Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Graz Update

(Note: Every week, or close to it, my friends Greg and Holly send out a letter about their adventures in Graz, Austria. With their permission, I am posting it here.)

We started a German for non-native speakers class on the 15th. There are about a dozen people in the class, all of whom speak German at different levels. We can, mostly, understand each other. At least, in the subjects that we are discussing in class. The current theme is appearance, personality traits, and interpersonal relationships. We're all describing our family and friends in all the halting and possibly incorrect terms available, so if your ears are burning, that's probably why. A bit of comedy ensued when someone asked Greg about his Freundin, or maybe his Freunden. There's not much audible difference between the two words, especially when pronounced by a Turkish guy who's only been speaking German for a couple of weeks, but conceptually there's a big difference--- one means girlfriend singular, and the other means friends, generally and plurally. Occasionally someone (frequently the instructor, but not always) pulls out a word that no one ever heard of, or uses words in ways none of us has ever seen. On some occasions, the confusion may be an issue of Austrian dialect, rather than faulty book-learning. There's a rather large number of verb usage things that are different just in Austria, and would be considered bad grammar anywhere else in the German speaking world. The class continues twice weekly until the end of June. The next level class is the EU proficiency exam prep class.
The fruit trees are all just at the end of blooming here, which means in some places there are tremendous drifts of petals in the street, and if it's windy, it appears to be snowing fat, pink snow. In the less majestic side of nature, there's some kind of white lilac thing blooming directly in front of our apartment, and it's attracting something that looks like a honey bee, only it's about 1.25" long. These occasionally come the window, and the cat gets very, very excited about that. Greg and Holly... less so. But then, Greg and Holly have never been seized by the wild desire to put bees into their own mouths.

Greg is ever on the quest for new and interesting, or at least, new and as-yet-untasted local beers. Last Saturday he located one beer that, even if the name didn't include the name of the region we're in, would've been pegged as local, based just on its inclusion of the local specialty ingredient... kurbiskernöl (roasted pumpkin seed oil), but what really sold him on this particular bottle of beer was a slogan at the top of the label: "Kraft für der Mann, Genuß für die Frau"... In translation, it means "Strong for the man, Enjoyable for the lady"... and it was. Holly drank most of that one. Greg's testing out another one this week, very strong--11% alcohol, compared to, say 3% for Budweiser in the U.S.--Eggenberger Urbock 23°. Speaking of beer, the German Purity Law was declared on April 23 (1516) and it is now celebrated on April 23 as German Beer Day... so hopefully those of you who drink beer, observed the day with something suitable. The German Purity Law is here, for the interested. It basically means that people aren't allowed to brew beer with grass or other random vegetation in it, and also not to get gouge-y on the prices.

Holly tried a new flavor of ice cream this week, Malaga. She ordered it without knowing what Malaga is, and it turns out that it is reminiscent of some kind of smoked meat, or maybe mushrooms... but not in a bad way. It was definitely ice cream flavored, too. For the entire duration of her ice cream cone, she asked questions like, "What IS this?!" and "What the hell is Malaga?!" Eventually the internet divulged the recipe, which claims to be some kind of rum-raisin thing. Only... this had so few raisins, and no flavor of rum, that Holly can't confirm that at all. Also, the raisins may have been smoked, instead of sun-dried. We will try a different Eissalon, next time. Greg's Pistazie scoop was only mildly pistachio flavored as to make one think maybe that particular vendor was cutting the flavors with unflavored ice cream. Not that it was doing them any harm, in terms of business, the place was jam-packed, and is always jam packed. They have a dozen locations in Graz, and they are jam-packed pretty much whenever they are open.

We have recently gotten our Skype software up and running, and tested it out a bit. Our internet access situation has been changed, by the vendor (surprisingly) to be unlimited access, at the same price as before. So we're enjoying that. It means we can have cheap-as-free phone calls with family and friends over the internet. If you are interested, go to and get the software and email us to set up a good time to chat. We are capable of video-conferencing, but that's not necessary to do Skype, it works well as a voice-only connection.

Holly purchased a bike this past week, and Greg got his the previous week. This means we will begin taking leisurely bike rides in the countryside. Of course, this is a proper city, which means we'll most likely have to take the train to get to the really scenic bit of countryside. Not surprisingly, ÖBB (the Austrian rail service) has special rates, just for that purpose. We have taken one bike ride up to the the Murradweg, which is a bike path following the river here, the Mur. It starts at the origin of the river in Salzburg on the German border, and winds through the mountains all the way down to the hot springs area south of here, on the border with Slovenia, running for about 360km continuously, not counting all the nice side paths. We didn't go that far! In fact, we barely went as far as the next village over. But it was nice, very rural and scenic. The transition from city to countryside here is amazingly swift, usually as little as turning a corner. The path (at least where we were) follows both the river and the train tracks, and we were on a path we'd seen from the train, when we went to Vienna at the beginning of April. Tuesday is May Day, a national holiday rather like Labor Day, and we're thinking of doing some more river-side biking then. There are some fancy pictures of the Murradweg here: (Note! That will download a .PDF file. It's NOT a webpage link. Also, all the text is in German, but the point of it is the pictures, so don't let that stop you.)

We finally tried bärlauch (bear's garlic, or Britishly known as ramson, or bear's allium) from the farm market this week. It's something that started showing up there a few weeks ago, and we thought we'd do some research and find out what to do with it, before buying any. Turns out, it's a wild garlicky/oniony leafy thing that's very, very tasty, and we should've been buying it every chance we got, because it has a very short season. Once it blooms, which is will from now until November, it doesn't taste like much. It looks just like the leaves of Lily of the Valley, but tastes like a very mild garlic or a pleasant chive... and not poisonous, like Lily of the Valley. Here's the first website I found describing it not-in German (, and most descriptions of it agree that it can't be cultivated domestically... which may be why we'd never seen it in the U.S. Anyway, the moral of that story is: buy the unknown, seasonal food FIRST, ask questions and do research after... Next year, we're going to make better use of bärlauch season. One can apparently make fantastic pesto with it, and we're pretty excited to try that. The farm market is really picking up speed now, with berries and baby carrots and many more flowers, and young onions (white and purple, which we'd never seen before, and they're about 3x the size of the spring onions you get in the U.S.)--which make amazing onion soup--and garlic greens and all manner of pleasant local foods. The vendors always seem a little sad, disappointed that we're not buying more... but somehow we come home with more than we can carry, and can barely stuff all the fresh veggies into our tiny little fridge!

We also broke down a got a coffee machine to replace the crappy one-serving drip maker we've been using. The old coffee maker was capable of ruining even very good coffee. The new thing is a capsule system, where it forces water at different pressures through pre-packaged espresso (very high pressure) or regular coffee (at much lower pressure). The quality of the coffee is fantastic, and we're pleased to discover that the capsules can easily be refilled with other coffees. (It's a proprietary system, so there aren't that many varieties of coffee available from the manufacturer.) Also, refilling the capsules with other coffees is bound to be cheaper, and less waste-producing. It was also very easy to get going with it, about 8 minutes from zero to drinking espresso, including a panicked moment when the German instructions had disappeared, and all we had to go on was the Dutch instructions. (What about the English instructions, you say? You MUST be kidding! The cat's food has ingredients and text in 9 languages, none of which are English.) Carmelita is using the coffee machine box as some kind of fort.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The historic city centre of Graz was awarded World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in more