Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In a place out of time?

Ah yes, that glass walled shower on view for all the room to see was interesting to say the least! Breakfast at the motel was expensive to say the least so Michael took a walk to the train station and came back with great coffees and pastries. Graz like many other cities is having road works done so we dodge them to get across the river and closer to the old city that we want to see.

Parking is not too much of a problem here - while there is no street parking nearby, there are plenty of parking stations that have been located underground. And these parking stations are like none others we have come across - spotlessly clean, very well lit, plenty of space with the spots marked by a sensored pad on the ground, piped music etc etc etc! And affordable!

They are all located at the peripheries of the main tourist areas, which makes it easy to get to things to have a look. The city sits in a valley and up the slopes of a steep hill that is crowned by the Schlossberg (castle hill). We will finish our time here with a trip up to there. But we start down in the main square, which is just around the corner from the car park. The tourist office here has put out an excellent brochure that is divided into three walks through the old city allowing you to tailor your time.

We begin our stroll in the Hauptplatz (main square) near the town hall with its domes, statues and clock. In the Square in front of the town hall there is a market place with permanent stalls selling souvenirs, food, flowers and newspapers. They are set all close together so that along with the modern settings, you still get the atmosphere of the markets places of old. There is the Archduke Johann fountain just outside the town hall. All around the sqaure (on the outer sides of the tram lines) there are a number of buildings with amazing facades of stucco or sgraffito high on their walls (including the amazing 'Painted House') and with arcades from the streets into inner courtyards. Many of the facades date back to the early 1700s!

Around behind the town hall lies the Landhaus - a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance that looks like it should be sited in Venice. Turns out that it was designed by a northern Italian architect so no wonder it looks like it does. Not only is the facade beautiful, the inner courtyard with its lamps and wells and its arched porticos is just as stunning. The Styrian parliament (the State that Graz is capital of) sits here.

From here we head up. The streets are not too steep, but the cobblestones are painful - how I hate them. And no, even after almost a year, my feet have not grown accustomed to them! And to add insult to my injury, we enter into a medieval courtyard where the cobbles are made from river stones that are laid on their edges - ouch ouch ouch! We see the Glockenspiel and buildings that have operated as various enterprises for hundreds of years, including a bakery with an amazing carved and inlaid timber store front.

I pass the shop of a tailoress who is selling traditional clothes. There are hand knitted jumpers and cardigans on a rack out the front and I can't resist buying a special little girl a special little one. It will come in very handy - no not in Darwin, in Kapooka! We heard from Antony this morning that he has been promoted to the rank of Bombadier and is being transferred to Kapooka near Wagga Wagga on the New South Wales / Victoria border as of early January as a Cadet Instructor! Anyway, back to Graz - this seamstress must be pretty good, there are three couples in there buying clothes - all Austrians!

We continue to walk up and come to the Cathedral built in 1438 - 1464 and the close by Mausoleum. Neither are open so all we can so is admire them from outside. In the architectural gems of the surrounding areas there is a Jesuit College and the 'Old' university that was founded in 1585. There are more squares with statues and more churches including the Parish Church that is a nice mix of old and new. We are now winding our way back down to the main square through narrow pedestrian streets filled with narrow shops selling all many of goods from sporting equipment to jewellery, from confectionary to eye glasses. People walk or ride pushbikes here - though not too many of them are riding uphill, just a couple of very fit young men - most people get off and push their bikes!

Now its time for lunch. Well, I'm not sure what you call the meal that covers both lunch and dinner - lunner? Kind of like brunch at the other end of the day. Anyway, whatever it is, we are having it now. We walk away from the main square looking for somewhere that takes our fancy and we find the Keller Restaurant through an alleyway and a courtyard. We are hungry, but boy, these meals are huge!
Champignon gebacken mit Sauce Tartare (Deep fried champignons with Tartare sauce) Michael
Emmentaler gebacken mit Preiselbeeren (Deep fried Emmentaler cheese with Cranberries) Maria
Gemischter Grillteller mit Reis, Bratkartoffeln und feinem Gemüse (Mixed grill with rice, pan-fried potatoes and vegetables) Michael
Fiakergulasch mit Ei, Gurkerl, Würstl, Servietterknödel (Beef goulash Fiacre style with egg, gherkin, sausage, white bread dumplings) Maria
We had been eyeing off the breaded apple slices for dessert, but the meals are so big that we can't finish either of them, so there is definitely no room for desserts! Our hunger pangs put away, we head back out into the afternoon sun to head towards the Schlossberg high on the hill overlooking the city. There are three ways you can get up there - on foot up the hundreds of steps, using the funicular or via a lift that goes up through the centre of the mountain - our preferred choice today. For the tiny sum of 2.80 we both get return tickets!

Now this has been my eagerly awaited highlight of the day. The clocktower that sits high above the city and is visible from almost every part of it is the best known symbol of Graz. Trouble is that the clock's hands are back to front with the small hand showing the minutes and the large hand, the hour! And while we don't have time to climb all the way to the castle, we do spend some time at the clocktower, admiring the scene over the rooftops of Graz and the Mur River. The hoarding around the top of the tower was erected as a lookout for the fire brigade. And then there is the bell tower just a little further up the hill that Michael dashes up to see.

But dont think for a minute that Graz is trapped in some time warp. Just as the old city shines, there are a number of very futuristic buildings that have been commissioned. Most notable are the Kunsthaus Graz built in 2003 to host exhibitions, and the Mursinel - a floating structure in the Mur River connected to the banks by two weaving footbridges. It houses a restaurant and an amphitheatre. They sit shoulder to shoulder with the architecture of times long past, complementing rather than competing with them. And their wierd shapes seem very much at home amongst the myriad of towers that were there long before them.

And so our time has come to leave Graz and head for Munich. We have a four hour drive ahead of us which means that we won't get there until after 8 pm. As we are leaving the city, the afternoon light is fading fast. Gosh, it wasn't all that many weeks ago that it was light until the late hours of the night!

As we travel across Austria we are heading back into the land of the high snow capped mountains (and yes, they have already had snowfalls high on the peaks)! For quite some time we are actually travelling throug the mountains in a series of tunnels - the longest being 8.3 kms long is the longest we have travelled on our trip. When we see the last breath of the sun gently washing the wispy clouds with a soft rosy hue, and the mountain tops gleaming in that last light of the day, with small villages burrowing down for the cool night in the valleys below (it is now 4°C), I understand why my Dad loved this part of the world so much and kept coming back.

We are travelling the motorways and as soon as we reach Germany, just past the city of Salzburg, the speed limit free Autobahn sees the traffic take off in a frenzy of fast paced racing. Honestly, some of the cars are travelling well in excess of 200 kph - in the dark. Not us though. We keep to a much more sedate 120 kph! We make good time and hit Motel One in Putzbrunn just outside the main centre of Munich about 8:20 pm. Oh for a bed. On checking in, the receptionist Consuela, remembers us from our last stay here in July - now THAT is what you call great customer relations! She does say however that friendly guests make it easy to remember them!! Ain't she sweet.

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