Hiking the Raab River and Exploring the Provincial Capital of Graz

This region is now marketed as the “Almenland’, which literally means “Alpine meadow country”. The Tourism Region Sommeralm -Teichalm represents the largest contiguous high-altitude alpine meadow area in Europe. It features a lake, many hiking trails, ski lifts and phenomenal views into the surrounding countryside. In addition, the area is used as grazing pastures for hundreds of Alpine oxen, animals whose tender and tasty meat is prized highly by chefs and restaurant owners throughout the entire area.

A huge wooden Alpine ox on the Teichalm

Poor weather returned on Friday, so I spent a quiet day making visits to acquaintances and doing errands. The highlight of the day was a classical concert organized by the local Weiz Lions Club: a charity concert and fundraiser that featured musicians and an orchestra from AIMS, the American Institute of Musical Studies, a Graz-based organization that offers intense summer vocal, piano and music programs to international students, most of whom come from the United States.

The AIMS Concert – dozens of young talented singers and musicians

We listened to pieces by Mozart, Strauss and Verdi and were thoroughly impressed by the young sopranos, tenors and musicians who put on an outstanding performance. The event even raised 15,000 Euros for the local charity. I interviewed several of the young music students after the concert and they were thoroughly enjoying their international exchange program and sure to return home with memories of a lifetime.

Aims concert emcee Andrea Huber with international music students

Finally, the sun had returned and my second last day in Austria was going to be gorgeous. My second photo safari through my home town resulted in several encounters with acquaintances whom I had not seen for more than 20 years. Old memories were stirred up even more when I connected with my school friends Klaudia and Doris. During our walk up to the local Weizberg we also had a celebrity connection: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother, father and brother are buried in the Weiz cemetery. His parents lived in this town for many years, and his father was a local police officer.

Three peas in a pod

Of course we reminisced about our high school adventures and after a scrumptious garden lunch we went to go hiking on the nearby Schöckel mountain. The Schöckel is the largest mountain in the region around Weiz and provides a phenomenal 360 degree panorama over the entire region. Southerly views extend into the Slovenian and Hungarian plains, and northerly vistas feature the high Alpine peaks of Northern Styria. To the east and to the west the scenic Styrian hill country opens up. The three of us climbed up the steepest portion of the mountain, securely equipped with our Nordic walking poles. Several restaurants offer refreshments and hearty Austrian food at the summit area, and high-speed excitement is provided by the summer tobogganing track that runs down the mountain, a nice adrenaline kick I just had to experience.

We have reached the summit!

After our hike back down we stopped off at Doris’ house, a beautiful property in the countryside, that features a brand new pond and large garden. Doris even equipped us with delicious freshly picked peaches from her father’s orchards. Klaudia and I headed back to Weiz and an hour later we met up again for a backyard barbeque at my brother’s place. Klaudia’s entire family, her sister Andrea with daughters Nina and Katja as well as the two grandparents joined us for a delicious dinner that showcased my brother’s culinary skills in a multi-course feast.

Dinner will be ready soon, fresh from the fire…

My last full day in Austria had arrived and Ewald and Anneliese had planned a special outing: an excursion to one of Austria’s most famous fortresses – the Riegersburg. In existence for more than 850 years and located in the border region of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, this impressive fortification has withstood many attacks from the east and was never conquered. It has often been referred to as the “strongest fortification of Christianity”, having successfully defended repeated attacks by Turks and Magyars.

One of the many gates of the Riegersburg

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