Advantages Scenic, plenty of cultural attractions, green areas
Disadvantages None - just have plenty of time to spare
I knew we'd get round to visiting Linz at some point but when we set out from Newcastle one snowy morning in January bound for our home in Slovenia, I didn't think it was going to be so soon. Having a place in Slovenia is great because we get to enjoy all the good things about that country and, by flying in to cities in neighbouring countries, we also get to see some new places each time we go there; on this occasion, however, we were not planning to visit other places. The point is this: our Stansted bound flight departed late, so delayed in fact that we missed our onward flight to Graz in southern Austria. The options were to stay in the Stansted area overnight and fly to Ljubljana the following day as our flights to Graz are on alternate days, or to find another destination we could fly to where we would spend the night, making it part of our trip. The only suitable destination with a flight that day and that would not take us too far from our final destination was Linz in northern Austria. Fortunately we had packed a brand new Lonely Planet guidebook for Austria which we had bought to add to our library of travel guides in Slovenia so we were able to get some ideas for accommodation and learn a bit about what to expect once we got there.Linz is Austria's third largest city and is situated in the region known as Upper Austria: basically that's the centre of northern Austria. The city is divided by the River Danube and is to the west of Vienna. It's about 30 Kilometres from the border with the Czech Republic but I can't say that I really noticed any Czech influence during my time in Linz. Until around the fifteenth century the city was quite important as a trading point and as a seat of government of the Holy Roman Empire but gradually its status diminished with the rise in influence of Vienna and Prague.
All over Linz you see tributes and references to two of the cities most famous sons, the mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, and the composer Anton Bruckner who was the organist at one of the city's churches. While I'll concede that both are well known people whose works deserve to be recognised, you get the feeling like Linz is almost trying too hard to disassociate itself with another more notorious son whose influence on the city in not inconsiderable.While Adolf Hitler was not born in Linz, he did spend most of youth in the city and its environs, living there from 1898 until 1907 at which point he left to study in Vienna. Later in his life Hitler looked upon Linz as his hometown and he intended to put it at the heart of the Third Reich, planning a grand scheme of industrialisation as well as a host of imposing edifices. In the years leading up to World War Two the industrialization of Linz commenced and this lasted into the war when a number of Czech factories were completely dismantled and rebuilt at Linz. The Mauthausen concentration and forced labour camps were situated near Linz because of their proximity to the quarries from which would come the stone required for Hitler's great plan for Linz and the rest of the Reich. In the end, the only project that was ever realised was the Nibelungen Bridge across the Danube; this is also the place where the line was drawn between the Russian and American administered zones after the war.
With less than 24 hours in Linz, we had to work hard to pack in as much as we could and get a feeling for the place. The Blue Danube Airport of Linz is a short bus ride from the city centre and the bus drops you at the main train station. Most city buses and three tram lines pass this way making Linz an easy city to navigate. The main train station is just a couple of tram stops away from the Hauptplatz, the imposing main square; you could walk it in twenty minutes but there's not that much of interest on the way. Blumauerplatz near the station is linked to the Hauptplatz by Landstrasse, the city's main shopping street. Although the trams are routed down Landstrasse, it's more a less a pedestrianised area as no other vehicles use the street other than for access.The elegant Hauptplatz is lined with colourful old houses, mostly dating from the eighteenth century. Many of them are now restaurants and cafes and most of those have outdoor seating in summer so you can enjoy a beer or coffee and perhaps a slice of the famous 'Linzer torte' redcurrant and almond cake in lovely surroundings. An ornate plague column stands in the centre of the square. At the bottom of the Hauptplatz is the Danube and, on the other side of this most celebrated of European rivers, is Postlingberg, one of the green areas of the city.
On the recommendation of both the Lonely Planet guidebook and a friendly waitress, we rose early to take a trip in the narrow gauge railway to the summit of Postlingberg. Apparently it's the world's steepest mountain railway, although I can't see it felt particularly steep to me; then again, I am almost totally devoid of any sense of space and dimension. The railway runs from the main square to the summit of Postlingberg stopping at various places of interest during the climb including Linz zoo and, almost at the summit, the Grottenbahn cave railway. The waitress we spoke to told us about this and said that although it's really kitsch, adults enjoy this fairytale world as much as children and recommended we visit it: unfortunately, as we visited in winter, it hadn't yet opened for the day when we arrived there and didn't have time to wait until it did. From a purpose built viewing platform near the summit there are wonderful views over the city and out into the countryside around Linz and for those able to walk that bit further, the imposing basilica at the very top is well worth a look.Museums and galleries are well signposted and there seems to be no shortage of them. Even from our short visit we could see how Linz came to be awarded the title European City of Culture for 2009 and how it continues to offer plenty of cultural diversions. The architecture is a pleasing combination of old and new; just around the corner from the Hauptplatz there are two stand-out buildings that show how Linz has placed itself at the forefront of cutting edge design. One the Hauptplatz side of the Danube is Lentos, a modern art museum whose façade is made of black glass. At night, however, it is lit in changing neon colours that are reflected in the Danube in a shimmering rainbow display. This museum contains work by a variety of twentieth and twenty-first century artists including Andy Warhol and Gustav Klimt. On the other side of the Danube is the Ars Electronica Museum a highly interactive museum devoted to the digital arts and new technologies. Other museums include one devoted to the history of the city, another to dentistry, and the World of Steel exhibition which is situated at the voestalpine AG plant, formerly the Hermann-Göring-Werke. The Tourist Information Office sells a Linz card which may be of benefit to visitors intending to visit several museums or galleries.
If, like us, you have only a limited amount of time in Linz, the best way to get a feel for the place is to take a walking tour of the Innenstadt (the old centre) and Linz is a great place for exploring because of the little lanes and courtyards that branch off from the squares. A couple of the churches are worth a look because of the decoration inside while there are a number of fine looking houses with notable connections: Mozart lived for a year in one of them. On the banks of the Danube there are some interesting buildings including Linz Castle, which is a splendid castle in the Central European Baroque style but has the most amazing modern extension. There are also some attractive parks along the river which can be enjoyed on foot or by taking a Danube boat trip which will give you an alternative perspective of the cityscape.If you are in the area for a while you could visit the town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or one of the picturesque Austrian towns such as Steyr or Freistadt which are only a short train ride away. However, I would suggest that the city has more than enough to occupy a long weekend at least.
While shopping is never high on my list of holiday priorities, I have to admit that I rather enjoyed my evening stroll down Landstrasse, looking in the shop windows and popping down the lanes into the courtyards where you'll find some of the more unusual (and expensive) little independent shops. The window displays in this part of the world always seem so much more exciting to me and Linz is no exception. The cake and chocolate shops in particularly have really eye catching (and mouth-watering) displays.There is no shortage of restaurants in the centre and the cuisines on offer in the Innenstadt cover the globe. As Austrian food tends to be quite similar to the food in our part of Slovenia we decided to try something different while we had the chance and plumped for a west African restaurant but, had we wanted to eat local food, there were several places on and just off Landstrasse that looked pretty good.
I did find that Linz was very much like Graz and as I like that city and know it well I felt quite at home in Linz. However, whereas Graz can feel quite traditional and serious, Linz is more forward looking although it still pays tribute to its fine heritage. In Linz I didn't see any men wearing the traditional jackets that you see so many men wearing in Graz, and with its quite daring new buildings Linz feels slightly edgy even though Graz has the younger population.We agreed that we would definitely make another visit but stay longer next time in order to do the city justice. We saw enough to know that this is a visually exciting city, and one that demands to be explored some more.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSorry not many photographs this time; the camera was in the bottom of my rucksack
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