June 22, 2012

Arrived Freiburg im Breisgau, Hotel Rappen

The flight to Frankfurt was long, but basically uneventful.  Sarah and I watched a couple of movies together, I picked up maybe 1.5-2 hours asleep, then ;lksnadfn. . . . . .

June 23, 2012

So that sorts out and summarizes our arrival fairly well: exhausted, we arrived.  By plane and train and train and foot, we arrived.  The flight was fine, including individualized in-flight movies (Sarah and I watched John Carter simultaneously and thus together).  I caught an hour of sleep.  We switched trains at Mannheim, ending up on a packed train—we had to stand until Karlsruhe then found seats.  The train were mostly moving too fast to see—the trees and garden and factories that grow up near the tracks were too disorienting –but as we approached Freiburg, things cleared up a bit, and we got to see the hills of Bad Wimpfen.

We walked from the Freiburg train station to the hotel, stopping to buy gooseberries and raspberries along the way.  After checking in, we went straight back out to the market, then to a local museum.  Dinner was at the Rappen, and they took great care of us—it was excellent.  In a bit of a rush now—breakfast time, then off to Colmar!

23.7.12, 1700hr, Rappen

An excellent anniversary day!  After an amazing breakfast at the hotel, featuring the finest Schwarzwald schinken I've ever had, we wandered the market, picking up more gooseberries, sweet cherries, tomatoes, goat yoghurt & bergkase for our lunch today, with olives and pickled artichokes to boot.  Tomorrow the market is closed, so we bought our sundries for the Alpine drive, as well: a large cucumber, sausage and ham, plums, apricots and carrots.  I also bought two bottles of schnapps (mirabel and kraut), from an old gentlemen who had his still on display!  I also picked up a small but pretty bottle of locally-made kirschwasser, for Rick and Libby.  I expect, when we leave here, that I'll miss the local beer and wine—so I picked up a local Rivaner (which is a lot  like Silvaner, and bit like Liebfranmilch—lots of body and fairly sweet).

We then drove to Colmar, more or less accidentally taking the local roads, rather than the expressway.  It was a lucky choice—we passed through several very pretty villages, and had a great view of Breisach Domkirch, up on a high hill, from the valley below.

Colmar itself was wonderful: we got a bit lost, at first, but with some help from a map app on my phone, we quickly found the Unterlinden.  The Schongauer is always a treat (and Sarah even let me buy her a book about him, in French, with prints of a lot of his works that are housed in d'Unterlinden).  I went wild in the armory room (while Sarah rested in the corner, presaging our time in Graz), taking photos of swords and armor I want to commission replicas of.

Our picnic lunch complete, we wandered the town a bit, discovering the Dom that was built around 1280, to accompany the Kloster that is now the Unterlinden.  It featured an altarpiece by Schongauer, as well as two or three side altars, one of which struck me, because it clearly included a vault on top of the altar, with a carving of a burning bush and 4 Hebrew letters—I'm pretty sure it's meant for holding the Torah. . . I wonder if it was a local (Ashkenazi?) altar, influenced by or even shared with the historically strong local Jewish population?

25.Juli.12, Feldkirch Austria

Two drives

Yesterday, we left Freiburg, to our considerable sorrow, driving through the Hollenthal, eastward through the Black Forest, past the Bodensee and then south along its shores.  The morning was consumed with the Southern German countryside, which was marred at the outset by a short spat about nothing much at all.

Ah, but I should start with our failed quest to summit the Schlossberg—the hill just east of Freiburg, which marks the beginning of the Black Forest and was the historical site of the fortress that oversaw the town.  We made it up the road as far as the newly-built restaurant (which had a fair view of the town) but not as far as the newer-still tower (with an apparently excellent view) nor the castle ruins (such as they are—or, more to the point, aren't).  At the restaurant, we agreed that the paths through the forest hill were both too vague and too marginal for our tastes, and proceeded back down.  

The greatest danger, thereafter, it turned out, was boredom (though the navigational vagaries of sometimes-closed back roads was not a distant second).  We paused for a picnic lunch on the North-east corner of the Bodensee, then rode onward into Austria.  Another through through vague villages saw us to Feldkirch.

Here, hot and tired, we discovered what Sunday means in a small city: a few ice cream parlors and bars open.  Our hotel, not.  At least, not until a few hours after our arrival in town.  We wandered a bit, took in what sights presented themselves, then checked in, gave up on dinner, and had a quiet evening in.

Morning saw rain—drizzle, really—over the town.  After a paltry and miserable breakfast, we foraged in the town for nut butters and strawberries, then explored the local castle.  Around 10:30, finding ourselves with the rest of the day free, and coated in a fine mist, we struck out for the Bregenzerwald and the Kasestrasse thereupon.  We paused outside Lingeau, at the regional warehouse for many of the local dairy farms.  The various Bergkasen were all outstanding the locals were very friendly.  

Through the pasturelands (“au”en) we drove (occasionally remarking “au au au”).  We passed through Egg (a fine town, with mill, brewery and sawmill all very likely centuries old), then drove through Bezau—where most of the town was made of wood and freshly sided in local pine boards—as far as the giant ski-lift in Oberbezau.  We returned across the river Breggenzach, which was low and fast and colored like creamed coffee, with foamy white caps, and then traveled on to the town of Au.  There, the road took turns we had feared it might—into the high alps.

The next hour and a half saw us climb and descend a kilometer of altitude, all on twisting, narrow roads, with few rails.  We both utterly lost our minds from the height and fear.  When we paused in Damuls, I made an excuse of taking pictures, just to get out of the car and breathe.  As I stepped out, I honestly feared that the earth might pitch below me, or that my feet might otherwise give way, and I would be flung from the mountainside?

That said, the scenery was beautiful and the path exhilarating, in its way.  I'm happy to have made the drive, ONCE, over an alpine mountain—and happy to keep it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tomorrow we'll drive through the mountains (the A12 includes several tunnels) on to Innsbruck.

26.6.12  Innsbruck, Weisses Kreuz

Less “Over” than “Through”

Today's drive was through the alps.  Well, not exactly through ALL of the alps—only through those that stood between Feldkirch and Innsbruck.  Seriously, the Autobahn on that path has, I think, greater mileage through tunnels than not.  For my part, I was happy enough with that state of affairs—yesterday taught me all I ever want to know about driving OVER the mountains, and even a 12 mile tunnel seems a very fine alternative.

We paused a bit short of Innsbruck, to drive up the Otztal—there's a sort of stone-age recreation park, not far from where Otzi (the 5000-year-old corpse) was found in 1991.  “Otzidorf” itself was a bit kitchy, but fairly thought-provoking in its way, and I was very glad to have gotten out of the main valley and into one of the side-canyons; I think it helped a lot, to develop more perspective on mountain and valley and life therein. 

Immediately upon our arrival at Innsbruck, we visited Schloss Ambras, a medieval castle that Ferdinand II turned into both a palace and a museum, in the 16th century.  I got some good ideas for a calvaryman's kit (cuirass, mail shirt, pants, pauldrons and helmet, with a sort of basket-hilted sword), and for Rappiers.  It was, withall, an impressive collection, made more impressive because the installation has been more or less maintained in situ since Ferdinand set it up.

The dance hall and castle keep now serve as a sort of glorification of the Hapsburg dynasty, with easily 100 portraits of dukes, electors, archdukes, cardinals, queens, archduchesses, etc.

I'm utterly in love with Innsbruck—the altstadt is fantastic, from the old fire tower to the various ancient buildings.  We ate at the Ottoburg (est 1417) and our rooms at the Weisses Kreuz are outstanding—large, comfortable, well-equipped (couch, table, writing desk, with a TV that's clearly an afterthought).  What a wonderful city!

27.6.12  Innsbruck, Weisses Kreuz


That's what the ticket-taker at the Volksmuseum said, when she saw that we were using our combi-ticket (together with the Landesmuseum and Hofkirch) all in one day.  Of course, she didn't know the half of it—in addition to the Landeskunst, we'd already been to the Hof itself (which I jokingly called “the Innsbruck chair museum”, due to an apparent fascination by whichever curator was responsible for the last bits of the exhibit space), and to the Goldener Dachl (sometimes called the Maximillianum), the Stadtmuseum (inside the city archives building).  Not to mention the Domkirch, where we finished our day.

That's seven cultural institutions—plus, after dinner, we discovered the Postmusik Tirol (a local wind ensemble) playing Strauss (and maybe a bit of not-exactly-Strauss) just outside our hotel.  So, yes, Kulturtag!  But then, it's a Kultur-ferein. . . .

I very much enjoyed the archaeology section of the Landeskunstmuseum—as at Unterlinden, I found myself wondering what it must be like to be a schoolchild in a place where they bronze-age HAPPENED (not to mention the Roman Empire!)  I'm also a bit amused that art museums clearly believe in keeping the archaeology in the cellar. . . .  Perhaps because the art wouldn't do as well, there?

I noticed today that a lot of paintings here are quite dark—I think that, in the US, they'd be described as wanting restoration or cleaning.  I'll have to ask Tara about that.  

The Volkskunstmuseum was, in some ways, both the best and the worst of Innsbruck: Sarah and I particularly loved seeing the folk art and the artistically rendered tools (from axes and wood planes to glassware to combs, spindles, and weaving materials—lots of highly decorated everyday items, which were excellent), and we both enjoyed their thought-provoking special exhibit on noise-makers, which got us both contemplating historical and modern uses of sound—what people use to make noise with, and why, both historically and now. 

That said, the Volkskunstmuseum has a definite creepy streak: there was an exhibit about, essentially, child death and the hardships of life, and another about the annual cycle of festivals—both of these exhibits had outrageously creepy soundtracks (including, in the first, a deep-voiced guy reciting a sort of prayer, too fast to really make out, even, I think, for a native speaker).  They were clearly trying to freak me out and it basically worked, and I didn't really appreciate it.  

What's particularly interesting abou the museum culture of Innsbruck is how stuck it is: lots of reference to Hapsburgs, to Maximilian and Ferdinand II, especially, a lot of glory to Andreas Hofer (who led the locals against the Bavarian nobility installed by Napoleon), and then not a lot of reflection from the past 200 years.  The city's kept growing, but I'm not sure the museums (other than the Stadtmuseum and arguably the Landeskunst) have.  Maybe the Hof can be forgiven, being what it is.  Anyway, I now want to study the Napoleonic era a lot more. . . .

28.6.12  Innsbruck, Weisses Kreuz


Today began with a somewhat bold walk from the hotel, across the Innsbruck, and westward to the Alpenzoo.  This was bold not for the distance (about 2km) but for the altitude (around 300m, all in the last half of the walk).  We thus arrived tired, but happily, we had to wait 10 minutes for the zoo to open.  In keeping with our tradition this trip, we encountered at least five different school groups at the zoo. . . .

The Alpinzoo features, as the name might suggest, Alpine animals, which I quite appreciated.  I'd love to see more zoos featuring local wildlife.  At the zoo, we saw several sorts of birds, including a golden eagle, 3 species of owl (one of which was HUGE, and all of which were surprisingly active for daylight—perhaps 9am is towards the end of their natural hunting time?) and a couple of sorts of vulture.  I enjoyed the bears, wolves (one of whom seemed very old) and especially the marten, who leapt about like a viking, climbing over, around, and through his cage, showing off for the people.  It was nice to see both Gamse and Steinboce, clattering about on the rocks, and we saw young animals in about half the exhibits.  Clearly, it's been a productive spring.  Also, there were mice, who were extremely cute.

We walked back down to town, passing through the churchyard at St. Nikolas, which held family memorials (3-10 names each) for easily 100 families, most of the names from fairly recent dates (lots of post-war and some 21st century).  It made me wonder whether the local custom is interred cremation, or if the bodies were interred elsewhere.

We had lunch in our rooms—schinken from the smallest shop in town (Sarah and I literally couldn't both fit in at once), with olives, and local currants and gooseberries (both extremely large!) and then picked up the car for a wonderful drive out into the Stubaital, at the end of which stands a rather large glacier.  We'd barely entered the valley before we could see the ice—clearly distinctive on the mountaintop, and quite different in appearance than the snowcaps.  We lost sight of the glacier as we advanced up the valley, but it was a fair trade—instead, we were able to see several quite amazing  waterfalls, cliff faces, and beautiful views of the river.

We drove deep into the valley, well past the last real town, encountering alpine dairy cows, their bells clanging as they meandered along and across the road.  We also saw a nice herd of tiny goats.  Near the  mouth of the valley, we saw parasailers, clearly just leaping from the side of the mountains.

After dinner (at the Weisses Rossl—simple but very nice—and I'll definitely be stealing the local Grostl idea: slices of potato and beef, panfried with herbs and a fried egg overall), we came back to our rooms to relax.  Sarah was a bit worried when she saw a stage being erected down the street, in front of the Goldenes Dachl, but it turns out to have been for a delightful folk band, who marched up the street (hooray for marching bands!) and played for an hour or so, alternating turns with a vocal group (with just a bit of yodeling) and a folk dance group, who danced to a tuba and accordion.  The show-stopper was definitely when the dancers joined the verse of the accordion on 8 tuned cowbells.  Yes, a cowbell chorus.  I kid you not—we lead a truly charmed life.  Sadly, now, the rain's come and chased them all away.

Sa. 30.6.12, Hotel Austria, Vienna

Travel Can Be a Challenge, Even When It Is a Pleasure

Leaving Innsbruck turned out not be as idyllic as the song might lead one to suspect: on Thursday night, there was a large group of quite loud revelers, filling the Altstadt with their boisterous cries, late into the night—with the result that both Sarah and I were tired.  That, with my own apprehension at my first long-distance train booking, led to some tension.  I was assured by the woman at the booking station, two days earlier, that I ought not to reserve our seats, since the early train to Vienna would never fill up.  Being slightly unconfident still in my conversational ability, I hadn't pressed the matter, though I'd thought I ought to.

And, sure enough, just after we'd settled into two fine, front-facing seats, and the train was moving, we were displaced by a young hiker (and her gear), and had to take rear-facing seats, which Sarah finds much less comfortable.  We were able to change after Salzburg, at least.  We had a pleasant picnic on the train, and got to see a bit of the countryside—I was particularly struck by the descent Eastward out of the Alps, and how the valleys quickly opened into plains.

Sarah wisely talked me into hiring a cab to the hotel, rather than navigating the underground, and after checking in, we explored the neighborhood a bit (it's pleasant enough, but despite a lot of fairly old buildings, unremarkable).  A quick dinner at the GrieschesBeisel indicated how well-founded Sarah's fears about Viennese restaurants are, after she found potato salad at the bottom of her greens.

We no time to mourn, we fortified Sarah from our emergency provisions, and cabbed across town to the Volksoper, where we enjoyed Die Zauberflote.  Hardly a perfect production, but it had some sparks of brilliance in every aspect—the staging presented Sarastro's group as a sort of 19th century Utopian sect, with almost steampunk elements.  Papageno was quite good, as was the Queen of the Night.  Tamino was in good voice, but was rather rotund for the part, and wanted for better acting.  Still, on the whole, very worthwhile.  

(No Header Given—first full day in Vienna)

Today was the first of the museum days, with the Kunsthistorisches and the Naturhistorische.  We started, though, with a trip through the Nachsmarkt, a tremendously long, crowded market area.  We picked up some Italian herbed Gouda, tomato-stuffed olives, and Styrische sour cherries for a lunch picnic (which we later ate, sitting on a wall in the shadow of the Kunsthistor.)  Having done so, we agreed that the market was sufficiently crowded and disorganized that we wouldn't plan to return.

The picture gallery of the KHM is second to none (in my own opinion, at least—perhaps the Lovre or even the British Museum will eventually outshine it in my mind).  We enjoyed an entire room of Breugel (including The Road to Calvary, which we've been thinking about since watching a film about it—the Mill and the Cross—last year).  I discovered a lovely Avercamp that we hadn't seen, which featured more focus on landscape than in his other paintings.  The Cranach did not disappoint, nor the Holbein, Durer, nor many more from the low countries.  

After lunch, we strolled to the NHM, where the highlight is the Venus.  I've seen pictures, of course, but the actual statue is absolutely incomparable.  Through the entire stone age collection—which is, of course, both quite good, and very well displayed (despite 1970s drawings of “stone age hunters” in pants, high boots and hooded, fur-lined parkas)--I found myself contemplating what it would be like to live with absolutely no technology—to start from wood and stone only.  Clearly, such empathetic musing is one goal of the museum curator, and so a sign of a good exhibit.

I empathized less with the taxidermy birds, who were innumerable in their extensive collections.  I was interested, in passing, to see a large exhibition of animals (fish, serpents, spider, amphibians and lizards) displayed still in formaldehyde.  An interesting contrast to current practice in the U.S.

It's hot in Vienna this summer, and Sarah and I are both finding the heat to be something of a challenge.  

1.7.12.  Hotel Austria, Vienna

Cannot Brain Today: IT IS TOO HOT

Another Kulturtag, featuring either 4 or 8 museums, depending on how you count it, plus a mass.  We started the morning with the Silberkammer (the table service of the late O-H Empire), which is also connected to the “Sisi” museum (dedicated to the cult of personality surrounding the Empress Elizabeth, who was assassinated [at the age of 61] not very long before WWI.  That museum was, at turns, creepy and incomprehensible).  The third museum (still on one ticket) was the Imperial Apartments.  I was slightly thoughtful at the conference room—a bit like the White House “situation room”--which held large paintings of victorious battles, and at least one saber attached to a stove.  Sets a tone, I think.

That (or those) completed, we attended mass at the Augustin Chapel (which is long since built INTO the massive complex that is the Hofburg), mostly to enjoy their Music At High Mass series: this week was a variety of Mozart selections (and we're a bit sad to miss next week's Gregorian Chant).  It was definitely interesting to see how little able I was to follow mass in German.  We didn't stay for the host—I decided before the service began that it wasn't my community. . . .  Clearly, the music is part of the church's mission—the prior took some pains to address and audience who don't often attend services, and to invite them to return to the fold, as it were.  Certainly, the majority of those attending knew the mass, but I think the prior was right about their late habits.  I think it's telling of the current Austrian generation—most were raised Catholic; most don't attend services now.

Also, as we were in the old Hofburg, it occurred to me how much of the museums here (and, to a lesser extent, in Innsbruck) serve as a mausoleum to the death of the Empire.  Perhaps that helps explain the obsession with “Sisi”--as the last great empress, beloved by the people even in her reign, her death provides a more tangible symbol of the fallen empire itself.

Lunch was salads at the old Augustinerkeller (aptly named—it's in the old cellar of the church—very spacious indeed!) then back across the complex to the Neue Burg, where one ticket got us the musical instruments (some great prizes there, too—mostly it's 18th - 19th century, but their early 15th - 16th ct is good, too.  The 7-stringed, early 16th century plucked instrument with 2 drone stings was really beautiful.  The 4-foot long flute was hilarious.  I want a gamba, just to play rhythm guitar on!)  Then it was an arms and armor collection, with several very interesting suits—including several masked helmets—and some amazingly detailed thin-bladed 16th c. rapiers.  The carved steel—sometimes gilded—of those hilts was just amazing.  I gathered ideas for stuff to make and use, including helmet liners, gauntlets, and rapiers.

Finally (still on the same ticket) was the Ephesus museum, featuring objects recovered from the archaeological dig there (Ephesus).  I'm definitely interested in learning more about that find, and how it interacts with the complex geopolitical situations of the 20th century.

Up next was the Imperial Treasury—the Schatzkammer—or what's left of it.  I appreciated the heraldry (on display were heralds' waffenrocken and scepters, as used in Imperial events), but as I said to Sarah, “It's the local equivalent of the crown jewels at the tower of London, but after being ransacked, twice.”  Not a lot of Imperial treasures left . . . .

We rounded out Kulturtag with the Albertina, because they own a whole lot of Durer.  Sadly, only 6 were on display (I think a lot of it's been pulled for an upcoming “Max and Albert Show” exhibit, featuring Durer and documenting the era of Emperor Max I).  Still, the old palace rooms held plenty of great art.  I am, after all, a sucker for landscapes.

Our rooms at the hotel are little relief from the truly oppressive heat, though we did manage a really delightful dinner of local cheese (from the shop next door, bought yesterday—everything's closed on Sunday) with apples and pears pilfered from the bowl on the check-in desk, and our last apricots bought in Innsbruck.  We do manage to maintain a pleasing life, even when it's too hot to think!  We've cancelled our plans to visit the zoo at Schonbrunn tomorrow, but will still see the palace museum.  Hopefully, Graz on Tuesday will be cooler!

2.7.12, “Green Clean” Alsergrund, Wien

Today we took the underground to Schonbruun, the Imperial summer residence in the suburbs.  We started with a nice walk through the gardens, which were large, and mostly consisted of tree-lined lanes, where the trees were kept trimmed in neat lines alongside the paths.  There were a few small features in these side-paths (occasional small glades with one or more Romanesque statues, and at least one sizable allegorical fountain), but the focus of the gardens was clearly on the main lane, which ended at a hall and reviewing stand, high on a hill opposite the palace.  I think that this is part of why I found myself preferring the gardens at Schwetzingen, which were full of very interesting features, both large and small, to discover.  Even the hedge maze at Schonbrunn was tame, having mostly quite low hedges.  

Still, we saw plenty of alpine squirrels (one of whom was exceptionally tame and a terrible beggar) and crows (with gray backs!), and I'll certainly give the emperor his due: the gardens were rather cool and comfortable, even on a hot day.

We followed the gardens by viewing the palace itself—still a mausoleum to the empire, but less strikingly so, and thus more interesting and tolerable.  Almost everyone there was a foreigner, though what to make of that, I don't know right now.

After returning to the gardens for a nice picnic, we went back to town.  Our meadering spent 3 hours of the afternoon and included an excellent stop at Cafe Central, where I had the eponymous coffee and an apricot palatschinken—both truly excellent.  We walked on to Julius Meinl's market (the Fox and Obel of Austria), where we bought provisions for an upcoming picnic, and more coffee (as well as a piece of strudel).

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at 2 very contrasting churches: St. Peter's is a domed vault, full of tremendous Baroque extravagance, and St. Rupert's is a 13th century, almost completely non-ornamented chapel.  The former featured hundreds of tourists; the latter a quartet practicing early music.  You can imagine our preferences.  

3.7.12.  Hotel Mariahilf, Graz
So Long Vienna—Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out!

This morning, as we arrived at the Wien-Meidling train station, Sarah and I agreed that we were both struck by how broadly unattractive Vienna is.  Don't get me wrong, there are numerous very beautiful features, but for every unexpected gem, be it a wonderful old church or a nice fountain in a platz, there are uncounted run-down, graffiti-covered blocks.  Vienna is about as filthy of a city as I've seen, and the one really excellent thing they've done is the way they manage their underground.  (Specifically, there are no turnstiles.  Passengers are expected to have a valid ticket, and are occasionally asked to produce it.  If they cannot, they receive a stiff fine).

Suffice it to say, we were both happy enough to leave Vienna behind.  The train ride back up into the Eastern foothills of the alps was quite pretty, and Graz is definitely more to our liking.  I was surprised to learn that Graz is the 2nd largest city in Austria, given its small size and local charm.  I think, on reflection, that there's Austria and there's Vienna.  I quite like Austria.

Upon our arrival, we checked in, and then wandered the town, taking the lift up to the top of the Schlossberg (the schloss itself was removed, as part of a treaty with Napoleon), to get a view of the town.  We walked by the landhaus, stopped at Cafe Sacher for the eponymous torte, and visited the Dom and the actual mausoleum where Ferdinand II is buried.  We stuck our heads into several churches (including the Mariahilf, for which our hotel is named), contemplated the difference between Franciscans and Minorites, and holed up in our rooms as the rain came, and hail followed.  Thunder and strong rains pounded down and echoed off the mountains, while we enjoyed an exceptional, simple meal at Altstyrisch Schmankerstubn—the sort of immensely charming place, built into an old keller, that we tend to love.  We loved this one enough to make plans to go back again on Friday!

I've talked to cousin Otmar, and have plans to see him on Thursday, when we'll drive out to Feistritz.  Tomorrow is the various components of the Landesmuseum Joanneum: Schloss Eggenberg, the Landeszeughaus, and possibly Museum im Palais.

Yes, Graz is definitely suiting nicely.

4.7.12, Hotel Mariahilf, Graz

Joanneum: Everything You Need and More


“Because it's UNDER a MOUNTAIN”

Graz has a well-regarded farmer's market, and this morning, after breakfast, we walked over and regarded it well ourselves.  A tremendous amount of local produce, a number of bakers and florists and cheese and meat (both smoked and raw) vendors.  I was surprised to see several vendors selling autumn apples that looked quite fresh.  Sarah suggestions “perhaps they have really good cold storage, because it's under a mountain.”  In any case, we acquired eponymous alpine strawberries (!), gooseberries, blueberries, and heirloom tomatoes, before walking back to stash same in our rooms.

Then it was time to navigate the local public transit: a streetcar system of 7 lines.  Easy enough: you pay at an automat, on-board the train (if, that is, you can get to it through the crowd).  As in Vienna, it appears to run substantially on the honor system.  We thus found ourselves at Schloss Eggenberg, once a small manse of a local Herr, later expanded into a baroque palace with grounds, and now a part of the Joanneum.  We wandered the grounds a bit, laughing at the peafowl, and then started in earnest, with the archaeology museum, which was small but included some really well-preserved carved stone, bronze weapons, tolls and decorations, including a shamanic staff and a religious icon of bronze, featuring a variety of people and animals all atop a carriage—fascinating and beautiful.  A pair of bronze breastplates, circa 500BC, presaged the afternoon.

The schloss itself holds a tiny 14th century chapel, with a very fine altarpiece and the gravestone of the Herr.  It also includes some finely restored rooms (which were available by tour only—and we missed the tour) and quite a decent collection of paintings, including some by Peter Breughel the Younger, and a new find for us, named Anton Mirou.

After all this, we hopped a tram back to town, bought some cheese at a very quaint local shop by the river, and had lunch in our rooms.  Sarah wasn't feeling well, but still came out to the armory (still part of the Joanneum) with me.  A fascinating place, basically untouched since 1685, other than to turn it into a museum (which was lightly touched—the 4 floors are dominated by cuirasses, helmets, pistols, rifles, harquebuses, polearms, sabers, and a few rifles, in their racks.  The upper floors include a smaller collection of tournament gear, as well as some dozens of steel (designed to be bullet-proof) shields.  An excellent view into 2 centuries of large-scale, mass-produced weapons and armor—and amongst the curiosities were huge Zweiharders with gouged blades (I believe, from use)and a pair of steel Dusaggen.

At last, we whiled away our last hour of the day at the Joanneum's Museum im Palais, inside an old “town palace” and showing some excellent “status symbols,” including the most interesting gold knight's chain I've seen: a two-piece hinged braid of hair, in solid gold.  Hail the Order of the Plait!

Tomorrow is off to Feistritz, and meeting my 5th cousin Otmar.  I admit to some mild apprehension, though I don't doubt it'll be very pleasant.

5.7.12,  Hotel Mariahilf, Graz

“While You Were In Carinthia”

First, a few words about Alpine weather: it is an unusually hot summer here, with temperatures routinely hovering in the mid-30s (what in America they'd call the 90s).  Nevertheless, as we drove back in from Carinthia today, we encountered a strong storm, which raised the humidity in the valleys to the point that the Autobahn (often on a bridge high above the valley floor) was shrouded in clouds.  As we broke into Styria, we noted that the temperature was much lower (13, according to the car), and saw rather a lot of snow on the ground, which hadn't been there 4 hours earlier.  We then went through a 2km tunnel and came out to find it 17 and raining hard but intermittently.  Such is weather in the alps.

But to go back to the day's beginning—we got an early start, off to the market even before breakfast, and then walked over to pick up the car (this turned out to be a much more ambitious walk than we'd intended, because Google Maps was wrong about quite where on Keplerstrasse was #93.  That caused us a bit of stress, but with the upshot of helping me realize the degree to which I had been hiding my intimidation at asking locals for directions.

The car secured, we drove the A2 west to Klagenfurt, and met my cousin Otmar and his wife Cristal.  They were extremely kind and gentle, and every bit as hospitible as one might expect a Pipp to be.  We followed their car on to Feistritz an der Gail, stopping to take photos as the sign at the edge of town, before proceding up the hill to the church (built in 1520) where my ancestors were baptized.  The painted ceiling over the altar was extremely well-preserved, though it clearly hadn't been touched in centuries.  The current draper had writing in Slovenian, and Otmar explained that most of the Feistritz community speaks Slovenian (though, from my hearing, I'd suggest that most speak a sort of patois of German and Slovenian).  As we arrived at the church, we met an elderly woman who greeted us very kindly and declared herslef to be my cousin also.  It was all beyond charming.  

We met up with Otmar's brother Thomas, who now lives in the house where the two of them were born (an old water mill, from which the wheel was remoed in 1970, and onto which Tomas is now building what must be the 3rd major addition), and the 5 of us had lunch together at the village's Gasthaus, the Alte Post.  It was, again, charming, and the food was excellent—Otmar and Thomas assured us that everything is raised locally.

We made a brief stop outside the house (with an attached barn, not uncommon in the Alps) where my grandfather's grandfather was born, and appreciated the barn itself (according to Otmar, exactly as it was 120 years ago—though the house has, of course, been renovated).  We also appreciated the horse and cow in the yard.

After this, all 5 of us piled into Thomas's 4x4, and he drove us up to the mountaintop, where his cows are pastured (along with the cattle, horses and sheep of the rest of the Feistritz).  This “Alm” (the local word for pasture) is technically on the Italian side of the border—Otmar pointed out that it used to be Austria, before the first world war, and that since the EU, nobody much cares which country it's in.

Thomas also has an excellent little house, about halfway up to the pass in which the Alp rests, which used to be a custom house, used to catch smugglers coming in from Italy.  Again, after the EU formed, there was no need for it, so Thomas bought it.

It was, withall, a wonderful day.  I told Otmar and Thomas that I thought it would bring them joy to know that the friendship and hospitality they'd shown us was a tradition that the Pipps had preserve in the US, as well.

6.7.12,  Hotel Mariahilf, Graz

One Last Day as Tourists

One of the reasons to go to a live concert, rather than just putting on some music at home, is for the feedback loop that exists before a performer and a live audience.  Last night, we went to a concert.  Featuring works by 3 generations of Mozarts (and under the title of “Mozart and Son”), which was part of the annual classical music festival here in Graz (called “Styriarte,” for better or worse, it uses al sorts of local venues, including both of the Joanneum's castles).  Our concert was the Stefaniensaal, a quite pretty room, with 300-400 seats, which appeared to be owned by one of the local casinos.  In any case, the penultimate movement of the program was from one of WAM's piano quartets, and it was pretty languid.  It's still quite hot here, and the hall was sort of a roaster.  After 2 hours, the audience was sort of flagging, and it occurred to me that while the quartet (who were quite good), didn't slog at all, they did, I think, feel the low-energy mood of the room, and performed accordingly. 

I raise the point not only to describe the concerts itself, but also because I think that it's somewhat reflective of our last few days: we're hot, we're tired, and know that the event is coming to its end.  This isn't ruining things for us, but it's definitely affecting us.  

This morning, the machine at the parking lot wouldn't work.  I had a frustrating conversation through a bad speakerphone with a remote attendant who was, at best, unhelpful, and at worse, incomprehensible.  We eventually were rescued by a nice maintenance man, who saw immediately that the machine simply  wasn't reading my ticket, and let us through.  It was a small thing, and under normal circumstances wouldn't even be worth mentioning.  This morning, it befogged both of our moods for a half hour or so.

We spent this last day of tourism as tourists, driving our rented car out to Stubing, an open-air museum featuring at least 60 historical buildings, mostly related to farming (and all basically related to village life—mills, hofs, stables and the like).  We saw four young goats, who looked at us through windows and later, were seen climbing upon one ancient barn, to get at scraps of hay that were poking through gaps in the great timbers of the wall.  We picniced there, and I bought a few slices of bread—baked in the site's historical ovens—on which I spread my share of rillettes.

Having a few hours left, after our slow, languid stoll through 4 centuries of Austrian country life, we drove bake past Graz, to Schloss Stainz, one more of the Joanneum sites, where they have a hunting museum (not our thing, really, though the taxidermy there was good, especially four foxes hung in various poses, like a stop-motion animation, ending by pouncing on a mouse.  There was a similar set of 6 hawks, swooping, which was also excellent).  We spent more time in the Landschaftmuseum—which featured implements, images, and products of farming and forestry, with a clear sense of teaching principles of conservation.  We also very much enjoyed the special exhibit, which was entirely about cooking and preserving food—very much up Sarah's alley.

We drove back to town even as a huge windstorm (led by lightning over the mountaintops) came up—sustained winds of easily 20mph and gusts that I'd put at 40-50.  Happily, since we were early, we were able to return the car and have it checked in by the rental agent—we figured there was a good chance the wind would blow something into it after we gave it back!

We're pretty well packed up, now—just a few bits of laundry airing out (our neighbors were smoking, at our overall rather frustrating last dinner in town).  And so ends our time as tourists: hot, tired, frustrated and slow-moving.  Tomorrow, we'll be travellers, and after we're home, we'll try to get quickly back to normal: our own farmer's market, cat and dog, work and thesis drafts, and the life we also love, at home with our own comforts.