Many of you will know that I am originally from Austria, but that I have been living in Toronto for more than 20 years. I left Austria early on, by myself, at the young age of 20 and found a permanent home in Canada’s largest, most multicultural city. I always realized that I originally came from a beautiful country, but somehow the big wide world was calling me and settling in Canada’s most cosmopolitan urban centre has been a great decision.
In the early years I used to go back home every year when my father and grandmother were still alive. My mother had already passed away more than 20 years ago. But from 1995 onwards, after the death of my father and grandmother, I paid very few visits to Austria and thinking of my home country often brought back sad memories of people that had passed away. So for almost 9 years I did not travel back home at all until in 2004 I decided to go back for my 20th high school reunion which in itself was an interesting experience.
My home town, Weiz, in Eastern Styria
Now, almost three years later, there was a big reason to go back to my home town: my brother Ewald’s 50th birthday. This big round birthday of my only sibling was an event I simply couldn’t miss. And in addition, I made the decision to discover my part of Austria through the eyes of a travel writer and really take advantage of the sights and activities that my home town and its surrounding regions have to offer.
The parish church of Gleisdorf
So this Thursday I boarded an Air Transat plane to fly from Toronto to Vienna and one hour into it I realized that we also were making a stop in Montreal which added about two hours on to the trip. As an astute traveller, I always try to save money on travel, and Air Transat was about $500 less expensive than going with Air Canada or Austrian Airlines. But I also realized that Air Transat planes are packed in very tightly and there is very little space between seat rows. As a matter of act, when the lady in front of me tilted back her seat rest I almost thought she was going to knock my teeth out.
View of my home town
But never mind, I realized that for a savings of $500 I would have to sacrifice a little bit. Altogether the flight to Vienna was pleasant and I guess I am lucky since I am one of those people who is able to sleep on the plane. So I landed nice and early yesterday at 8:35 at Vienna Airport. I had done extensive searches on the Internet for an inexpensive car rental and I had located one off-airport rental company: www.interrent.at was considerably more affordable than all major car rental companies at the airport, but it was located in a business park in the town of Schwechat about 10 minutes from the airport.
So following the advice on their website, I booked a door-to-door delivery service called www.airportdriver.at that dropped me off at the front door of Interrent which was located on the second floor of a five-storey office high-rise building. Service was swift and minutes later I had my little Volkswagen Polo, an economical little car, perfect for booting around the foothills of the Austrian Alps. When driving in Europe, fuel efficiency is a major consideration since a litre of gas is going for about Euro 1.15, so a small car that is good on gas is a great choice.
I enjoyed my drive on the A2, the highway that connects Vienna with Graz, the capital of my home province Styria. Apart from some construction work close to Vienna it was a beautiful drive across the Wechsel mountains into the region of Eastern Styria. Along the way I saw various signs pointing to a variety of theatre festivals in the province of Burgenland that are held in various castles and fortresses, a great way to use some of the old medieval buildings that are located all over Austria.
The weather was sunny and very warm and although my car had air conditioning, I had the window open and enjoyed the warm wind blowing in, listening to Ö3, Austria’s modern music radio station. I turned off the highway at Hartberg in eastern Styria, and drove through rolling hills past tiny scenic villages such as Schielleiten, Stubenberg am See, Lebing and Floing to my home town of Weiz. The rolling hills of Eastern Styria are always a pleasant area for a drive.
The Raab Valley
I have to admit driving along the roads that I used to grow up on was a strange feeling – not much had changed visually since I had left 20 years ago. The same farms and villages, mountains and hills were still there, although most of the buildings were beautifully renovated, mordernized and painted. It was obvious to me that Austria has experienced long periods of prosperity since every little town was clean and the architecture was in near perfect condition. No peeling paint, no run-down buildings, no garbage strewn around anywhere – everything appeared to be in tip-top condition.
Finally at about noon time I arrived in my home town and took a quick spin around the centre. Weiz is a district capital with a population of about 9000 people, and it is located about 25 km from the Graz, Austria’s second largest city. It always amazes me that when I ask North Americans about Austria they all seem to know Vienna and Salzburg, and some of them have heard of Innsbruck, but very few people have actually heard of Graz, even though with a population of about 250,000 people it is Austria’s second largest urban centre.
The St. Thomas Church (Taborkirche) in Weiz
Weiz in itself is an industrial town that for many years was centred around the ELIN, a manufacturing company that produces electrical equipment such as transformers and generators for hydro electricity production. In recent years, a Canadian company called Magna International, founded by Frank Stronach, a former resident of Weiz, has built several factories in the area. Magna is the largest automotive parts supplier in the world, and Frank Stronach is considered one of Canada’s (and Austria’s) greatest entrepreneurial success stories. Due to these manufacturing jobs, Weiz has become a rather dynamic and prosperous regional centre and many new developments in the downtown area attest to that fact.
An interesting piece of artwork in the middle of the countryside
The overall feel of the town had stayed the same so after satisfying my initial curiosity I drove to my brother’s house on the outskirts of town where my sister-in-law Anneliese welcomed me; my brother Ewald was still at work. It was great to see her again even though we had just recently seen each other in November of 2006 on the island of Tenerife where my husband and I had gone on a joint vacation with my brother and sister-in-law. After settling in and unpacking my suitcase we went for a quick walk downtown to do some shopping and got caught in a major thunderstorm. So we sat down in a little café in Weiz’ pedestrian zone called “Weberhaus” and waited out the downpour.
Main Square in Gleisdorf