The kindness of Austrian- or is it just Grazers?

Having had various negative experiences in OTHER European countries where I don't speak the language - cold shoulders and total refusal to even attempt communication - I have been very impressed with the hospitality we have received.

Our first hours in this country - fresh off an 18 hour flight - we were driving around the center in our rental car, completely lost, driving where we shouldn't, and everyone we stopped on the street was willing to help us find our hotel. Dark car, late night, people with funny Italian and American accents got a fair shake.

Yesterday this point was brought home for me on the tram...

Up comes an elderly gentleman he could barely stand on his own and I quickly helped him get his ticket punched (Tortellino was sitting in his stroller directly below the machine - not exactly blocking it but requiring some fancy footwork to surpass). Here comes our stop, and the gentleman says something to me in German..

I told him I couldn't speak German, "Neign Sprecken Deutch" (can't spell it either, apparently). He proceeded to grab my stroller and help us get off the tram. Now, for a guy who can hardly walk. That's impressive!

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Another mommy, who is in our English-speaking playgroup, entered Austria via Vienna, instead, and had just horrible experiences where people just treated her badly for not speaking German. Then again, the English-speaking playgroup is yet another example of Grazer hospitality. There, you will find mommies from America, England, Australia and Graz. We've been there about three times and guess who invited Tortellino to a playdate? Not the English mommy, not the American mommy... the Austrian mommy!

So there you go.


Incrdible Immobilien

One of the reasons we were attracted here, to Graz, is what we saw in an immobilien magazine. The prices of houses seemed fantastic. And they are if you want to live in the middle of nowhere, with no bus and no shops nearby - which is not us!

So our budget kept going up, and up, and up. Needless to say we found a wonderful little gem in St. Leonhard and we started to discover... all the list prices are negotiable (by 100,000E or more in some cases).

However, unlike California, or Italy for that matter, there is no requirement for a seller - once they have their house on the market - to actually sell it. Wheras in California, if someone offers at least the list pirce, per the contract with their agent they must sell it at least for that.

Not in Austria!

If the seller changes their mind, raises the price, or decides to take the house off the market ... so much for their agent. They are screwed. Oh, and so is the intersted buyer, BTW.

A few other tidbitds we learned while browsing at various houses and asking questions...

"Oh, there's a little shop attached. Do we need a permit to open a little store here?"

"Permit? No, you open what you want."

"Is the electricity up to code?"

"There is no requirement here, for that"

"Are all the permits in order for the bathrroms?"

"There is no need for permit here."

Wow... I guess shoddy unregulated work has not made it to Austria, yet. I konw we're in Europe but... this is vastly different from what you would find right next door in Italy!


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IKEA, Schnitzels & Garlic.... oh my!

As I mentioned, we live in a party hardy apartment and other key things that were missing included simple cooking implements and non-stick pans.

One IKEA start-box later... we were cooking!
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It came with everything, including a kitchen timer, tivets, garlic press and a weird manual can-opener. The cold weather, abundance of left-overs, and a ridicuolously huge supply of apples and pears has had me cranking out casseroles and cobblers.

However, my latest piece de resistance, has been the ability to reverse engineer the most delicious cutlet (Schnitzel) recipe from Bergwith, a restaurant at the top of a hill on Petersbergenstrasse, in Graz of course! It's got a really delicious garlichy-but not bitter or overpowering-flavor that truly surpised me when I tasted it. A squirt of lemong and you're in Schnitzel heaven...It took me three tries but I was finally able to perfect it!

Knoblauch Schnitzel (Austrian Garlic Cutlets)
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This recipe requires a ridiculous amount of dishes, so if you're like me and don't have a dishwasher consider using paper plates or... make a big batch - freeze the rest for later and you won't need to do all those dishes quite so often.

Traditional recipes use Vollkorn bread crumbs (whole wheat)- easy to find in Austria difficult to find elswhere. Sometimes, you can find the crackers and if that's the case buy a pack of those, thorw them in the chopper and make your own vollkorn bread crumbs! Otherwise, you can substitute your garden variety bread crumbs.

6 Veal Cutlets
2 cups of Wheat Bread Crumbs
2 Heads of Garlic
2 Large Eggs
2 tsp. of Sea Salt
pepper - to taste
2 lemons
4 TBSP of Light Olive Oil

Prepare the garlic spread first. Crush all the cloves of garlic and mix them well with te 2 tsp. of sea salt, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and pepper to taste (let it sit and "macerate" while you prepare the rest).

Set up, in assembly line fashion going towards your frying pan: a dish with the eggs (well beaten), a dish with the bread-crumbs. Turn your oven on to 350F and add a low wide oven dish (you will place the cutlets in here while making the rest so they alls tay warm).

In a low, wide, frying pan add the oil and turn the heat to high. Test if it's ready by throwing a couple of bread-crumbs and seeing if it sizzles. If they sizzle.. it's ready!

For each veal cutlet thinly spread (preferably with a butter or non-sharp knife)the garlic mixture on both sides; then coat the cutlet with the eggs; then, coat the cutlet with the breadcrumbs; then, place delicately in the hot oil in the frying pan. Let it sizzle for about 3 minutes - then check for a golden brown crust, flip, sizzle for a few minutes more, then transfer to oven dish and proceed to the next one. If you have a large pan, or small cutlets you may be able to prepare more than one at a time.

Serve with wedges of lemon and serve with either rice or potato salad.

Gut Apetit!

Creepy Coinkydink!

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOk... I had a creepy coincidental moment yesterday as I was shopping at the three-story "SEWA" (pronounced "save-ah" dollar store) in Graz. I looked up at the candle section and saw a very familiar face....

...Sri Chinmoy!

Those of you who have dined at the well-known vegetarian restaurant, "Ananda Fuara" will recognize him from the looping video that is on the monitors there. You know, where he's meeting with Mother Theresa, lifting 500+ pounds, drawing pictures, running, smiling and a few other things. The restaurant is strangely positioned on a dingy corner of Market street, near San Francisco's Civic Center and is an absolute magnet for power-hungry politicians who make deals over vegetarian wraps. I used to dine there quite a bit when I worked for the City and County of San Francisco and particularly enjoyed toddling over there while pregnant for one of their Yogi Chai (it's caffeine free for those who can't handle caffeine while they're gestating).

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI should have known! The clerks at Sewa have the exact same royal-blue outfits and have this kind of happy, self-fulfilled glow about them that keeps them going quietly about their business. To the uninitiated, like me, this is kinda creepy.

I never knew that Sri Chinmoy's organization was so large or far-reaching as to have several stores not just in Graz, but all over Austria and Germany!

Now that's what I call a coincidence!

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We have landed in the party pad... and now we have a radio, too!

Ok, fastforward a year or so since my last post and here I am posting from Graz, Austria.

We got here four weeks ago and are stayin in a furnished apartment until we can find a home to buy. My husband's company procured it while we were in flight to Austria. It's very central but a total PARTY spot - completely NOT equipped for a toddler.

Tortellino has already broken a glass lamp, burned himself on the oven front (apparently they don't insulate them here), squished his finger in the front door and gotten a big, hot, flying splash of boiling polenta on his face!

Not only is this apartment unequipped for a toddler, it's completely not designed for stays longer than a few days or weeks - it's mostly used by actors who perform at the theater at the other end of FreheitPlaz.

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We do have a nice view of the bald-spot on the head of Francis I from our window - it turned into a little white toupee last week during the first snow.

It features a sunken couch - complete with cigarette burns - an open (practically walk-in fireplace) with no kind of gate, grate or anything, a dining room table that is about 3km away from the kitchen (it's a long trip to get the salt) and a large painting of two Raphaelesque angels looking up, contemplating life, while smoking cigarettes and caressing their beers.

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Oh... did I mention the wicker chairs that are unwinding themselves? Total toddler magnet!

And my favorite design feature... our living/dining room has one orange wall, one burgundy wall and one mustard wall. Believe me, it's not as bad as our bedroom that has one turquoise wall!

I do have something to be thankful for, though. My husband's new boss and co-workers descended the evening we arrived with a high-chair, changing table, crib and other infant paraphanalia.

So now it's the family partly place.

oooooh, music
For being such a young, hip apartment it was lacking one essential piece of equipment - a RADIO! Since hubby works late, the stores are closed on Sundays and I can't get too far our of town on a bus it's taken us quite a while to find the electronics stores here. Yesterday we finally found a RADIO!!! I didn't realize how much we missed music 'til Tortellino was jamming to Radio Slovenia's classical music and entertaining himself (that is, not wound between my legs asking for attention) while I was working in the kitchen and grating vegetables to the beat.

'Til now we've been making the best of the three Putamayo Children's CD's I brought and Microsoft Window's Media Player's psychedelic renditions of the music (which totally hypnotized Tortellino BTW - I hope there are no after-effects of too much Media-player renditions).