I thought it might be an educational outreach, as in nature center, but on the other hand, after hearing chain saws nearly every morning (good grief we can’t get away from them, even in Austria!) we wonder if there is some wood sculpting school going on!

the dance school we pass on the way up our hill

wood school at the bottom on the hill, or maybe it’s really at the top!

We’re about a 7 minute walk from the city street, up through the woods.  The woods are absolutely alive with birds chirping.  So far we’ve only had time to identify one bird…it is the Great Tit.  I am not making this up.  It looks like a chickadee but bigger and has an amazing array of songs and calls.

We can’t wait to have a little more time to explore the woods before spring/summer arrive and presumably lots of people.

Here’s why!

part of the Kletterkurs (climbing/ropes course) located on our hill

Not only is this a major climbing/ropes course but also a major fitness center.  There is a 21 km running course (cross country) as well as signs appearing every few meters, urging people on to greater health and fitness.  We see joggers, runners and just people having a walk in beautiful surroundings every day.  Inspirational, but you won’t see me up there among the trees.

Bill on the road up our hill


Right now, the snow is melting a little bit, although it has been cold here—in the 20’s and 30’s F. but sunny. (Yes, I know it has been even colder in Montana!)  Locals say this is ‘unusually cold’ for the end of February.  Doesn’t that sound familiar?

At the end of the walk is our apartment, one of about six in this remodeled villa.

the 100-year-old villa where our apartment is

There are a few other residents here…one family with a baby, and another with a dog, but we haven’t really had an opportunity to meet them yet.  The apartment is spacious.  The description we read in the original literature about the Technical University Guesthouse mentioned two rooms, plus a kitchen and bathroom.  We had no idea it would look like this:  parquet floors, 18 foot ceilings and massive wooden shutters to close over the otherwise unadorned windows!  The furniture is, by contrast, extremely modern.  There is plenty of storage space.  Here are some smaller photos of our Häuschen.

the door must be 100 years old. It is very heavy to open!

the dining room – balcony and terrace to the right









the foyer
the kitchen – galley style but efficient

the bedroom is part of the subdivided big room. It’s partially walled off from a sitting area by the clothes cabinets.









my ‘office’ is the pass through between the bedroom and the dining room

the view from the terrace (large enough for a good size table and chairs)










the bathroom









The latter might be the one point of frustration for us.  It’s the most complicated machine I have ever seen, and our German is definitely not good enough to decipher the manual.  I have never seen a machine that supposedly washes and dries clothes.  We are looking for some rope and clothespins tomorrow when we venture west of town to a bigger shopping center.

this is a washer and a dryer!

One of the pleasures of living in the woods is the fellow inhabitants.  I was charmed to find these guys (girls?) spending their winter between the storm and inside windows.

we have some other guests in the guest house!

This ladybug is small and efficient.  And it’s  like much of what we see in Austria.  I am struck by the small size of refrigerators, kitchens, washing machines, showers, water tanks, spoons, cars and trash receptacles.  Everything that isn’t waste is recycled.  People here have developed an ethic that is somehow missing in the U.S., where bigger is surely better.   We could learn a lot from these folks.

Lastly, for tonight at least, this is for the Dinosaurs in my (old) classroom at UCCC.

The crystal heart is hanging right where the sun can catch it!

Tomorrow, it’s off for some household essentials (those clothespins I mentioned, laundry soap, and a small rug to catch the mud in the foyer) and maybe on Sunday, the historic center of the city.  Thanks for reading and tschüss!