The Number 32 To Graz

IMG_1201I guess I had a sheltered and privileged upbringing, as bus travel never really featured in my childhood development – and neither has it much since. That’s probably the main reason for the anxiety I feel when the prospect of bus travel arises. Whether and when it would turn up; how to know which bus would take you to your destination; how to know when to get off; what ticket to ask for; what loose change is needed to placate the driver; what happens if I get the wrong one? – there were always too many variables for my liking – and it made for uneasy travel.

Such was the case as we stood at a bus-stop outside our campsite, it being too far to cycle into the city of Graz itself – although the camp receptionist (surely that doesn’t that sound right?) had given us full instructions – so it shouldn’t be that difficult, should it?

At 7pm, the only other occupant of the bus-shelter was an interestingly proportioned woman with a fag on, who very pointedly turned her back on us (but thankfully didn’t waggle her Brexit foot – new readers please see and gradually we were joined by a growing queue of other passengers, shuffling not into line to gain the best seats but instead trying to find patches of shade to avoid the still hot sun lowering in a cloudless sky. Our anxious anticipation was that Bus Number 32 would transport us cleanly and simply straight into the centre of Graz and despite the first one sailing ignorantly past us, the next soon arrived onto which we gratefully clambered.

Seemingly the only passengers paying a cash fare (all of 2.3 euros each), we were delighted to find that the trip was indeed a straightforward linear journey; active monitors in the bus ceiling displaying both the whole route as well as each stop (also pre-announced by a Siri soundalike) so we realised we would therefore be transported to our chosen destination with no fear of never being seen again.

So it was we alighted (excuse the bus jargon, feeling quite an expert now) onto Jacobinski Platz in the centre of Austria’s second city, Graz, where we were immediately handed a well-written tourist guide and city map by a uniformed bus-marshall. (How did she know to give us the English version – is it the rather fetching shorts we’re wearing, perhaps?) and off we wandered into the heart of Graz. Thankfully, our dis-association with giant ice-cream cones or bicycles went unnoticed by law-enforcement,  and we therefore avoided arrest. (New readers please also see

Graz was delightful. We wandered undulating streets, one minute flat pavement, the next precipitous cobbles with plein-air dining on cleverly-stepped decks running down (or up) the middle of these narrow thoroughfares. A calm bustle of busyness prevailed; patient parents gently force-feeding alien pasta into the recalcitrant mouths of suspicious toddlers; young couples staring over menu-tops into each other’s eyes, him agitated with nerves as tonight was clearly the night to pop the question (or maybe he was just engineering a less-committed late night preceded by coffee back at hers); middle-aged marrieds eating disinterestedly and looking diligently past each other between every mouthful; dating, tattoed same-sex couples not sure who should pick up the tab – and old people (like us) trying not to stare while stealthily watching for any signs of imminent bill-payment so we could bag a table and feed our own faces.

We wandered the old town. A large church (cathedral maybe?) was locked-up but lovely; classy shops selling handbags and fashion rubbed shoulders with grocery, nougat, ice-cream and bicycle hire outlets; café-bars and restaurants aplenty, all seeming too busy for us to even enquire about a table, until suddenly everything became quiet, green and open-spaced, as if we’d walked across an invisible border into upmarket parkland. As we stopped to consult our very obvious ‘Look, We’re Tourists – Mug Us Or Offer Directions, You Choose’ map, a lovely lady towing two small children on scooters stopped and tried to mug us. (Only kidding. She clearly wasn’t Brexit-aware, so didn’t know what dicks our slim democratic majority had been and therefore instead treated us with an amiable, patronising kindness.) Witnessing our emaciated faces and bloated, starvation-evident bellies, she directed us back towards a bit of the old town we hadn’t yet discovered, and with ‘Glockenspiel Square’ ringing in our ears, we wandered back the way we had come, past the Church Maybe Cathedral and turned, as directed, down another cobbled incline beside it.

Had we opted to consult our beautifully produced Dorling Kindersley Guide To All Of Europe before setting out (a little too bulky to cart about on a romantic evening in Graz – and if the discreet folding map itself didn’t shout ‘tourist’ to the locals, then the DK book would definitely have yelled ‘TOURIST’ from the rooftops), we’d have already been aware of the existence of this delightful restauranted square. Fortuitously, our later arrival meant that an outdoor table was immediately available and so we sat, ordered beer and enjoyed the atmosphere.

Our waiter – wearing regulation braced leather shorts and an associated beard – recommended a couple of typical Austrian dishes from the menu which we were quickly to enjoy: breast of pork stuffed with potato and apple, served with a light caraway jus and shredded cabbage salad, while my companion enjoyed skillet-served chicken thigh fillets in a powerful paprika, tomato and white-bean sauce accompanied with baked potato and sour cream. Oh my, now hopelessly overfull to even consider the giant ice-creams we’d promised ourselves!

Unfortunately, the giant Glockenspiel clock above us was silenced after 6pm, so we weren’t able to witness the emergence of the two automated figurines from little arched doors, who – assumedly on the hour – would have approached each other in a shy, clockworky sort of way; looked wordlessly over each other’s shoulders and then retired, each silently wishing they’d either popped the question or picked up the bill.

Bus 32 duly returned us from whence we came, where we loaded our fat little tummies into the Knumptyvan, clambered our nursery-like ladder up-above-the-cab-so-high and slept the sleep of renegades, dreaming of running from the law, sans ice-creams or bicycles.

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