One of the best things about studying abroad with IES Abroad is that they organize optional and mandatory excursions for students to partake in over the course of the semester. During our orientation week, we all drove about two hours northwest of Vienna to Linz, where I took a food tour and went on a boat ride on the Danube. Because of experiences like this, I was very excited when the staff of the IES Abroad Vienna center released the optional field trips form for us to fill out. The adventure I chose to partake in was to Styria (a region in Austria bordering Slovenia) for a harvest festival and to explore Austria's second-biggest city, Graz.
We boarded the bus early on Saturday morning and began the two-hour drive shortly after. The drive itself was beautiful; the highway was surrounded by rolling hills topped with multi-colored forests and tiny Austrian villages. About halfway through, we stopped at a rest stop called Landzeit for a quick break. This rest stop was one of the cleanest and biggest rest stops I'd ever been to. It has a full-functioning restaurant, gift shop, and buffet! The best part was the view; I sat outside for a few minutes with a coffee before boarding the bus again, looking out at the beautiful scenery.
Our first stop was the Open Air Museum of Austrian Architecture in Stubing. We enjoyed a filling lunch there of soup, schnitzel, and apfelstrudel before adventuring into the park. After that, we had about an hour and a half to wander around, exploring the neat and very well-preserved wooden buildings and hiking in the hills. It was all very cool, and it was great to see some of the gorgeous fall colors begin to emerge.
Our second stop was the city of Graz, where we were spending the night. We met up with local guides and proceeded to take a walking tour of the old city. Walking through the old cobblestone streets and hiking up the hills to see the university and mausoleum were very fun, especially having the historical and cultural perspectives from the guide to narrate our visit. I felt like we got a really great survey of the city, even though we were only there for one night. Graz is a lot smaller than Vienna but has many of the same or similar artistic events and cultural history that Vienna has to offer. It is a must-see for any traveler visiting Austria!
The next morning, we hopped on the bus once more and drove out to the rural part of Styria to a small town called Gamnitz. Gamnitz was hosting a harvest festival whose main production at this time of year is wine. Locals were enjoying their weekend together in celebration of a successful harvest, drinking Sturm (a very young, fermented drink) and laughing with their friends. The harvest festival had a similar vibe to Oktoberfest, but it was a lot more local and community-based. There were multiple generations running between the stalls and cheering to the parade passing through.
There were also stands selling local chocolates, pizza, fried dough with pesto on it, and the best potato chips I've had in my life. The potato chips were hand-cut to order and fried to perfection, coming out of the fryer super hot and crispy. Who knew I would find one of my favorite things from the States in the small town of Gamnitz, Austria?!
It was very rewarding to witness a small community come together and celebrate themselves and a successful harvest. There was so much conviviality and shared excitement, I felt a little out of place as an American tourist, as the celebration was an intimate one. But, nonetheless, it is local experiences like these that remind me why travel is so important: to witness a different way of life and gain an appreciation for the experiences of others. On this trip, I believe we did just that.
More Blogs From This Author
Hi! My name is Grace Heaton and I am thrilled to be studying abroad in Vienna during the Fall 2022 semester. I am an incoming Sophomore at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA studying Marketing, French, and German. In my free time I enjoy traveling, learning languages, listening to music, going to coffee shops, and adventuring with friends! I am excited to immerse myself in Austrian culture this fall, and can't wait to see where this journey takes me!