Inspired by my adventure in the cave yesterday, I met my friend Andrea and Herbert early this morning for a tour of the Raab river (Raab River Gorge), surrounded by limestone mountains containing more than 700 caves, including the famous Katerloch and Grasshöhle, It has two generally accessible caves and main sights in the Weiz region.
Once again, we drove through the hills of Göttelsberg, Haselbach, Leska and Dürntal to park our car near the entry point to the Raab Gorge Strait. Andrea gave me a couple of Nordic walking poles that I was about to try for the first time. Nordic walking, also referred to as “pole walking” or “fitness walking”, is a sport made up of walking using modified skiing poles. Nordic Walking became very popular in Finland and Scandinavia, and became very popular throughout Europe, although it has not yet spread to North America.
Initially I was a little skeptical of this concept, but as soon as I tried walking poles, I realized that walking up and down both became a lot easier because the poles provide additional support and balance. Continuous arm movement burns up to 40% of calories more than walking alone and facilitates faster movement, even on flat ground. The additional benefit of walking in the north is that part of a person's weight is distributed to the poles, which reduces pressure on the back as well as knee and hip joints.
Now convinced of the hiking trails, we began our descent into the Rap River valley on the forest path gently, then steeply sloping. Raabklamm is the longest strait in Austria and is divided into "Grosse Raabklamm" (the Great Raab Strait) with a length of about 10 km, and "Kleine Raabklamm" (a small Raab strait, about 7 km in length). We were heading straight towards Grosse Raabklamm, the governor of the two cities, which are characterized by vertical slopes of limestone, wooden bridges, suspension bridges and walking by the river as well as portions of pathways that deviate from the water and transport you a high portion of the slopes. I had discovered Klein Rabbelis early last Saturday with my brother-in-law Annelies.
Raabklamm itself has remained very natural and underdeveloped and is home to a very diverse group of animals such as foxes and marmots as well as snails, a species of wild sheep also referred to as "goat antelope". Amphibians such as ladders and a variety of predatory birds contributed to the designation of Raabklamm as the "Natura 2000" protected area, a nature reserve throughout Europe. The plant life along steep limestone slopes also includes remains of ancient pine forests and a variety of plants in the Alps.
We just covered part of the entire Grosse Raabklamm, sometimes climbing by the river, and at other times we were slipping away from the river along the slopes of the gorge. My friend Herbert used two suspension bridges to unearth the laws of physics, and I began to get rid of cattle while Andrea and I were walking through them. Fortunately, the suspension bridges are very durable and all tracks and ladders are well maintained. After an hour and a half walk, we reached the water dam which is part of the local hydroelectric system. Electricity was supplied to Austria in the late nineteenth century, primarily at the initiative of the local electric pioneer Franz Bichler. To this day, hydropower provides about two thirds of all electricity used in Austria, and the city of Fayez was one of the centers from hydroelectric power generation early on.
After admiring some fairly old hydroelectric equipment, we went back to the local country road and then went back to my car, which we had parked early, to our point of origin. Andrea and Herbert had to leave and I was planning to continue my journey to Graz, the provincial capital. But before that, I had to feed on my appetite, and I was just a minute away from a popular local restaurant whose Austrian delicacies would almost certainly hit the place. Gasthaus Reisinger is one of the restaurants located next to Raabklamm. In fact, the Austrian concept of "Gasthaus" is a more rustic restaurant than it is a great restaurant in North America. Gasthaus (literally translated: "guesthouse") serves traditional solid Austrian cuisine; often, it will also contain an outdoor patio as outdoor dining is very common in Austria; Gasthäuser offers many overnight accommodations with breakfast.
This is really the case with Gasthaus Reisinger which not only serves Austrian cuisine and a beautiful patio, but also works as a bed and breakfast, mostly for guests from places like Vienna or other urban parts of Austria and Germany. I sat down to admire the long list and decided in two local specialties: "Fritattensuppe" (ribbon pie soup), an ingredient that I should always eat several times when I return home, as well as "Mulbratlbrot" – a piece of Austrian rye bread, covered with a thin layer of butter and thin slices of Smoked pork chops, covered with radish.
Rye bread covered with a variety of cold cuts or smoked meats is a traditional meal in Austria, and it is a popular snack for hikers and visitors to "Buschenschank" (a restaurant serving local, rural food owned and operated by local wineries). On this perfect day, the sun was shining and I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet and peaceful hills of Eastern Styria. Once again, I realized that the area where I grew up was a beautiful neck of the forest. The restaurant owner, Mr. Resinger, brought me my meal and we started talking a little bit about the fact that I was a local who immigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago. On the other hand, he used to work full-time at a local woodworking plant until a few years ago when his elderly parents began getting full-time care. Since then he has run his full-time hospitality establishment with his wife and children, an exemplary Austrian family business.
The meal was delicious, and after picking up ice cream for dessert, I was totally prepared for the next destination: Graz, the capital of Styria and the second largest city in Austria. Just minutes away from the restaurant, I parked my car to look at these rolling hills, one of my favorite areas when I grew up, and to chat with some cows hanging around a large pasture.
Much of Austria's livestock industry still depends on free roads, and adds a significant contribution to the country's economy. Nearly 80,000 livestock farms own about 2.1 million livestock, of which about 800,000 are dairy cows. Only 5.5% of Austrian livestock farms have more than 100 animals, and the small size of the farms ensures a close link between the farmer and his animals. These cows clearly had a quiet lifestyle and their unrestricted ability to roam the mountain pastures.
I continued to drive along 25 km of rural roads rolling to the largest urban center in Styria. With a population of about 250,000 Graz is the second largest city in Austria. Although an important regional and industrial center, Graz does not know well small towns such as Salzburg and Innsbruck. Because of its meticulously preserved architectural heritage, Graz was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, and became the European Capital of Culture in 2003. Its name is derived from the Slovenian term "Gradec" which literally means "little castle".
At the eastern entrance to the city, there is a suburban area called Mariatrost which is crowned by the large pilgrimage church Mariatrost. I stopped at the top of Burburg Hill, stopped my car and walked past a large restaurant at the front of the church. Maria Consolation Church was built between 1714 and 1724 in the Baroque style.
Of particular note is the frescoes in the interior of the church. Two large 61-meter tall towers conceive the church and dome at the eastern end of the building and can be seen from far away. The façade of the church is accessed by a set of stairs called Angelus Steps. The Maryatrost Church is to this day the second most important pilgrimage church (after Mariazel) in the Austrian province of Styria.
I continued my trip to the center of Graz and parked my car in the underground garage next to the Graz Opera – more than 20 euros is not exactly an inexpensive way to see the city, but it is difficult to find affordable parking in the city center of Graz. My first stop was the Graz Opera House, a new building that opened in 1899 and was damaged during an air raid in World War II. A few steps west, you reach Herrengasse, Graz's main shopping street, surrounded by dozens of fine retailers and restaurants with outdoor patios. A line of Graz tramway continues along this main street.
The western side of Herrengasse features two main scenes: Landeszeughaus (Armory), a weapons museum with about 32,000 pieces of exhibits including chariots, helmets, shields, rifles and pistols, as well as Landhaus, Styrian county government headquarters. This palace is one of the greatest Renaissance structures in Central Europe, and was built in the first half of the sixteenth century according to the plans of the famous architect Domenico del Alio. The arched three-storey courtyard is a true architectural jewel, and visitors at the southern end of the square can relax in the historic Landhauskeller restaurant, which features an attractive courtyard.
On the other side of Herrengasse is "Gemaltes Haus" – also called "Herzogshof" (Colored House or Duke & # 39; s Estate), which is a colorful house whose Baroque paintings were created in 1742 by Johan Meyer and illustrated the gods of Roman-Greek mythology. A few steps north, you reached Grazer Hauptplatz, or Graz Main Square. This spacious triple square is mainly framed on two sides of five and six luxurious homes consisting of a variety of intense Baroque colors such as salmon, ocher and brick red, many of which feature detailed façade decorations.
The Rathaus – the southern side of the square – is a mysterious historic mansion in the late nineteenth century, in the city hall of Graz. Directly in front of it is the Erzherzog-Johann-Brunnen (Archduke Johann Fountain) and is surrounded by many nearby fast food outlets and retailers selling traditional Austrian sausages, french fries, flowers and magazines as well as roasted chestnuts in the fall. The north-eastern side of Hauptplatz boasts views of Graz's most famous landmark: "Uhrturm" (clock tower), which is located on the Schlossberg Hill overlooking the city.
I continued walking north through this pedestrian zone along the historic Sackstrasse and walked into a truly historic restaurant: "Krebsenkeller" (Crawfish Cellar) has been a restaurant here since 1538 and its inner courtyard is full of culinary fans. Located across the street, the famous Erzherzog Johann Hotel has also been a restaurant since 1852. Just a few steps north, I walked to another historic building whose patio is decorated with astonishingly sculpted all kinds of American football.
Meters away is situated on the so-called Schlossbergplatz, a square surrounded by many bourgeois houses and historic restaurants with a stairway leading to the Schlossberg. Then I crossed the road and walked south by the River Mor to one of Graz's most recent landmarks: "Murinsel" (Mur Island) was built in 2003 when Graz was the capital of European culture. New York designer Vito Akonchi created an artificial island design that connects the eastern and western banks of Moore and is supposed to resemble a crust of the sea. The interior of the island includes an amphitheater, restaurant and children's playground.
Now you need to explore the city's most remarkable hike: Schlossberg (literally "Castle Hill"). I did this by taking the Schlossbergbahn funicular as part of the Graz public transport system. The original steam-driven inclined mountain train opened in November 1894 and was in operation until 1960. After extensive renovation and rebuilding steep rails, the inclined mountain train started operating again in 1961 until it closed in February 2004.
The third generation of this oblique mountain train started in early 2004 and cost about 2.5 million euros. The new generation of vehicles is more spacious and features fully enclosed ceilings and windows that provide a wonderful view of the city as you climb up the mountain. It takes just over 2 minutes to go from the base station to 123 meters high to the top station and cost 1.70 €, it's an affordable and interesting way to get to the famous Graz Hill.
At the top, I went out to the outside patio of a restaurant that offers a wonderful view of Graz and the surrounding mountains. A few steps away I saw Glockenturm ("The Bell Tower"), a historic building from 1588 that still houses a 4,200 kg bell and is referred to as the Liesl. The Schlossberg used to include a 16th-century medieval castle (hence the name "Castle Hill") which was ordered destroyed by Napoleon in 1809. Only the Bell Tower and the famous Graz Tower, Uhrturm, were allowed to stay from the castle. The locals paid a large ransom to the French forces to stick to their beloved landmarks.
Walking south from Glockenturm reached Stallbastei ("Stable Bastion"), a fortress with 20-meter high walls and 6 meters thick that started construction in 1544. Today there are many cannons adorning the stronghold and in the open front there is a beautiful view of the city . Below the well is the "Türkenbrunnen" (Turkish Well), a well that reaches 94 meters high and extends to the groundwater level of the Mur River. His intention was to provide water, even during extended siege periods.
Uhrturm itself, widely known as the Graz symbol, is one of the oldest buildings in the city. The tower sign is supposed to date back to the 13th century and was already mentioned in historical records in 1265. Its current appearance dates back to 1560. There are four large clock faces adorning the four sides of the tower, and the interesting thing is to note that the wristwatch is smaller In terms of accurate.
Originally, the tower contained only a very large clock, and the minute hands that were later installed should have been smaller in order for people to distinguish between one another. Fortunately, due to the ransom paid in 1809, the tower survived and we are still able to admire it today while the rest were removed from the fortification. The tower was also used as a fire alarm, as a "poor guilty bell" recorded during executions, and as a bell that announced the hours of the local hospitality institutions' closure.
Below Uhrturm, there is a small garden surrounded by flowers that provides great views of the city and the main square. It began to descend from Schlossberg along warp-like pathways in the park and stopped at the entrance to Schlossbergenulin (Schlossberg Tunnel), part of the tunnel system that was built on the mountain and was used as shelters for air strikes during the air attacks of World War II. Today you can cross the base of the mountain through this tunnel. At the base I reached the Karmeliterplatz square. One of the buildings on the north side of the adjacent Sporgasse features a stunning interior patio and I wish I had more time to explore the treasures hidden in the secret Graz squares.
I turned left onto a street called Hofgasse and stopped at a very unusual building: the Edegger-Tax bakery, the so-called royal bakery, the oldest institution of its kind in Graz that dates back to 1569. It is an impressive 1896 wooden gateway distinguishing it from the houses surrounding the stucco, and in the late In the 1800's, this bakery became an official supplier for the royal families of Austria.
I continued walking to Freiheitsplatz ("Freedom Square") which is the location of the Graz Theater. Grazer Dom, the cathedral dating back to 1438, is located across the street from the Schauspielhaus theater, and the south side of this late Gothic church is adorned with three paintings: Black Plage, War and Locusts. Austrian imperial weapon coats as well as Styria and Portugal coats indicate historical aristocratic ties.
The mausoleum of Austrian Emperor Francis Ferdinand II is located right next to the Dom, and is one of Austria's most important structures for behavior and early Baroque. It was designed in the late 1600s and is the last place where Francis Ferdinand rest as well as a variety of other Habsburg rulers.
She continued the walk in Bürgergasse and switched to Little Abraham Street in Santa Clara until she reached Glockenspielplatz (“Carillon Square”), appropriately named for Carillon built in 1905 which enchants the crowd of spectators three times daily at 11 am, 3 and 6 pm. A wooden couple in traditional and male Steyr outfits with a high glass of wine, dancing on the 24-bells old tunes.
This entire region is part of Bermuda-Dreieck ("Bermuda Triangle"), Graz's most popular entertainment area centered around Mehlplatz, Prokopigasse and Färberplatz. Dozens of hospitality institutions, mostly with outside patios, entice locals and travelers alike to explore the cooking and leisure opportunities offered by Graz.
Through one of the little corridors I ended up returning to the main square and took another small alley, filled with bars, restaurants and small retail stores at the back of the Franciscan Church (Franciscan Church). From the front of the church, there is a perfect view across the Murst in "Kunsthaus", and the Graz & # 39; Museum of Modern Art that was completed in 2003 looks like a circular spaceship. The entire city center of Graz is full of bars, restaurants, and all the squares and side streets are full of "Schanigärten" (outdoor patios) that tempt you to sit, rest and enjoy some delicious Austrian food and drinks.
I totally enjoyed exploring Graz, and I went home to relax with my brother and husband and to meditate on a day full of discoveries. There was a lot to see in Graz, but I would like to leave some destinations for my next visit. After having a nice pizza dinner at a local Weiz restaurant, and I went to bed early tomorrow, we will go on a great trip: a trip to the mountains of Slovenia and Italy!