Medieval marries modern

Graz, Austria What a lovely city this is. Despite some gloomy weather, we enjoyed seeing how this city of so many priceless reminders of the past functions in the current age. The city center is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is an amazingly unspoiled (aka no Starbucks or McDonald’s) view of the past, despite modern trams racing through the center plaza. It just works.

After a lovely breakfast, we walked a few blocks across the river to the Kunsthaus Graz, the contemporary art space built by two British architects, Cook and Fournier. Calling itself “the friendly alien,” it is a blob open to any interpretation. I see it as a gherkin turned on its side. But no matter what angle you chose to look at it from, it’s fun and dramatic. (Great gift shop, too.)

The museum is just over the river, across a bridge festooned with those ubiquitous locks telling stories of undying passions. I thought we got past that stuff, but Graz hasn’t seen fit to snip all those locks yet. In the middle of the river Mur, flowing under the bridge, is a floating island with a café, children’s playground and stage.

We took a tram out to another UNESCO site, Schloss Eggenberg. This palace was built in 1625 by a powerful Styrian family, as an addition to an earlier Gothic manor house, with many Italian and French Baroque references. Disappointingly, I wasn’t allowed to photograph the 24 staterooms, which were truly over-the-top with painted ceilings, portraits and decorated walls. There are lots and lots of crystal chandeliers, still lit by candles, which must look amazing lit for the occasional evening tours.

The Schloss is a calendar house, based on the Gregorian calendar, which reinforced the family’s commitment to the state religion. Such a design represented a major innovation at the time when the castle was being built. There are 365 exterior windows for every day of the year. On the second floor, there are 52 exterior windows for each week of the year. Each floor in the house holds 31 rooms for the maximum number of days in a month. On the second floor, 24 state rooms are arranged in a ring, symbolizing the hours of a day. The entire building is symmetrical. This results in two halves of the same size on the second floor, each with 12 rooms that stand for the hours of the day and night. Must have been exhausting to figure that all out.

Before our tour, we were entertained by a preening peacock who let his presence be known with that grating screeching cry used to attract female company. He finally got bored with us and walked away.

After lunch, we did some walking around, admiring the trams, watching the people and checking out the tasteful shops in this city. Yes, they really do wear those clothes. Some window shopping turned into real shopping, but you can only be so strong.

We will be sorry to leave Graz, to which we should have dedicated more time. This is a special place, still a real city that values its past but is clever about integrating it with today’s needs.

Don’s Food Corner

We have two meals to report on today.

First, breakfast. There is an adorable café across the street from the hotel where we are staying. It first opened in 1924. They served an adorable breakfast: A selection of breads, ham, cheese (including brie) along with butter, jam and horseradish/cream spread. And most adorable of all: Soft boiled eggs with little faces drawn on them. Along with big cups of tea and a cozy ambiance, it was a nice start to what turned out to be a cloudy/rainy day.

For our main meal of the day, which is usually a late lunch, we had a restaurant picked out. One that promised a traditional take on regional dishes. We found it with some difficulty only to find out that it’s closed on Wednesday. What kind of restaurant is closed on Wednesday? Is there some religious sect I don’t know about that requires no work on Wednesday?

Happily, I had a nearby backup plan with a restaurant near the Opera house. We were presented with a menu in English. Curiously, the number of options looked skimpy compared to the densely printed German menu. In fact, we looked around the room and saw lots of people eating cheeseburgers and French fries. We could not find it on the our menus.

When we questioned the waiter about all those cheeseburgers flying out of the kitchen, he just shrugged and said it wasn’t listed on the English menu. Why? Because English-speaking people, like Americans, wouldn’t order cheeseburgers? C’mon, we invented them!

In short, Jo ordered the cheeseburger with French fries. The burger was loaded up with all kinds of things like lettuce and tomato. But it just didn’t taste exactly how you expect it to taste in the U.S. (We found the same to be true when we happened into a McDonald’s, an event not previously reported here . . .) Perhaps it has something to do with the quality or type of hamburger used. Could this ground beef come from grass-fed animals? Maybe. It’s not clear. However, I don’t think that the burger had any type of filler in it. It’s just different.

On the other hand, I ordered something rarely seen on restaurant menus: vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce). The sauce was creamy and not overpoweringly tuna-tasting. There was a bit of salad resting on top and it came with some delicious focaccia. The veal was sliced very thin from what was clearly a perfectly medium-rare veal roast. Fantastic. The Austrians know their way around veal.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: