I headed to Graz in southern Austria, about 200km from Vienna, not because I knew anything about the city, but because I was after hugs from another friend. I bet David didn’t think I would actually arrive at his doorstep when we were laughing in the desert at Afrika Burn! But I did, and my few days seeing a bit more of the country with David and his lovely Tanja were a pleasure.
Graz is a small city in lower Austria, between the mountains and hilly wine region leading into Slovenia. This means it gets pretty good weather and we had some delicious hot days, followed by big rainstorms. The old part of the city is another maze of cobbled streets and splendid buildings, all looking up to Scholssberg, the castle on the hill.
I’m loving these long days and late sunsets; it means I can pack so much more into the days. One afternoon David and Tanja snuck out of work early and we drove into the southern Styrian wine region for a tasting at Schilhan estate. We drank our way through some tasty whites and some interesting, deeply fruity reds and one sparkling wine (Sekt) which was like a delicious bubble bath in my mouth. And while we sat at the cosy bar, a thunderstorm whipped through the vineyards and left the evening cool and clear, with mist rising up out of the numerous valleys.
The best thing about travelling without a plan is having the freedom to let things happen. Over drinks with two of David’s friends (while they were supposed to be planning the route they will take on their road adventure to Turkey, Georgia and Romania) we started talking about a glacier on the border of upper Austria and suddenly Hermann offered to take me there on his way home the next day. Of course I said yes and the next day we set off into the mountains.
The glacier is on Mount Dachstein and is at 2818m above sea level. I didn’t actually know where we were going and was surprised at the two-odd-hour journey there. But as we got closer the mountains got higher and angrier. This area is a popular outdoor sports region (hiking in summer and skiing stuff in winter) and as with all touristic spots, it is well organised. The winding road up the mountain is smoothly tarred, there are regular busses to and from the town below and there is a cable car at 1692m.
The day I visited was grey and misty and gave the trip an adventurous edge. But by the time I arrived at the cable car hut (no, I wasn’t only being lazy – the route up is steep and requires climbing gear and a partner) the fog was coming in thick and fast and had enveloped the entire summit. And with the €64 return trip I decided against a ride into the deep grey and went for a walk up to a mountain hut. I still got to walk over snow and enjoyed some pretty epic views. And I had a small hula on the mountainside.
I enjoyed seeing the Austria that I have always imagined: green, forested slopes leading down to quaint villages, the wooden houses decorated with flower boxes. It must be so beautiful in winter – a soft, white landscape that is heaven for skiers and snowboarders.