Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - Day14 - Up, Up, Up Into The Mountains Plus A Discussion On Transportation

Today was a full Camera Sherpa laden day with driving into the mountains to the west of Graz. Unfortunately for my own photo journalism when I'm doing this type of duty, it is difficult for me to take my own pictures. The reason for this is that we are usually driving around through country side that is very unforgiving from the stand point of requiring driving concentration.  The Sherpa is typically going through narrow winding mountainous roads that have little in the way of places to stop. At any moment...ANY MOMENT...the photographer can call out, "STOP HERE!" This often can literally not be done. Then we might find something that is barely acceptable as a place to pull off but only if I stay with the car in case someone comes out of their driveway or a bus comes into its bus stop. Meanwhile the photographer will be wandering around on narrow roads with no walk ways trying to get back to the spot where the 'shot' was best.

In addition it was pretty grey and cold up in the mountains today so it wasn't very good picture taking conditions.

Often when we're wandering around in the countryside in country where we don't speak the language, finding something to eat can be an adventure. TripAdvisor App that I extol works best in urban areas. The area we were driving in today was clearly 'out-of-season' and a number of places we stopped at were closed. Then there is the problem when you go through a town and you are looking for a place to park but end up out of the town before you find that place to park. 

We were really hungry and needed a bathroom break bad as we were heading out in the boonies when we came to his place at the top of a pass.

It was cold - 41 degrees F

Not the greatest meal but pretty darn appreciated

The soups were particularly good (generally the case in our experience)

This was a meat broth with a liver dumpling - not as livery as you would imagine - I liked it a lot

This was a chicken broth with a dumpling 
(Trust me on this - it was a matzo ball!)

I had some fish that was just okay

But Wife's schnitzel was pretty good

Now a bit about how we're getting around. Our rental car is a Peugeot 308 Station Wagon. We are very pleased with it. It has tons of room in the back for our luggage (not always easy with a European car), yet is very maneuverable, gets around in the tight Euro roads, and has a good turning radius. The gearing is good so you can use 1st and 2nd gear effectively for the steep roads. Finally it is a diesel and is getting 45 miles to the gallon! Plus diesel is only around $4 a gallon so we are spending way less than we ever have on fuel for a rental car in Europe.

Our trusty Peugeot

As it is black we can almost get away with going whatever speed we like. You who have driven in Europe know there is one set of driving rules for the masses and then another for those who drive black expensive cars like Mercedes, BMW, Audi etc. They get to drive as fast as they like and get very pissed off if you are blocking the passing lane going only 10 or 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit.

In town we're using the tram which is very convenient. If you've ever been on the Amsterdam trams you will realize that the drivers here are chauffeurs compared to Amsterdam's demolition derby style tram driving.  An all you can use one week pass costs about $15.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - Day13 - If You Didn't Get Enough Climbing Yesterday...

We ended up doing a lot more our feet yesterday than we thought with the climbing up the Grad in Ptuj.  So we figured we'd take it easier today. There is a Basilica, the Mariatrost, that is way on the end of one of the tram lines on the opposite side of town from where we are. So we took the tram to the very last stop on the line.  There we found the:

Except that it appears to have been closed

So on to the Basilica

Except for one minor issue

Less than happy camper Wife contemplating


And more steps

214 of them to be exact

But once we were there it was a very beautiful church and we had it all to ourselves

Even the stone tiles were nice

And there were great views of the area around the city

It was Noon time just as we finished and the bells were chiming

But of course if you go UP the steps that means you have to go DOWN the steps

And down

And down

But if you are a stalwart Wife you are rewarded in the end with a nice Aperol Spritzer

Our next stop was the Botanical Gardens but first we had lunch which was much better than yesterday as we once again were making use of the trusty TripAdvisor App.  Lunch was an interesting cafe inside a home decorating store - that was different.

I had a cream of Brussels sprouts soup and a salad while Wife had a filet of sea bream

The new greenhouses in the Botanical Garden are another example of the modern art existing with the traditional in Graz

After all the climbing and walking we stopped at the Sacher Cafe to experience the 'Original Sacher Torte'

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - Day12 - Another Pin In The Map, Add Slovenia

Graz is only about 40 minutes by highway from the border to Slovenia. We're scheduled to spend a couple of days in the center of Slovenia in a couple of weeks but since we were looking for some driving trips in this area and we didn't want to do another weinstrasse there were a couple of places in the eastern part of Slovenia that looked interesting. Plus we just wanted to get our feet wet in the country.

Thus we found ourselves in the town of:

We chose Ptuj because it was not too far, was small enough for us to see in a couple of hours and leave ourselves some time to drive through the countryside on the way back.

Ptuj's heydays were as a Roman town given citizenship under Trajan and then in the High Middle Ages around the 13th to 15th centuries when it was an important trading center. The coming of the Turkish invasions into this area during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries left Ptuj on the borderland and pretty much consigned it to the backwaters of history.

Ptuj has a pretty well preserved central area

If you've been following my travel posts over the years on this blog you know that I'm big on all the cool places you find off the beaten path. In Ptuj, the Grad or Castle was one of those places.

I'm pretty sure that if we could read Slovenian that we'd have understood that the direct translation of Grajska Ulica is "big ass climb". But look at the symbol for that guy walking. Does he look like he's going up hill to you? No he looks like he's on level ground. Yes, yes, yes, I know you're going to point out that the arrow is pointing up. So what's your point.

Going up

Still going up

Forced smile upon realization that we're maybe...maybe halfway up

The final push

With a reward of nice views of the town

Once there we decided to spring for the price of admission (4 Euros each with our Senior discount)
This was great value. There was the whole history of the Lords of Ptuj, a museum of carnival costumes and their history, highly decorated rooms that matched the Schloss Eggenberg, a weapons museum and one of the coolest things, a music museum.

I try to limit my pictures of a lot of these places because it can all start looking the same after a while. So these hopefully represent the highlights.

The Carnival Costume Musuem

There was so much art work.
I took this picture because I liked how they displayed the pieces

And there were many, many of the lavish rooms (these dating from the 17th and 18th century) but I thought these few were particularly impressive

Even the tickets to get in were cool

The weapons museum

de-I as Thirty Years War Infantry Man

Finally there was the music museum.
It seems this town has had a centuries old tradition of music. 
They had exhibits going from Roman to Medieval, to Baroque and on to the Modern period. When you went into each room a sensor would start playing music from the appropriate period.
Very cool

No gastronomic post today as our lunch was pretty mediocre

We finished up driving through the countryside. Lots of typically winding narrow hilly European country roads. Lots of scenery but tough for me to find places to pull of so Wife could get her shots and at that I usually had to stay with the car.

You've heard about the Syrian refugee situation. When we were coming back into Austria, they were checking cars before letting them through. Wife had forgotten her passport so they wouldn't let her in.  I had to drive back to Graz, get her passport, drive back into Slovenia, pick her up and drive back.

Actually nothing of the sort happened. They just waved us through.