Graz, Austria (Part 4) – Christmas Season in Graz

We ushered in the Christmas season in Graz with lots of mulled wine, Christmas markets, cookies and home-cooked dinners with friends.

A particularly interesting Austrian tradition is the Krampuslauf, which is a parade where (mostly intoxicated) men dress up in the most terrifying Krampus outfits and masks. The Krampus is the arch-nemesis of Saint Nicholas. According to Germanic folklore, they punish children who have misbehaved. During Krampuslauf, these masked-demons parade down the steets of towns and cities, scaring the living daylights out of people, both young and old, occasionally even hitting innocent bystanders. In Graz, it was pretty tame. I was honestly a little afraid, which was why I stood further back. However, Alex told us that in Lienz, Krampuslauf can quickly get out of hand, with participants ending up in the hospitals. An interesting watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcCwJL-1fUU

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Krampuslauf

There are many Christmas markets all around the city. The main one is at Hauptplatz. After Krampuslauf, we climbed up Schloßberg to visit another. It was beautiful, more so than the one at Hauptplatz in my opinion. I bet it has something to do with the warm glow of the Christmas lights, the smell of waffles and the beautiful ornaments.

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Weihnachtsmarkt on Schloßberg

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Der Grazer Uhrturm

We used to host friends at our humble abode for dinner quite often. It was something we all looked forward to and really enjoyed. Cooking has never been so fun!

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Happy people

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International feast

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6 nationalities at dinner – Pakistani, Canadian, Mexican, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Austrian

What is Christmas without Christmas cookies? This was my first time being away from home during Christmas. Christmas is a big thing in my family. We put up the Christmas tree, we give and receive presents, we bake cookies and we have dinner together. It is truly my favourite holiday! I thought I wouldn’t get homemade cookies, but I did!

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Kathi’s mum sent some over, and they were delicious, every single one of them! Look how pretty they are!

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Another Christmas treat I got for myself – Milka chocolates in Saint Nicholas and Krampus form!

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Us, crazy people, wandering down Herrengasse

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Herrengasse with Christmas lights

Everyone dreams of a white Christmas. Snow came pretty late, but I was so happy to see beautiful snow in Graz before I left. I woke up one day, and found that my balcony and the chair I had left outside were covered in snow.

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 Snow in Graz

On our last day of German lessons, the whole class met at the Christmas market on Hauptplatz for drinks.

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My German class 

Have I ever mentioned that I did pretty well in German class? I really wanted to continue in Singapore, but the classes here are so expensive. I just love the language!

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I forced Alex to smile, with teeth this time.

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Surprise Lebkuchenherzen from Julie

Julie surprised me with this in my mail. I was so happy, I hung it up at my study table and Instagrammed it immediately!

Frohes Fest everybody (3 months in advance)! Am I the only one who can’t wait for Christmas? 🙂

Graz, Austria (Part 4) – Christmas Season in Graz

DJ Visits – Graz, Austria (Part 3)

Dj and I had planned to visit Italy together – Venice, Florence and Rome. However, due to time constraints, we had to cut out one city, and we chose to cut Florence from our itinerary. Of course, I regret, especially after reading Dan Brown’s Inferno. But first, Dj visited me in Graz for a couple of days. I was proud to show off the little place I called home!

I picked Dj up at Graz Hauptbahnhof, and we went out for a quick walk around town before we had dinner with my friends. Home-cooked dinners with my friends is the one thing I think I miss most about being in Graz.

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The Murinsel

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Grazer Kunsthaus

We bought groceries and headed home to cook. I was going to make paella, but I couldn’t get a lot of the ingredients. So I settled on Mexican rice, or rather, my version of Mexican rice that I cooked up with completely no recipe. It was pretty good though, if I do say so myself.

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Mexican rice

Tim and Patrick showed off their baking skills with homemade Apfelstrudel!

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Apfelstrudel (apple strudel)

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Us, Asians, at dinner (including Alex)

Next morning, we headed out early to explore Graz. I had been saving some places to visit for when Dj visited, so it was a new experience for me too.

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Love locks on Mursteg

That very night was the opening of the Christkindlmarkt at Hauptplatz. The enormous Weihnachtsbaum was already up for quite some time, and I was anxiously anticipating my first official Christkindlmarkt!

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The huge Christmas tree at Hauptplatz

Little wooden stalls were already open in the day, selling all sorts of food, drinks, ornaments, souvenirs and other handmade items. Everything just looked really pretty. It was a pity that the weather was so terrible that day.

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Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) at Hauptplatz

Walking down Herrengasse, we decided to stop for a slice of Sachertorte at Café Sacher. Although Dj had been to Vienna, he didn’t get to try it. And although I am not the biggest fan of it, I would still recommend it, just for the sake of it being Viennese. HAH. Anyway, the slice we got this time was much more moist than the one I had with my mum when I just arrived. Strange.

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Happy girl with her Sachertorte

I’d visited the Landeszeughaus twice before this – once with my mum and another time with my Global Business Programme class. The Landeszeughaus (or the Styrian Armoury), and is home to the world’s largest collection (32,000 pieces) of historic weapons and armour. Somehow, I’m extremely intrigued by all these medieval weapons and armour. The guided tour is free and the tour guides that I got on my visits were all excellent.

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The armour and suits carried and worn by the army back in the days were big, bulky and heavy. Also, the men were prone to heat strokes because the suits would absorb so much heat. Almost every suit we saw was unique, as the suits on display were tailor made for each person. Apparently, the larger the tummy area, the more wealthy and high ranking that guy probably was!

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Some of the masks also had engravings such as moustaches and smiles. These were meant to scare the enemy as they met their doom. I find them cute though.

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There was also armour for the horses. This was meant for jousting. It was the grandest piece on display. Very intimidating.

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After the armoury, we headed back towards Lendplatz for lunch. Dj loves mushroom soup and I had to let him try the best.

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Mushroom & polenta soup

This time, they used different mushrooms, but it was still as yummy. And in the chilly weather, it was just perfect!

After a late afternoon nap, we headed out again in the evening to catch the Christmas lights around town, and also to climb the Schloßberg to get a night view of the city. It would be my first time being up there at night.

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Christmas lights

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The Uhrturm

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There’s something really nice about being in a city that isn’t bustling with with tourists. You can be at such beautiful places and not feel claustrophobic.

It was off to dinner with Clement and our buddies, before we all headed to the Christkindlmarkt for the first time! We went for supposedly the best burgers in town at B.EAT.

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Burger with Cajun fries – Indeed, delicious

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Clement and his chicken wings (and beer)

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We met many schoolmates there at the Christmas market at Hauptplatz. The heavy drizzle did nothing to faze us.

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We had Glühwein (mulled wine) and also some Punsch (punch) which had these amazing hot, bursting berries mulled along with spices. The alcohol really made me feel warm despite the cold weather and drizzle. After some drinks and mingling, we went back home for some good night’s sleep.

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Rathaus

The next morning, I brought Dj to my favourite café – Tribeka, for the best chai latte.

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We walked towards the biggest farmers’ market in Graz at Kaiser Josef Platz. We stopped by my favourite bakery – Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax on the way to have my all-time favourite pastry, Topfentaschen and also a fruit tart for the boy.

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Hofbäckerei Edegger Tax

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Fruit tart

God only knows why I don’t have a single decent photo of Topfentaschen. Sigh. I had to screenshot this from my Instagram account.

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Topfentaschen

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Mausoleum

In the vicinity of the farmers’ market is the Graz Opera. Some of my friends managed to get cheap tickets for the opera, but I didn’t go because I was out of town then. A pity, watching an opera still unchecked from my bucket list.

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Grazer Oper

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Farmers’ market at Kaiser Josef Platz

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Evangelische Heilandskirche (Lutheran Church of the Redeemer)

This farmers’ market is about three to four times the size as the one at Lendplatz. Fresh produce, breads, cakes, condiments, you name it, they got it. Also, as it was the Christmas season, they were selling Christmas cookies, ornaments and trees.

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From the farmers’ market, we walked to the church that I saw in the distance from the top of Schloßberg. The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the largest church in Graz, and also the tallest building in Graz (I think).

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Herz-Jesu-Kirche (Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

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Inside Herz-Jesu-Kirche

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A question to ponder

On the way home, we entered the Graz Cathedral (Dompfarre Graz). Emperor Frederick III built the church with his new residence in Graz. He was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1452 to 1493.

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The beautiful altar and pulpit

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That marked in the end of Dj’s short visit to Graz. I only wished the weather was better. It would’ve made things much more enjoyable. Off we go… to Venezia!

DJ Visits – Graz, Austria (Part 3)

Die Buschenshank – Graz, Austria (Part 2)

A big part of Styrian tradition is the Buschenshank. A buschenshank is a wine tavern where only food (cold) which is produced by themselves is allowed to be served. This includes wine, bread, cheese and cured meat. I learnt about the buschenshank in my Austrian culture class, and I really wanted to visit one. Fortunately, my buddy arranged for us to experience this wonderful tradition, and I enjoyed every second of it.

On the outskirts of Graz is the Buschenshank Sattler. When we got off the bus, I was delighted to see how beautiful and serene the Graz countryside is. There were cows roaming on the field just outside the buschenshank.

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It was all Stürm season. Stürm was my welcome drink from my room mate. Stürm actually means storm auf Deutsch (surprise surprise). It is a young wine, and the alcohol percentage is about 4% typically. It is sweet like grape juice as the sugars have yet to be broken down by fermentation. Honestly, it tastes like dessert wine, but a little more carbonated. It is, by far, my favourite alcohol. But beware. Many have been known to be drunk fast because you might forget that it is actually alcohol you’re drinking! I miss Stürm!

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Buschenschank Sattler

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White wine, water and Stürm

What they typically serve at the buschenschank is something called the Brettljause – a variety of cold cuts, cheeses and garnishes served on a wooden platter.

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Die Brettljause

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We also got some bread (Brot) to accompany the meat and cheeses, and also the various spreads that was served. I can’t say I’m too found of some of the spreads, especially the white one in the middle – it’s pure fat. But overall, it was a delicious meal with great company!

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Gebackene Mäuse

Finally, for dessert, we had Gebackene Mäuse which translates to “baked mice”. I don’t know why it’s called “baked mice” and not fried mice. It is a deep fried yeasted fritter, like the zeppole, or beignets. Anyway, they are delicious!

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The Taiwanese guys, Alex, Clement, me, Julie and her friends

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Clement and Julie

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We left as the sun was about to go down, and it was one of the most beautiful days I had in Graz. Thank you, Julie, for sharing this experience with us! I hope we get another chance to go to a buschenschank again someday! ❤

Die Buschenshank – Graz, Austria (Part 2)

Graz, Austria (Part 1)

Rewind to when I first arrived in Graz.

My buddy, Kathi, picked me up at Graz Hauptbahnhof. I had three massive suitcases to get off the train all by myself. Worse still, I had fallen asleep after crying my eyes out (saying goodbye to my boyfriend), and had less than a minute to get everything down. Kathi brought me to my hostel, which was just a few stops by bus from the station, and got me settled in. When I got there, I was alone at home for a while, before my room mates from Moldova came home. I went to the supermarket after putting the sheets on the bed and unpacking my clothes to get groceries and toiletries for myself. The apartment I lived in was really great. Though it cost €350 per month (Austria is expensive), bed linen is provided, it is inclusive of cleaning once a week, there is a fully-equipped kitchen, a toilet (male and female separate) and a bathroom (shared) and a laundry room in the building as well. I initially opted for the hostel just beside my school, Greenbox, as it was the cheapest and most convenient. However, it was no longer available because I was procrastinating as I looked for a private apartment somewhere else. The only place left with vacancies was Neubaugasse, where they had reserved some space for those who got the Ernst Mach Grant. And yes, I got the Ernst Mach Grant. This grant really saved me a lot of money in Graz.

The next day, my mum arrived in Graz. She was afraid that I’d go hungry there, and was worried about me settling in. But when she got there, she stopped worrying, because Graz is awesome.

Graz is the second largest city in Austria after Vienna, and is the capital of the federal state of Styria. It is also a World Cultural Heritage Site, and was named the Culture Capital of Europe in 2003. The city has long been known for its student population, with over 44,000 students in its 6 universities – this out of a population of 303,731.

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Volksgarten

Beside my apartment building is a square, Lendplatz. Every morning, a farmers’ market opens there. I was in heaven. Really cheap, fresh, organic produce just a stone’s throw away.

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Farmers’ market at Lendplatz

My mum got a bag of plums and asked for the price. She was shocked to hear it was only €2.

After perusing the farmers’ market, we went for brunch at a restaurant just across the road.

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1/2 fried spring chicken in a crust of pumpkin seeds, served in a basket

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Gardener’s salad with sliced grilled turkey, and Styrian pumpkin oil

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Goulaschsuppe

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Bread (Brot)

This is how I got fat in Graz. The bread there is so cheap and so yummy. The one at the bottom left is called Kaisersemmel, better known as Kaiser rolls. I would be eating lots of Kaisersemmel in the months to come.

At brunch, we also noticed that there are hell lot of bees in Graz, but they aren’t aggressive (towards us). In fact, the birds are more aggressive. Throughout brunch, these tiny little birds kept watching us, and waited for us to stop touching our food before they actually tore up pieces of our fried chicken and flew away.

My mum and I walked around town for quite some time. We crossed over from the “bad” side, to the “good” side, across the River Mur.

By the river, on the “bad” side, is this odd-looking building. It is actually a museum – Grazer Kunsthaus. It is affectionately known as the “Friendly Alien”.

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Grazer Kunsthaus

It took me a couple of months until I would actually step foot into the Kunsthaus. I honestly think it’s ugly but adorable. So yes, it’s cute.

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The River Mur and the Murinsel

The Murinsel is a “floating café” on the River Mur, which is held by an anchor and stabilised by the bridges that link the two sides of the city. It is also a spectacle at night, when the Murinsel is up in lights against the dark waters.

Crossing the river, I caught sight of the landmark of Graz – the Uhrturm (Clock Tower) on Schloßberg (Castle Hill). No where in Graz is there a better view of the city as on the top of Schloßberg. Mummy and I didn’t go up, because she didn’t want to climb up the stairs with me. It took me about a month in Graz before I would see the Uhrturm up close.

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Schloßberg and the Uhrturm, sitting pretty

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Another way to get to the top of the Schloßberg is to take the glass cabin lift (Adults: €1.10, Students : €0.60). The lift is built into the very hill. I never took the lift though – I love the challenge of climbing. Another alternative is to the Schloßbergbahn, a funicular. Once again, never took it, though it was free with my student transport pass that I got.

Just beyond the Schloßberg was the main street – Herrengasse. This is where you get almost everything you would need – clothes, electronics, groceries, restaurants etc. It was one of the things I really enjoyed during my time in Graz, walking down Herrengasse, especially during the Christmas season when the streets were decorated and the main square, Hauptplatz, had the biggest Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) I’ve ever seen, and when the Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt) was up!

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Herrengasse

The cables that go across are for the trams. They are ubiquitous around many countries in Europe. I love trams!

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Rathaus (City Hall)

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Stadtpfarrkirche

After some walking, we decided to stop by the Café Sacher along Herrengasse to grab a slice of the famous Sachertorte. This was my first time trying it, and I was so excited. The Sachertorte is kind of the national cake of Austria, and originates from Vienna, the capital. It is a chocolate layer cake with apricot jam and chocolate icing. The original Sachertorte is said to be from Café Sacher, but there was a legal dispute over the use of label “The Original” between the café and Demel Bakery, where Eduard Sacher (son of the inventor, Franz Sacher) perfected the current recipe. Well, now we know who won that battle.

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Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel

Mummy and I ordered a slice of Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel), which is also a Viennese specialty. I was a little underwhelmed by the Sachertorte. The cake itself was a little dry. Overall, the taste was ok, but I felt like it didn’t live up to the hype. It was just another chocolate cake. We also felt that we could bake a better one anytime. The apple strudel, too, was a little disappointing. The apple was too tart. But I did like the pastry; I prefer it to the Ritz apple strudel pastry we get here in Singapore.

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Mummy decided to get something really sinful for me – coffee with whipped cream and chocolate liqueur, while she got a raspberry fizz for herself. This was probably the best thing we had there at the café. Coffee in Austria is excellent.

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 Luegg Haus – spot the faces

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Mausoleum

One of the most striking buildings in Graz is the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II – a Habsburg tomb. I really love the beautiful turquoise domes and the statues that stand on top.

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A quick coffee break

In Austria, there are a thousand ways to order coffee. If you ask for ice coffee, this is what you get. My mum and I were shocked. But it was fantastic. Coffee with whipped cream and ice cream. How can I complain?

For dinner, we headed back towards Lendplatz. Mummy was staying at Mercure, a hotel just in front of my hostel. We decided to try out Gasthaus Lendplatzl. We had a delightful waiter attend to us, a young man who was working there part time to earn money for his law studies. We asked for recommendations for something spicy, and he said the turkey stew was a good choice.

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Spicy turkey stew served with vegetable sauce and rice

I think their idea of spicy is paprika. It was not spicy, but it was sooooooo delicious!

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Mushroom and polenta soup

I ordered the mushroom and polenta soup for myself. This was, by far, the best mushroom soup I ever had in my entire life. It was creamy, chock full of mushrooms, including expensive chanterelles, and the polenta was perfectly cooked and uhhhhmazing. I still crave for this from time to time!

We retired early to get some work done, and also for me to start transferring stuff from my Macbook Pro to my new Macbook Air that Mummy had brought over. My Macbook Pro started giving me problems since I got to Poland the first time. I was so worried that I couldn’t get the important things backed up before the laptop crashed for good.

The next morning (Sunday), my mum and I went out for breakfast. We walked everywhere, but everything was closed! Typical.

We walked into the first café we saw that was open, which happened to be a Martin Auer. They sell amazing bread and pastries there. I used to go there pretty often just to get the local pastries!

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Poppy seed crown

This was the first time having poppy seed and it was surprisingly good!

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Nusskrone (Nut crown), sandwiches, mini Kugelhopf, honey-cinnamon swirl bun

The Nusskrone became my second favourite pastry in Graz, the first being Topfentaschen (quark cheese purses). The cinnamon mixture with walnuts is divine.

Since everything was closed, Mummy and I just headed to the supermarket to buy some groceries for me before she left. I was in supermarket-heaven when I entered the Spar, which is probably the best supermarket chain there. We bought a ton of stuff for me to stock up the fridge with. I was so happy because a lot of the things that are expensive in Singapore is really affordable there! Shocking, but true.

The last thing my mum and I really did together while she was there for just three days was have dinner at Gasthaus Lendplatzl again. We really enjoyed the food there, and so, we decided to go back there again for dinner. I had goulash again, but the highlight of the meal was the wonderful dessert that we ordered.

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It was a pancake filled with crushed pumpkin seeds, and served with a caramel sauce and sweetened whipped cream. Both of us were really impressed by this. We thought about recreating this, but as of this moment, we have not!

The next morning, I had to attend my first day of orientation at FH, and my mum was also due to leave Graz. It was a pity she was only in Graz for such a short amount of time. She really loved the cool weather there; I would be wearing a sweater and she would be feeling completely alright with just one thin layer on. I hope we get to go back someday. I know I would love to.






Graz, Austria (Part 1)