Graz – Catching up with old friends and celebrating Farmer’s New Year!

When booking our trips I always plan trains etc. in order to maximise our time in each location. Therefore, when looking at trains from Innsbruck to Graz arriving in around midday seemed like a great option. This meant however that we had to leave Innsbruck on the 6.09 train. Our hotel was about a 10 minute walk to the station and so we left at 5.30 to be safe having sensibly collected our tickets the night before. I thought I would be super tired but I was actually fine and used the first 2 hour journey back to Salzburg to catch up on some internet, trains with internet are just the best thing ever. The first journey went by so quickly with some stunning sunrise views and after a quick change in Salzburg we were off again. The second train was 4 hours to Graz and unfortunately the internet was lacking here so after eating our breakfast of pastries and local sausage which was a bit like a pepperami and very tasty! Without internet this journey was less quick but we passed some beautiful snowy mountain scenery on the way and even the ski resort of Schladming, which seemed like a great option close to Innsbruck for the future. We arrived in Graz just after midday, exactly on time and were reunited with Manuela – a friend we had met in Africa – and the main reason we had chosen to visit Graz on this trip. The first stop was back to hers for us to drop our luggage and catch up – it had been a year and a half since we had last seen each other!

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Manuela’s apartment was a bit out of the town centre to we took the tram and as we went she pointed out the different University buildings. Her building was at the end of a really long block and with no lift it took some time to get us and the bags inside but it was a lovely place and nice to stay in a local area rather than the tourist hotspot. We spent some time catching up before heading out to explore Graz.

It was at this point in the trip where the weather turned from glorious sunshine to rain, cold and fog. This was disappointing but thankfully the rain was not too heavy and so we didn’t have to miss anything because of it. We took the tram back into the town centre and walked past the famous ‘alien slug’ art gallery building and very pretty old town on the way to our lunch stop – Mau Shi. Manuela had recommended this cute little Asian place where the flowers on the table were in champagne bottles and they did the best homemade ice-tea. I had the chilli chicken with rice which was lovely and it was nice to find out what everyone had been up to for the last year and a half.

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Feeling full we took the hike up to the clock tower, which is probably one of the most iconic sights of the city. The walk up was nice and although the fog didn’t give us the best viewing opportunity we could immediately see that Graz was a much bigger place than the other Austrian cities we had visited so far on the trip. The hike up is via a weaving staircase that sort of snakes up the side of the rock and so its not too steep. At the top there are a few restaurants, an old cannon museum area and fort, and a lot of different look out points from which you can see different areas of the city with the mountains in the background (at least on a clear day). We wandered around and then made our way back down towards the other side of town. We passed by the cathedral just by chance and so decided to head inside and take a look around. However, the first 2 doors we tried were locked and it felt like we were breaking in before we finally found the correct entrance. As with all the churches/cathedrals we had visited so far it was very pretty although this was definitely the least ornate. Each of the side chapels had some huge religious paintings with prayer stands and there was an amazing nativity set with sand and even elephants which was really cool (although I am not sure that there were any elephants present at the birth of the baby Jesus). They then had a separate small chapel down some stairs in the crypt area which was very plain and quiet a peaceful place to sit.

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After our wandering we decided to get some local Austrian wine at Eckstein – a little wine bar we sort of stumbled across. On Manuela’s recommendation we tried the Muskateller and then I opted for a Riesling while Manuela tried the sparkling muskateller and Carolyn the Aperol. It was definitely nice to branch out and try and few new wines while we were waiting for the clock. In one of the squares, just around the corner from the wine bar, they have a clock tower, which – at 6p.m. every day, has a dancing doll performance. So, we paid up in the bar and wandered around the street to watch the dancing dolls. They were slightly later than scheduled but after a few minutes some music started to play and the doors at the top of the clock tower opened to reveal a dancing man and woman. The performance goes on for quite some time and is the same thing for the whole time but it was definitely really fun to see and it was Manuela’s first time too – even though she lives in the city.

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We left this area of the old town and walked past the Opera House and then down along the river to the island which they have created in the centre to host concerts in summer. It was really cold and wet now so after walking through the island and picking up our breakfast the next day at the local supermarket we stumbled across a big tent with live music and so went to investigate. It turned out to be Farmer’s New Year celebrations and so we went inside (where it was much warmer than outside) and had some more wine while watching a few of the live acts. I couldn’t believe firstly that the event was free, and secondly how cheap and nice the wine was that was being served. It was such a lively atmosphere and nice to hear some of the local music especially which Manuela was able to sing along with. Although this wasn’t planned this was definitely one of my highlights of Graz and if you are ever in town on 30 December, make sure to check it out!!

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Eventually our tummies were starting to rumble and so we headed across the street to Blended another little restaurant Manuela had recommended. Their menu was quite limited and so after some negotiations with the waitress I opted for the chilli with cous cous while Manuela and Carolyn shared some large nachos. Mine was really tasty however, the nachos were probably the worst I have ever seen (or tasted). It really astonishes me how many places I have been that serve terrible nachos when they are probably one of the easiest things to make. We enjoyed a few more drinks here before heading back to Manuela’s apartment on the tram. We had had such a good day exploring Graz and it had been so nice to finally catch up with Manuela after all this time. However, the next day we had an even earlier train to Bratislava for New Years and we were all going together!!

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