Graz is in the region of Styria in Austria and is the second largest city after Vienna. I visited for 2 days in mid October 2017 and as soon as I arrived at the train station I was struck by the numbers of young people with their caps on backwards, knees poking through jeans and skateboards in hands. It is a vibrant place.
Having recently completed a pilgrimage where I walked alone for 10 days on the Via Sacra (Vienna to Mariazell, Austria), my first days in Graz turned out to be more about the people I met than the landscape, and therefore my observations were about noise/silence, harmony/conflict, and sharing space.
The main difference was that I slept in a shared women´s dormitory which was full, whereas I had earlier stayed in large rooms where I was the only inhabitant. There was an older woman visiting Graz because her parents were buried there and she was tending their graves. She very kindly produced maps of her home region of Corinthia, showing me where she walked to school as a child, and this impressed me so much that I went there later.
I quickly made friends with an Australian teacher who has two sons the same age as my daughters and was also travelling around Europe. She laughed when I told her I had chosen to fly home from Basel because I was meeting an old school friend for lunch in that place. She came to Graz, she said, for the same reason: to dine with a past colleague.
There was a very popular retired engineer from Germany. Popular because she had a kettle and generously doled out hot water for our tea. It transpired that we all carried a private stash of tea bags! I was amused to see that she also had a beautiful china platter with a gold border in her suitcase from which she ate her meals.
L was from nearby Croatia, here for a Lindy Hop (dance) convention; and the final bed was taken by a medical student who recently discovered acupuncture and was in Graz for a weekend´s training.
I was regaled with stories of the previous dormitory which they had quitted as a result of a woman who came back at 2am, turned on the lights and noisily completed her toilet for several hours, keeping them all awake. Maybe as a result of that broken night, the helpful older woman became increasingly argumentative as the evening progressed and there was some shouting and disharmony between her and two of the others. When she was out, however, four of us happily shared a picnic, swapping stories in several languages, and the engineer and L spontaneously danced together.
The next morning I packed up and started into town with a plan to find an internet cafe and book both bus to and hostel in Corinthia for that night. At the first set of lights, a man from Salzburg struck up a conversation with me. He told me about his work at the university identifying the whereabouts of large groups of people via satellite in order to direct the doctors of Medicins Sans Frontiers to where they are needed. He was coicidentally also in Graz for the Lindy Hop convention, and when we arrived at the river we discovered a jazz band playing as part of a Green Party rally. So, off came my rucksack and we jived in the sun. What enjoyable random meetings I have when I am travelling!
Word of warning: there are no internet cafes in Graz. I went into an Apple shop to ask where I might find one and he let me use one of their display models for several hours which was mighty kind. The hostel I wanted to stay in was shut so I decided to remain in the city for a second night and go to the free Lindy Hop evening party which both dancers I had met had suggested I attend.
L accompanied me there on the trams and later she won the Crazy Cat competition with her partner which was a great achievement. There were dancers from all over the world rocking the hall to the live 8-piece band. Nattily dressed gentlemen of diverse ages wore checked suits, panama hats, black and white shoes, and drainpipes. It was clear that everything had been chosen carefully and was part of the outfit. Women had flowers in their hair, lipstick a-glow, black seamed stockings, with a glimpse of red knickers mid-swing. Whirling and twirling, guys with their concentrating faces, subtly guided using a firm hand on their lady´s waist to avoid collisions. There was inviting vintage gear on sale. Celia in red and black chose only women to dance with, meaning she had to lead. She smiled encouragement as she steered me round the floor. Later she told me that she was off on a 2-day walk up the large mountain I had spied on my last hike. I warned of snow. She said that the hut at the top was open and invited me to join her. If I had not booked my hostels in advance I would have done so. Yet again I am reminded that advance planning closes down my options.
I chose a different room to sleep in to avoid the arguments, but shouting men and barking dogs interrupted my breakfast by the fountain the next day. I was looking for quiet and an absence of conflict, but a woman moaned and shouted as I did my t’ai chi in the park so I moved on afterwards, but it was a beautiful spot. Perhaps the reason I walk in the mountains is to escape the external noise, to find the wonderful and amazing quiet. No doubt the external reflects my internal state of mind! I understand monks needing to go into silent retreat or live in a cave in the Himalayas!
I saw a wooden slope in the distance and navigated my way there, spotting a giant thermometer / art work by Michael Schuster (2013) as I went. It was measuring the temperature of the city over years showing that it was rising, perhaps due to global warming.
And I took the funicular up the Schlossberg (castle mountain). There were people smelling of last nights alcohol excess in there with me. From the top I saw the massive city below pushing up to the foothills of the mountains beyond and in some cases crawling up the lower slopes. There were grey rectangular boxes laid out before me with useeing blind square eyes, as well as some edifices with red rooves and trees dotted between them.
A theatre has been fashioned from the old castle walls and Fidelio was the first performance there, one of my favourite operas. I recalled the part where the prisoners are finally released and sing their freedom song.
I come across a harpist playing Greensleeves. Ironically this was the old English song which a large group of children and their parents were singing outside Estrella, Spain exactly one year ago at the start of my first Camino walk. Lower down the slope an accordionist played a traditional Austrian song and two tourists sang with him.
By chance I was beside the famous clock tower symbol of Graz at midday and the bells pealing all around the city from its churches and cathedrals created quite a symphony. I sat on a bench in the sun and shut my eyes and when they ceased there was the sounds of the accordionist, a plane and a simple murmur of voices.
I walk down, past Sunday revellers in cafes, into a church where christenings are taking place, drink a glass of deliciously cold white wine and around me Italian is spoken. Ah, it’s a Sicilian street market! How bizarre.
I stayed at the ugly A and O hostel not far from the main station. It is huge but the facilities are adequate and the receptionists helpful. https://www.aohostels.com/de/graz/graz-hauptbahnhof/
Lonely Planet Guide https://www.lonelyplanet.com/austria/the-south/graz