Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday 31 May - Graz to Linz

0938 Graz to Selzthal 1111
1121 Selzthal to Linz 1324
Passing Mixnitz, one of the original steeple cab electrics was shunting in the yard while one of the larger locomotives was on the main line with a weed killing train. The train to Selzthal was almost ten minutes late waiting for a connection at Leoben.  The conductor assured me that the train at Selzthal would be held to make our connection.  It was a cross platform transfer and the train to Linz left only a few seconds late.  It was a four car electric Talent set, similar to the O Train.  I wondered what it would be like traveling second class in one of these for over two hours.  It was very easy to get into with a case, much easier than the OBB long distance trains and there was plenty of luggage space under the seats.  Much easier to stow bags than in a main line train.  The windows were spaced to coinicide with the seats so everyone had a clear view out of the window.  The trip was quite pleasant if a little uneventful.  We passed through a rugged mountain range and the area around Linz is quite flat and there is much arable farming.  I saw two deer in fields of wheat.  Of course I played Mozart's Linz symphony on my iPod.

We ran to time, in some cases we were waiting time at stations.

The tram station is under the railway station and we quickly acquired a ticket and caught the first tram to the Hauptplatz where we are staying.
Linzertorte with Aperol Spritz
A quick visit to the Tourist Office and we sat in the Hauptplatz with an Aperol Spritz and a portion of Linzertorte - pleasant enough but nothing special.  The main square, the Hauptplatz, is very impressive, but there doesn't seem to be as much of interest here as in Graz.  The motor vehicle is much more evident and there are many fewer bicycles.  We had a walk around in the hot afternoon sun but most of the sights are churches which don't really interest us,  The new cathedral is very impressive, it can reputedly hold 20,000 people and the stained glass is excellent - I think it is better than Leon which is reputedly the best in Europe.

The Postlingberg tramway has been rebuilt and extended into the Hauptplatz so it is less than five minutes from our room.  The new trams are three sections but quite small.  The gradients are severe and it runs through pleasant suburbs.  The summit was a little surprising because, although there are good views, it is mostly wooded and there are many houses.  It seems the tram serves commuters as much as tourists.  We found a bar which served food and had roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut/beef goulash.  With a beer this was a good and relatively cheap meal.
At Postlingberg

As we were arriving back at the Hauptplatz we passed two of the original four wheel trams which are now used for special groups.

It has been very hot today but there has been some thunder which should cool things down a bit.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday 30 May - Graz - Mixnitz and Ubelbach

Our bed looks quite elegant with a large swath of light blue curtain material tastefully draped from close to the ceiling to both sides.  The effect is spoiled somewhat by the washing hanging from the chandelier.

I spent a little time this morning rubbing body lotion into my leather moccasins in an effort to prevent the leather from going hard after its soaking yesterday.

The first order of business was to finish off the tourist stuff in Graz.  We took a look at the cathedral - very ornate and pretty much over the top.  The next order of business was to see the double staircase at the Bourg Tower and then get over to the Glockenplatz to hear the bells and see the two mechanical people dancing.  A pretty large crowd of tourists turned up but they were surrounded by three school group.  The pickpocket who was standing just behind me decided to leave when I turned around and stood staring pointedly at him.  The bells were pretty good and the mechanical dancers went on for quite a long time.

The final order of business was the parish church which is very big and very ornate.

I was thus clear of tourist duties and made my way by tram to the station where there is evidence of the bomb blast last March - the whole of the front windows of the station including the clock have been blown out.
Bomb damage to Graz station
1205 Graz to Mixnitz 1239
1321 Mixnitz to Peggau 1336
1427 Peggau to Ubelbach 1447
1502 Ubelback to Peggau 1622
1636 Peggau to Graz 1656
Small hopper wagon at the entrance to the shop
The reason for the trip to Mixnitz was to see what I could of the narrow gauge freight only branch to St. Erhard.  There was a shop with two narrow gauge (760mm) tracks and one standard gauge track.  1957 steeple cab electric #E3 was outside the shop and the other three were inside.  #E1 and #E2 are four-wheel steeple cab electrics built in 1913. #E3 and #E4 are Bo-Bo steeple cab electrics built in 1957 and 1963.  The standard gauge tracks held two switchers #VEL 1 and #VHL 2 which are used to switch the standard gauge sidings.  They were built in 1956 (diesel electric) and 1967 (diesel hydraulic) respectively.

There were two men working around a flat car so I asked them if I could take pictures and I think they said yes.  I took my pictures and didn't get in the way.
E4 was built in 1963

Built in 1913 and still in use.
Click below to see all my images from Mixnitz
This line is under the Styrian state as is the short line from Peggau to Ubelbach.

At Peggau I looked for somewhere to get a drink.  I found a small bar near the station and ordered a beer.  The barkeep was eating something out of an enormous salad bowl with a serving spoon.  There was a woman sitting at the bar eating off a plate.  When she finished she picked the plate up and licked it clean.  Good job I didn't want to eat anything there - I think she was the waitress.  The Ubelbach line has just got two brand new railcars for the line which have replaced the four 1955 vintage units obtained from Switzerland second hand.  The line is through very pleasant farming country with some arable fields, particularly with corn.  The train was full with schoolkids.  There was only some ten minutes at Ubelbach, unless I wanted to spend another hour there so I decided to come straight back.
Ubelbach with a train ready to return to Peggau
Ubelbach - second train in a siding
At Graz I took at look at the Graz Koflacherbahn diesels leaving as as it was very hot came straight back to the hotel.

Dinner was at another great restaurant - the Landhauskeller which is in a beautiful courtyard by the Landhaus and underneath the Armoury.

Mary started with pumpkin soup, Styria is famous for its pumpkins.  Colin had the Styrian cold appetizer plate which contained chicken liver pate, fish pate, asparagus pate and other things including Styrian horseradish.

For main course Mary had boiled beef which included a marrow bone, pickled pumpkin and potatoes,  Colin had the Styrian beef schnitzel and boiled potatoes.  The beef was liberally sprinkled with pumpkins.  Very good.
Graz Museum of modern art.
Afterwards we went for a short walk and took the elevator to the top by the clock tower where there are excellent views over the city.  Graz is a quiet, graceful place and we don't feel we have really spent enough time here to do it justice.  We have seen all the items recommended in the guidebooks but it is the sort of place where one would be rewarded by poking around, looking up and looking back.  The architecture is amazing, everywhere you look there are items of interest.  Best of all, there are few tourists.
Click below to see all pictures of Graz trams

Click below to see all pictures of Graz

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday May 29 - Graz

The hotel room is taking a bit of getting used to.  It is a large room with wood parquet tiles that squeak every time we walk over it.  By the time I had sorted the shower out my leather mocasins had started to float out of the bathroom, they eventually took on water and sank.

Today was a Mary-organized museum day.  To get started we had to validate our three-day transit passes so we got on a tram, validated our tickets in the machine, and got off at the next stop which happened to be at the museum of modern art.  It is a very interesting building but practically all of it was closed while they put on a new exhibit.  The only open part was an exhibition of Austrian photography which was either pictures taken of a demonstration in London or an ancient video, made in English, about a stone age tribe in the Philippines which had only recently been discovered.  These poor buggers were living from hand to mouth yet they seemed pleased that they had been  introduced to money.
Man-made island in the river.
Not many people around on a Sunday morning.

Our next adventure was at the Armoury.  This is a vast, four floor, store of armor and weapons that was built so that the army could quickly be armed to repel invasions from the Turks.  The main point about this place is the sheer numbers of each item - there were several hundred swords, pistols etc.  It never ceases to amaze us how much effort man has put through the ages to devise ways of killing and maiming other people.

We had a quick look into the Landhaus.  It was very quiet compared with yesterday when people of a charity event tried toget us to fork out money for something of which we had no knowledge.

A quick tram ride  brought us to the base station of the funicular railway for the ride up the Schlossbergbahn.  We felt cheated because all rides on the funicular today are free.  We were a little puzzled what we would find at the top - the car coming down contained a number of men in period military costumes and carrying weapons.  They were followed by a military brass band including a fellow at the back who was wearing a big drum.  At the top the smell of sizzling pork sausages filled the air and the noise of bawling kids was loud until noon when the big bell in the Glockenturm was wrung 101 times -boring.  Lots of kids had painted faces and sported a balloon secured to their wrists.

We went back down after having spent all of 15 minutes there.

The reason there were few people around the town was that most were up the Schlossberg while the rest were piling out of the churches as we walked back into the centre of town.   At least these are real people as there are very few tourists here.

A #7 tram and a short walk took us to the Schloss Eggenberg, another great palace but this one in a very pleasant deer park.  We didn't see any deer but the place was pretty well overrun with peacocks.  In good weather the grounds, with their flower displays, were very good.  The peacocks make a lot of noise and we wondered if they annoyed the people living around.  There was a pleasant pool with irises and weeds (but no ducks) as well as a formal pond with water lillies in flower and many koi of various sizes.
Schloss Eggenberg
The numerous Peacocks wanted food and would come close in the hope of getting some.
 The final museum was in the Herberstein Palace.  The first exhibit was two chairs in a room with piles of numbered tickets that had been thrown on the floor.  There was a video showing two men sitting on the chairs tearing off the tickets and throwing them on the floor.  The value of this deeply significant act evaded me but I dutifully followed the red carpet right through the exhibition and back to the front door.

The man-made island in the river is an interesting structure and we lingered some time there over a beer.  On the way back to the hotel we were waiting for an oompah band to start playing but the garrulous man with the microphone (and a big drum) pointed out that a priest was throwing holy water all over a woman in an invalid car so we left.  On the main bridge across the River Mur we stopped to watch the surfboarders who find their wave and ride it hanging on to a rope suspended from the bridge.  They are watched by people on the side in a fake beach with sand, deck chairs etc.

My birthday dinner was in the hotel because not many restaurants are open in Graz on Sundays.

We started with an amuse gueule which consisted of a large slab of chicken liver pate each with an edible flower.

The rolls were exceptional and we had Styrian pumpkinseed oil to dip as well as salt and butter.

For a starter Mary had smoked arctic char with an asparagus morel custard while I had calf's head cheese and calf tongue with pesto sauce.

For main course Mary had stuffed chicken breast with fried gnocchi while I had three types of veal - roast, schnitzel and goulash with mashed potatoes in a pasta case.

We decided to have dessert.  Mary had rhubarb with baked custard and a strawberry pepper sorbet.  I had Apple Marscapone with a Calvados Foam.

The restaurant was practically empty apart from a man with a beret who was sketching the waiter.  He was evidently well known in the restaurant.  At one point a woman walked up to him, they had an argument and she left.  He was colouring his sketch with water colours as we were leaving.

After that we walked our meal down, a little, by walking around the old historic part of the town.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday 28 May - Salzburg to Graz

Pictures will follow when I can get a better connection to upload them.Pictures uploaded June 1.
1015 Salzburg to Bischofshofen 1102
1113 Bischofshofen to Graz 1423
It was still raining this morning and the wait for the train in the station at Salzburg was particularly unpleasant.  However the first train arrived in good time from Vienna and we were able to wait in the relative warmth of the train for about 20 minutes before departure.  It was very hilly all the way with many trees and cattle pasture but very little arable land.  We were surprised to see snow on the hillsides and it had come down almost to the valley floor in some places.  It was still raining in Graz and I was surprised to find the stsatin intact.  They found a large unexploded WWII bomb last March and had to detonate it on site.  We had some difficulty in finding the tram line which is a little way away from the Hauptbahnhof.  Once on board we found out how to use the ticket machine and were quickly brought to the Hauptplaz and the centrally located hotel.

The trams are very narrow indeed, not much wider than the standard gauge tracks. (2.2m)  There is a Graz tram paint scheme but there is also a bewildering array of different colours and advertising schemes.  They have a variety of trams some coming from Duisburg and Wuppertal although the most recent are new.
Even in the rain Graz is an interesting place - Hauptplaz

We found the Tourist Office and made plans over a drink in the Sacher Cafe.  There followed a walk to Jacobmin Platz which is an amazing transport hub and then back to the hotel via an extensive park.  The sun has come out and things are looking up.
Many buildings have amazing details.

Dinner was at Altsteirische Schmankerlstub'n, just across the street from the hotel.  It is reputed to be the best place for Styrian cuisine and we were well pleased.  We both had beer, (good but a little sour for my taste).  For starter Mary had baked bacon wrapped sheep cheese while I had aspic.  Both were excellent.  For main course Mary had pork with mushroom sauce, redcurrants and potato croquettes and I had pork medallions with apple and "mouldy" cheese (i.e. strong blue cheese) and roast potatoes.  Both were very good.  We were so full we had to forgo the desserts - the nockerl looked particularly interesting.  The staff were very friendly and helpful and we enjoyed ourselves.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday 27 May - Salzburg

The promised rain came heavily during the night and continued on today.  We had planned for this a couple of days ago and Mary spent the day visiting museums while I went into the Hauptbahnhof to get some seat reservations for our journey from Linz to Prague and to look around.  The OBB is pretty busy but manages to run most of its trains about ten minutes late. There was a great variety of locomotives, German and Austrian on the passenger trains as well as Austrian, Railion, DB Schenker and Cargo (SBB) on the freights.
These were used mainly on freight trains but this one was switching passenger stock
About to couple on to an S-bahn train
RailJet train from Vienna to Zurich using a standard OBB electric locomotive in a special paint scheme.
I found a shop that stocked English publications and bought a Terry Pratchett book "Unseen Academicals".  I shall enjoy it, I know.

I have found a way to beat the motion detector in the bathroom area.  All I have to do is to crawl around the corner on my hands and knees and slink around the shower.

Dinner tonight was at K & K., right in the Mozartsteg.  It was very good.
Tomato soup/consomme with wild garlic dumpling
Beef/duck with white asparagus and potatoes

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday 26 May - Hellbrun and Nockerl

We decided to visit Hellbrun Palace and the Trick Fountains first thing.  This involved another trip on the 25 bus.  There was a gap in the service and when it eventually turned up it was full of small kids on an outing to the zoo.  About 25 little munchkins all with yellow visibility vests provided courtesy of Spar grocers.  The noise was deafening.

We walked to the Palace and joined a guided tour.  This is the only way you can view the fountains because the guide knows how to turn them on and off.  The fountains are all worked by gravity.  Spurts of water come at you unexpectedly from all directions.  Other groups had passed by and the trick was to see where the ground was dry because that area was safe from the water.  It was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed themselves even though everyone got wet.  It was getting hot by this time so we quickly dried off.
There is also a mechanical organ with a whole town full of moving characters.  Very impressive for a 'toy" that was constructed so long ago.  It worked entirely by water.
The palace itself did not hold our interest and we quickly left for the bus stop to return to town.  We found three groups of children about 6 or 7 with their teachers all waiting for the bus.  There must have been about thirty of them.  When the bus arrived the lady driver didn't seem at all perturbed.  The saner tourists got in at the front and the children all filed on and found seats.  There were three highly excited kids and a teacher opposite us.  One kid, by bouncing around, managed to unhinge his seat and he found himself, and the seat, on the floor.  The teacher calmly put it back and placed him at another location.  It was taken good naturedly and we got into conversation with a man who had worked at a winery in Kelowna - Mission Hill.  He agreed with us that is is good for kids to get out on public transport like this - it teaches them social skills.

Back in Salzburg we stopped on the bridge over the Salzach River to video the boat doing its finale whirling around (that will eventually be in yesterday's blog) and we took the elevator the the Museum of Modern Art and the walk along the cliff top to Mullner.  The brewery didn't open so we took a bus back into town and had lunch at a large beer garden.  The highlight of the meal was Nockerl a light, but very large souffle, that was very filling.  We found out it is a speciality of Salzburg and Vienna.
We visited Mozart's birthplace.  It is a museum and not a very balanced one in that they only mentioned the good parts of his life.

It was so hot when we came out that we decided to head back to the hotel.
 We went out again to hear the Glockenspiel while we sat looking at the fountain and watching the thunder and lightning build.  It then began to rain heavily so we returned to the hotel.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday 25 May - Untersbergbahn, Salzach Boat Ride, Stigl Brewery and the Festung Fortress

It was a very busy day today and we made full use of out Salzburg Cards. 
We first took a bus out to the village of Grodig to ride the Untersbergbahn, the cable car to the top of the Untersberg.  It was a city bus but the visual bus stop information was not working so we had to rely upon the audio announcements which were difficult to hear.  We were outside the area shown on the bus map.  It was pretty evident where we had to get off by the cable coming down to the lower station however, the bus stopped outside and turned off the engine as it was the end of the run!

The Untersbergbahn was very good and we had great views across the valley towards Salzburg where the fortress was quite visible.  However, it was misty at the top and we decided to come right back down again.

We just caught a bus back into town and walked across the bridge to the boat landing.  The 1200 boat was just leaving and we just managed to get on board.  The man taking tickets said "Watch your step and watch for bicycles".  He wasn't joking, we had to cross a bicycle path which was very well used.  We have come to the realization when crossing the road that you have to be on the look out not only for cars but also for silent bicycles.
Salzach River
Watch your step - and the bicycles.
The boat ride was pretty good.  Because of the shallow water and speed of the flow the boat uses two jet engines.  They took us a little way out of Salzburg and returned after about 40 minutes.  Just before landing they started playing a waltz and left the boat spinning wildly while the crew walked away from the controls and looked away.  After several circles they righted the boat and then set it spinning in the other direction.  It was an amusing way to end the ride.
The tour boat doing wheelies
Stigl brewery
We walked next to the bus stop for the ride the the Stigl brewery.  The trolley bus took us there quickly and we walked the couple of hundred yards to the pleasantly situated brewery.  Our passes gave us free entry to the exhibit which was set in an old brew house.  It was well done although there were several sets of stairs to negotiate.  We finished up in the beer garden where we were given samples of three different beers (about 600cl ) with some flat bread to try.   We toasted our friend, Pat, who is a great beer aficionado.  We thought we would be able to eat there but the kitchen apparently closed at 1400 although the staff didn't bother to tell us.
Even Mozart drank beer
Beer tasting
So it was back to the bus to return to town and drop off the two bottles of beer given us as gifts by the brewery.  Then it was back out again to take the funicular railway, reputed to be the oldest in the world, up to the Festung Fortress.  Here we visited several exhibits, notably the Marionette Museum, before taking a break at a terrace with a great view across the country towards the Untersberg.  We had Apple Strudel and Cheese Strudel.
Marionette Museum
Inside the Festung
View into the plaza by the cathedral
Next we came back down the funicular and walked through St. Peter's graveyard to admire the beautiful head pieces.  Many of them are of wrought iron with gold paint or leaf.
St. Peter's Church

The cathedral was on our way back to the hotel so we decided to look in.  It is in good condition, but a bit dark.  It is enormous.  It has five organs, one large one placed at the back and four placed across the nave.  Mozart is supposed to have played here, presumably the large one at the back.  Without making any comments on the way the church used its power in the past, we left and returned to the hotel.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday 24 May - Salzburg

We left the hotel early and made our way to the station.  There are plenty of trains from Innsbruck to Salzburg but several of the locals were running late and we decided on a regional express.  This was severely delayed on the section through Germany because of extensive engineering work but with the judicious use of a recovery allowance we contrived to arrive almost on time.

Salzburg station looks as if it has been hit by a bomb.  The whole place has been torn up and there are temporary walkways all over.  It looks as if it will be great when completed but until then the station is a mess.

My first impression of modern Salzburg is that it is a mess.  The streets are crowded and many parts of the town are torn up and in a state of disarray.  We went to the Salzburg Tourist Office and bought a 24 hour pass on the transit system and used that to take the trolleybus to the Hotel Wolf.  We are very centrally located in a small hotel close to the important tourist venues.  The room is great, recently refurbished and the floor boards look to be made of solid wood about 15 inched wide.
The paperback gives an indication of the width of the floor boards.  Note the wooden pegs that have been inserted at an earlier time, then sanded over.  This is original and it was restored by an old man who turned up at the hotel every day on his bike.  The gaps between the boards have been plugged and then sanded down.  This wasn't the widest of the boards used.  The whole thing is beautiful.
We went back into the bomb site and tried to get a train that would take us to see the Attersee but OBB were in a state of disarray and with the connections concerned it was evident that it was going to be a difficult task.

We took a trolley bus to see the Mirabel Gardens which are pleasant but very formal.  From there we came back to Mozartsteg and walked around the area of the hotel.
Mirabel Gardens
Supper was outside at a beer place close to the hotel.  The tables had been set up in the street.  It would have been alright but a street cleaner machine came along and went round and round the square.  Other cities, including Ottawa, do this at night.

We had a walk around the old town afterwards.  The street signs are really interesting.  Even McDonalds has been forced by the city to provide a sign in keeping with the area.