And here we pick up where the story last left off: on the gorgeous three-hour train ride from Vienna to Graz [the capital city of the region of Styria]. After arriving in Graz, we were picked up by our friends and headed off to a party with Bavarian pretzels, delicious open-faced sandwiches, and weisswurst (which we later found out was sausage made of pig brains…). So after restoring our empty tummies to full, we went straight back to the hostel and passed out.
The next morning, we were picked up bright and early for our first adventure in the Austrian countryside: the Riegersburg. It was about an hour away from Graz by car- apparently it’s rather difficult to find by public transportation, so we were feeling pretty lucky that we had an Austrian at the wheel! First of all: the Austrian countryside is beautiful. Especially in autumn, the rolling hills and changing leaves seemed never-ending and were just spectacular- my little eyes were glued out the window the entire way!
As I mentioned, I’m not positive about how one would hop a bus or train to Riegersburg, but I’m sure it can be done and is absolutely worth the trip. Photos do it better justice than I can explain [so take a peek below], but Riegersburg is an ancient medieval fortress built atop a long-extinct volcano- incredible, right? We parked the car at the bottom and started the long, winding ascent to the top. It’s absolutely a manageable climb that takes you past vineyards situated upon the hill, crenellated stone walls, and breathtaking views of the trees below. Once at the top, we stayed true to our poor little student habits and elected not to pay the 9.5 euros for a tour of the inside of the fortress, but instead ate lunch at the Austrian restaurant after checking out the moats around the fortress. We ate outdoors on the small patio overlooking all the scenery and had a DELICIOUS lunch of fritattensuppe and holundersaft- Austrian food is my hands-down favorite (sorry, Chipotle!) Next time, we will be sure to enter the fortress, if only to see the Witch Museum on the lower level that sounds fascinating! And for children, the raptor exhibition is supposed to be very exciting. All in all, it was a great Austrian find that we probably never would have visited on our own, so we felt extremely lucky.
Next up: The Zotter Chocolate Factory. And yes, this experience was as ridiculously great as it sounds! The factory was only about a ten minute drive from the Riegersburg, and is known for being one of the best chocolate factories in Austria. They are also known for their sustainability, fair trade, and more importantly- making so many different flavors of chocolate that you just can’t believe your eyes! On the tour, you learn about their ethics of business, how the chocolate is produced, and get to sample—oh, hundreds of different types of chocolate! You can sample different flavors of chocolate fondue, chocolate bars, marshmallows, hot chocolate, and essentially chocolate in any form that you could ever ask for it to be in. My favorite was either the Himbeer (raspberry) or the chili-flavored chocolate, and you can bet I bought more than a few bars home with me.
Now, here’s where the trip gets exciting. Our roommate’s younger sister is graduating from high school this year, and when Austrians graduate: they have a ball. Not a party, not a small gathering, a ball with gowns and tuxedoes and champagne and lots and lots of Austrians! We were lucky enough to be invited to this maturaball, which took place at the Congress building in Graz. Needless to say, it was the classiest event I’ve ever attended!
The graduates all wore white gowns or suits, and performed a dance that they had been practicing for MONTHS. There was the opening ceremony (all in German) where the graduates brought out roses to thank their teachers and the headmistress, who later came out to officially announce the opening of the ball. The entire event was filled with prizes, the graduates selling baked goods, families and friends mingling, ballroom dancing, and performances- it was incredible. There was also a casino attached to the Congress that we visited- I felt as if I was in Casino Royale! Jackets were required, ladies and gentlemen were gambling in gowns and tuxedos, and we blended right in. We also won twenty-five euros at roulette- and I’m never one to scoff at extra euros. The party lasted until 2 a.m., when the Congress closed and the graduates went off to a club in Graz until sunrise. It was undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, while being a fairly standard event for the Austrians.
Since I don’t want to skim over Graz and the rest of our time in the city, I’ll end the Austrian tale here for now. Check back for more on Graz, Styrian pumpkin-seed oil, some very delicious wienerschnitzel, and how one should travel with miniature Jagermeister bottles- it’s trickier than you think…
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