Monday, January 17, 2011


It's been two weeks since I arrived in Austria and since then, I have been getting into the rhythm of life in Graz, which is approximately 200km south of Vienna.

So far, so good I must say. It might be too early to say for sure, but I have the impression that this city has a lovely fusion of German, Italian, and Eastern European sensibilities. For example, Venice is often mentioned as a 'doable weekend trip' from Graz. Golly.

The Institute (IAS-STS) is a great place to work so far. It's filled with intellectually curious and open people from all over the world.... kind of like an Austrian STS version of Hogwarts... or rather like the X-Mansion of Charles Xavier... ;) It's proving an ideal place to dissertate.

When I first arrived, shellshocked from re-entering Eurospace (and the crazy journey previously mentioned), I got a transit pass to get around the city. It allowed me to take the trams and buses all around. However, I really missed the cycling I did in the Netherlands, and as I got to know the city better, decided to get a bike. The local preference is for fatter tires, given the terrain, so my bike is a cute little thing with a basket on the back (handy for groceries, though not for giving rides like in NL!). The bikes are also less numerous so though the law does not demand people wear helmets, there is enough traffic mixture to warrant wearing a helmet. Given my dissertation is still swirling around in my noggin, worth the 24 euro investment to protect, non? Through trial and error, I've since found some traffic calmed routes that avoid tram lines (and all the ugliness that can ensue from heavy traffic).

Speaking of getting around, I got myself a Vorteilscard, which is the ÖBB system discount card for trains. It was pretty easy to get at the station, and allows for 45% discount for journeys right off the bat. Given that I needed to book my journey to Geneva, I already made up the price of the card with this one booking. No Austrian bank account needed (cough cough). Only my Meldezettel (residence registration) and passport.

My own flat is on the "right side" (meaning facing downstream, and West on the map) of the Mur, and what one might call a "spacebox." My studio in Seoul was 246 square feet, which had been an exercise in efficient living, but this one even more compact at 161 square feet (15 square metres, for the metric-minded:) I've now managed to make things a little cozier and start to even like how everything is within arms reach... though my shower is literally a porcelain square but at least it's my own. It's in a primarily Turkish neighbourhood, which means no shortage of döner kebab places on a Sunday (when most things in the city would close). There are lots of casinos around the city, and places that say "Interactive Games" are often gambling of some sort with a video interface.

Opening hours for shops and services are what is normally expected for smaller cities in these parts. Shops usually keep 9am-6pm business hours, and things slow down on Saturdays (sometimes shops open in the mornings 9am-12pm), and on Sunday, only some shops are open at all. Luckily I had Delft life prepare me for this rhythm.

Food deserves its own paragraph too. It fills me with immense joy that food is once again a social thing. I am familiarizing myself not only with Austrian food, but Styrian specialties specific to the region, like pumpkin seed oil! And living within the embrace of the "good coffee belt" (which I am told ends when one travels north of Munich) is such a blessing during dissertation time. So civilized, during what can be a pretty mind-warping time.

More soon! The most exciting stuff is yet to come.

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