After the excitement, laughter and tears of the wedding (or “bledding” as it has come to be known due to the location) of our precious son, Sam, to his wonderful, caring, talented and beautiful fiance, Tabitha, maybe life would somehow not be the same on our return to Austria.
Luckily, we had to kick ourselves into gear straight away to return the hire car to Graz. This led to a second day of sightseeing in Graz.
We had already had an overview from our host, Eva and her daughters, Magdalena and Marie-Theresa but wanted to explore a bit further. The temperature was much more condusive on our second trip to walk rather than go by train to the Schloßberg. We went up via a long steep winding path past the “Galleries”. These are tunnels that were dug into the rock as air raid shelters to shelter residents of Graz during the second world war. In 2000 a large cavern was excavated at it is called Dom im Berg (The Dome) which can seat 200 people for concerts. Welcomingly cool on a hot day but a bit chilly in the winter. We admired the views and returned back to the town via the Kreigssteig (war steps) these steps were built by during the first World War I prisoners up through the beautiful terraced gardens to the clock tower. We felt they should have a more poetic name really.
We wandered through the town and found a lovely little restaurant in Franziskanerplatz which nestles beside the Franziskaner church and kloster. Calzone was on the menu so Jon couldn’t resist but I opted for Tagliatelle Carbonara. Delicious.
After two bargain purchases in C&A (pair of shorts and a dress for total of 10 euro), we headed for the station for a train to our nearest station Frauenthal an der Lassnitz. It was another lovely day in Austria’s second city and did the trick to pacify our wedding blues.
A few days later, Magdalena had a Japanese friend come to stay for a day. She met him in Stockholm when she was there on placement for a year. His name was Shuher (Shoo for short) and he was so interesting to talk to. Magdalena asked us if we would like to join them for a walk through the Klause to Burg Deutsclandsberg. This was something on our to do list but it had been too hot in the previous weeks so, of course, we said yes. The Klause is a beautiful shady walk along the banks of the river Lassnitz. It is more like a gorge than a river bank and the further we wound up the path the river increased in volume and wildness.
The rocks were a bit slippy and Shoo insisted on going “off piste” a few times but after a steep climb we emerged at the Burg. It is now a museum, hotel and restaurant and evidently expensive so Magdalena led us off to a Gasthof called Gasthof Stöcklpeter.It was perched on the side of the mountain in the middle of vineyards that produce Schilcher wine looking over the castle.
Perfect spot for lunch a glass of local wine. We thought we had travelled a long way by train in a day until we chatted to Shoo over lunch. He had caught a train from Stockholm to Hamburg, Hamburg to Geneva, Geneva to Vienna, Vienna to Graz, then to our local station. Around a 14 hour journey and with only a few minutes transfer time inbetween. Crazily he only stayed for around 20 hours before heading back.
We will definately go back to the Klause for another wander during these last few weeks and it goes without saying some Schlilcher………….
Our next trip out had a spooky connection to our time in München. In the small apartment we rented there were probably only two pictures on the wall. One of them was of reproduced print of a group of city houses all painted bright random colours. The picture intrigued me as it was so random so after some research I discovered the houses, in Vienna, had had a make over by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He was a famous Austrian artist and environmentalist. Although interesting, I thought little more of it until Eva suggested an outing to Bärnbach and the church of St Barbara. It was a relatively new church built in the 1940s but in 1987 the mayor commissioned Hundertwasser to decorate it in his distinctive style. It has lots of mosaic tiles around the windows and doorways and a path of brick mosaic that was rather uneven until I realised it was intentionally so to depict the ups and downs of life. Twelve archways had been constructed around the church and decorated to depict the great religions of the world as a gesture of tolerance and togetherness (primitive religions and the non-religious are also represented).
Whilst in Bärnbach, we also visited a glass museum and a highly decorated fountain (Mösesbrunnen) where poor Moses was being blasted from about seven powerful water jets which were more like water cannons.
Our final stop on this wonderful day out was to Piber. The former monestry and grounds are the home of the Lippzan white horses that are so famous in Vienna. At this stud farm all the horses are born and train here and later on will end up back at Piber for their retirement.
The horses were kept in beautiful, natural surroundings and the more mature horses are taken up to the hills away from the tourists for summer grazing. There is a big party each September when they return. After a coffee at Piber and an ice-cream stop in St Stefan we made our way home. Austria has so much to offer and we are only seeing a tiny part of it.
I can’t finish this post without mentioning the morning I spent at Eva’s workplace. She has worked for around 20 years at a non-profit making company who give care, support, advice and work opportunities to disabled people. The centre is so well set up. Bright airy work rooms, a pottery workshop, a kitchen area and even a large carpentry workshop. The disabilities vary greatly but each person is encouraged to learn new things and the centre is commissioned to produce greeting cards, bird boxes and other wooden items, pottery garden ornaments, etc. The workers receive a wage and breakfast and lunch which they take turns to cook in small groups. It is a fantastic place and you can see how happy everyone is in their work.
The morning I visited Eva’s group were working on producing some personalised raffle tickets. The whole group overcame their initial apprehension about who I was and their enthusiasm, humour and good nature was infectious. The morning’s work was a real team effort – each ticket was carefully cut from paper with a guillotine, then hand written, a stencil cutter was used to punch a heart and then ribbon was tied around each one. Eva explained that it had taken around a year of patient instruction to get two workers to use the guillotine safely. I am sure, at times, Eva’s job can be extremely demanding due to the nature of the various medication needs and disabilities but the rewards are clear to see, About half way through the morning one of the clients, Stefan, was asked to play his accordion. He played beautifully the folk music playing while working with these friendly people really moved me.
I could write at least another ten paragraphs about our week here in Vochera but will save it until next time. Just to tempt you in…..it involves chocolate!