The last week has been a whirlwind since arriving in Vienna, our final stop along the Danube. We have set the bikes aside for the week, and are enjoying the company of many fabulous friends in the area. McMaster has a good exchange relationship with the Technical University in Graz so we have met many fine folk that study in this city along the years, and are thrilled at the chance to reconnect with them!
But backing up to Vienna…. we spent two days in Austria’s capital and stayed with the brother of our friend Reinhard (Christian) and his girlfriend (Sonja) and their four week old baby (Lorenz)! Despite being busy with their new baby, they both were able to help make our stay enjoyable and tell us a lot about the city. Their professions both set them up well to do so; Sonja is a cultural journalist and critic so knew a lot about the arts and theatre in the city, and Christian is an urban planner and thus knew a lot about the city’s history and current issues. They sent us on a walking tour where we visited a typical Venetian cafe,the old (very extravagant) palace of the Habsburgs, the national library, a church called Stephansdom, the beautiful University of Vienna, the Museum of Modern Art, the parliament, city hall, and many other interesting buildings. We shared lunch with Christian on top of the courthouse; the walls of the restaurant were all glass so we had an incredible birdseye view of the city… which was even cooler when accompanied with someone who knew the city so well! This restaurant seemed to be kept a bit of a secret, so we as tourists we were very lucky to see it, thanks to Christian. We also enjoyed a few hours at the city’s market, relishing in the delicious food (antipasta was very popular) and the sunshine, which was out the whole time we were in Vienna.
In general, we just loved wandering the streets. All of the buildings in the downtown core are protected by UNESCO so each one is very well kept and interesting to look at. Even though it was late October, the streets were still very full with people and we were thrilled to see how many people were sitting outside in outdoor cafes! On our second evening in the city we went to a small concert that was playing pieces by Mozart and Strauss, both important Venetian icons. We loved the concert and also loved the fact that when it was over the streets were full of people. This city, like all the other cities we have seen thus far, is very, very alive!
After a lovely time in Vienna, we experienced our Weekend With Reiny, what we will always remember as epic. Reinhard is a very good friend from the MOC 09/10, and seemed to be as busy with the outdoor club as we were with all the trips he participated in! Reinhard is certainly one of the most generous people we have ever met, and our weekend with him only confirmed this aspect of his character. Knowing that the road from Vienna to Graz was challenging, Reinhard came with his father’s truck and taxied us between the two. He offered us a place to stay in his flat, so we have our own little apartment for a while! After getting us settled we had an epic night on the town with Reinhard and (the very happy) CHRISTOPH, our amazing blog master. Despite not having seen them since Hamilton (for Alec) and Vancouver Island (for Caitlin) it felt so normal to be back together with these wonderful friends; we almost forgot how amazing it was that we were spending time together in a completely different continent! The two were generous hosts throughout the entire evening, and in true European fashion we were out until 430 am.
After very little sleep, we spent a Saturday exploring a bit of Graz and some parts of eastern Styria (Graz’s province). Our first main event was the Chocolate Factory. Yes that is right, Caitlin’s form of heaven: all you can eat chocolate of seemingly infinite flavours. We were there for two hours and actually got intoxicated off of chocolate… it was a hilarious, and at times quite painful, experience. After recovering from this chocolate high we had the luxury of crashing in a nearby spa. Styria is known for its geothermal spas which are quite affordable and also very different from the North American version. The spas are more like very large indoor and outdoor hot tubs, with massaging jets and relaxing music (sometimes underwater). We also enjoyed some sauna time, which are all nude in Europe, and felt absolutely amazing by the end of our four hour stay. We could certainly make a habit out of spa-going, and are now dreaming of setting up a European spa in Canada!
After our bodies were relaxed, we gave them a new challenge the next day. On Sunday, we traveled to Reinhard’s hometown of Trieben which is nestled in the Alps. We met up with his father Franz (who came on the Vancouver Island trip in May with Caitlin!) in their beautiful home which Franz built himself. After a hearty breakfast, the four of us climbed a 2011 meter mountain! The ascent was beautiful and sometimes challenging, but we made it to the snowy and windy peak successfully! It was a truly incredible (and very Austrian!) experience… check out our video from the top. The wind cuts out most of the sound but the views need no explanation!
We then had to unfortunately say goodbye to both Franz and Reinhard, although we know we will connect with Reiny at some other point on this trip! We returned to Graz quite exhausted, but very happy. The next day was spent with two other MOC friends: Wolfgang and Andrea. After a great breakfast at their place, they took us on a tour of western Styria, visiting a beautiful and unique church from a famous Austrian architect, a famous stable of Venetian show horses, castle ruins and a conservation park. For a late lunch, we went to a “Buschenschank“, which literally translates to a bush bar (we can’t remember how to properly spell this but we will fix it when we do!). We also visited one of these restaurants with Reinhard after the spa. It is a really cool concept, the buschenschanks are on a farm and everything sold at the restaurant must be from the farm. They serve the food on large wooden platters and it is a cornucopia of quality! Cold cuts of many different meats, some cheeses, eggs, pickles, spreads, delicious bread. Even the juices and wines are from the farm, the typical drink for this season is ”most” which is like an apple cider. We finished off this delicious, filling and surprisingly cheap meal with a shot of schnapps, another Austrian tradition. Mmm!
We later returned to Wolfgang’s home and shared a bottle of wine with his parents. Wolfgang’s grandfather built it and his father has lived in this place is whole life. Likewise, Andrea’s parents built her home as well. We are so impressed by the fact that building your own home seems the norm in Austria. Over the past few years we have spoken and thought so much about how to establish a ”sense of place”, something often seeming non-existent in southern Ontario. It is very encouraging to see it existing here.
We have so thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend time with the people we have so far. They all offer such interesting perspectives and have a real connection to this area of the world and are eager to share. We feel so lucky to have friends in these places!
Now we are off to explore Graz (after finishing laundry…. hooray for clean clothes!)
Alec & Caitlin