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GRAZ AUSTRIA TOUR

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The Grand Hotel Wiesler hosts a popular Sunday jazz brunch, between October and June. You may spot Arnold Schwarzenegger there, if he is visiting Graz. The second largest city in Austria is his home town.

Outdoor cafe next to medieval building
Outdoor café next to medieval building
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Schwarzenegger was born in Thal, less than five kilometers away. Several of his friends live near Graz.

The former Governor of California and former actor, who earned fame in Hollywood films like Pumping Iron and Terminator, has not forgotten Graz. When Arnold Schwarzenegger visits Graz, few outsiders recognize him, because he wears the typical loden costume of the southeast province of Styria — forest green wool shorts and jacket, with an alpine hat.

What endeared Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Austrians was not his celebrity status. It was the Special Olympic Games that he set up in 1993, in the ski resort of Schladming, which earned their respect.

Styrian pumpkin seed oil

The rolling hills surrounding Graz are also famed for vineyards that produce wines like welschriesling, and the tart rosé, schilcher. Both wines go well with traditional Styrian food like sauerkraut and bacon strudel.

"Black gold" or pumpkin seed oil is a popular condiment, which imparts a nutty flavour to everything from salads to scrambled eggs.

Jazz musician
Jazz musician
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

When in Graz, Arnold Schwarzenegger usually stays at the Grand Hotel Wiesler. He dines at many of the good restaurants in Graz, including the Landhaus Keller.

Jazz music festival

Graz is the jazz capital of Austria. One of the six universities in Graz, the University of Music and Performing Arts offers a four-year degree program in jazz.

In July and early August, musicians flock to the capital of Styria to attend the Graz Jazz Summer Festival and workshops. Visitors and residents can buy tickets for concerts on the open air stage on the Schlossberg.

Weekends are the best time to venture into the Bermuda Triangle, a maze of cafés, beisls (the Austrian equivalent to French bistros) and jazz clubs in Graz. Its name comes from rumours of students, who have wandered through the dining and entertainment area for days before reappearing.

While 44,000 students add vitality to Graz, which has a population of 300,000, the picturesque architecture is a reminder that Graz is nearly 900 years old. UNESCO added Graz to its list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1999.

Schlossberg Graz

The best place to absorb the harmonious blend of young and old is in the Hauptplatz, the main square of Graz. A bustling morning flower and vegetable market competes for attention with young musicians playing arias from Carmen.

Painted patrician buildings, with red tile roofs, surround the square below the verdant Schlossberg (Castle Mountain). During the Napoleonic wars, the fortifications, which once crowned its 475-meter-high peak, were destroyed.

The only remnants are the bell tower and clock tower (uhrturm), ransomed by Graz citizens from the French, in 1809. The clock still tells the time, although its hour and minute hands are interchanged.

Woman at Hofbackerei door with double-headed golden eagle crest of Habsburgs
Woman at Hofbackerei door with double-headed golden eagle crest of Habsburgs
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Below the Schlossberg, are the Dom, a 15th-century Gothic cathedral and a green-domed mausoleum built for Emperor Ferdinand II. The double-headed golden eagle crest of the Habsburgs still hangs over the carved wooden facade of a nearby bakery. Inside, wonderful seed and salt-sprinkled breads fill the shelves.

Along the cobbled pedestrian streets of the old Butchers' Quarter, are houses with Madonna-filled niches, dating back to the Counter Reformation. Other homes have bronze bars on their roofs to prevent avalanches in winter.

Graz Landhaus

A stroll down the shop-lined Herrengasse leads to the splendid 16th-century Renaissance Landhaus, now home to the Styrian parliament. Three tiers of arcades, and balconies overflowing with red and yellow flowers, surround the courtyard.

In spite of its beauty, nothing in Graz surpasses the Provincial Armoury of Styria (Landeszeughaus), next door on Herrengasse. The five-story building houses the oldest and largest historical collection of arms in the world — more than 32,000 pieces, dating from the 15th century, when the Ottoman Turks invaded Styria.

English guided tours of the Graz arsenal take you back to the days of Sir Lancelot and King Arthur. Phalanxes of shining armour march across the wooden floors. Racks of flintlock rifles and menacing halberds line the walls. And powder flasks dangle from the rafters above.

At one end of the first floor, several cannons stand ready to load with long-handled ramrods. Pumpkin-size iron balls rest at their sides, with umbilical chains so they can be dragged back up to the launch site and reused.

Suits of armour

The Graz Armoury inventory includes sharp bayonets and pistols, with handles of inlaid calf bone. One of the bayonets attaches to the muzzle of a firearm, and also converts to a hammer and a screwdriver. It's a medieval version of a Swiss army knife.

Suits of armour and halberds, Provincial Armoury of Styria (Landeszeughaus).
Suits of armour and halberds, Provincial Armoury of Styria (Landeszeughaus).
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Shelves display spare parts: metallic elbows, articulated gauntlets and lobster-tailed helmets. Much of the equipment bears the scars of battle. Everything is stored exactly the way it was when the Graz arsenal was in use.

The suits of armour draw the most attention. Some have V-shaped breastplates, designed to deflect blows from swords. Others are fluted to mimic pleats in civilian clothing, or intricately engraved to attract attention during parades, tournaments and jousting matches. There's even a 40-kilogram suit of armour for a horse, and several miniature suits of armour for children, who started training at the age of 13.

Only Arnold Schwarzenegger could say if these chivalrous knights inspired him, when he was young, to take up bodybuilding. The only thing that is certain is that the men of steel and their weapons of war are one of the highlights of the beautifully preserved medieval city of Graz.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Graz Tourismus: www.graztourismus.at

Austrian Tourist Office: www.austria.info

More things to see & do in Austria:

Vienna's Hofburg, Schonbrunn, Belvedere Palace and Grinzing Tour

Austrian Ski Holidays

Vienna Vacation

Durnstein and Weissenkirchen in Austria's Wachau Wine Region

Innsbruck, Heiligenblut and Wattens Crystal World Tour