Sunday, December 28, 2008


So Christmas pretty much came and went. Pete and I had dinner with a friend of mine and her family, and on Christmas day we finally got a good snow here in Graz, which made me pretty happy. This is the first time we have both been on vacation at the same time, so we are trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. Lots of eating, walking around, and eating again. We did manage to take one side trip and visited Tara in Prague last weekend. Prague is a really cool city, I was starting to think once you'd seen one eastern European city, you'd seen them all but Prague really impressed me. It helped that they were selling sausages the size of a toddler's arm for about a buck fifty and the goulash soup with dumplings was about four dollars. We did a lot of sightseeing, Tara took us all over Prague but we mainly hung out around the Christmas markets in the Old Town Square. On our last day in Prague, we took the train to Kutna Hora to check out the Bone Church, which is a church decorated with the bones of 40,000 plague victims. Pretty intense. And after stopping to have a drink in a "sports bar" blaring Sinead o'Connor and the Cranberries, we figured out that English doesn't do a person much good outside of the city. It was pretty much impossible to even order a beer. And despite a rocky trip home, (they had sold us a return ticket from a different train station in Prague but failed to mention that, thus we missed our train; luckily we managed to get on another train and made it home safe and sound) it was a really nice trip. It's good to be home though. Here are some photos from the Prague trip:


Hope everyone had a nice Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just Touched Down in London Town

So nothing as cool as the Krampus has happened over here. The weather has taken a drastic turn for the worse as well, lots of upper 30s with rain and sleet and fog. Pretty dismal. Pete arrived last week. I hopped a flight over to London and met up with him there where we did the whirlwind tour of London and then headed back to Graz. Ryanair gets more ridiculous every time I take it. I guess selling lottery tickets isn't enough, they also have to come up with a slick new theme song. I can't get over how awful it is. Take a listen:

I think my favorite line is "sweets, sweets, lots of goodies on the trolley for you, whatever it is that you need of us, the friendly cabin crew." You know, just in case that 10 dollar sandwich wasn't satisfying.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I quickly discovered that today is what I hope to be the creepiest holiday in Austria. (If it gets any creepier than this, I might have to come home.) Today is Krampus in Austria. Krampus is often depicted as a horned, shaggy, bestial, and demonic creature, complete with red skin, cloven hooves, and short horns. While St. Nicholas goes around rewarding the good children with nuts and fruit, Krampus runs around town carrying a switch with which he beats bad children. Some versions of Krampus carry chains and most have large belts with jangling metal and bells around their waists. It is absolutely terrifying. Groups of these Krampus creatures stampede around town scaring the living crap out of children. I saw one little girl screaming her head off and hiding after being charged by a Krampus. A friend of mine said when she was 6, a Krampus grabbed her, put her in a wagon and took her blocks away from her parents and dumped her there. Despite how terrifying it is, it is one of the most bizarre and exciting things I have seen in a long time. I have embedded a couple of videos so you can experience it for yourself. The first is a video of artist depictions of Krampus and the second is of the Krampus invasion of Graz last year.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Crib

So people have been asking me if I could put up some photos of my place here in Graz, so I decided to do a little "Martha's Crib" blog. I don't exactly live in the suburbs, but I don't live very central either. I live at the end of the city tram line in a quiet residential area called Andritz. Lots of apartment buildings and lots of kids. This is my building:

I live on the ground floor, nearly dead-center in the photograph. Fairly non-descript place, but tidy and dead-quiet after all the kids go to sleep. I'm subletting, so the place is furnished which was a huge bonus.

My apartment is nice and cozy. Here are some photos of the inside:

I either take the bus or the tram to school. There is a direct bus, no direct tram but buses make me feel like vomiting so I usually opt for the tram:

I take my German classes at Karl-Franzen-Universität in Graz. It's a small campus with many beautiful old buildings.

I teach a little distance off-campus in a small, old building on Johan-Fux Gasse. Basically you hike up this steep hill at the edge of campus for about 8 minutes and you will end up at my place of employment. The building is located in the middle of the botanical gardens, which is pretty great apart from the hornets' nests. It's not very fun to teach with hornets buzzing around your head.

If you want to see more photos of my place or where I work, I put some up on flickr. (I'm looking at you, Mom.) Click here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner

My friend Sam saved me a generous serving of the Thanksgiving dinner she made yesterday for her American boyfriend. It's funny how I never really missed Thanksgiving dinner until I was some place I couldn't get it. I'm currently in the food coma y'all were in yesterday.

Example 2: Why textbooks should never try to be "cool"

Because I am positive you all listen daily to the "Tag, wie geht's-Rap" I posted some weeks back, I decided to add another song to your playlist. This one is called "Der Einkaufsbummel-Rap" or "The Shopping Spree-Rap" and is another prime example of the painfully embarrassing attempts of textbook writers to be cool. I love it.


Thursday, November 27, 2008


So I am running around like crazy. I need to slow down! Met up with my friends Tara and Bennett in Budapest last weekend. Favorites: the amazing marzipan sweets, the cheap eats, the Buda Labyrinth, and this amazing bar called Szimpla Kert. It was kind of a gutted warehouse hidden in a residential area heated by propane and nearly as large as a city block. Lots of hot wine was consumed while watching the first snowfall. I can't imagine a better weekend.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm not totally broke anymore!

Amazing. I guess all I needed to do was blog about my problem and it would go away. Who knew?

I'm off to buy a bike and a real meal. I still think I might be dreaming.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Less Money, More Problems

So I have hesitated to blog about this, simply because I didn't want to seem like I'm complaining or hinting for help. (I'm not!) But this is the deal: I have been in Graz nearly two months and I have yet to get paid. I'm living off credit cards, racking up debt and finance charges daily. At the same time, I'm working my ass off, teaching two classes and taking another. I don't even understand what is going on to be honest. The paperwork and contract i signed weeks ago seems to get passed from one persom to the next, but never gets handed to anyone who can actually do anything about it. The most infuriating part is that I was told that the money had been deposited on a specific date and that it would show up in 3-5 business days. That was last Friday, and now they are saying "oops, hopefully it will come next week! Sorry!" At the point I have two equally unappealing options: 1) I go home and miss out on an opportunity to gain valuable teaching experience and learn a new language. I will also have to pay two months rent and risk losing a hefty security deposit. 2) I stay and keep eating bread, asking for extensions on my rent, racking up debt, and working for no compensation. No matter what I decide, I lose.

Hey, at least I have health insurance. Or at least I think I do.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


So I have been pretty bad about updating this regularly. It's just been a crazy couple of weeks. Ever since Tara was here, I have felt like I have been running from one thing to the next. I'm really looking forward to a weekend at home; just some time to relax and get caught up with schoolwork and my classes.

A quick re-cap: Three days after I got home from Munich and its Wolpertingers, I boarded a train to Zagreb, Croatia. Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, a member of former Yugoslavia until 1991.

After a winding train ride through Slovenia, complete with picturesque Slovenian castles perched up on the mountainsides, we crossed the border into Croatia. I've gotten used to hassle-free travel within the European Union, so the gruff interactions with the flood of border control police officers was mildly disconcerting. Still, within four hours, we were standing at the central train station in Zagreb.

The weekend was spent exploring the city and its many squares and gorgeous architecture. I'm not sure what I expected when I planned the trip to Croatia, but I definitely didn't expect what I found; a clean modern city with extensive public transportation and architectural masterpieces.

I just walked around and stared at its beauty. And because food is pretty expensive in Austria, I took the opportunity to really gorge myself. Phyllo pastries stuffed with meat and cheese and dripping grease was a favorite. So were the spicy sausages of multiple varieties served in a baguette for roughly $2.00. Because I went with a group, part of the trip included a buffet lunch at a traditional Croatian restaurant where I discovered that Fogo de Chão has nothing on Croatia. One course alone included more than five plates of various meats, stacked at least six inches high.

Desert was an amazing chocolate-filled crepe. I spent the evening trying the various tasty and inexpensive beers.

I'm still reeling from the realization that I am SO CLOSE to everything here. I can't believe I can hop on a train and be in Italy in four hours. Or Zagreb. Or Budapest. I want to see everything, go everywhere! I have to keep reminding myself that I have time, there's no need to pack everything in all at one. But that won't stop me from traveling to Budapest next weekend -- Bennett arrived in Europe yesterday and I am meeting him and Tara in Budapest for the weekend. I seriously can't wait.

Now if only it would snow here.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Just a note on the creature in the post below. Petra clarifies its nature:

"It's a WOLPERTINGER, also called "woiperdinger" in the Bavarian dialect. In parts of Austria they are called "Raurackl". They were sold to tourists who were told they were actual animals (which could only be found, what a surprise, by virgins or the like...)."

A Bavarian Trip

Yay, Obama!!! I stayed up until about 3am last night watching CNN and somehow managed to fall asleep before his victory was announced. There were lots of viewing parties in town -- at the Uni, at bars, all over. I guess the US as a superpower is pretty scary for everyone.

This last week has been nuts. I keep meaning to blog about my daily existence here -- put up some photos of my apartment, where i work, etc etc but I just haven't had a chance. I DID have the chance to go on a whirlwind trip to Munich with my friend Petra, who had an appointment to take the GRE. I remember complaining that I had to go to White Bear Lake to take the GRE; I take all that back now. Not only did Petra have to travel 6+ hours to get to the testing center, she also had to pay for a hotel, transportation AND pay a higher fee for the test itself. While she was saddled with that nightmare, I was skipping along beside her, footloose and fancy-free. We were only in Munich for a total of about 27 hours including sleep time but I managed to get all over town. What i discovered: Munich is huge and beautiful. (Unless you go to the outskirts. Then Munich is huge and sort of like Bloomington minus all the shopping malls.)

Favorites: St. Peter's church; you can climb to the top of the church tower and see panoramic views of the entire city. The New Town Hall; crazy and beautiful gothic architecture. Viktualienmarkt; a big street market in central Munich. Of course I also really liked all the pictures of German girls in traditional dress carrying comically-large beers: Like this.

Click here if you wanna see some photos from my trip.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Visitor from Home

My friend Tara who is studying in Prague for a semester came to Graz for a visit this weekend. Of course we had the first bout of unpleasant weather we have had since I arrived but we still managed to do lots of touristy things, including a visit to Kunsthaus Graz, an unusual art museum in the center of town. We also ate multiple gyros, tried a mass amount of Austrian baked goods, and watched MTV. This weekend also gave me an even greater appreciation for Minneapolis/St. Paul music. There are just so many quality bands. We went to a sold-out festival that was spread out across multiple venues around town and all we really encountered was people trying way too hard to be cool. We did find the nice wall art above though, so I guess it was worth it.

Some other pics from the weekend

Friday, October 24, 2008

Spas and Salsa

Well, I've made it through two weeks of classes. I'm only taking the one German class and teaching the two Swedish classes, but it's been more than a full-time job. I'm assuming things will calm down as I get more settled (and my students get settled.) German is going quite a bit slower than I had hoped; a little too much repetition and not enough new stuff. The class is huge so I'm attributing the snail-like pace to that. Despite being so busy with school, I did manage to take en evening trip to this wonderful place:

Bad Waltersdorf

It's a thermal spa about 45 minutes outside of Graz, built on thermal springs with multiple indoor and outdoor pools and an indoor "Sauna Village, " complete with Sauna Bar. For 13 euros, I got to spend five hours in the future.

Everyone wandered around completely silent in towels, some sipping drinks, others reading or simply staring off into space. Each sauna had a different theme, my favorite was the Roman Catholic church theme complete with arches, fountains, twinkling stars on the ceiling, and some sort of herb-infused fog. I also enjoyed the underwater stationary bicycles and the outdoor water massage arranged in ~10 stations. At each station, a different body part gets massaged; after a couple of minutes at one station, a bell rings and you move to the next station. First, the foot; then the ankle, then the calf and so on until you end up with a very powerful thermal back massage. I felt amazing afterward.

Other news: Tara is on her way to visit at this very moment! She caught a train in Prague and should arrive in Graz by mid-afternoon. Since I don't really know many people yet, I haven't been able to figure out where bands play apart from the big venues. Luckily, there is a 2-day music festival in Graz this weekend (Styrian Stylez) so Tara and I are going to harass people until they tell us where the Graz Turf Club is.

Finally, if anyone wants to send me good salsa, I will love you forever. I did a little salsa taste-test last weekend where I bought three salsas in order to try and find an edible one. Here are my findings:

Salsa One -- I think this was actually a meat rub that you use before grilling. It was very sweet and sort of BBQ-ish. Knowing German would certainly help my hunt for the edible salsa.

Salsa Two -- More like Salsa Jelly. Consistency of jelly but with the flavor of taco sauce but chunky like salsa. Disgusting.

Salsa Three -- Kinda ok! A lot like Pace. Unfortunately, the only have Mild.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I cn haz internetz nao?

I'm thrilled to say that I finally have internet!! It's all I could think about in class today, kind of pathetic really. In any case, I'm gonna stay up all night looking at LOL Cats and using the internet for highly useful things like playing PathWords and online Scrabble.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why textbooks should never try and be "cool."

Click on this link for proof.
"Der 'Tag, wie geht's' rap."

("The 'Hey, how's it going' Rap." It's from my Beginning German textbook.)

My favorite part is how they leave space at the end of the song for you do your own rap.

Friday, October 17, 2008

And I thought Comcast sucked.

So I've been counting down the days until I get internet and TODAY was THE DAY. I got up at 7.15 for my 7:30 - noon date with The Technician Man. I planted myself on the sofa as to be certain I wouldn't miss him because of a flushing toilet or a noisy dishwasher. At 8.15, I was getting pretty sleepy again. At 9.15, I was starting to snap out of it. At 10.15 I was getting really antsy. At 11.15, I was getting even more antsy and slightly irritated. At 12:00, I flipped. Still no Technician Man. I texted my friend Petra to ask her what I should do and she volunteered to take care of it for me despite having been down with food poisoning overnight.

It's funny how no matter what someone is saying in German, it sounds like they are mad. "You look pretty" would probably sound like a gruff order to my American ears. But I have the feeling this time Petra wasn't telling the cable customer service representative that she looked pretty. After some heated conversation, the gist was that they physically cut the cable lines when someone cancels service here. Thus, the line hadn't be reconnected yet, so service couldn't be set up. That's fine, but why would they not bother to even call and instead just let me sit and wait for over five hours? Now they say Tuesday. I'll believe it when I see it.

In addition to that, things are more and more disorganized every day at my job. Tonight during class a mad hornet the size of a golf ball flew in (we are right next door to the botanical gardens) and divebombed us until we just gave up and called it a day. This was after the projector quit working and no one at the office understood what I meant by a CD-R.

I think I'll briefly mention the Sandwich Game just because it's way more interesting that my Swedish classes (which went well!) and my German classes (I think I'm too old to learn a new language.)

The Sandwich Game is pretty straightforward. You pick a random deli or cafe, look at the sandwiches, pick the one you want (usually by pointing and smiling and desperately hoping they don't say anything to you) and then you see which one you actually get! It's really fun and totally unpredictable. The winner so far: Wheat baguette with butter, cream cheese, brie, pickles, and lingonberry jam. (I ordered, or rather, pointed at a veggie sandwich.)

Close runner-up: White sandwich bread with one slice of spam-type ham, a ton of butter, and SEVEN slices of cheese. The cheese was over an inch think, more than twice as thick as the bread. (I had ordered a ham and cheese sandwich.)

I will update you as the game reaches new levels, and will try and provide photographic evidence from here on out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

After One Week...

I'm still without internet. It's amazing how bored one gets without it. I feel entirely isolated. I don't understand anything anyone says around me and when I turn on the tv, everything is dubbed. I actually watched some movie with Goldie Hawn's sorta-husband (what's his name?) last night all the way through in German. I'm not sure what was happening, but the giant floating meatball-looking head was a bad guy I think. While I was trying to determine good guys from bad guys, Joerg Haider, a big player in the Austrian government, apparently died in a car crash. I, of course, had no idea until my friend Petra told me the next day. It just makes me a little nervous; for all I know, the world could be collapsing around me while I sit and watch dubbed episodes of Grey's Anatomy and eat Austrian chocolate.

I have taken advantage of my downtime to explore the city. Graz has an amazingly extensive public transportation system consisting of buses, streetcars, and trains. I don't think I have ever had to wait more than five minutes for a transfer, it's really pretty incredible. So I've been riding the streetcars around, getting lost and trying to figure out how to get out of the vehicles. (Some trams seem to have escape buttons but others don't. Still not sure about that one.) Today really threw me for a loop when I was herded from the tram over to a bus which I sat on for about an hour before being deposited in the middle of a marathon. I'm guessing there were upwards of 100,000 people there. Someone was yelling in German over the top of U2's "It's a Beautiful Day," which was blaring over a giant P.A in the center of town. I was just trying to get to the university.

I did manage to climb the big "castle-mountain" in the city called Schloßberg the other day. I'm not sure how many steps are in the old fortress, but it's a lot. All the old ladies in loafers with canes coming back down while I was going up really made me feel self-conscious about how much I was sweating and panting. The city is really beautiful from that vantage point; all red roofs and pointy church steeples. Some evidence:


When I think about it, I've managed to cram a lot in this past week. Tons of paperwork (including registering with the city -- the city of Graz requires every person, Austrian or otherwise, to register every, single time they move, which just blows my mind), lots of confusing grocery shopping, some beers, tons of exploring, and also getting ready for classes which start Tuesday. I'm teaching two: Swedish 1b on Tuesdays from 5.30pm - 7.30pm and Swedish 3 on Thursdays from 5.30pm -7.30pm. I'm also taking a German course on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I suppose I'll know more about the degree of disaster shortly. What if the students make fun of me in German the entire time and I don't even know it?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Successful arrival!

I arrived safely in Graz on Sunday, October 5th. I'm without internet at home for the time-being, so I won't be updating very frequently until The Technician Man arrives. (That's their term for it, but I'm adopting it from now on.) So far, things are going ok. Super-disorganized, much as I expected and zero guidance on how to teach my courses apart from "u can make your own plan when u like." I guess this could be a very good thing or a very bad thing.

The good news is that my apartment is nice and the city of Graz is lovely. Lots of streetcars and buses to ride around on, some mountains to climb, and plenty of sweet stuff to eat. If you want to send me something (perhaps ibuprofen, candy, or my favorite pair of jeans that I somehow forgot to pack?), my new address is:

Prochaskagasse 14b/1
8045 Graz

More soon!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Graz, Austria

I depart Oct. 4th. I wonder if I can learn German in three days.