Europe | Austria | South East Austria | Klagenfurt – Going to heaven on the invisible bus
Klagenfurt was one of those places we hated at first, but by the end of the day couldn’t wait to return.
It was another gorgeous sunny day, so I booked us on a fairly early train so we’d get to enjoy the outdoors.
While Sexton waited at Vienna South station, I nipped into the Austrian Military museum, a huge, ornate building, worth a look in itself (have I said that before? I guess one expects museum buildings to be grand. This one sure was.)
As a final blow to my unsuccessful research, the 19th century wing was closed for refurbishment. Not that I’d have found my great grandfather in there. The pure scale of the Austrian military at that time is so huge I’d still be looking for a needle in a haystack even if I was sure of his name. But the museum might have given me some clue, maybe about Russian soldiers in the Austrian army
So instead I sketched armour, admired centuries’ old objects, shivered at the more modern canons, checked out the WW1 moustaches (much like the one sported by Sexton’s good friend Billy Childish), and wandered curiously into the WWII section. How would the Austrians handle this? It’s one thing to display cases of swords from wars long before our great grandparents’ time; quite another when some of the villains are still alive.
There were nazi uniforms and memorabilia and an old street sign that read ‘Adolf Hitler Platz’. Then there were several glass cases with skeletons in nazi uniforms eating brains. They had tiny brooms for moustaches. Bulging plastic eyes and big teeth. Barbed wire ran through them and there was blood everywhere. One had a wolf’s head.
I bought some 19th century postcards and noticed they had no WWII ones. Walking back, thinking how weird it was for ME of all people to be poking around military museums. Right before going back to London to protest the up coming war on Iraq.
I accept my uncle and father-in-law fighting in WWII. Fight Hitler. Fight for freedom. But in modern times ‘freedom’ is twisted and just another word for oil. Greed. Wealth. Not bayonets on battlefields and equal numbers dead, but rich bombing poor from computers in the sky.
And so to Klagenfurt. I must have been tired several weeks ago not to notice how beautiful the train ride was. I saw herons, a hang glider, and castles perched on hilltops. Some of the tiny stations in the mountains were old and peeling like the ones in the East. All part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Defences down, ready to relax on our last night before returning to England, Sexton and I were surprised to find a mini riot at Klagenfurt station. What sounded like football hooligans were chanting and waving flags. Police came. Flares were thrown under the train. People tried to look over the crowded platform to see what was going on. As we walked away I half expected to hear the station explode behind us.
After a long walk to the hostel we were worse for the wear (and did I mention hungover?). The hostel was as romantic as a school room. In fact it we found out it IS a dorm during the school year. 2 single beds, tons of desk space and blindingly bright lights. It was clean and the bed comfortable. But neither of us has a school fetish. Drinking would be in order, rather than more private activity.
I absently mindedly unpacked my rucksack to see, in slow motion, the Bulgarian wine I’d carried across 4 countries go smashing on the floor. Red wine, vintage 1997, spreading like a pool of blood under the students’ desks, mixed with shards of green glass.
We cleaned up and headed out in search of a quiet country café, maybe a bar near a park with stunning mountain views. The views we got, but little else. A very long walk yielded a small herd of cows, which we couldn’t exactly eat. Not one café open, not one bar in sight. We finally found a few trees and a grassy area, but we had only our water bottle and few stale nuts to eat. I consulted the map, saw there was a beach way on the other side of town, and steered us towards what looked like a bus stop.
The bus came quickly enough, but within a few minutes the driver stopped to read the news paper. It was hot and sweaty. Finally we reached town centre, where we were to get another bus. After deciphering the bus stop labelling system we found a digital display saying our bus was due in 5 minutes. The bus never came; the digital display changed to 10 minutes later. It did this several times. Passengers came and went. Perhaps the bus was invisible and the passengers became invisible too when they got on board?
We sat down at a cafe nearby, where we could watch the bus not turn up. A woman eventually joined us, and thanks to her we had a very enjoyable remainder of the day.
The bus, an hour late, only went part way the beach. There was a half marathon and streets were blocked off.
‘Vaz is all zis running? It is no gut! People vant to go to ze beach!’ exclaimed Gutta as she led us across a field towards the lake. Indeed, without her we might never have found the place.
All was bustling with marathon activity. We found ourselves in the middle of the race route, inside the ribbon markers. ‘Ve are foreigners! Ve don’t know any better!’ said Gutta, who had lived in Austria all her life.
I told Gutta about my mom running races at the age of 65, a year old than Gutta. She was shocked: ‘ze furthest I would go iz 3 kilometres from ze café to ze bar.’ People with numbers pinned to their chests were drinking their post-race beers. We pushed our way through and finally found the beach area. Gutta and Sexton settled down for a beer while I headed for the water.
It was like walking into heaven. The trees parted and the scene ahead could only be described that way. The sun was low, casting the perfect light on layers of distant mountains across the water. Silhouetted people walked on a dock or jumped in. I wanted to get my camera but pictures could never capture this (the picture you see was taken a hour later at sunset, and still does not do it justice). I dropped my towel and swan with ducks, coots and grebes.
An hour passed too quickly. I wanted to swim forever. I decided I had to return to this lake, this heavenly spot.
Gutta showed to a festival in the old town centre, also very enjoyable, with a live ballroom jazz band, delicious calamari, wine and cheese. There was an Italian flavour to the event and I picked up a some parmesan to take back to England.
So in the end we had a good farewell to our trip. We kept the accommodation map, noting that there’s a campsite by the beach. Ryan Air does cheap flights – a long weekend in Klagenfurt could be an easy break.