Graz, Austria

Wednesday 24th May 2006, Graz, Austria
It was very close and stuffy when we went to sleep last night. During the night it rained heavily and continued for most of today. The temperature has dropped from around 30 degrees yesterday to 13 today and we have needed the heater on as we drove the wet, misty routes through the mountains.

Driving in Austria feels very calm after Italy but the roads have been fairly empty as we made our way to Graz, Austria's largest city after Vienna. We expected the journey to be far more hectic. At the top of a pass we stopped for a coffee and a rest at the village of Preitenegg. The views are supposed to be spectacular but there was too much mist for us to see much. In the bar of the village Bierstube we shared a table with the local policeman, his mobile phone and his gun. We doubt he could ever be overworked in such a smart, clean and disciplined little village.

View from the village of Preitenegg

That's Austria - immaculate! People must spend Sundays on their knees with nail scissors trimming their lawns it all looks so tidy. The streets are equally well tended. Near our present campsite we saw signs warning against parking cars as the streets were to be cleaned today between 9am and noon. That's how organised everything is. And using the public toilets becomes something to look forward to! No Turkish holes in the ground here! There are even seats and loo paper. Not only are there hand basins, there is even HOT water, soap and paper hand towels! Public facilities in Italy, Spain and Portugal were rarely good and in France they were generally awful. Here though they are an experience to be relished.

I digress. Around 3pm we arrived in Graz and found the campsite, attached to a huge outdoor swimming pool. Free access is a perk of staying at the site. However, it is cold, wet and raining so nobody wants to use it today. The campsite looks very bedraggled and waterlogged too and it is rather expensive. It is convenient for visiting Graz though with buses every fifteen minutes to the centre of the town. A friendly lady at the bus stop told us we should buy weekly bus tickets as they work out at a fraction of the price of buying single ones and sent us off to the tobacconist to purchase a couple. For eight euros we have tickets for a week and can use the entire city transport system of buses, trams and funiculars. We will definitely be around for a few days so it was worth buying them.

We are here because our friend and work colleague Mike Maguire made us promise to come. By a strange twist of fate, he and Vicki will be arriving tomorrow. Until last night we none of us had any idea the other would be here! So all being well we have arranged to meet up on Saturday when Mike intends giving us a tour of the city's most notable Wurst and ice cream outlets!

The rain eased slightly so we took the bus into town for a preliminary look around. Streets in the old town are wide and free from cars, with delightful old trams making their way slowly around the centre. During the war a huge outcrop of dolomite in the centre of Graz was honeycombed with caves and tunnels offering shelter to the residents of the town in case of air raids. Now the tunnels have a new life with bars, night clubs and restaurants deep inside the mountain and a lift and a railway using the tunnels to take people up to the remains of the Schloss on the top. We walked through one of these tunnels to emerge on the opposite side of the hill and walked down to the centre again past the Hauptplatz, a large open square and along the Herrengasse, lined with buildings with baroque facades.

Baroque houses and the fountain on the Hauptplatz, Graz

The Landhaus on the Herrengasse, Graz

The Renaissance courtyard of the Landhaus, Graz

The Landeszeughaus on the Herrengasse, Graz, a world famous armory

There appear to be a number of interesting museums and galleries if the rain continues though it is surprising how restricted their opening hours are. The working day seems to start and end very early. Shops are open at 7am and generally seem to close around 6pm. Even supermarkets are shut by 7pm. It takes getting used to after Spain and Italy where everywhere is in full swing until late into the evening.

There is one museum though that we are sure to be able to visit as it is open 6am until 10pm. Film star and Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of Graz's most illustrious children and there is a museum of his body-building equipment freely open to the public. Now Ian of course has always held Arnie in high esteem regarding him as his role model when it comes to his own physique and fitness. So he is just longing to take the rattling old tram out from the city centre to gaze in awe at photos of his hero and try out his weights, dumb bells and bull-worker!

Thursday 25th May 2006, Graz, Austria
Sunshine greeted us this morning and we were able to breakfast outside Modestine though the grass was still completely waterlogged. The local supermarket is supposed to open at 7am but when we arrived at 8 to buy fresh rolls we found it shut. The streets were deserted as we took the bus into town and everywhere was completely silent in the city centre – a rather strange experience. We found the internet shop open however and sorted out emails and loaded a new blog. The young man running the shop said he thought it might be a national holiday of some sort but didn't know what, he just opened as usual! It is a religious holiday in fact but we don't know what either, possibly Ascension day. It does explain why we were woken by the bells of the baroque church on the hill above our campsite clanging away at 7am. We have also seen several children dressed in white around the town so presume they have just taken their first communion.

Such an early start and no proper breakfast meant we were really hungry by 11.30am. There is a permanent smell of frying over the entire city centre and all the bars, restaurants and cafes were open as usual. A fish restaurant completely seduced us and we enjoyed possibly the nicest meal we've had since we left our friends in Caen and Guissény. Fish with Mediterranean vegetables accompanied by potatoes sautéed in parsley with courgettes and onions cooked in olive oil. Mmm!

Feeling full and contented we took the tram out to the sports stadium where we hoped to visit the Arnold Schwarzenegger museum. What a let down! It must be the dullest part of Graz and was completely dead today with nobody around anywhere. The museum was nowhere to be found and good as we are at unearthing hidden places, we were obliged to give up and take the next tram back to civilization in the city centre. We are now thinking of complaining to the Governor of California! Ian was so looking forward to the visit!

By this time there was a bit more going on in the town centre with lots of young people out enjoying the sunshine at the bars in the squares and in the parks. Graz certainly has some lovely parks which we enjoyed this afternoon. First we took the funicular up the steep hill to the remains of the castle from where we had splendid views down onto the city and to the surrounding hills. From here we strolled back down through parkland enjoying the rose gardens and the terrace hung with wisteria beneath the Stallbastei or ramparts that once served as a prison. We visited an open air museum constructed in the 1930s from an old fort that had been destroyed by Napoleon in 1809. Nearby is a clock tower erected in the 13th century which has become the emblem of the city. All these beautiful walkways offered stunning views down onto the city where the swirling green water of the river Mur, swollen from yesterday's rains, curves its way through the centre.

View down onto Graz from the Schlossberg

The clock tower on the Schlossberg, Graz

The Stallbastei on the Schlossberg, Graz

In 2003 Graz was the European capital of culture. To celebrate, several new buildings were erected including one constructed as an artificial island in the river. Made from glass and steel it provides a restaurant, auditorium, radio station and children's play area. It is in the form of a mussel shell and is in complete contrast to the beautiful baroque facades and domes of the old town. There is another building of the same date, constructed from similar materials known as the Friendly Alien. This is now used as a modern art gallery, restaurant and conference venue.

The Acconci Island on the Mur seen from the Schlossberg, Graz

The Friendly Alien from the Schlossberg, Graz

Next we explored a couple of parks – the Burggarten and the Stadtpark - crowded with young people lying on the grass, reading, chatting, or riding their bikes down the shady tree-lined avenues between the formal flower gardens and fountains. Here we stopped to rest on a bench and ended up falling asleep we were so weary with wandering!

The fountain in the Stadtpark, Graz
Acquired from the World Exhibition in Vienna in 1873

Refreshed we sallied forth into the fray to visit the Cathedral. This has a beautiful Baroque interior where everything co-ordinates. Pews and lectern are in polished, inlaid mahogany while altar rails, side chapels and floors are in warm red marble. There is a massive and beautiful organ which we were fortunate to hear being played as we wandered around. Throughout the cathedral there is lavish use of gold which contrasts well with the white rendered walls. Outside on the south wall is a fresco painted in 1485 to commemorate the city being freed from 3 different plagues in 1480. These were the plague, locusts and Turkish tyranny.

A free concert on the magnificent Cathedral organ, Graz

Baroque splendour in a Gothic setting, Graz Cathedral

Beside the Cathedral stands the mausoleum, dating from 1615, with its large green copper domes, where the tomb of Emperor Ferdinand II is housed. Finally, Ian dragged a protesting Jill, to see the Opera house swathed in sheeting as it is being restored, and the glockenspiel where a couple of automatons come out at 6pm to do whatever is expected of them. As it was still only 5.30pm and even Ian was exhausted, we have left this treat for another day.

The Mausoleum of Ferdinand II, Graz

Jill's hopes are dashed as the historic baker's shop is closed, Graz

On the streets of Graz we have been saddened to see a great number of people from Eastern Europe sitting in doorways and begging. Within just a few yards we passed half a dozen people, young and old. Some of the younger ones play the accordion in an attempt to earn a few coins, while other sit confined to wheelchairs or with young children beside them. It is a worrying sight and we have no idea whether there is any aid for such people offered by the Austrian government. Nor do we know exactly where they have come from or what persecution lead them to seek alms on the streets of this city.

Back at the campsite we were astonished to discover it had filled up during the day and is now really crowded. We went for a stroll around the huge swimming pool with its bar and terrace, included as part of this campsite. Nobody was swimming however and the air had turned chilly after sunset. So we opted for wine in Modestine instead where, with the aid of a map, we have sorted out what to do tomorrow as we wait to see Mike and Vicki on Saturday.

Friday 26th May 2006, Graz, Austria
Already at 8am it was hot as we did some emergency shopping at the local supermarket, open again after yesterday's national holiday. Having travelled through so many different countries recently and spent sufficient time in each to require us to shop for food, it is really interesting to see just how different the national lifestyles are in the countries of Europe. On the surface we are all very similar but eating habits really do differ from country to country. In our local supermarket here we found very few tinned products, jars being used and recycled. There was little in the way of fresh meat but rows and rows of different types of sausages including dried and spicy ones, frankfurters and others for grilling or boiling – bratwurst and bockwurst. Yogurts and butter are popular but there is little in the way of cheeses or cream. Pickled vegetables and sauerkraut are stacked high and enormous bottles of tomato ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard were being bought. Fresh white rolls were baked on the premises – bread in Italy was really awful. Dark brown rye bread that keeps for weeks is also popular. Cakes and biscuits are fairly boring and dry but a significant improvement on Italy which seems to live on little else than pasta and pizza.

In Spain and Portugal we found mountains of dried and salted cod and their deep freezers were filled with paella, cuttlefish, octopus and squid. In France the freezers were filled with duck, foie gras, mussels and oysters. In Italy they all seemed full of multicoloured ice cream and here they are filled with whole cabbages that have been vacuum packed and then deep frozen! How can a nation lavish so much care on a cabbage? Our shopping bill though, including a couple of bottles of Austrian wine, was significantly less than a similar basket of essentials purchased in Italy which we found rather expensive.

Today we took the bus across Graz to the Eggenberg castle and we have had a very pleasant day. The castle stands in a rural setting on the edge of the city in beautiful grounds. Near the entrance we discovered a restaurant with tables outside under the trees serving an "eat 'til defeat" menu. There was no choice, you paid your 6.50 euros and helped yourself. Vegetable soup, deep fried mushrooms and tartar sauce, lasagne with courgettes and onions and a bowl of fresh salad. With this we drank half litre tankards of beer! We'd best not stop in Austria for long. The food and drink is just too good, too cheap and too plentiful!

The castle at Eggenberg was originally constructed in the 15th century but reworked and extended after 1625 by Duke Hans Ulrich, chief advisor to the Emperor Ferdinand II. His Grand Design was to create an ideal world with four towers to represent the seasons, fifty two rooms for the weeks of the year and 365 windows for the days. Guided tours of the state rooms were obligatory and as they were in German there was much Jill did not fully appreciate. The rooms were lavish with glass chandeliers and ornate gilded mirrors. The walls were completely covered in paintings and frescoes, many representing scenes from Greek mythology. The ceilings were likewise decorated by more than 600 paintings with much use of allegoric symbolism, often intended to emphasise the status of the family. In the main room, the Planetensaal for example, there were ceiling paintings depicting the planets and the four elements. We were hustled through twenty four rooms representing the hours of the day - twelve with light doors and twelve with dark to represent the night hours - in fifty minutes so there is not a great deal that can be gleaned from two minutes a room! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photographs of the interior.

Gateway to the castle grounds, Eggenberg, Graz

Schloss Eggenberg, Graz

Peacocks on guard at the castle entrance, Eggenberg, Graz

Courtyard of the castle, Eggenberg, Graz

There are several museum galleries in the castle, which we browsed in a more leisurely way. These covered local pre-history and a superb art collection of mediaeval paintings and sculptures of a religious nature including a couple of works by Lucas Cranach, and a Renaissance and Baroque gallery which included works by Pieter Brueghal the Younger. The medieval exhibits were beautifully lit to bring out the religious emotion of the subjects.

We were particularly fortunate to see an exhibition of what must be the equivalent of our Sutton Hoo burial, but one thousand years older. The grave goods of the local Hallstatt ruler, who died in the sixth century BC included armour, pottery and metal containers which were chased with scenes of courtly life. They had all been meticulously restored and are due to go on a world tour. They had been discovered in the delightfully named village of Kleinklein (Littlelittle).

The surrounding parkland with its peacocks was cool and beautiful for a stroll after we eventually emerged from the art collections and before catching the bus which dropped us back right near the campsite.

White peacock displaying, Eggenberg, Graz

Saturday 27th May 2006, Graz, Austria
By special request the stars of today's blog are Mike and Vicki Maguire, longstanding friends and former work colleagues from Exeter.

Today has been a really happy day spent with them around Mike's native town of Graz. Until a chance comment in an email the day before we arrived here we had no idea we would all be here together. It has been a real delight for us, so far from home, to find ourselves unexpectedly with such good friends.

Friends reunited, Mike and Ian in Graz

Today was their only free day during a brief visit to take part in a family celebration. Mike was determined we should all enjoy Graz and its culinary delights to the full, so today has been given over almost exclusively to an Austrian gastronomic fest! Once we had met up under the tall maypole in front of the town hall we were guided to Mike's favourite open air food-stall in the Hauptplatz selling hot sausages with mustard and grated horseradish. The city trams passed by inches from our ankles, while a group of eccentric young men gathered a crowd around them as they spun endlessly upside down on their heads in the centre of the square lined with wonderful 17th century baroque buildings.

Next we were guided down the main street to the Temmel ice cream stand. Mike had been dreaming for weeks of an apple and cinnamon water ice and his moment had finally arrived! The people of Graz seem as fond of their ices as the Italians. Certainly we found their tiramisu and pistachio ices delicious and we presume Mike enjoyed his as he managed to slip off back for another one while we were looking the other way!

The other ice cream!

There is a gilded statue on top of a column by a fountain at the end of the main street. Beside it is a lift in a glass cage that just goes up and down. It is "a highway to nowhere" in the true sense of the phrase! It costs a euro for this pointless delight so all four of us squashed in and up we went, ice creams and all. Well at least we got a view up the main street and looked the gilded statue in the eye!

Highway to nowhere, Graz

Herrengasse from the top of the glass lift, Graz

We'd been so enthralled by this experience we needed a rest so we happily followed Mike to his favourite Konditorei for coffee, Austrian chocolate cake and mountains of whipped cream. This really was a delightful experience and it blended so well with the ice cream, sausage and horseradish!

Are there any librarians left in Exeter? Maguires and Maxteds in a Konditorei in Graz

We forgot to mention that Mike had recently acquired a new, state of the art digital camera and throughout the day he has been putting it through its paces by taking close-up pictures of anything that takes his fancy. This may possibly be a building or statue, it may even be one of us, it is more likely to be an ant on somebody's shoulder, a flower in the park, a caraway seed on the table cloth, or his own refection seen in a close-up of Jill's eyeball. Suffice to say, he was completely enthralled by his new toy and he should have some interesting photos to show to work colleagues back at Exeter Library next week.

Mike in a typical pose, Graz

After all this eating and coffee drinking some of us were beginning to feel hungry! We strolled along the main street, pausing at all the camera shops for Mike, the clothes and jewellery shops for Jill and Vicki and the books and prints shops for Ian. At the little cable railway we were taken up the steep cliff face to the castle with the lovely views over the town described the other day. We had to share the lift with a wedding couple who had just got married in the town hall below and were going, with their bridesmaids and guests to the reception in the castle restaurant.

Graz goes sweet on Mozart

Cliff railway, Graz

We opted for lunch on the restaurant terrace under a shady tree with a view down onto the city. Beyond we could enjoy a vista of wooded hills rising into the distance where the higher reaches were still snow covered. Austrian beer accompanied our Wienerschnitzel und Kartoffelsalat mit Kurbissöl und Petersilie. (veal cutlet with potato salad dressed with pumpkin seed oil and fresh parsley.)

Mike and Vicki released from work

Jill and Ian even more released from work

Later we wandered slowly through the castle gardens, Vicki, Ian and Jill chatting together as we waited for Mike to photograph a leaf here, a raven in a tree there, and the bottom of a well somewhere else.

Vicki waits patiently for Mike to adjust his camera, Graz

Jill helps Mike to investigate the photographic potential of the castle well, Graz

Jill on the Schlossberg, Graz

Back down in the town we went our separate ways, Jill and Ian to watch the wooden glockenspiel figures twist around the clock as the hour struck 6pm, Mike and Vicki to join their Austrian relatives for a family supper in their honour. We only hope they were able to do full justice to auntie's Austrian cooking after such an abstemious day!

Glockenspiel, Graz

Into Austria

Sunday 21st May 2006, Gemona del Friuli, North East Italy
Today we moved on after four pleasant days on the campsite near Venice. The weather was fortunately cooler than it has been and we travelled mainly across country, avoiding major towns. Being Sunday there was not a great deal of traffic and we passed through some very pleasant countryside. Around lunch time we stopped at a roadside bar on the edge of one of the small towns we passed through. Here we had coffees and pieces of pizza piled with mushrooms served on wooden boards at one of the tables. It was served by a very cheerful young lady who chatted happily to us in Italian and although we didn't necessarily understand the words, the meaning was perfectly clear.

Refreshed by our break we continued through the flat countryside of orchards, vines and maize. There was an air of prosperity in the little towns we passed through and everywhere seemed clean, tidy and cared for. It may be different further south but in this part of Italy we have been impressed with how well kept everywhere is. There do not seem to be very many flats and most houses have carefully tended gardens, many filled with blooming roses or tubs of geraniums.

We have been driving towards the Austrian border, making for one of the very few campsites we have found listed in the area. During the day the weather has become very overcast with dark skies until eventually we ran into rain. Consequently we only realised we had reached the mountains when they loomed up large, dark and pointed around us. This little town is apparently in a picturesque setting but as yet we have seen little but the dim outline of mountains surrounding our campsite.

The site is attached to a bar on the edge of the town and is quiet and friendly with just a few other vehicles, mainly from the Czech Republic. As we arrived around 3.30pm the rain started in earnest. After the heat of the last few days and the drive here today we felt very tired. Surrounded by trees and birdsong with the sound of rain pattering heavily on the roof we both fell sound asleep on the benches inside Modestine. It was lovely to experience cool damp air again. The atmosphere here is very different from the culture spots we have been visiting over the past two weeks and already there is an Austrian feel to the nearby town. This evening we went for a damp walk once the rain eased, searching for the town centre. We were quite unable to find it although we seemed to walk permanently through its suburbs. It is supposed to have a cathedral and a castle. We'll have to search them out with Modestine tomorrow.

This evening we decided to eat in the bar here as a treat. There is no menu. You have what you are offered. Tonight it was spaghetti. But it was really nice, smothered in cheese and very copious. With a couple of glasses of red wine it cost us 11 euros for the two of us! It's certainly not worth our while cooking in a wet field at that price and into the bargain we joined the other customers watching the adventures of Mr. Bean on the bar's TV. The Italians love it! We could all enjoy it together as it is quite international. So that's Britain's contribution to the European Union. International, toe-curling embarrassment with Rowan Atkinson!

Back in Modestine with the rain still falling we found our tiny collection of DVDs and sat drinking mugs of tea while we watched sketches from Monty Python's Flying Circus - including the sketch about the Hungarian phrase book where everything had been translated into obscenities in the opposite language. As Ian is currently thumbing his way through our own Hungarian phrase book we are now panicking, hoping the translation is rather more accurate!

Monday 22nd May 2006, Klagenfurt, Austria
We've become international travellers today making our way across three different countries! Breakfast in Italy, lunch in Slovenia and supper in Austria!

This morning the rain had gone and the mountains surrounding the little town of Gemona del Friuli rose bright into a clear blue sky. Having enjoyed last night so much we treated ourselves to breakfast in the bar. This was really pleasant with coffee, toast and assorted jams and butter. It was a busy place with local residents popping in for newspapers and coffee with a dash of something stronger. In the corner sat the Italian version of "Last of the Summer Wine" with four wizened old gentlemen around a table with their wine glasses already filled at 8.30am. Ian asked for a map of the town and ended up in an involved discussion in Italian with the landlord about the difference between kilometres and miles and how the British are not subject to Napoleonic measurements! If we stayed much longer he's really be starting to pick up the language!

With a map we finally found the town centre, in a picturesque setting on the side of the mountain with views out to the plain we'd crossed yesterday. We knew nothing about Gemona del Friuli, coming here only because it had a campsite and was vaguely on our way towards Hungary. It turned out to be a very interesting morning.

Until now we have appreciated Italy primarily for its man-made splendours. The wonders of Ravenna, Pisa, Florence and Venice with their buildings, paintings, sculptures and mosaics. Today we have been overcome by the natural beauties of the country with its lakes, forests, meadows of flowers and its stark bare jagged mountains still heavily packed with snow.

At Gemona, nestling amidst the mountain peaks, these two worlds met, came into conflict and the man-made wonders were crushed and destroyed by one of Italy's most dangerous natural forces - an earthquake! In 1976 the town was twice subjected to earthquakes which destroyed medieval houses, severely damaged the 13th century romansque/gothic cathedral together with beautiful frescos and many other buildings around the town. Today much has been carefully restored and at first glance the damage is not noticeable. The pillars in the cathedral and its walls are very uneven however and photos placed around the town show just how much damage was done to the entire side of the cathedral and to the arcaded fronts in the main street. Up behind the town is a little path the sides of which are piled high with rubble that has been there for 30 years providing a haven for lizards and probably snakes. Outside the main front of the cathedral stands an enormous statue of St. Christopher. Photos show it after the earthquake, still standing but badly damaged. The rose window above the entrance was also severely damaged but has now been restored.

Cathedral at Gemona di Friui

St. Christopher with Jill – and Jesus of course! Gemona di Friui

Cathedral after the earthquake in 1976, Gemona di Friui

Cathedral thirty years on, Gemona di Friui

Earthquake rubble still beside the path, Gemona di Friui

Town hall before and after the earthquake, Gemona di Friui

Town hall today, Gemona di Friui

We left the town deep in thought and made our way towards Austria and Slovenia along an almost deserted road that threaded its way along the valley floor. Here the river Tagliamento meandered across its wide stony bed, between the sharp snowy peaks that gradually closed in on either side. Near the point where all three countries converge we turned up a steep narrow road through pine forests to visit the Laghi di Fusine, a couple of lakes of stunning beauty lying more than 900 metres high. Crystal clear, azure blue water, their grassy edges a riot of wild spring flowers, surrounded by pine forests where the bright new green contrasted with the darker colours of last year's growth. Behind rose 1,500 metres of jagged grey mountains where packed snow filled the shaded crevasses right down to the lakes. Despite the warm sunny weather there were few people around. We walked the shoreline of the first lake, gazing in awe at such beauty. At a wooden chalet on the water's edge we sat in the sunshine for a cold drink, gazing down through the clear waters of the lake at the waving fronds of weed below.

Lower of the lakes, Laghi di Fusine

Azure waters indeed! Laghi di Fusine

Lakeside wooden café. Laghi di Fusine

A stroll around the lake, Laghi di Fusine

Retirement! Laghi di Fusine

Later we continued to the equally beautiful upper lake, even more deserted, where we discovered mountain gentians growing amidst the violets and edelweiss.

Modestine at Laghi di Fusine

Wild flowers bluer than the waters of the lake! Laghi di Fusine

Upper lake, Laghi di Fusine

Modestine centre stage, Laghi di Fusine

A few kilometres further on, we crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia. We had no maps and no money – we don't even know what currency they use in Slovenia or what language is spoken there! But could you have resisted the temptation? We are so delighted that we went and have fallen very much in love with what we have seen. The tiny corner we explored is stunningly beautiful with green flowery meadows, a kaleidoscope of colour stretching right up to the bare mountains. We stopped at Podkoren, steeply built on the hillside, a small village of large wooden houses with balconies hung with sweetcorn, many offering rooms to let for winter sports. There was a bar, an hotel and a smart little church. Around the village were cattle in the meadows and racks presumably used for drying something but we have not worked out what. Every house had its own pile of logs left from the winter and pots of geraniums at the windows.

Village church with apple blossoms, Podkoren, Slovenia

View from the top of the village, Podkoren, Slovenia

Mountain pastures, Podkoren, Slovenia
(Does anyone know what the racks are used for?)

We turned off before long to cross the Wurzenpass (1050 metres) into Austria. This is not one of the main crossing points and we had the road to ourselves as we twisted our way up through the pine forests to the top. At times the gradient was 18 per cent (1 in 5.5) but Modestine coped well. Passing through the frontier point out of Slovenia at the summit we were waved through, but entering Austria caused a few questions. What were we doing coming in this way and what did we have on board? Where had we been and why hadn't we got our headlights on, didn't we know it was the law in Austria to always have them on? (We didn't.) Quite friendly though and soon we were crawling down the really steep descent on the Austrian side.

From here we drove through clean, tidy villages of immaculate houses and orchards filled with apple blossom. Eventually we arrived at Klagenfurt where we knew there was a campsite. Time for Hinge and Bracket to do some work! The campsite is beside a large lake and a 5 kilometre cycle track along beside a pretty river carried us right into the heart of this smart Austrian town with its baroque buildings, so very different is style from Italy yet less than 300 kilometres from Venice! The feel of the two countries is so very different. Each has their charm and this is enhanced for us by having moved so abruptly from one to the other over a couple of days.

Landhaus, Klagenfurt

Baroque architecture, Klagenfurt

Baroque houses in the Alter Platz, Klagenfurt

Having acquired a map and a preliminary feel for the town we returned for supper at a little café converted from a disused railway carriage that we'd passed earlier near the lake. As the sun set and candles were placed on each table we joined walkers, cyclists and roller-bladers at wooden benches for Austrian beer, sausages, chips and mustard. Sheer delight! We cannot remember the last time we even saw a chip! Pasta, pizza, polenta, paté, poulet, paella and pescados are the basic foods of Europe, not the humble chip.

Café near the lake, Klagenfurt

A final thought for the day. We have received several requests from friends to put up more pictures of us on the blogsite. Ian does most of the photography and his comments were "why waste a good photo on us when you can have a sarcophagus or a Romanesque church?" Occasionally Jill and Modestine are allowed into the pictures but usually only as an indication of scale – as today. Jill has always teased Ian for trying to get too much into every picture rather than concentrating on detail. In Venice she joked that he'd have St. Mark's and the Eiffel Tower in the same picture if he could. Last night he achieved this seemingly impossible feat! This is not trick photography! We're not clever enough for that!

St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice together with the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Tuesday 23nd May 2006, Klagenfurt, Austria
This morning we discovered that the campsite has a free internet point! So we were able to spend an hour sorting out emails and loading on over fifty photos and a new blog. This really is an excellent campsite. It's the first time we have ever camped in Austria and we are most impressed with the facilities provided and the peaceful, attractive nature of the site. At 20 euros a night including wonderful showers and electricity it is considerably cheaper than Italy – though dearer than France.

We cycled back into Klagenfurt and explored the town, finding it very pleasant, clean and attractive. In the centre of the town we discovered a column originally erected in the early1680s as a thanksgiving for the town being spared from the plague. After Vienna was delivered from the Turks in 1683 a crescent moon with a cross were added to the top of the column. On each face were chronograms, one of which is illustrated here to be puzzled out.

Dreifaltigkeitsäule, Klagenfurt

Chronogram on the Dreifaltigkeitsäule, Klagenfurt

The date in Roman numerals can be worked out from the larger letters.

At lunch-time we used one of the little cafes surrounding the market. These are very basic, just benches under a shade from the scorching sunshine. We had a mixed salad with Leberkäse, fried egg and potato puree.

Each country has its national and regional dishes which, when travelling around as we are, makes for an interesting and varied diet! When people return to Britain after a couple of weeks abroad they rave about the wonderful food. In all honesty, if you stay anywhere long enough you start to realise that it can become rather monotonous eating the same small range of dishes all the time. Shopping is not easy either when you are cooking in a very confined space and fancy something other than frankfurters, couscous, ravioli or fondu. France definitely has our vote for simple, varied meals that are tasty and easily prepared with minimal cooking and washing-up. Italian pasta is easy but is really the same meal in different guises all the time. In Spain and Portugal we found very little that was easy to prepare or particularly interesting to eat. Here in Austria it is still a problem but eating out is much cheaper than either France or Italy so the temptation is not to bother to cook at all. A lot of meat seems to be eaten here but most meals are accompanied with a salad, something sadly lacking in Italy which had surprised us. We do find the meals in Austria rather salt. The beer though is excellent!

We needed maps and guide books for Hungary and Austria so Ian spent a happy afternoon choosing a couple of road atlases and travel guides – in German. After shopping for essentials to restock Modestine's fridge – a great boon in this hot weather where today it has been up around 30 degrees – we cycled back and sat in the shade for a treat of coffee, apple strudel – filled with cinnamon and raisins – and cream.

Once the worst of the heat had gone from the day we went out for another bike ride along specially designated paths through cool woodland around the Wörthersee – the nearby lake - along little lanes with wooden houses and tiny gardens, across hump-back bridges over the canal and out into the countryside further round the lake. Here Ian announced we had to make a pilgrimage to the little woodland house where Gustav Mahler had lived and worked. It turned out to be a good mile into the woods above the lake with no proper path or indication of distance, lots of mosquitoes and tree roots to lug the bikes over and to crown it all, when we got there it was shut for the day! It was an ugly building anyway and as Jill knows almost nothing about the composer or his works she didn't think it had been worth six mosquito bites and lots of sticky, sweaty biking when she could have been swimming in the lake!

Gustav Mahler's woodland retreat, Klagenfurt

Back down beside the lake again we watched a little paddle steamer as it plied back and forth across the lake, stopping to drop off passengers at tiny hamlets and restaurants.

Evening on the Wörthersee, Klagenfurt

Finally, that picture showing buildings from two different countries…
Between the campsite and the town centre is Minimundus, the world in miniature where scale models of some of the world's most famous buildings are laid out in parkland. There are 170 models from 53 different countries. We discovered it by chance and as it was 12 euros each to go round inside we achieved Ian's dream picture by climbing up on our bikes to sneak a picture over the high hedge, designed to prevent persons of average height from doing just that!