Austria was the first country I visited “on the continent”. My first glimpse into European life after a few short months of living and working in London. (To me, as a New Zealander, London definitely doesn’t feel like Europe. London is more like some grown-up version of home.) Thanks to the multitude of bank holidays (long weekends) in the UK and some cheap, Ryan Air flights after only two months of living in London I was off to Europe.
I spent three days visiting a friend from New Zealand, who had married a gorgeous Austrian boy and followed him to the other side of the world. They lived in Graz, a University town, very much off the tourist trail for the typical European backpacker.
While not the most obvious city for a first visit foray into Europe, most people would find themselves starting in Paris or Rome, Graz was perfectly European in every way. Small cobblestone streets, wonderful old buildings that ooze a sense of history and effortlessly attractive people lounging around enjoying the Summer sun.
Getting a local perspective in Graz
The best part about Graz was visiting with a local’s perspective. No effort was required to work out what to do, how to get around and where to eat.
The food I ate in Austria was fantastic. Dark rye breads, wonderful cheeses, fresh vegetables and walnut oil, the local specialty, on everything. I was a lacto-vegetarian while visiting Graz so having a vegan guide to Graz would have been very helpful. While in beergardens or bars, it felt cool knowing what locals typically drank on a hot Summer day – Radler (beer topped with Fanta or any other kind of soda) or Spritzer (wine topped with soda water).
We visited my friends parents who had a wonderfully interesting life. The had livedabroad in Bolivia and raised some of their children there before returning to Austria. We shared a cheese plate for dinner which again felt so effortless, sophisticated and European. On the clear Summer night you could see Slovenia from the balcony of their apartment.
A quick day trip to Vienna
My friends wanted to show me Vienna which was only a few hours drive away thanks to the speed at which you can thunder down an Austrian Autobahn. I was firmly back on the tourist trail, if only for a few hours. Learning about Mozart, traipsing through churches, wandering the manicured grounds of a palace and eating cheap pizza on the sidewalk for lunch.
If you are staying longer in Vienna then definitely check out this post on getting cheap Vienna opera tickets.
There’s so much more to Austria left to be discovered
Austria would be a great European base for us. I’d love to go back and get a better feel from Vienna and it’s local neighbourhoods, not just the tourist hotspots. I must go to Salzburg and indulge my inner child by going on the Sound of Music Tour. I wouldn’t say no to a visit to Linz to take in the lovely blue Danube river. With borders to Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic it would make a great hub for a foray into Eastern Europe – something that is high on my to-do list.
As I sit here at home in New Zealand, I definitely hear Europe calling my name.
What was the first country you visited in Europe? Why did you choose it?