February 28, 2007


Finally something to put a smile on my face. Nothing else than Israel's entry for this year's Eurovision contest - being held in May in Helsinki, of all places. Apparently, the piece is a protest against nuclear weapons and the refrain goes something like this: "And I don't wanna die, I wanna see the flowers bloom, don't wanna go kaput-kaboom." Hilarious! Maybe I should fly over to see the performance.

Lauttasaari, September 2003
It's not that there wouldn't be other things to smile about, but I think that it's time for the vacations to end. The trips have been made, there are no more nights out to look forward to, and my bank account has hit an all-time low. The party's over. This moment, for instance, I feel like I've been sitting at the computer doing lots of things and at the same time doing actually nothing at all. Google Earth is great but what's the point of gazing at Tirana from space? Sure, Wikipedia is a fun way of spending some time in cyberspace but what's the point. And I wasn't even able to listen to a choir concert I was really looking forward to on the Finnish radio. My motivation is gone.

South-Eastern Turkey, June 2006.
The other Finnish exchange students are going to spend the evening at Three Monkeys and although I was not going to go, now I think anything is better than spending another evening waiting until it's time for bed. And maybe there's something wrong with me anyway, since all the other foreign students always seem to spend time with each other. For everybody's sake, I hope I won't end up giving a sugary karaoke performance like last time. I'll probably be too sober for that anyway.

Napo Province, Ecuador, December 2005.
Well THIS entry really ended up being a bag of laughs. Especially when it's accompanied by the Real Group chirping away with "Everybody needs somebody to love yeeeeah".

February 27, 2007

Odd one out

After weeks of keeping a harmonious and calm household together with Petra, we are now bracing ourselves for the three new exchange students arriving in the weekend and, of course, the return of Thomas from ze France. Of course it hasn't been just the two of us all of the month: Transfer Flatmate C will pick up her stuff any day now, and my sister was here visiting last week (you might notice her trail on my top 10 songlist). It's been fun, but ultimately this is not an apartment for two and so it'll be fun to have some life back here again.

26.2.2007 Train pictures chapter XXXIII.
However, the start of the new term also means we need to go through our supplies to see if we can last until the summer. Personally, my first investment would be a new air freshener spray for the toilet - the current one has been around for who knows how long and, if you ask me, actually makes the place smell much worse. And we're still dreaming of that mega-sized fridge.

22.2.2007 Zagreb central square's main attraction.
The two days in Vienna were nice. Highlights included a visit to the Syrian embassy (I couldn't believe they have those faded pastel-coloured posters the Ministry of Tourism has produced probably decades ago - my favourite is the one with the surfer, maybe Syria's short coastal strip will yet become the surfing community's mecca?), one of the best museums I have been in (Kunsthistorisches Museum) and an a cappella concert at the Musikverein. Lowlights: Viennese waiters and the rain.

23.6.2003 The Åland islands.
This blog will soon start its third year. I know quite a few people who don't feel very comfortable reading blogs - they much prefer personal emails or perhaps see blogs as a modern way for egoists to shout out about their world into cyberspace. I can't really compare blogging to writing emails - for me they are a world apart and I have never not written an email because I've thought "oh well, he/she can just as well read my blog". As for the purpose of keeping a blog: while this website may seem like a self-righteous online diary, rest assured that there is much more to my world than what you see here :) Thanks for reading!

February 24, 2007

Train diaries

This moment, I am in the Romanian room listening to the music by Mahler which has given this blog its name. It's past midnight, Dea is asleep and Petra just came to show me an email our future flatmate sent her. There was initial confusion to their correspondence, which started some days ago, when Petra got an email titled "Hallo Anita". The matter was cleared and now we know something about the Czech girl who will arrive here on the first day of March.

Somewhere in Eastern Slovenia.
Her questions until now have been pretty straightforward, as have been our comments: "Is there a cd player in the room" ("Aaaargh, she probably doesn't have a laptop then to share in the internet costs"), "Can you tell me what there is in the apartment" ("Where to begin, the broken teacups or the spluttering vacuum cleaner...."), "I haven't got any reply from the landlady!! Is this normal?" ("How to break it to her...").

Somewhere in Upper Austria.
This last week has been full of train trips. Altogether, I have travelled over 1500 km during the last seven days. In the end, the rails have always brought me back home - safe, trustworthy and friendly Graz. The trip to Zagreb (how nicely the two city names go together) and back was nice. There is a nice feeling to passing passport checkpoints - the first stamp in my new one!! - and anonymously rolling on, not looking back, not looking forward, just seeing what it looks like outside at the moment.

Somewhere in Bavaria.
At our hostel on the outskirts of the city, we met an early bird who looked like a Chinese businessman (what was he doing in a mixed dorm), Kristiansandian Irene (we already knew she was Norwegian because we took a sneak peek at her postcards) who was on a six-month leave from work and in no hurry to get back home (my enthusiastic suggestion "You could even go to Turkey from here" was greeted by a blank stare and a "Yes, I could go to Australia if I wanted to"), Two English-speaking guys who suggested some joint programme (it didn't work out but they still followed us until the railway station) and a pair of slightly freakish Erasmus exchange students from the British isles ("You're also Erasmus?? Yeah, so you know what we mean when we say alcohol consumption huh??").

Maybe there'll be a post on Zagreb later but now it's time to sink into a dreamless sleep..

February 17, 2007

Concert cycles to die for

An annoying thing about Austrian groceries' opening times is the fact that after sitting eight hours on a train, when the only thing you want to do is go straight home, you are forced to ask yourself what you want to eat tomorrow and after tomorrow for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you should do it quickly before the shops close for the weekend. I actually saw a saleswoman pushing out a distraught customer from the railway station's Tabak (the local R-kioski) and lock the door - I could forget about stocking up on my mobile phone credit and public transport tickets, then.

I find it amusing that the German and Austrian state railways like to give their train services names. They range from the logical (one of the services from Graz to Vienna is called "Grazer Oper") to the absurd - yesterday I travelled on "Intercity Hollywood Megaplex Kino". Maybe a reference to a dream of making Linz Europe's movie powerhouse? Or, more likely, a tribute to the fantastic scenery seen from the megaplex of the wagon windows. Austria's mountainous landscapes win hands down over Germany's more down-to-earth views.

In the throes of a nap.
Unfortunately, the sun didn't really come out in Bamberg until yesterday, so Thursday's walk up to Michelsberg and the cathedral was a wet one. Bamberg has its own flair - where else can you find a quarter called "Little Venice" - but, as we were saying with Andy, it lacks a certain comopolitanism which, I'm happy to say, Graz has, even if you only thought of its share of African immigrants and ex-Yugoslavian beggars (something I wasn't expecting when I first arrived here). Every town has its charms and its setbacks and there's nothing like comparing them!

Somebody's wild imagination on display in a Bamberg bookstore.
The day before yesterday, Andy took out his treasure trove of Disney soundtracks and we burst into song together with our favourite damsels in distress: Ariel, Belle and Pocahontas to name a few. By the time we reached "A whole new world" I think we had seriously scared his girlfriend. Sometimes it's really bizarre to realise how many things we have in common although we have spent our childhoods in virtually different worlds.

A common view from a regionalzug. Avoid them at all costs.
Referring to the title of this post, some friends and I have had fun lately making up imaginary concert cycles a choir could present. Allow me to introduce some of them:
-"The Stalin prize winners - who were they?" (including Shostakovitch's oratorio "Song of the forest")
-"Allahu Akbar! Music from the Jihad heartlands"
-"Gala concert for the hearing impaired" (featuring theatrical elements)
-"0 points! The Eurovision losers in a new light"
-"Disney like you've never heard it before" (the most realistic yet)

Feel free to add.

February 14, 2007


Germany! Land of Bratwurst, Bach and Bayern. I arrived yesterday afternoon and am visiting my cousin Andy, the only person I have trouble keeping up with while walking. Our voices and manner of speech are so similar our closest family members can't tell them apart - proven once again yesterday when our grandmother from Quito asked me on the phone what I was planning to do with Dani.

The trip yesterday was comfortable. A woman sitting next to me on the train from Vienna to Nürnberg provided the first jaw-dropper of the day: while I was absorbed in a Finnish crossword puzzle, she casually asked me whether I was learning Finnish. (What does this say about my crossword solving skills). I was really impressed she recognised the language (maybe it was the many dots....:)!! As I was putting her in the right frame of things, she told me about a relative of hers who studies in Helsinki. He's a conductor I have worked with a couple of times. She flipped out of her mind but I kept my cool - after all, it's just a minor coincidence.

Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof is a railway station like any other in Germany but it holds a familiar atmosphere for me because I have been there quite often. As I was thinking about this, I realised the last time I was in Germany was three years ago, which I consider to be a lot of time. On the train to Bamberg, two teenage girls opposite me were totally absorbed with their nails and high school gossip. As we passed Fürth, yet another place I hold in dear memory for the jokes I used to make about the name of the place with a friend, I noticed the station platform hadn't changed at all since we were killing time with a group of comrades by taking whacky pictures there in 2002. I arrived in Bamberg just in time for a downpoar.

Today, my cousin left in the morning for his theatre project and I passed the time visiting shops (including one where, three years ago, I bought a box of cds which played a decisive role in making me realise what I wanted to become) and taking in the ambiance of this university town, which is a lot smaller than Graz. I also got my train ticket back home, the agent helpfully letting me know it would have cost a lot less had I bought it yesterday.

February 12, 2007

Small world

For some reason, every time I leave Graz on the train, there is someone I know sitting in the same wagon. It was fun the last two times, but on Saturday I couldn't believe it when I saw someone I had only spoken to once (and whose name I didn't know) walking towards the empty seat opposite mine. I had been hoping for some relaxing time with my music and the scenery outside. Covering my face with both hands didn't help, so I had company until Selzthal, where I had to change trains. In the end, it was relatively harmless company - the only time I was bothered was when the loud techno basses blasting from his earphones created an unsettling background to Brahms's "Warum ist das Licht gegeben".

Pulling out of Graz Hauptbahnhof.
Linz, an industrial centre and Austria's third-largest city, was interesting to see, but didn't make a very big impression. Not for the first time, I had to argue with a waiter on what I was supposed to pay for my lunch - it drives me crazy when they bring you nice little side dishes in addition to what you have actually ordered and then you are expected to pay for them. I didn't give up without a fight (the restaurant manager was called in) but ended up dishing out the 3€ more. I realise I'm becoming more fearless in confronting people who make a lousy job of customer service. Yesterday, I exchanged some murderous looks and snappy replies at the ticket counter of Wien Westbahnhof. Then again, maybe I'm just becoming really rude.

Birds in Linz.
Yesterday, a friend introduced me to Aschach an der Donau (pop. 2000), a town, you might say, not on every backpacker's to-do list. All the better! Saturday evening was spent at a Latin household there (could it get any more bizarre).

One of Aschach's main thoroughfares.
It's hard not to think that, somehow, everything you read or watch or listen to is ultimately connected. It's the feeling I get when I arrive at a strange house and the music playing in the background is a piece I've been recently thinking about, or when Hermann Hesse mentions Händel's "Israel in Egypt" in his "Steppenwolf". Or, for example, when I'm driving past Graz airport and just happen to see an airplane with a friend inside. Life's full of coincidences.

February 07, 2007

Pictureless post

Still no sign of the new exchange students, which means they'll probably arrive only at the end of the month. Our temporary flatmate "C", who is spending some weeks here on transfer to another apartment, is being extremely helpful with the household management and today we found ourselves ecstatically discussing shopping lists and the proper way to clean the floors like any old married couple. I'm almost getting used to the idea of having someone to eat with three times a day. And it's definitely the first time someone has liked my cooking so much it's on the wishlist for tomorrow's lunch.

I have also learned that when you have heart-sick French people in the house, playing love songs by Jacques Brel inevitably results in pitiful moaning, waving arms and, in the most drastic cases (seconds before bedtime), violent protests. Be warned!

Meanwhile, Petra has found a new best friend: her teacher from the intensive German course, who sends her midnight emails asking her to change the theme of next morning's presentation from the banning of smoking in restaurants to something "more current". After straining our grey cells for plausible subjects, the best ones we could come up with were illegal immigration - with our household members posing as "live examples" - and something with a title like "When 2 become 3: relationships during an exchange year".

Today in the university library, I listened to a previously unknown oratorio to me: Händel's "Israel in Egypt". I'm glad I finally got to know it and I'm adding it to the mental list of works I want to conduct one day. Händel gave an overwhelming majority of the music to the choir and there's a lot to have fun with, from the raging explosion of "He gave them hailstones for rain" to the deliciously titled "And with the blast of Thy nostrils". Another pleasant surprise among recently discovered pieces is Shostakovitch's oratorio "Song of the Forests", introduced to me by a friend.

In case you haven't noticed, the "What I'm listening to" -section on the sidebar has been given a fresh look. The list is updated every end of the week and on Monday you should be able to see that my playlists are also brimming with rediscovered timeless classics like Beethoven's sonata op.111 and Mozart's clarinet concerto.

Just kidding.

February 06, 2007

Winter holidays

Some of you already know I have come back from my Alpine adventure weekend in Carinthia with all my bones intact and some fantastic pictures to share. The two nights were spent at a friend's family's house practically in the middle of nowhere (Sankt Jakob im Rosental but don't even think of looking for it unless you own a high-definition Michelin map of Austria like I do) next to a jaw-dropping mountain chain separating Austria from Slovenia.

Kärnten entertainment. The LP includes tear-jerking classics like "Wann I mei Dirndl tua gruassn" and wild instrumental music performed by the inspiring Spörk family.

We were lucky with the weather, which produced a winter wonderland for us and the hundreds of German, Italian and Slovenian tourists (My weekend included a crash course in interpreting vehicle registrations) who, like us, headed to the main ski resort in the Villach area: Mount Gerlitzen (easy on your larynx). We skipped the mainstream cable car and took the scenic (and very serpentine) road to the top (1909 m).

The views were magnificent: here the majestic Hohe Tauer -mountains, over there Slovenia's highest peak, Italy through that gap, The eel-shaped lakes of Carinthia, Klagenfurt airport behind them (not to mention Klagenfurt itself). The sight of eight-year olds plunging down the slopes with their skis and übercool teenagers looking like they were born with a snowboard at their feet was slightly intimidating, so I decided to take it easy first and practise my winter sports in a safer area (the landing strip of the aficionados).

View from the chair lift.

It has to be said I had a fantastic teacher and gradually we decided to brave skiing down from a higher altitude. Our goal was to make it all the way from the top at some point and the practising was going well at the start. Then I took a major tumble which sent my self-confidence down an abyss, and I decided to not risk it and went up to the summit without the skis - I'll admit this decision was influenced by the sight of a helicopter picking up an injured person from the mountain.

Next day, we drove even closer to the Slovenian border and walked through the forest to an inn where I had a very straightforward meal - a huge fresh sausage with some eye-cringingly sowerKraut. After that, it was back to Graz. The weekend tour also included Villach's giant new Interspar and the leafy suburbs of Klagenfurt (a city, it has to be said, not exactly blessed with a very poetic name).

Today I went up to the Schlossberg with a friend and it is fast becoming one of my favourite places anywhere. As if to underline my thoughts, I heard the words "Geah istas soo een faaaner Toog in Gräääz" behind me (I'm still working on my regional dialects). After that, I had the honour of giving two freshly arrived Finnish exchange students a tour of the downtown Spar (including a visit to the unfriendly cashier lady).

Winter weather on our balcony.

February 01, 2007

And then there was one

All the concerts are over now and the vacations have officially begun. Our performance of Schnittke's Requiem in a church some way out of town was surprisingly well attended and something of a success. The most notable glitch was the "Sanctus" movement where a stray tenor soloist dragged the choir into a different pitch than the accompanying marimba and electrical bass - an unmissable opportunity for choral conductors to practise keeping up appearances in the most desperate situations.

The aftermath of the concert was celebrated in a charming restaurant called "Brot & Spiele" (not, as I first understood it, "Blut & Spiele"). The fact that it was situated in Graz's red light -district did nothing to disturb the ambiance. I had asked Thomas to wake me up before he left for France early in the morning yesterday. He did wake me up - to ask whether the cheese-slicer was in my room (probably one of the most absurd questions I have heard at seven in the morning).

Forces unite to find a missing resident of Merangasse.

Later in the day, the Romanians were picked up by Silvia's relatives living in Wiener Neustadt. To say they were reluctant to leave would be putting it mildly, but in the end they braved the task of carrying a neverending amount of bags down the stairs and said goodbye to their temporary home. Their 30-hour bus trip to Bucharest is about to begin - according to rumours, one of our double rooms is to remain a Romanian one.

And so I am left to guard the homestead - but not for long! Petra will come back before the 5th of this month and a friend is staying in Thomas's room temporarily until she finds a new place. Our holiday plans for tomorrow include scrubbing the floors. Hooray. Besides, what with our most non-cooperative landlady, nobody knows when the new exchange students will arrive. Hopefully tomorrow - we could use a helping hand with the cleaning! *Devilish laughter*........