Town Graz Reviews
Visiting the other visage of Austria Jan 07, 2010
Visiting the other visage of Austria
I’d have never been to Graz if Peter Zilahy is not staying in Graz, a small town in Austria (though it IS the second largest city after the Capital Vienna) and welcoming me to stay at his place in early May last year (2009).
Unfortunately, Zilahy, the Hungarian performer and author of dictionary-novel The Last Window Giraffe, left for New York for a show dubbed “Crack Up: Stories about Comedies and Calamities,” couple of mornings after I arrived. I therefore needed to explore Graz by myself.
Tourists including most Indonesians going to Austria may have been to or know more about Vienna and Salzburg. The country’s largest tourist attraction, indeed, has long been the Alps which is for skiing in the winter, while many tourist flocking to Salzburg in the summer.
Been to Vienna long time ago, Graz turned out became another Austrian attraction to me. Graz, the capital of Styria (Steiermark) region offers impressive buildings, both of the historical architectures and modern, contemporary structural designs, proving the city as the crossroads of cultures. It’s not that significant to me when Peter mentioned that the city is also the birthplace of Arnie the gubernator...
Hotels, restaurants, cafés, and shops in Graz are generally about the same like in other Western European cities. There are also several beggars on the main streets and some corners, a view that reminds me of Jakarta.
But what I like as an individual traveler is that I can know things usually a professional tour guide will not share, especially I was introduced to a local journalist and a member of a political party in the country. I therefore had the opportunity to experience few events during my stay in Graz which provided me diversified angles of about the city, other than tourism wise.
The good thing I found about Graz is that the city is not that big, and, a short trip is actually fine to discover most of the major attractions. Particularly the Graz Tourist Information office has published a very good pocket brochure providing a guide to visitors to relax and to enjoy exploration of both historic and modern Graz, depending on how much time they have when visiting the city. Such a brochure is surely prepared for solo travelers like me as those in groups will have professional guides taking them to the interesting places.
As an singly traveler to this city, I also found it is both friendly in term of size (it’s only approximately 49 square miles or 128 square kilometers with a population of about approximately 280,000 -- and 40,000 of them are students), but a bit puzzling in term of finding certain places as there are so many alleys and squares (courtyards; which sometimes hide the real sites), that look like almost the same to me.
The major attractions, however, can be easily found. They include the icon of the city, known as Uhrturm or Clock Tower, located on the top of the Grazer Schlossberg hill which is also the site of a fortress ruined castle; the Hauptplatz or City Hall; the artificial island of Murinsel in the Mur River and the trendy funky Kunsthaus (Arts center/museum).
The Grazer Schlossberg hill and its eye-catching fortress are indeed dominating Graz and provide a scenic backdrop to many views, being edged by the River Mur.
The Clock Tower, which has struck the hour precisely since 1712, unfortunately, was still on a renovation project during my stay in the city, so I couldn’t see the famous unusual back-to-front hands of the clock.
However, being in the hill which is located in the very city center, is very astonishing as it provides a scenic backdrop to many views. No wonder there’s always crowds of tourists there, either for relaxing in the beautiful garden or having something at the cafes and restaurants there.
The interesting thing on the hill is the 260 steps up to the very top of the Schlossberg. I chose to use the stairs (when I went down), but those feeling not that energetic can pay 60 cent euros to use the elevator. There is also a funicular railway (Schlossbergbahn) to reach the top.
In the Old Town or Altstadt of Graz, there is an important part: the Hauptplatz (built in 1878) which appears as like a hub linking the major streets, such as the city's main thoroughfare, the Herrengasse, that ultimately connects the Jakominiplaz, a main transport hub. And yes, I found the transportation system, which includes the bus and tram networks, is pretty good in the city. Bicycles are very popular. Another good thing about Graz is that the city has an international airport, but the many attractions in the city can be reached in about 2.5 hours by train from Vienna.
The other major part of Altstadt is the Graz Cathedral which was constructed in the 15th century, Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II (next to the Cathedral), Hauptplatz, and the Landeszeughaus Armoury which has an enormous collection of weaponry and artifacts.
Meanwhile, Kunsthaus and Murinsel (built in 2003) are the examples of modern, brave, impressive and funky structures. To me, the shape of Kunsthaus is between an alien and a frog, but to some people it resembles bubbles as it is located by the river. Murinsel is a construction of steel in the Mur River, built for the event of Graz being chosen as the cultural capital in 2003, and developed itself as attraction and a popular sight of the city.
Murinsel or the Mur Island was created by the New York artist Vito Acconci. The open part of the construction can also used for being a resting place to lay in the sun. The closed part of the island is a trendy bar. It's also possible to cross the Mur river from one shore to another as the construction also functions as a bridge.
I spent 11 days in the city, but I would say a day should be enough to see Graz and to agree with the city which boasts as having proven itself with a long tradition in attracting innovative spirits and a quality harmony of ancient and contemporary cultures.
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