Sunday, July 15, 2007

Graz Week Ending July 15

Nothing to say, really. It's just pretty.
This week Greg began taking Italian lessons at Urania, which is the continuing education place at which we had been taking German classes. The experience is very different since 85% of the demographic is older Austrians as opposed to a collection of foreigners. For one thing, they are far rowdier and laugh a lot more, presumably since they are gearing up for a vacation in Italy.

Although it is quite a challenge to learn a new language in any case, it is beyond that to be taught a new language in a language that you are only borderline capable at in the first place. On the other hand, one problem with learning new German words is that we always are mentally connecting them to English words, which actually slows down the process of learning the language. In this class, Italian words are being explained in German, so it is actually better reinforcement in both languages at the same time. Although Greg's German is pretty lousy compared to the locals, he has learned a fair amount of Italian from self study, so it all works out pretty even. There is still another week to the class and a second session will take place in September.

In other news, we picked up a Wander-, Rad, und Freizeitkarte from the bookstore. This is a relatively detailed topographic map of the area north of Graz with all hiking trails, bike paths, lodging, trees of interest, and GPS coordinates clearly indicated. We saw all these things, except trees of interest. Someday, we'll see those, too.

As we are becoming a bit more adventurous in exploring Steiermark, this seems pretty useful. We have never been anywhere that is as serious about recreational cross-country biking as Austria is. There are trails in every direction and some of them run near the train tracks so that you can do one-way bike trips and take the train in the other direction. There are also frequently appearing restaurants along the larger trails should you need a Schnitzel and beer to proceed. Making a many-day trek across the country (around the size of Kentucky and FAR more mountainous) is not too uncommon.

Novelty food of the week: Purple bell pepper. If you don't really like peppers already, you won't like that one. The good news is, the green ones taste just like it, which broadens ones horizons of things not to like. To our surprise, it was a light creamy, almost white, color on the inside (unlike the green ones, which are an unsurprising green on the inside).

Took another long bike ride this weekend, north from town. The path follows the river, more or less, and is available on both sides of it, depending on whether you'd rather be right next to the train tracks, or right next to the highway. Right next to the river is not quite as much of an option as one might like. We went to the bustling metropolis of Deutschfeistritz, population 4090, which is about a 25 or 30 mile round trip, depending on the number of bike path closures, detours, and general losing the trail one does. We did spend a bit of that time lost in a detour. Not coincidentally, we learned a new word, Umleitung (detour...) to help us get around. The detour was only marked far enough to get us totally separated from the proper path and disoriented, and then they ran out of signs, or thought it was funny or something. It was OK, the town we were lost in was drenched in European charm, and not much drenched in the various smells of livestock. Plus, when you're (more or less) following the river, it's not that hard to get reoriented.

Trains run every day of the week here, passenger and freight trains. It's actually pretty exciting when you're riding your bike on a tiny bridge right over a speeding train, or directly next to a track where there intercity express going screaming by. But then that passes, and it goes back to being bucolic again in a few seconds.

"Yep, we're in Europe." This is one of the fancy things we saw, while we were lost in a little detour town. No idea what it is, but it looked pretty cool over there in the distance. We were going to make more pictures in that town, but then we realized we'd parked right next a beekeeper in full whites & mesh, who had just doused two large hives in smoke and opened them... so we moved on.

The first picture shows part of the town we'd just come through, possibly Gratwein, although it's hard to know for sure where you are, because there's no sign until you are leaving the town, and pass the sign with the name of the town, and a strike through it.

In the second picture, those are northbound train tracks on the left; our bike path winding down to the right. How can you NOT want to explore this trail?? Not far after this spot, we passed an educational planting arrangement; a series of specimen trees and shrubs, all marked with tidy tags with the name on. They were even printed large enough and planted far enough apart that a bicyclist can catch most of whizzing by without stopping (which is why we don't have pictures of that). It even answered a question we've had all week, which is, what are those small, dark, incredibly tasty raspberries that started showing up at the market (Japanese wineberries, apparently. Not to be confused with the barberries, that are also apparently called Japanese Wineberries, especially if you're British.)
Here's some great non-vandalism graffiti we saw. How do we know it's not vandalism? Well, that's the name of the company that lives in the building... actually, it looked like most of the buildings behind this one had major murals painted on them, but we weren't anywhere near the actual road that goes back there.
Nice house, right? This is pretty much the standard model for around here--boxy and very sturdy looking. The local preference for stucco type finishes on buildings is probably a southern/eastern influence. Most of the towns and villages are full of these, and sometimes they have 2 or more ornately carved wooden balconies on each side. This house is notable for NOT having any porches, balconies, or flower boxes. Hey, what's that thing on the top?

It's a nest with 4 white storks in it! We figure these are fledglings; they look pretty big, but they were loitering in that way that teenagers do, when they should get out of the house, but haven't. (Also their beaks and legs haven't turned red yet.) That sighting was one of the happy accidents; we were going totally the wrong way on the path when Greg spotted that up above the street. Thanks to Gram Florence for IDing the birds--we were on the phone with her while writing this, and we thought they were herons, and she said she knew there were white stork nests here. Sure enough, that's what they are.Not long after that, we saw an huge hawk or something soaring around up the mountain from where we were. Too high up for a good picture, but clearly another enormous bird. (Then it turned into one of those areas with an excess of animal crap smell, and we had to flee.)

This is a neat joining of two streams, on the right is a water gate of some kind. There are little waterways like this all over the place here. There is something in the Austrian national anthem about this being the land of mountains and streams... That water looked unbelievably inviting after a couple of hours of biking around in 100° heat!And now we're just hanging around the house with the shades drawn, because it's much hotter outside than inside. If it gets any hotter, we'll probably just go down to the basement room and lay on the floor.We're putting the pictures smaller than before, to save some download space for you. If you want to see the full-size version, clicking on the image should do it. If not, just go to the Photobucket site and check 'em out there.

In the news of other countries, happy Bastille Day! :)

-Holly & Greg

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