Monday, August 06, 2007

Graz: First Week of August

This past week had just a few highlights.

Greg found out he'll be traveling to an Austrian/Slovak math conference in Slovakia next month. Slovakia is a country just east/northeast of Austria, slightly smaller. When the former Czechoslovakia broke up, the Slovak people got this extremely mountainous bit of it. They speak Slovak; Greg does not. We figure pretty much everyone at the conference will be speaking Math, and/or English, or German. Or Austrian German. Hopefully there won't be any problems at the train station or hotel... The conference is about a 9 hour train ride from here, so he'll have a good opportunity to see some terrain he's never seen before.

Also, we went for a very long bike ride. Possibly too long. We did get a lot of good pictures, however, and so to be sure our suffering was not in vain, we're going to show you those pictures. Well, some of them, as usual there are more in the Photobucket site, with a password of graz .

We've been out of town on all the major bike paths, and you don't see much new territory if you're just going out and back in the same four directions every time. The ÖBB (Austrian Railway) has created the Radler Ticket for this eventuality. The trains have hanging bike racks in low cars, so you don't have to wrestle your bike up some stairs and around a narrow corner. Those cars hold 8 hanging bikes, and have room for maybe six more leaning against the walls. They have a discount deal where a person and a bicycle get an all-day pass to get around for cheap (€11), which means you (and your bike) can ride the train as far as you want, bike as far as you want, and then take the train back home. For the summer, they have a further weekend & holiday discount deal, where two people can take the train anywhere, all day, for €10, and then add on the bike fare for €2,90 per bike. During the week, we can do this for €22, and €15,80 on weekends and holidays. Our plan was to take the train to Bruck an der Mur, the biggest town between here and Vienna, and then bike back. We figured the total distance would be about the same as the last long ride in that direction (north), where we went almost-but-not-quite to Frohnleiten, then turned around and came back. That took about 4.5 hours, and was tiring but not ruinous. We figured the total riding time would be like that, only we'd see a lot of new areas.

We figured wrong.

Also, someone's bike fell in.

One thing that stands out from the pictures we took on this trip is that the wrongness of the notion that the "old world charm" comes from a static collection of picturesque old buildings. All the towns we went through yesterday were experiencing various levels of new construction and restoration work.

For instance, this magnificent moorish/gothic facade in the Bruck an der Mur hauptplatz is on a bank building which has been meticulously updated and rebuilt around the facade. The windows you can just see at the bottom are double pane insulator windows, probably bullet proof glass. The stucco is fresh and well-kept. The town was founded in 1263; this could easily be an original facade.

In this picture (also from the Bruck an der Mur hauptplatz) there is a very old church in the background, and the grey building right next to it is NOT very old, the town library, maybe? The nice smooth paving of the plaza is new. The stones might be old, it's hard to tell, but we know the paving is relatively recent, because there's a huge parking garage underneath, that spans the hauptplatz, and goes three stories underground. In the center of this picture, there is a neon green running man sculpture in an unfortunate constructionist style, and the benches, also new, are pointed toward that ratty stick on the left. That's a May pole. Every town in Austria, as far as we can tell, put up a May pole on the first of May. They only take them down if they're in the way of some other event or activity; otherwise they'll stay there until probably Christmas. The May pole, folks, is a pagan ritual. In a very real sense, that is the oldest thing in this plaza. (The newest is probably that blue car back by the church.)

Again, the mix of old and new here in a small town that revolves around a monastery on a hill. The top of the church is just visible straight back past the trees, but the cloister building was up and to the left. These two gatepost picture boxes illustrate many stories from the bible, and look to have been there quite a while. The orange line at the bottom of the picture is the train track. Out of sight in every direction is construction. We were standing on the shoulder of a brand new road, at the top of a brand new overpass, in front of a brand new apartment building. Everything that wasn't getting built was rural--pastures, fields, undeveloped parkland.

We're hoping, with all the new construction going on, that the town of Bruck an der Mur is saving up for a new train station. This one is kind of homely. Perhaps inexcusably homely, considering how consistently fancy the rest of the town was. Interestingly, when we got off the train and made our way up into the main hall, we were wondering how we were going to pick up the bike path from here, since we hadn't managed to bring our bike trail map with us. Standing in the main hall, and looking out the central door into the parking lot, there were two signs for the path clearly visible! It's funny how sometimes signage is thoughtful and timely, and other times and places, it's missing entirely--such as when the path is closed, dumping you off in a small town, and then eventually they just kind of run out of energy for putting up detour signs...

Right next to the train station was a really fancy hotel: See all those bike racks in the middle ground? That's maybe 20% of the bike parking that the Bahnhof had. Most of the rest of it was full; this section was pretty far out in the parking lot.
Some of the old-world charm is really old-world. This is Berg Rabenstein.... Castle Ravenstone. It stands on a jagged hill, overlooking a verdant valley. The Mur river widens out to a lake here, with a lot of fish in it, judging from all the fishermen loitering around. There were swans in the lake, and it's easy to imagine that it has been a lot like it is now, for hundreds of years. Looking at this, one is immediately notified of just how little time one has spent lording around the ancestral halls of his forefathers. How much one has not been involved in the intrigues of the nobility. Just how few 15 foot fireplaces one actually has, in this life. It really was quite devastating, especially for Greg, who suddenly remembered that he'd been kidnapped as a baby and raised as an American, thus totally cutting him off from his birthright, and possibly also a secret cave under the castle filled with high tech Batman style equipment...

Alas, the current reality of Castle Ravenstone is a little less glamorous than all that; the state power company bought it, and has concerts and other events there. That ladder looking thing going up right in the middle is actually a glass elevator shaft, coming up from the parking lot.

This is the oddest thing we saw on that trip. It's a fountain statue group, built into the wall behind a building with arcane symbols painted all the way around the outside. The three figures are, left to right, a woman holding a towel (?), a bear holding a child, and the child, spitting into a basin. We were unable to construct a story about this. That did stop us standing there laughing about it for five minutes. On the ride back, we discovered the hiking path up to the Drachenhöhle (Dragon Cave) a short walk from a train station, so maybe we'll do that next time. We're both kind of feeling like maybe our bike seats should see other butts for a while...

Hope your week was good, we'd love to hear from you.

-Holly & Greg

No comments: