October 28-31, 2007: My hurting feet had kept me from hiking around Simmering, but the train to Graz gave me a look at the scenery I had missed. I could see that the craggy, steep hills had been a challenge to the 19th century railway engineers, and given the cold, misty weather, I was rather glad I hadn’t tried to tackle them myself. The train had old-style closed compartments, and for much of the trip mine was occupied by chattering kids, but after they left I had an interesting conversation with the young woman opposite, who had grown up in Graz. I learned that the town used to have snow every winter, and that one year she had even skied down the main street, but that these days they got no snow. She also told me about a place where I could enjoy a massage and a swim.
Thanks to my own carelessness I nearly missed out on a good pension in Graz. Back when I planned the trip I had made a reservation for a “double for single use” at the Gasthof Pension Zur Steirerstub‘n, but when I looked at the reservation in Vienna I realized that I had made it for November instead of October! (I blame my confusion on the difference between the US date format of month-day-year vs. the European day-month-year, but made a mental note to be more careful in future.) Luckily the pension was able to give me a single for my dates, and I was very happy with my room, all white walls and pale wood, with the lavish breakfast buffet, and with the friendly staff.
I had bought a sandwich before boarding the train, so I didn’t need to go out for lunch the day I arrived. Instead I wrapped an Ace bandage round my left ankle, put my heavy-duty Thai ankle brace on the right one (the one I had broken) and propped both feet up on the folded duvet. Aaaah. Seemed my right foot was swollen, though – after a while my toes turned blue and I had to switch the brace and the bandage.
Graz’ Clock Tower
With a whole new town to explore I just couldn’t bring myself to stay indoors after the rain stopped. I limped past some good-looking buildings and across a narrow pedestrian bridge over swirling waters to the man-made “island” in the middle of the river and a good cup of coffee. Then I rode the funicular up the Schlossberg to admire what I could see of the view through the clouds. It quickly became clear to me that I’d have to take the funicular back down, too.
I had picked Graz because it was in a part of Austria I hadn’t visited before, and because I hoped the weather would be better than in Vienna. The weather thing didn’t work out so well, but I found myself regretting I’d only scheduled two full days. While it doesn’t have the mountains that make Innsbruck special to me, it does have circling hills, and the River Mur, and lots of interesting old buildings. And parks. It seemed there were parks and fountains everywhere. I didn’t see as much as I had planned, thanks to my feet, but I saw enough to put the place on my revisit list.
After checking out the Burgh and the cathedral, and admiring some highly decorated facades, I was seduced into walking through the Stadtpark by a beautiful autumnal display of golden leaves. Then I rested my feet by riding a tram out into the suburbs, to find even the tower blocks looking well-cared for, and the crowd of school boys boarding for the ride back to town remarkably well-behaved.
Now seriously worried about my feet, I decided I simply must plan some down time. They had to function in Venice! So I located a big English-language bookstore and bought some books, as there was a limit to how much German-language television I could handle. Then I spent an afternoon at the Spa zur Sonne, where I had an appointment for a massage. It even had its own bus stop, called Bad zur Sonne.
On the advice of the woman on the train I had opted for an ayurvedic massage, and although a lot less oil was involved than with ayurvedic massages in India (not necessarily a bad thing!) I found it wonderfully relaxing. I sent grateful thoughts in the direction of my unknown informant. Then I spent quite some time in the Tea Room, drinking green tea and reconnecting, before trying out the pool. Several people were swimming laps, and I really just wanted to float, so I didn’t spend long in the water, but I thought the whole complex – I also noticed an exercise room, and a dimly-lit lounge room – a great find.
Graz’ claim to culinary fame is black pumpkin seed oil, but I confess that I couldn’t taste the difference between it and regular olive oil. My best meals in Graz – aside from breakfast at the pension – were lunches at Frankowitsch, another place with great open-faced sandwiches. I don’t have a sweet tooth, but those who do would find plenty to enjoy.
Not all buildings are old. this is the Kunsthaus, designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier.