I'll admit to not knowing much about the Austrian city of Graz before my recent trip other than it being the capital of the Austrian region of Styria.
It was only whilst staying in a chalet, about 40 minutes drive away to the north, that I read Justin's post about his 48 hour adventure there and realised that Graz is in fact Austria's second largest city.
The Old Buildings of Graz
Entering the city by tram from the outskirts we saw the changing face of Graz. From the shopping centre of Mur Park to the UPC Arena, home to the cities football teams Sturm and Grazer AK, and finally into the pedestrian centre of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town.
Whilst being a city, Graz retains its village life feel, encapsulated by our guide who, on our tour, said hello to passers by on three or four occasions.
Unlike other cities around the world where the street level of buildings is a wall of glass, shops have retained the original features and squeezed in window displays into the tiny spaces. I loved that about the city and proof that retailers don't have to ruin the history of a building just to sell their products.
Along the main street Herrengasse stands Gemaltes House, whose front is painted from the floor to the roof with depictions of the gods of Greco-Roman mythology. At almost 270 years it was yet another reminder of how Graz has retained its heritage.
We had also timed our walk to perfection as we got to see the wooden couple who come out to dance from the Glockenspiel three times a day.
The New face of Graz
Graz manages to mix the old with the new with such buildings as the Kunsthaus, an alien-like art museum overlooking the River Mur which I thought was a little hideous and was thankful it stood outside the Old Town.
Not far from the town hall you will find Kastner und Ohler department store, the world best according to our guide but we weren't taken here for the shopping.
Still a family run business, it had a makeover recently where original features were uncovered and on its unveiling delighted the locals, or at least our guide was happy.
Heading up to the top floor we ventured into the chilly evening air onto a viewing platform. From here we got a great view back over the red tiled roofs up to the imposing Schlossberg mountain and back down the main street where a mixture of old and new trams scurried along with commuters on their way home.
Austria has left its mark on me
With Christmas nearing, the Advent celebrations were underway and that meant Graz Christmas Markets. Following dinner in a restaurant near the river we grabbed waffles for dessert in the city hall square and a time to reflect on the time we spent in Graz.
Following a visit to Innsbruck I said that it made a lasting impression and I can say the same for Graz.
Like Innsbruck it seems to embody everything I think about when I imagine a traditional European city and it stays true to its history and is what I love about Europe. Something tells me this won't be my last visit to Austria.
Have you been to Graz? What were your favourite old and new places?