Day: 213 & 214
Towns / Cities Visited: 137
Countries Visited: 22
Steps Taken Today: 30,083
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,546,929
So we had finally come to a juncture where we had been forced to choose between taking a four train, eight hour saga to get where we wanted to go, or try and organise a more expensive but hugely more convenient private transfer. After much back and forth on the pros and cons, we decided to bite the bullet and foot the bill for the transfer. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself, ‘How much is my time worth?’. A little tentative, we awoke, packed our bags, checked out of our Airbnb, and wandered downstairs, standing at our agreed meeting address and waiting. We need not have worried though, and right on time our ride rolled up. Our chauffeur was helpful, despite speaking next to no English, and we settled comfortably into the back seat of his Mercedes. A quiet two and a half hour drive, which involved a little more speeding than we would have liked, saw us arrive safely across the border in our new location: Graz, Austria.
Dropping off our bags at our accommodation, we left to do a little exploring, as we were a tad early and the little Airbnb apartment we were staying in was still in the process of being cleaned. Our planned activities would not be beginning until tomorrow, so we took the opportunity to leisurely stroll around, finding a cute little restaurant sporting, somewhat surprisingly, a selection of Yugoslavian mainstays. Feeling like a cheap, quick meal that we could reminisce over, we popped in. It wasn’t fancy, or fashionable; in fact, it was the kind of stark decor you so often see in the shops of immigrants with a dream but not too many dollars to their name. It was clearly run by immigrants from former Yugoslavia, making the food they know and love, and mainly selling it to people just like them, who found refuge here in Austria during or after the war in their home countries. As we chowed down on our burek and cevapi, we were transported back to Bosnia, joyfully reliving our memories of a country which had surprised us so much with its hospitality and beauty. The food was authentic, fulfilling, and, in all honesty, reminded me of all of the wonderful food available in my home city of Melbourne: a melting pot of immigrants from the world over, sharing their cuisine.
Stomachs full, we wandered a little more, before swinging past the supermarket for supplies, and back to our accommodation to enjoy a relaxed night. You see, we were to have another join us tomorrow, thus the wonders of this city were to wait until our group was complete.
The morning sprung anew, and we rose, readied ourselves, and headed off to the train station. A short journey saw us arrive at Graz airport: your standard small domestic airport on the outskirts of the city. The flight we awaited landed right on time, and before long our travel buddy for the next six weeks stepped out into arrivals: my mum, Judy. With a quick hug and hello, we were scurrying back to the train station. Missing the train back by a few minutes, we were left with a fifty minute wait, but with six months of stories to catch up on, and my mum’s flight to hear about, the time passed in a flash.
Arriving back at our apartment, we paused so my mum could have a quick coffee break, before heading on out to begin our adventures. As anyone who has experienced the long haul that is getting from Australia to Europe, if you arrive in the morning, it is often easiest to hit the ground running and push through the fatigue, in order to try and align sleep cycles as quickly as possible with the completely contrary timezone. With the day at its peak, we decided to break the walk to our destination for the day with a pit stop for lunch, and what better pit stop food than a quick kebab. A filling and delicious mealin us, and we finished our walk through the dappled sunlight of this cool autumn day.
Eventually, we made it to Schloss Eggenberg, the historic old palace which sits to the west of the city. Paying our entrance fee, we ducked through the gates, and made the journey down the gravelled path, between the avenue of beautiful shady trees with their changing colours, up to the grand palace which sits proudly in the centre of the grounds here. Its golden bordering, moss mottled red brick roof, and contrasting white washed walls, coupled with the symmetry of the architecture, makes for a striking residence. This gorgeous Baroque building was constructed up until the 17th century, although some parts of it date back to the middle ages when Balthasar Eggenberger, the financier to Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III of the House of Habsburg, bought property in west Graz, and set up his families residence here. By 1470, a gothic chapel had been constructed in the tower which now sits at the centre of the palace. Later, in 1625, Balthazar’s grandson commissioned the new palace to be built around the tower, and his families close connection with the Habsburg family kept them in the upper echelons of society for many generations. In 1717, the last male heir of the Eggenberg family died as a teen, and with him, the family name died out. With this still being a time when women could not inherit their families fortunes, the palace and Eggenberg lands fell to the husband of the last Eggenberger princess, who financed a renewal of the aging palace. Over the following century, many changed and renovations were made; however, luckily for us, and art historians the world over, the upper floor which holds the highly decorated state rooms, was left untouched, and, as such, are still sports its incredible interiors.
We had signed up for the next available tour, but with a little time to spare, we took the opportunity to meander around the grounds: admiring the statues; watching the ducks playing on the pond, and the peacocks strutting around the lawns; and pausing to enjoy the tranquility of the peaceful gardens, from the Master’s Garden at the rear of the palace, to the Planetary Garden, and the cute, Chinese style parasol sitting atop its rose bush covered mound.
From here we headed into the Coin Cabinet. This small museum houses a collection of historic coins from Styria, the region of Austria which calls Graz its capital, dating back to the middle ages, and even a rare medallion from 3rd century Flavia Solva, an ancient Roman municipium which used to exist in Styria. The collection contains around 70,000 pieces, and even though the information is all in German, the provision of magnifiers to view the superb detail of these coins allows you to admire them nonetheless. Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, photography is forbidden, but luckily the internet allows me to at least show you the following glimpses.
The time had come, and we made our way back to the entrance of the palace to join our tour of the state rooms. Before we heading inside though, we took a moment to look around the central courtyard of this square palace. From the cloister-esque covered walkways on each level, to the shell clad grotto with its trickling fountain, this area is serene, if a little sparse. I’m sure it once housed plants and statues, but even without the accoutrements, its grand scale is hard to ignore.
Following out guide upstairs, we began our the tour, which focuses on the state rooms that were so well preserved when they were overlooked for renovations. As a result, the rooms still display the stunning ceiling frescoes which have graced them for hundreds of years. With their flashes of colour, and carefully painted figures, these ceilings depict mythological scenes, as well as historical, biblical, and modern (or at least modern for that time) scenes. The images are thought invoking, with allegories and celestial legend woven into most of them. The pinnacle of this is found in the breathtaking Planatary Room: the massive and elaborately decorated grand hall which creates the meeting point between the princes state rooms in one wing, and the princesses in the other. This room dates back to a time when there were only seven known planets, and this number included the moon. As your eyes move around the room you notice how much thought and planning went into the art and its placement here. The seven main ceiling paintings relate to not only the seven planets, but also the seven days of the week, the seven alchemistic metals, and the seven coats of arms of the Eggenberg family. The central ceiling fresco depicts the sun, fronted by its associated Roman god Apollo. Surrounding it are smaller paintings, similarly depicting the gods associated with the other known planets, and whom were also connected to each day of he week. Just as the Sun and Apollo were connected to Sunday, Mercury (the planet and Roman god) were associated with Wednesday, Jupiter with Thursday, and so on. Each of these paintings also have the gods depicted with the likeness of a member of the Eggenberg family, and there are many implied connections between the family member and what they represent to the family unit. The four corner paintings correspond with the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth; likewise, the wall paintings correspond with the twelve signs of the zodiac and the mythical stories behind them. The more you look here, the more you see, and that’s without even mentioning the stunning stucco work, series of glistening chandeliers, and checkered marble floor.
Its not just the Planetary Room that contains hidden meaning and a connection to numbers, the entire building is a nod to the year, and the numbers associated with it. We stood in awe as the guide recited these careful inclusions. There are 365 exterior windows here, one for every day of the year. Each of the floors is home to 31 rooms, one for each of the days in the longest months. The three rooms which sit in the central axis point of the front, central, and rear wing (the planetary room, the chapel, and the theatre), when subtracted from the total number, produce the figures 30, 29, and 28: the variant amounts of days in the other months. The 24 state rooms correspond with the 24 hours in a day, twelve on each side of the palace, representing the 12 hours of day on the better lit south facing side, and the 12 hours of night on the poorer lit north facing side. These 24 rooms have a collective 52 windows, one for each week of the year. Adding the further 8 windows of the Planetary room, you end up with the number 60, to represent the number of seconds in a minute, and minutes in an hour. Add this to the days of the weeks and months represented in the Planetary room, this palace truly is equal parts calendar and grand residence.
The interiors of Eggenberg Palace are just as ostentatious as the art. They contain countless examples of period furniture, and the walls are clad in rich damask and mounted with elegant sconces. It is almost intimidatingly luxurious here, and the sheer number of light fixtures only serve to reiterate just how wealthy the Eggenberg family was. It was in this setting that our guide took the opportunity to give us a little etymology lesson. The word luxurious is routed in the Latin word ‘lux’, meaning light. The fact that, historically speaking, providing a well lit environment was only truly achievable by those with the monetary means to purchase countless candles and oil lamps, the word luxurious thus came to represent elegant, expensive, and sumptuous things; things like those which fill this palace.
As our tour came to a close, we made our way to see one of the palace’s other central rooms, the Palace Church. This room, which was once the theatre, is a stunning sight to behold. Its crisp white walls and large windows on one side, bathe the space in light and serve to highlight the beauty held within. The checkered floors match that of the Planetary room, and the rich wood of the pews almost beckon you to sit and meditate on the world. The dark stone which sits as a backdrop to the alter and its gold features, further draw the eye to the central image of Christ. Even for a non-believer, its easy to see the appeal of having such a calm and tranquil place for quiet contemplation in your home.
With our tour at an end, but some time to spare, we made our through the art collection in the Alte Galerie and back out into the gardens. Walking through the Planetary Garden, to the Archaeological Museum. This extension of the Universalmuseum Joanneum, which also cares for the Palace and the Coin Cabinet, offers a modern and minimalistic space filled with a large collection of ancient artifacts from in and around Styria, and further afield. Like many similar museums, a large portion of the collection is made up of pottery, statues, and bits and bobs dug up in excavations. In the ongoing theme of questionable collecting of the upper classes of the 17th-19th centuries, there are also a number of Egyptian sarcophagi and mummies, which most certainly should not be sitting in a display case in regional Austria. The museum also includes the Lapidarium, which houses mosaic floors, and carved stones from Roman ruins across Styria. The most striking additions to the collection, however, are the Strettweg Cult Wagon and the Mask of Kleinklein, which were discovered by accident when they found the burial chamber of an Iron Age prince. The audio guide helps give an insight into the pieces, and despite our fatigue, it was still a fascinating visit.
The day was waning by this point, as was the energy of my jet lagged mother, and, as such, we made our way back to our Airbnb, via the train station to purchase tickets for the next days bus ride to our next destination. A home cooked dinner, and my mum was soon toddling off to bed, while we settled in to get a little blogging done. As I lay in bed later, thinking about the day, I couldn’t help but ponder how strange it was to have my mum in the next room. My mind flitted back to picking her up from the airport that morning, and I was, once again, struck with the feeling which had overcome me in the arrivals hall: a feeling I hadn’t experienced since I’d met my best friend in Poland, and my brother in Turkey and then Romania. That being the surreal sense of seeing something to wonderfully familiar, in a whole unfamiliar setting. A person who strikes so many memories in my heart, emerging from a place in which I have none.
Like so many young adults like me, who moved out of home at eighteen, and far from your family home to study and work; it’s strange to look back and realise that you have gone from relying on seeing your parent every day, to fully functioning without them close to you. Despite the distance between us over the past nine years, my mum still brings a sense of calm to my world with her presence: the sense of safety only your childhood guardian can provide. There is something about mothers (or for those with different family dynamics: dads, guardians, grandparents, aunties, uncles, siblings, or whoever cared for you in your formative years) that makes you feel bulletproof. My mother, although not always the warmest or most sympathetic person (so much so that the Judy Robinson School of Compassion, is a running joke in my family), she is still the person I call with my life dilemmas, or when I need a conscience check on major decisions. She is stoic, sensible, and strong: the epitome of a single mother, if ever there was one. She is someone who rarely says she’s proud of me or loves me, but then again, she doesn’t need to for me to know it. She is not perfect, but then neither are any of us. Despite it all, I have never had to question her unwavering love for my brother and myself.
We used to travel together often when I was younger, in fact, when I completed Year 12, I forwent celebrating with friends at Schoolies, and instead spent two weeks exploring New Zealand with her beside me. It has been many years since I have taken the time to organise and take a trip with her: something I think we all neglect as adult life steamrolls our time. As I fell asleep though, it was with excitement in my heart at being fortunate enough to spend the next six weeks exploring parts of this distant continent with the person who feels most like home. If you ever get around to reading this one mum, I love you in all of your imperfect perfection.