Category Archives: Austria

Graz, Austria May 11, 2023

On May 11th we took a train from Vienna to Graz, Austria.

The train left early in the morning so Bill grabbed a quick breakfast at the McDonald’s at the train station. In keeping with their conservation agenda and “going green”, they gave him a wooden knife and fork instead of plastic. We had booked tickets ahead of time but no reserved seats. We had no trouble finding nice seats together and the train set off right on time for the two hour trip. Trains in Europe are very punctual. It was a  beautiful scenic ride over the Semmering Pass, a UNESCO World Heritage Site listed as “one of the greatest feats of civil engineering during the pioneering phase of railway building”. We crossed the River Schwartz, passing through many tunnels and viaducts with small villages nestled in the hillsides. With such a scenic landscape, the time passed quickly.

We arrived in Graz (pop 332,000) and though it was early, they let us check into our room. Even though it is Austria’s second largest city, Graz receives a small number of tourists compared to Vienna or Salzburg. 

Graz, located on the River Mur, doesn’t have the grandeur of Vienna, but it definitely has charm and beauty. It is said to be one of the best preserved historic cities in Europe. We learned that 20% of the population are students, 150 languages are spoken here and the city council is run by a communist mayor, evidently a surprise from the last election. Sixty percent of the city is green spaces with a strong emphasis on sustainability and ecology. The city uses new emission free hydrogen buses.

Along with its World Heritage status for its Medieval Old Town in 1999, in 2003 Graz was crowned the European Capital of Culture. In 2011 an additional UNESCO award was bestowed as a City of Design for its design schools, forward thinking architecture and embrace of modern urban design. Graz is only the second city in Europe to hold two UNESCO titles. Berlin is the other. Graz is also the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Unfortunately when we reached Graz there began a week long chilly, rainy spell that followed us to two other cities. On top of that I came down with a bad cold. 

We walked from our hotel to the train station where we bought a day pass that included both the city tram and bus. We walked to a tunnel next to the train station and caught a tram into the city center. 

From the top of the Schlossberg hill, in spite of the clouds, we had a nice view of Graz with its many red tiled roofs. With our daily pass we were able to ride the Schlossberg Funicular to the top and came down using the Schlossberg Lift. The Funicular ascends at an incline of 61% and has been in operation for the last 100 years. The Lift has glass walls that give you a clear view of the rock lined elevator shaft.

Part of the Armory

At the top of the hills are the remains of the old fortification which in 1544 was a huge Renaissance fortress, now listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the strongest fortification of all time. Even Napoleon found it impossible to capture at the beginning of the 19th century. However in 1809 when Napoleon occupied, and was threatening to destroy Vienna, Graz surrendered. The  fortress was dismantled after the Treaty of Vienna in 1809. The Hackher Lion is a monument to Major Hackher, the last defender of the fortress.

Also at the top of Schlossberg is the famous Clock Tower.

Napoleon’s troops destroyed the Schlossberg fortress, the residents all came together to pay a ransom to save their beloved clock tower from destruction. The clock tower is unique with its large wooden balconies and clock face where the hour and minute hands are reversed in size since the minute hand was added later. It has struck the hour precisely since 1712.

As we used the Schlossberg Lift to descend, we then walked in a tunnel through the hillside to ground level. It was once part of an extensive system of tunnels that was built in the Second World War as a shelter for the people of Graz during aerial bombing. The tunnels were part of a four mile long system with 20 entrances that could hold up to 40,000 during an air raid. 

In the Old Town’s main square, Hauptplatz, is the Town Hall, built in 1893, with its neoclassical design.

The Graz Cathedral is the city’s most important place of worship. It was built between 1438-1462. The cathedral has a Gothic exterior and a Baroque interior with a vaulted ceiling over the altar.

Next door was the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II, built in 1614. It is thought to be one of the most beautiful mausoleums in Europe.

Part of the University Next Door

The Franciscan Church has the tallest towers in Graz.

Murinsel is a quirky ultra modern design structure floating in the Mur River. It is an island constructed in 2003 in honor of the city’s European Capital of Culture award. It is shaped like an upside down seashell and is made of steel and glass. It is used as an open air amphitheater, has a cafe and children’s play area. Two pedestrian bridges tether it to the riverbanks.

Nearby is the Parish Church Graz-Mariahilf, 1607.

Another modern structure built in 2003 was the Kunsthaus Graz, or the Graz Art Museum. The roof is made of acrylic and the locals have nicknamed the structure “the Friendly Alien”. At night the building lights up like a spaceship.

The Glockenspiel is a structure with 24 bells that ring out on the hour. Three times each day the two wooden doors open and two little figures in traditional costume come out and dance to Alpine folk tunes. Unfortunately we missed that by 18 minutes.

We saw the Kaiser-Josef-Markt farmers’ market open each day except Sunday. The rain didn’t seem to bother the shoppers. So many European towns have these daily fresh markets.

Across the street from the market was the Opera House.

Also on this corner is the Evangelical Church of Graz-Heilandskirche, 1824.

We really enjoyed Graz, in spite of the chilly rain! 

Next up: A train ride and 3threedays in Ljubljana, Slovenia 


Vienna, Austria May 9, 2023

After a good night’s sleep we were up early the next morning for a day of exploring Vienna. Our original plan was to use the Hop On Hop Off Bus. But our friendly, helpful hotel concierge convinced us we didn’t need to pay for the expensive tickets and instead we could take the subway located close to the hotel into the city center. Our subway tickets also gave us access to the city’s tram and bus service. I must say that Vienna has excellent public transportation. Taking the concierge’s advice saved us money ($95 for us on Hop On Bus vs $16 for us for 24 hour public transportation). 

Austria, with 8.5 million citizens, shares boundaries with eight  European countries: Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Most Austrians speak German (the second largest German speaking city after Berlin) and are mainly Catholic. 

Vienna, the capital and largest city, has a population of just under 2 million. It lies in the eastern part of Austria on the Danube River.

Its past residents have included Mozart, Beethoven (giving it the nickname “City of Music”) and Sigmund Freud (also giving it the nickname “City of Dreams”).

We walked the couple blocks to the closest subway station, bought our 24 hour tickets, and were quickly on our way. The public transportation, whether subway, tram or bus, is very punctual.

A J F Kennedy Memorial Plaque

We hopped off at city center and immediately our visual senses were overwhelmed with the architectural beauty that surrounded us. In every direction we saw majestic buildings. Bill and I had been here in 2016 on a group tour and we agreed it was more beautiful than we remembered. Group tours are nice but I think when you are on your own you have more time to stop and take in your surroundings. Sometimes on tours you have to worry about keeping up with a guide or being rushed from one place to another.

The first masterpiece we saw was the Romanesque and Gothic architecture of St Stephen’s Cathedral, the most important religious building in Vienna. The groundbreaking of this Catholic church was in 1137 with completion in 1578. Made of limestone, it stands at 448 feet with 2 main spires and 22 bells.


Beethoven discovered the totality of his deafness when he saw birds flying out of the bell tower as a result of the bells’ tolling but could not hear the bells. The largest bell weighs 44,380 pounds and is the largest in Austria and the second largest swinging bell in Europe. The roof of the church is covered by 230,000 glazed tiles. The roof is so steep that it is sufficiently cleaned by rain and seldom covered with snow.

Over the centuries, soot and air pollution accumulated on the church and gave it a black appearance, but recent restoration projects have returned some parts of the church back to the original white. 

We were able to go inside and oh my, there are no words to describe the beauty. The main part of the church has eighteen altars and several formal chapels. 

In the basement of the church are tombs, catacombs and crypts containing emperors, military leaders, Bishops, Cardinals and 72 members of the Habsburg dynasty. 

From there we wandered along the streets soaking it all in. 

The Greek Revival style Parliament building foundation was laid in 1874 and completed in 1883. It contains over 100 rooms and is where the president of Austria is sworn in.

The Vienna Plague Column, also known as the Trinity Column, was erected after the Great Plague Epidemic in 1679. It is one of the best known and prominent sculptural artworks in Vienna. Some consider it one of the most ambitious and innovative sculptures anywhere in Europe of that time period.

Vienna Plague Column

The Hofburg is the former imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty. It was built in the 13th century and served as the winter residence.

Since 1946 it is the official residence and workplace of the president of Austria.

Neptune Fountain

Part of the palace is now the Sisi Museum which gives an authentic look at the life of the Empress Elizabeth, known as “Sisi”, the famous Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. She was assassinated in Geneva in 1898.

Theseus Temple was built in 1829 as a replica of the ancient Greek temple of Hephaestus in Athens.

Iron Square is rather unique. It is the midsection of a tree trunk from the Middle Ages into which hundreds of nails have been pounded for good luck over the centuries.

The Nail Heads Are Large

When we were here in 2016 we had lunch at a little Chinese restaurant on a side street near St Stephen’s Church. Bill remembered how good it was and wanted to go back. Bill remembered exactly where it was so we had Chinese food for lunch once again in Vienna! The restaurant has a new owner but was still good.

St Peter’s Catholic Church

Guess where we ended the day. Yes, at the Vienna Hard Rock Cafe for another shirt to add to Bill’s collection.

This is a 3D Artwork on the side of a Tall Building

It was an easy subway ride home and walk back to the hotel. After a nice dinner we had another seven miles logged for the day. A really wonderful day in Vienna! 

Next up: A train ride and visiting Graz, Austria

Fiumicino, Italy & Vienna, Austria May 8, 2023

On Monday, May 8th our transatlantic cruise came to an end. It was disembarkation day! We took a shuttle from the port of Civitavecchia to the Rome airport, a one and a half hour bus ride. We were staying the night in Fiumicino, a small town on the outskirts of Rome. We had chosen this hotel because they provided free transportation to and from the airport. We were only staying one night before our early flight to Vienna the next day. The owner of the hotel spoke very little English and we speak no Italian other than ciao (hello) grazie (thank you) and arrivederci (goodbye). So we all used Google translate to communicate. By the way, unlike the United States, any kind of hotel shuttle to and from the airport is hard to find, and free transportation is unheard of. 

The hotel was small but our room was clean and pleasant and we were pleased with our choice. 

We walked three blocks down to the beach overlooking the Mediterranean Sea but it was spitting rain so we didn’t stay long.

On the way back we stopped by a supermarket a block from our hotel for some snacks and drinks for lunch. The checkout girl was chatting away until she looked up and saw our blank expressions. She said, “Oh!” but between the three of us we communicated enough to check out.

After a relaxing afternoon we walked a few blocks to a little family run restaurant for pizza. Again very limited English. The pizza was not the best but we were hungry and made the best of it. We found one TV station in our room that had English translation with some older CBS shows like “The Rookie” and “CSI Los Angeles”.  There were many tv stations but only one that had English language as a choice. 

The  next morning we were up bright and early at 5:00 AM. When we opened our patio door we could hear birds chirping away. I don’t know that we have ever heard so many birds singing so loudly. At 5:45 as promised our host was there to drive us back to the airport.

We had breakfast at the airport before our flight on Austrian Airlines to Vienna. Bill and I slept during most of the 90 minute flight. Our transportation to the hotel was waiting for us. We were very pleased with our hotel in Vienna called Hotel Caroline. Even though it was before noon, they let us in our room early. The room was large with a sitting area, mini-fridge and large safe. The bathroom was also a nice size. 

After unpacking a few items we walked to lunch and stopped by a supermarket for some drinks and snacks. There was a cold breeze blowing and we were glad to have jackets! After walking to dinner later that evening we had logged seven miles for the day. 

Next up: A full day of sightseeing in Vienna with lots of pictures.