They laugh a lot in Graz

Graz, Austria Here we are in Graz, where things are suddenly different than we have experienced lately.

They scowled in Krakow; they looked through you in Bratislava; they were almost civil in Budapest. Vienna seems like any other big city — they just ignore you. But here in Graz, it’s suddenly different. They laugh, and they often are laughing at themselves. The cab driver almost got hysterical over his terrible English, and had a very good laugh at the thought of needing to spend more than two days in “this little city.” The hotel receptionist laughed at her own forms, and our tour guide got a big chuckle out of the convolutions of history represented in this town.

We left Vienna this morning for two days in Graz, the second-largest city in Austria, but still small, with about 300,000 residents and 60,000 students in its eight colleges and universities. First, we were in awe of the Vienna train station, which we didn’t get to see properly on our arrival. It’s better organized and designed than anything New York has to offer. Makes travel exciting again. We were alone in first class, and had lovely views all the way to Graz. Nothing beats those little Austrian villages tucked away in mountain valleys.

We dropped our luggage at our hotel on the town square and immediately went on a walking tour of the old city. It began in what was the armory in the war against the Ottomans. That building and most of the surrounding ones are graceful medieval reminders of the defensive role Graz played in defeating the Muslims. Graz is in the state of Styria, and its ferocious icon clearly says they will take no prisoners.

We saw the town hall, appropriately centered on the town square.

A clock performs several times a day to show the joys of drinking beer and wine. Even the figures rotating around with their drinks smile.

We also stopped in the basilica where the emperor who launched the counter-reformation made sure that this would remain a Catholic country. Only nine million people died over a 30-year period to drive home that religious point. All around the basilica are remnants of medieval Graz, including a very rare double spiral stone staircase.

The nooks and crannies we got a glimpse of today have whetted our appetite for some more Graz tomorrow — if only to hear some more laughing.

Don’s Food Corner

Our main meal of the day was served to us on the train — at our seats. There was a dining car, but since we were in first class we could order with the steward and everything was brought to us. The train was actually a Czech Republic train that had originated in Prague before stopping in Vienna and terminating in Graz.

Jo started with a cream of vegetable soup, which was, I assume, a mixture of root vegetables and potatoes. There was a little pile of fried onions on top and a few bacon bits on the bottom. Jo proclaims it the best soup she’s had on this trip. (She dug in so fast that the photo from the menu gives the general idea of the soup before she attacked.)

After the soup, Jo went for a cheese and ham omelet. It was still before noon when we ordered and she was in the mood for something breakfast-like. The omelet was nicely done and came with a few slices of rye bread. (Butter is always an afterthought or an á la carte expense in these parts.)

I had a selection of three sausages, boiled and served with a sharp mustard and shredded horseradish. It reminded me that I have not had enough sausage — and I have not had a chance to visit a single wurst stand, either in Vienna or here in Graz. In Graz, the main square is filled with all kinds of wurst stands. What am I waiting for?

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