June 6, 2010 Graz to Drežnik Grad Croatia

12 06 2010

Our stop in Graz came to an end today.  One night to see the scenes and then head down to Drežnik Grad.  Graz had primarily been put in the itinerary as a break in the drive.  Good thing.  It was another four hours according to the GPS until we would get to the lake district in Croatia.

Mrs D and I had a quick energy bar for breakfast and a cappuccino down stairs while the other three went with the Austrian breakfast. I have to admit, it seems that yes, there is a limit to how much ham and cheese I can have every morning :)  We were packed and ready to go pretty early. We had decided last night to make a point of stopping at the mausoleum of emperor Ferdinand II before we left as it opened at 1030.  We drove over to the general area of the mausoleum and found a parking spot.  This is all MUCH easier when executed on a Sunday morning.

While waiting for the mausoleum to open we found the famous double spiral staircase that was built in 1499.  I’ve got admit, I’m not much for staircases but this one was pretty cool.  Pictures just didn’t do it justice.  Two interwoven opposite spirals meeting at each floor – probably not very practical, but very interesting.   We took a few pictures of the outside of the lovely Katarinakirche next to the mausoleum but were unable to enter as Sunday mass was being held.

At 1030 on the nose, we were the first visitors for the mausoleum of the day.  The air had that cool musty smell of something that had been closed for a long time in a basement.  It would soon dissipate as the heat of the day warmed the building’s insides.  The inside was huge, ornate, luxurious. One might say “over the top”   I can’t imagine having something like this built for me BEFORE dying.    Seems a bit narcissistic. To our benefit, Ferdinand II had some lovely frescos all over ceilings and gilded statues adorning the corners and peaks of just about anywhere with an edge.  Being the first people in gave us the luxury of setting up our photos and being able to get some pretty fine shots.

Down in the bottom of the mausoleum lay the crypt of the emperor with ornate marble carvings of himself and his wife on the top of the tomb.  The floor appeared to be the original floor with very little restoration work done, and as such it was cordoned off.  They had installed mirrors on the walls that allowed you to see (and photograph) the top of the tomb and to see the detail of the carved effigies on the tomb.

The last place to visit was the bell tower.  Heck, who DOESN’T want  a mausoleum complete with bell tower?  It was a long winding walk up staircase but once we were up, it afforded some nice views of the golden adornments atop the neighbouring Katarinakirche.   Iris nearly jumped out of her skin when the 1115 bell rang.  We all had a good laugh and headed down as it was getting on in the morning and we had a four hour drive ahead still.

As we left the mausoleum we found ourselves in the middle of a marathon through the old town of Graz.  The poor runners were running in some pretty sweltering heat and had some real hills to contend with along their run.  We cheered them on for a bit and then headed off to continue our own marathon.

Francis took the wheel and drove for a while.  The GPS seemed to be a bit behind at times and it would say “turn right now”, just as we crossed through an intersection.  As a result we got a bit of a grand tour of Graz while we wound our way out of the city.  It was a real treat to be able to relax a bit more and not have my eyes peeled on the road or have to remember the clutch while slowing down (damned clutch 😉 )  It was interesting to see that Francis suffered a bit from “oncoming traffic aversion” just as I had in England.  It seems that the tendency is to want to push over to the passenger side more due to the awkward feeling of being on the other side of the road from normal.  This isn’t too bad, except when cyclists and narrow roads are along your path.  Francis did well and didn’t smack any cyclists or drive us off the road.  Better than my British “mirror incident” of 2008.  The GPS happily directed us out and along to a piece of road that would lead us onto the highway, if the highway had still been there.  It seemed the maps were a bit out of date and as such we had a detour along a few country roads before finally finding our way onto the highway.  No worries.  We would get there, just not quite as quickly.  After an hour or so of driving we took a break off of a small road and I switched with Francis. I know it can be quite nerve-wracking to drive on you unusual side of the road, so was happy to take over. 

We drove down some pretty narrow route until we started to arrive at the Slovenian border.  There was no customs, but there were tolls.  The Europeans have it right.  You want a fast highway(130kph)… you pay the toll.  You don’t want to pay the toll, you drive the windy roads. We stopped in Slovenia for gas and food.  Thankfully they accepted Euros as we didn’t have any Slovenian currency with us.  The Slovenian leg of the trip seemed to consist of a gazillion tunnels.  The tunnels were really nice and modern and well lit, but you still had to switch from sunglasses to regular and back again as some of the tunnels were 6km long!  Electronic road info signs that had updatable speed limits also informed us of the temperature as we drove along.  30C! It was a scorcher!

Croatia is not an EU country so when we hit the Croatian border it was a different story.  The  Slovenian exit check was quick but the Croatian entry was more thorough.  It was a Sunday and line up of cars coming OUT of Croatia was huge.  Probably Slovenians, Austrians and Germans coming back from their lake vacations.  The Croatian Customs agent spent quite a bit of time determining whether or not the HK passports needed visas.  Now I know what it feels like to be the car that everyone is waiting for :)  No issues, just time and we were off to the lakes!  It wasn’t long until we left the highway and the road started winding.  If you weren’t lucky, you got stuck behind a big truck for the next hour.  As we were moving against the flow of traffic things went pretty well for us.

We followed the GPS right to the parking area of the National Park.  Whoops.  I’m guessing we overshot the hotel?  Francis got out and got some information about the park and also some directions for the hotel.  Back a few km.  This makes sense as the GPS coverage of Croatia is only about 60% :(  We backtracked on the road and within about 5-10 minutes we were turning into a very nice little hotel/resort, Plitvicka Sedra.  Being a larger group and having two rooms (a 2 person and a 3 person) we were put in the “annex building” and had the second (european first) floor to ourselves with the two rooms having a common entry door.  Maggie, Francis and Iris got right to their laundry and in no time their half of the flat looked a bit like a Hong Kong apartment 🙂

We got some information about activities and the lakes from the receptionist… There was a nice 2km hike nearby that we could do and the lakes (about 6 hours of hiking) as well as some nearby caves and horseback riding.  I brought the info back to the group and we all agreed to go for the 2km hike.  It wasn’t much of a hike :(  The weather was so hot and we were all quite tired so it was abbreviated into about a 1km hike and retreat into our air conditioned van to get home.  

We went for dinner to the hotel restaurant as it was close.  More meat!  It was good food but everyone seems to want to overcook their meat. After dinner I wandered around a bit to see what I could see near the hotel.  I found a “red backed shrike”  He was kind enough to pose a bit for me.  Another new bird for me.

To go wander the fields I had to pass a sign warning of snakes.  Snakes?  Yes, as it turns out Croatia has a number of poisonous snakes and the receptionist says that they had to put the sign up after seeing some not long ago.  Excellent – snake shots? None today :(  It would have been cool to see a horn-nosed viper or a common adder!  No luck.

Another late night to sleep after trying to catch up on the blog.


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