Monday, June 04, 2007

Graz Update 6 June

Follow up from two weeks past: Lemongrass Radler is not as exotic as it sounds. Not a very strong flavor, overall. Also not offensive. We experimented since then with mixing some of our own Radler, trying 4 beers and 4 non-beers--not all at once! We tried Limonade, which is like lemonade, but fizzy, and orange soda, and Almdudler (the national soda of Austria) and a citrus drink that claimed not to have any sugar added. None were especially exciting, and one was pretty bad. (The citrus drink turned out to have 3 kinds of artificial sweetener.) Radler probably tastes best with draft beer and premium limonade, but some of the canned products really aren't bad.

Greg found a bottle of what claimed to be "the world's strongest lager" ... and it probably was. 14% alcohol is a lot. But he still couldn't drink it. It tasted worse than Zima (in a different, much maltier way, of course.) Holly was suspicious from the start of any local beer that is prominently labeled in English--that's just not normal here! It was the taffy of beers, needed scissors to pour it...

Tried yet another grower's market last week, the Andritz market, just north of here. It's not huge, but had a good selection, and nice vendors. We managed to pick up a little oregano plant that desperately needs re-potting, and probably also a lot more direct sun than our apartment gets, and also we had to wash it, because Carmelita wanted to lick all the leaves, and some red carrots, which are tasty, and probably crammed full of antioxidants or something healthy. Also farm fresh eggs, and a big pile of veggies of various types. The little tiny potatoes are unbelievably special here.
After comparing notes, we realized that we are in agreement, that some ordinary things taste very different here. Almonds, for instance, have a great deal more of that almond flavor, that almost-cherries type whiff, that you get from things like amaretto, marzipan, and almond flavor syrups. In the U.S., almonds are much more uniformly mild, possibly even bland. Here, they can come in a WIDE range of flavor/strength, even within a single bag of almonds. Sometimes, for variety, they're freakishly bitter, and lead to a fervent wish to have not-just-eaten-that. We've yet to find a red or pink grapefruit that wasn't apparently a white grapefruit wearing different pyjamas, and as mentioned previously, bread is very different. That may have a lot to do with different local yeast populations.
Friday before last, we saw the latest Pirates of the Caribbean installment, which has been hugely popular here. (As everywhere, if the news is to be trusted.) Most theaters in Graz were showing a triple-feature of all 3 pirate movies! That's TOO MANY hours in one theater seat, unquestionably. However, we saw just the one (3 hour) film in the Royal, the English language theater, with Melanie. She said there were more people in the theater than she'd ever seen in there before, which was remarkable, because the theater wasn't even 1/3 full. This may be related to an article in the paper the previous week about how the Royal may close, if it doesn't get more business...
Last Monday was a holiday here, so Greg had off work. We had a great bike ride, out to Mariatrost (the big yellow basilica outside town) and back. On the way there, we took a wrong turn, and unknowingly worked very, very hard to get up a steep hill on a dead end street. A resident of the top of the hill seemed to find this terribly amusing--she was walking up the hill, and knew we were wrong before we did, but she didn't say anything until we turned around to descend. The woman actually stopped Holly and took time to explain that it was funny, that we'd climbed all that way, up a dead end street. You know, in case *we* didn't know it was funny. It's hard to laugh when you're gasping for breath...
Speaking of things that are explained to us by strangers, one of the neighbors informed Greg that we have a parking spot in the basement garage, by way of asking if she could use it for the weekend... She seemed surprised that we'd never even been in the basement garage, but not having a car, it seemed natural to us...
And, speaking of recent discoveries, just a few days ago Holly discovered yet another alarming aspect of the Toilet From Hell. As if it needed another horrifying aspect. If you check under the inside rim of an American toilet, you'll most likely find a solid, curved porcelain surface, with inset water outlets. Our toilet is not like that. Up under the inside rim is a recess (knew that) that has to be cleaned by jamming the sponge up under the rim (knew that too). Unfortunately, it turns out the under-the-rim area is MUCH deeper than previously thought. There's a good 2.5 or 3 inches of hollow porcelain where the jets live--basically an ENTIRE largish sponge fits up in there, and still has some room. The angle is such that the toilet brush does not go there. And it's not enameled, like the outside surfaces, which means that it's incredibly hard to clean. Accumulated moisture turns into accumulated mildew or ... something. Something mucky and horrifying. (You can thank Holly later for resisting the urge to stick the camera under and make a photo of this.)
Anyway, we can accept there may be health care philosophies that make the poo shelf seem like a good idea, even if we ourselves are not interested in that. But it seems pretty remote that a mildew hatchery is in any arguable way beneficial.
Now, to change the subject entirely, Holly got a library card, which looks rather a lot like a Target gift card, but isn't. It's better. Contrary to what the cat thinks of the library card, this is exciting, as the libraries here are well stocked and conveniently located, while the bookstores are well stocked and very, very expensive. The nearest library location is five minutes away by foot, and roughly the same size as our apartment. Unlike our apartment (surprisingly), it's got 14,000+ titles in it. The library system also has a delightfully detailed web site, which indicates exactly the holdings of each branch of the library. That local branch has these things, for instance:
14,262 titles, in the categories of:
5.129 fictional works
3.826 Non-fiction
3.703 Children/Youth
47 Periodical subscriptions (including a year of back issues)
1.557 Audiobooks (This may include music)

There are no films at this branch, because the library maintains a separate Mediathek, just for CDs, DVDs, Computer things, music, movies, videotapes, and games. Basically anything not printed on paper and bound is likely to be there. How cool is that?

This weekend, we made two excursions to local hills that we'd not explored very much. One, in our neighborhood, is called the Reinerkogel.

There's a rather long stairway called the Jakobsleiter (Jacob's Ladder) going up, 400 steps up, to a nice wooded park area at the top. Which we didn't stop to enjoy, on account of the thunder that started right about the time we got there.

Fantastic number of slugs and snails, on the way up. We went down by the walking path instead of the stairs, and got a good look at the semi-rural area just past the edge of our neighborhood. We also found a very, very steep road.

The face Greg's making in this picture means, "I hope this is the right road, because coming back UP this way would be much worse than going downhill!"
The German word for slug ( Nacktschnecken), by the way, translates literally as "naked snail," which we find pretty entertaining. The one in the picture is a minimum of 5" long. We had to use the flash, because the thunderclouds had totally obscured the sunlight by that point, around 1 p.m.
The other trek we made, across town behind the Eggenberg palace, gave us a great view of the southern 2/3 of the city. That hill is covered with some very enticing looking hiking trails, but we stuck to the fire road, because we have not yet had our immunization against tick-borne encephalitis, which is quite common here. We should be revisiting that soon, though. We were intrigued by a large tunnel in the side of the hill, apparently letting into a quite deep cavern--there was icy cold air blasting out of it in the middle of a hot day. We were a little surprised to see electric lights on in the tunnel, even though it was locked up.

Sorry to send out two weeks worth at once, time flies... Hope to hear from you soon!

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