Towns / Cities Visited: 137
Countries Visited: 22
Steps Taken Today: 17,650
Steps Taken Around the World: 3,564,579
Awaking to a beautifully sunny autumn morning, and with my mum feeling refreshed after a long sleep, we readied ourselves and headed out for our first full day of adventuring as a party of three. Walking into the warren of gorgeous architecture that makes up the city centre, and after a little hunting, we managed to find our top attraction: Landeszeughaus, otherwise known as the Styrian Armoury, the largest historic armoury in the world. This unique attraction, unlike many other historic armour and weapons collections, is held in the building erected specifically to house them during their years of use. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Styria sat in the frontline of almost constant war against the Ottoman Empire. This constant fighting meant that the troops needed access to large amounts of armour and arms, and, in turn, this equipment needed somewhere to be housed. As such, in 1642, this building was created to serve such a purpose, and holds around 32,000 pieces. It was in use for one hundred years, before Empress Maria Theresa wanted to close it when the Austrian armed forced were centralised and their base moved to Vienna in the 18th century. The people of Styria, however, wanted to keep it for both practical and sentimental reasons, and thus they petitioned for its preservation. This petition was successful and, thankfully for us, the Empress allowed it to be retained. The articles here were removed and kept safe between three remote castles in Styria during WWII, and were returned after the conflict with no recorded losses: an amazing feat considering how many other historic pieces were stolen or destroyed during the war across Europe.
The entrance is located within an information centre on the ground floor, and takes up the entirety of the upper four floors. Making our way up the staircase, we were must have stepped through some kind of time slip, because we seemed to arrive back in centuries past as we reached the first floor. The well worn stone tiled floor housed row upon row of sturdy wooden racks, and upon these racks sit all we had come to see. This floor is home to the armoury’s gun stores. Scores of long barrelled rifles line the central racks. Against the walls sit dozens of cuirasses, as well as several racks holding countless pistols, handles facing out so that they could be quickly grabbed by the troops that needed them. Up on the dark wood beams above sit a huge collection of powder horns, and nestled between a few of the racks sit a number of small mortar cannons. Finally, there are also a number of small cannons and other heavier artillery. From big to small, if it went bang in 17th and 18th century Austria, one of them probably lives here.
Heading up to the next floor, we came face to face with the majority of the armour collection. Here, the central racks hold scores more cuirasses and the corridor between these racks holds a series of suits of armour, complete from helmet to tassets. This upstanding, disembodied army before us was haunting to say the least. The closer you look, the more you see signs that these are not some prized private collection kept in mint condition, but rather that, although polished, they still hold the scars of the wars they waged. Nicks and dints remind you that although they now sit empty, there was once men nestled within them lunging and ducking out of the way of incoming blades; their lives literally dependent on the fortitude of the metal that encased them.
The next level follows along the same lines of the first two, with its most notable features being some stunningly engraved suits of dress armour, many including images of Christ, worn by their aristocratic owners during ceremonies. Sitting front and centre there is also an impressive full suit of horse armour from the 16th century, which was donated to the collection by the Count of Stubenberg in 1814. There are also a few suits of fluted armour, which was a first for my eyes: the light bouncing playfully off their delicate curves.
The fourth and final floor can only be described as the one place you would want to find yourself stuck if a zombie apocalypse happened to occur while you were in Graz. This level is wall to wall edged and staff weapons: sabres, broadswords, two handed swords, pikes, halberds, glaives, morning stars, and almost anything else that comes to mind when you imagine medieval close quarters fighting. Some of the swords are bigger than I am, so big in fact that I feel like you’d need four hands not two in order to wield them. The walls are also home to their fair share of shields, and on closer inspection you can find some beautiful engraving on some of the blades mounted alongside them. So delicate and intricate is some of this engraving, that is seems as though some whimsical magic have been inscribed in the curves of the lettering: some ancient spell to protect those who carry them. There is something about these kind of weapons which always stirs awe in me. Its easy enough to aim a gun at someone and shoot, but there is a talent and an art required to succeed in a sword fight.
With our hunger for medieval weaponry satiated but a more natural hunger taking over, we scurried back down the stairs and onto the street in search of some lunch. A short wander through the centre of town found us stumbling upon a collection of food stalls, most of which were spruiking German sausages. Luckily for us, that fell right into the basket of ‘Things I could totally go right now’, and in just a few minutes we were standing round a little high top table, tucking into a bratwurst wrapped in a sturdy roll and nestled with sauerkraut and mustard.
Our next destination for the day was, like the Styrian Armoury, included in the ticket we had bought the day previous to visit Eggenberg Palace, as it falls under the care of the the Universalmuseum Joanneum. A short walk, and we ducked into the foyer of Museum für Geschichte (History Museum), which sits in the Palais Herberstein; the former residence of Caroline of Naples and Sicily, the widow of Charles Ferdinand, the Duke of Berry and heir to the French throne. It was a brief visit, mainly due to the fact that the information contained within is presented solely in German. Regardless, it was a good use of half an hour as we swanned around, admiring the extensive collection of artifacts here, from fashion to musical instruments, clocks to globes, crosses to glassware, there seems to be a little bit of everything hidden amongst the rooms of the buildings.
Even if the collection doesn’t strike your fancy, the rooms they are set in are equally as impressive, notably the gorgeous ballroom, complete with crisp white walls, gilded plasterwork and crystal hung chandeliers reflecting in the huge mirrors reminiscent of Versailles. Another of the rooms sports a heavenly fresco which I’m sure would have struck envy into the hearts of the aristocrats it was painted to impress.
There are a couple of other permanent exhibits which call the museum home, including a rather moving one about two children from Graz during the Holocaust. Bertl, a young boy who fled with his family across three continents and managed to survive the rigors of the war; and Adele, a young girl who fled with her family to France, but was unfortunately captured and murdered at Auschwitz. Despite all of the information being, once again, purely in German, the images and artifacts here are moving to the point it transcends language. It is painful to constantly be reminded of the reach and destruction done by the Nazis far and wide across Europe; tucked in every quiet corner, the scars of heinous acts in beautiful places.
From the dark past of Graz we stepped back out into the sun. It was time to move onwards and upwards, quite literally. Coming to the foot of the winding staircase that crisscrosses the steep cliff leading up Schlossberg and the remains of the fortress which once sat atop it. Smiling awkwardly over at my mum, I tried to gauge if she was up for the two hundred and sixty stairs, but never the one to shy away from a challenge, we were soon starting the ascent. It was alot to ask of her as an ex-smoker in her mid fifties still getting over jet lag, but with a few breaks, we soon reached the top, weary legs and all.
As with almost every tiresome upward journey, the reward comes when you turn back around and admire the view, and this place is no exception. The old town sprawls out below, all white washed walls, red brick rooftops, and bronze topped spires. Behind us sat the most recognisable building in the city of Graz: the Uhrturm, the 13th century medieval clock tower which sits proudly amongst the landscaped gardens here. There has been a fortress on this hill since the 10th century, and in the mid 16th century a new vast fortress was erected here. Despite the fact it was never conquered, it was largely demolished by Napoleonic forces under the agreements made in the Treaty of Schönbrunn; however, the clock tower and the bell tower were spared after the people of Graz paid a ransom for their preservation.
As I looked at the unique silhouette this tower casts over the lush gardens below, its hard not to be grateful for the past residents sacrificing their money for the life of this timepiece. Not only is its shape quite striking, its uniqueness extends to the the hands of the clock itself, which are inverse to most others, with the big hand showing the hour and the small hand showing the minute. As quirky as that is, it does make it clear why we generally choose to go the other way. It is hard to guesstimate the exact time when the minute hand sits further back from the numbers, and is occasionally tucked in front of the hour hand.
Moving on up the hill a little further, we passed the people sipping coffee around the cafe which sits at the foot of the Stallbastei Bastion, and eventually we found our way up to the apex of the hill. Here sits a quaint little gazebo which sports a stunning view, and a few old cannons sit close to the 94 metre Turkish well which managed to survive the passage of time as well. The fortress which graced this hill for so many centuries may no longer offer protection to the city below, but the romantic park which fills the void it left offers a different kind of sanctuary.
Taking the much more leisurely road down the far side of the hill, we made it back to ground level and headed for another quick attraction we wanted to fit in: the Doppelwendeltreppe, a double spiral staircase known as the Stairs of Reconciliation. As we reached the entrance of the Burg of Graz, we hesitated. You see, although the Burg was originally built by the Emperor Frederick III in 1438 as a place of residence, and his son’s commissioned expansions are responsible for the addition of the staircase, the building now houses the regional branch of the government, and as such the main gate looked a little too official to be allowed to just wander in. The staircase sits tucked away in the heart of the castle, we knew that much, but it is not obviously signed, so our hunt for it was a bit of a wild goose chase. This chase was luckily lacking in the aggression of a victimised goose, but it did leave us wandering in the gardens beside the Burg in the hope we’d find a sign or some other entrance. The gardens, it must be said, are gorgeous in their own right. Full size Roman statues stand alongside the remnants of a moat, and a series of busts sit on pedestals, backed by the changing autumn hues of the ivy creeping up the walls of the building.
Finding a back way in the central area of the Burg from a rear entrance, we spotted a group of school kids being led into a building. Figuring that they were likely here for the same purpose, we crept over and found that they were indeed clambering up and down the staircase. Ironically, the entrance is a short walk from the main entrance, and despite its formal appearance, you are, in fact, allowed to just swan in. We waited patiently for the kids to disperse, then took the opportunity to admire this beautiful and functional feat of architecture. I understand that there is only so much entertainment you can get from a staircase, especially one that doesn’t lead to anywhere accessible. Regardless, that didn’t stop us having a little fun going up opposite sides of each set of stairs, then meeting on the landings, before peeling off only to meet again on the next floor. It was almost bittersweetly symbolic of all of the people we meet in life who come and go and yet always come back again.
The day was slipping away by this point, but as we headed back to our accommodation, we took the opportunity to take an afternoon tea break at the Murinsel: an artificial floating island in the middle of the Mur River, which connects to both banks of the river by a ramp and boasts a little cafe with a peaceful view out over the water. It was a quaint little place to decompress after such an action packed day. Hot chocolate for my partner and me, and a coffee for my mum helped to revive us, but we found ourselves a little disappointed with the streudel we ordered to accompany them. Served cold, it left the pastry lacking its warm crispness you hope for in such a classic Austrian dessert, and the pear and poppyseed version we had such high hopes for, left an unappealing flavour lingering on our palates.
Day done, we settled in at home for a hearty meal and some rest and relaxation. As I revelled in all that had come to pass today in the warmth of our bed, it was the Styrian armoury that had won my heart the most, not just because of its unique contents, but because it stirred in me a connection to my childhood. Like so many kids, there was a few Disney movies which were staples in our house in my younger years. The movies your parents probably never want to watch again because you insisted on watching them constantly. For me, one of those was Bedknobs and Broomsticks. ‘How does this film set in mid WWII England relate to a medieval armoury in regional Austria?’ I hear you ask. Anyone who has seen it would know that all of those suits of armour seem to be one ‘Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee’ away from springing to life. In the wonderland that is my nighttime imagination, I could visualise saying those magic words to conjure substitutiary locomotion; I could imagine seeing a twitch here and there at first, followed by a creak or two, then all of a sudden the disembodied armour marching forward, fetching weapons from the racks, and heading down the stairs to face some unknown enemy.
As a child who grew up in a country where the golden age of suits of armour was long gone before it was settled by the English, the idea of anything even resembling this actually existing seemed like such a foreign idea, and yet just hours ago I was standing before a battalion one spell away from bringing my imaginings to life. It seems to me that the more I travel, the smaller the world becomes and the closer I feel to a past which once seemed so distant. In travelling I have found a way to connect not only with my childhood, but with all those who have come before me; an interconnectedness with the world that I never felt in my youth, and one I hope to carry with me forever.