Monday, June 18, 2007

Graz Update June 17 2007

This past week was perhaps most notable for the lack of federal holidays. In fact, a glance at the calendar suggests there will be no more holidays until Assumption Day, in August. However, as far as we can tell, most of Austria will be on vacation for much of July and August--most Austrian employees get 5 or 6 weeks of vacation, some probably get as many as 8. This is how we soothe the ache of insufficient holidays... The weather's been gorgeous, warm and sunny, with brief rain showers almost every afternoon. The flowers here are looking amazing!

In the spirit of trying any random thing we find at the grocery store, we purchased a package of "American Toast" which is, in fact, what Americans might call "American Cheese." It's every bit as sticky and weird as what one gets in the U.S. What we actually wanted was the less-sticky, less-waxy deli-style American, which is perfect for making grilled cheese, and apparently no longer available anywhere in the world. The optimism about the cheese was grounded in our discovery that the "American Orange Soda" is what orange soda was in the U.S. about fifteen years ago--more fizzy than sweet, and without corn syrup.

Holly went for a walk up the Reinerkogel again this week, on a day without a storm. She even took the 23% grade uphill, and then came back down the Jakobsleiter. These pictures (and others, that you can see in Photobucket) were taken along the way.

The little bitty fungi in this picture are even smaller than they seem... consider that the Euro cent coin is about 1/2 the size of an American penny!

This picture shows the optimism of the locals. While this is technically inside city limits, clearly it's a pretty rural area, a scenic country lane, right? That piece of paper pinned to the tree (in a plastic sleeve to keep the rain off!) is an Apartment Wanted posting--one of several seen along the walk. Kind of makes one wonder how many people are willing to let rooms in their home to strangers here. Probably quite a few. (Speaking of posted signs, we didn't make a photo of it, but we did learn that, if you are going to give your cat a profane name, it's probably better to keep good track of the cat, so you don't have to roam the neighborhood shouting profanity and posting signs advertising for same...)

Coming down off the Reinerkogel (and remembering how rural it does seem) the road was totally blocked by the street cleaning truck! That may well be the only thing on the road that moves slower than Holly naturally does, so they made their way---very slowly---down the hill together.

On Saturday, we decided to take another shot at reaching the castle on the hill that has been taunting us for some time. See it up there at the top of the picture/hill, taunting us? We did try to get there before but without success. This time we ended up turning up another road through the woods. On the other side of the forest road, we came into a scenic pastoral (think Hobbiton) area between the hills. It seems that a fair amount of the land here is being cultivated for Kürbis (the almost-pumpkins that the famously tasty oil is made of) and corn. A lot of the yards had fruit trees and we saw at least one place selling their cherries for cheap (equivalent to 70 cents per pound).

After a lot of uphill peddling, we finally spotted a sign for the Bergruine Gösting (Gösting castle ruins). The road terminated at someone's yard and we had to trek trough the yard to an unconvincing dark hollow next to some old farm equipment. Not long in the woods, we decided to leave our bikes behind and go on foot. From there it was about 45 minutes uphill to the ruins. It was, however, quite worth it. (And not only for the ripe wild raspberries.)

The castle was started around 1138 with additions for a few hundred years. In 1723, a lightning bolt hit the gun powder storage, obliterating a big chunk of the castle. We can only imagine how spectacular that was. Part of the castle is still intact and we did poke around inside. We went through a couple of dark old rooms and a dark, short, narrow, cobwebby hallway and were surprised to discover an entire church in one room. We were allowed to go up in the tower, but just the loudly creaking see-through first floor gave us sufficient trepidation to go back outside.

Unsurprisingly, there were some people setting up a tent in one of the nooks not 20 feet from a no-camping-in-the-nooks sign. (Remember that Austrian passive-aggressive thing we've been talking about?)

In other news, Greg bought a MIDI keyboard for a self-imposed birthday present with intentions of musical noodling. (The picture below is what Holly expects to see of him from here on out...) He also registered for a two-week Italian course over the summer since there are no Deutsch als Fremdsprache courses until the fall. Meanwhile, Holly has been experimenting with neat water color and ink styles. This week we bought some more novelty chocolate bars. There are so many to choose from and we're not sure we could get through them all in two years (we ARE trying!). One was a white chocolate bar, which we are ordinarily opposed to, but this one had Heidelbeeren (blueberries) and something satisfyingly crispy and the other contained vanilla and lemongrass.

Greg bought a bottle of Malzbier which, as the friendly lion on the label will tell you, is suitable for children and pregnant women since its alcohol free. In fact it is commonly used for the latter, presumably due to the B vitamins. It was bit too sweet and made his teeth hurt, but was worth trying (once).
We also made chocolate chip cookies and Greg brought them to the Uni for his coworkers. Since people here are pretty fond of baked goods, we figured they would be an exotic item since they don't appear in the shops ever. They were well received. There were many more pictures this week than seemed reasonable to put into one write-up, so please feel free to take a look at those. Click here to go to the album: (the password is graz) If you have questions about any of the photos, just ask, we'll be happy to tell you a story...


Holly & Greg

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