The plan for Austria was to spend four days in Salzburg and one day in Graz till I take the bus to Croatia but that plan went through a makeover while I was still in Corfu. Remember Lissie? My Austrian dorm-mate in Athens? During one of our talks about music, she told me about a local jazz festival that gets held in the town of Nickelsdorf every summer during the month of July. Guess what? It happened to be taking place during the time I was spending in Austria, Lis thought I should consider it and so I did. Though my plan couldn’t accommodate the four-days-long festival, I was still able to alter my itinerary to fit the opening night.
I was still in Corfu when I made up my mind about Nickelsdorf and started checking the festival’s website for accommodation arrangements. All the provided links were in German and given the fact that my German is extremely rusty, I couldn’t really navigate through. Then a thought crossed my mind, why not email Lissie and see if she can help? And so it was, I dropped her an email and she was of such a great help.
According to Lissie, free sleeping facilities for backpackers were provided by the festival for attendants. The thing is, those facilities were mixed and I wasn’t quite sure if it would have been convenient for me considering. As I was weighing my options Lissie contacted Mr. Hans who is the owner of the café/restaurant where the jazz festival takes place, and also happens to be the festival’s director, and told him about me. He told her that he will try to find a private room for me so I would be more comfortable and he indeed did. Mr. Hans replied to an email I sent earlier informing me that he found me a private room in the house of his cook Mamoun who is from Syria and lives in Nickelsdorf with his family. And just like that, I was welcomed to stay with them for the whole duration of the festival.
I was so moved by what those people, who didn’t even know me, did for me. They were keen on finding me an appropriate solution and Mamoun, he and his family agreed to take me in for those few days without knowing anything about me except that I’m a veiled Muslim Egyptian who was looking for private accommodation to attend a jazz festival. I was so touched and overwhelmed by their kindness especially when I wasn’t being truly welcomed in Corfu. Those “strangers” welcomed me with open arms just like that, no questions asked. I was so humbled by that experience ❤
Once my plan got confirmed I needed to change my accommodation in Salzburg again and Ian from the hostel was very patient and helpful in that regard. On the last morning to spend in Salzburg, I had a lazy start since my train was not that early. I took my time packing, getting ready, and having breakfast. I even had the time for a few rounds of foosball with the lady from the reception. I never got her name, my apologies if you are reading this, but I was glad she didn’t mind playing with me for a while. Now when it comes to foosball, I’m quite an expert. I grew up having one at home playing it with my brother and even my male friends find it hard sometimes to beat me. She alleged that she doesn’t know how to play and that her boyfriend always wins but let me tell you this, she got the better of me 3 games straight and that never happened before. Let’s just agree on it being a matter of beginners’ luck and not because my skills are getting rusty (HA HA HA). Thank you my dear for such a playful morning 🙂
The train trip was so comfortable; I had superfast free wi fi throughout the whole ride and even in the train station. Those free wi fi spots so reminded me of London. As I approached Nickelsdorf, I was greeted by a field of sunflowers that left me feeling hopeful and rejuvenated. While walking myself from the train station to the Jazz Galerie I noticed how small the town is. I passed houses and short buildings and the atmosphere was quiet. I reached the place, introduced myself and was quickly met with Mamoun followed by Mr. Hans. I’m usually shy around people I don’t know but the welcome I was given by those two gentlemen was heartwarming that I was at ease with my surroundings.
After I had lunch, Mamoun insisted on walking me to his place so I would rest before the concert starts. And during those hours I had the pleasure of meeting the rest of his family, the wife, the kids, and the mother in law. Such a lovely family that one is ❤ We talked about pretty much everything but a big part of the conversation was about how it felt being a Syrian refugee in a foreign country. People might think it should be easy since they were able to flee Syria but one would want to give it another thought. They kind of fell under the lesser of two evils over here and yeah maybe they don’t live in a war-zone anymore but that doesn’t make it any easier for them. Not all people are equipped to be forcibly uprooted from their home countries and with Islam growing to be not that popular around the world, one can image how hard it must be on them. I pray for the day when tolerance invades our lives, when people would stop condemning others for the mistakes of their leaders/ancestors or even because of the acts of a stray group. Because let’s face it, almost all nations made horrible acts towards others under the name of religion, politics, or whatever. Isn’t it enough already? Isn’t history full of horrendous actions till this day? Can’t we learn from all of that? Wouldn’t it be easier to love instead of hate?
The opening night of the festival had 3 bands playing and just sitting there outside under a roof covered in grapes and grapevines with a passing night breeze was exactly what I longed for. See I love jazz music and the jazz scene in Kuwait is almost nonexistent and that is one of the things I always miss about Cairo. I terribly miss the Cairo Jazz Festival concerts and the stream of events and gigs that flows all year round. I have to admit the first band was my favorite, the drummer was amazing. He played his sticks to the wooden floors of the stage and I was just like WHAT! I had the chance to thank him personally for his performance. And when I told him how exciting his performance was, his answer was: I’m 75 years old and I have done/seen a lot. He had a very strong handshake, a tad too strong that my hand hurt a little afterwards but I have always admired a firm handshake I have to admit 😀 He got a little curious about me, we talked a little and before he left with his wife he greeted me with goodbye Egypt ❤ You can watch him performing here.
Lissie was able to join us that night and I got a chance to meet with her again after our little encounter in Athens. The night was spent listening to live jazz, eating, and conversing with Lissie, Mr.Hans, and Mamoun and was concluded with some light rain. I enjoyed my small talk with Mr. Hans a lot. He is such a kind person, one who would help anyone if he can without any regard to the person’s race, color, or religion. He can even get scrutinized because of it but he wouldn’t even bother. If only more people in the world are like that!! Thank you for going through the trouble of making my short visit possible 🙂
I booked my train ticket to Graz before I slept soundly that night and unfortunately managed to miss the boys before they went to school the following morning. They thought I would be staying for the whole duration of the festival but I was to leave a little before noon! My departure left them feeling sad and kind of broke my heart, if only I woke up a little earlier 😦
After a breakfast feast which made me so full that I literally didn’t eat anything till the evening, Mamoun and his wife walked me to the train station and waited with me for the train. Leaving that lovely family gave me the blues. The kindness and hospitality they showered me with was humbling, I was accepted without calculations and welcomed as if I was a family member. I sincerely thank you for all the hospitality and thoughtfulness and hope I can manage to visit you soon. All the best loved ones ❤ Lissie, it was a pleasure meeting you in Athens and big thanks for telling me about the festival. It’s because of you and the love of music that I got the chance to meet such wonderful people.
I arrived in Graz and walked myself to my accommodation from the train station only to find out that my two credit cards have been blocked while I was trying to pay for my one night stay! While on the train from Nickelsdorf I made an online booking for the bus that will take me from Graz to Zagreb the following morning for the last leg of my trip, Croatia. The bank thought of that transaction as suspicious and decided to block the credit cards! It took me quite an hour to have that action reversed and after those stressful minutes, I was ready to explore the city.
I fell in love with Graz ❤ Such a chilled and laid back city it was, it filled me with this relaxing and unwinding numbness which was a perfect mood to enjoy the day. I strolled around admiring the streets, the buildings, the architecture, the sunny afternoon, the street musicians, and indulged myself in some ice cream. My wanderings took me to the Schlossberg to check the Uhrturm and the views of the city from the top of that clad-in-trees hill. Schlossberg acts as a national park in the heart of Graz offering exclusive views of the city along with a range of cafes and restaurants. Walking around taking in the views and the greenery was a nice way to spend the late afternoon.
After the Uhrturm I wanted to head to the Graz Double Spiral Staircase then grab a bite at the Murinsel which is an artificial island that floats in the river Mur designed by Vito Acconci for the occasion of Graz becoming the 2003 European Capital of Culture but there has been a change in those plans once I passed by a sign that lead me to Dom im Berg. Under the Schlossberg there is a system of tunnels that used to act as a shelter for civilians during the Second World War, part of the tunnels complex is the Dom im Berg which is, nowadays, considered a venue for lots of musical events including the annual international A Cappella competition as I happened to know when I stepped in. That day was the finale where the finalists would perform and the winners would be awarded with their prizes. I contemplated the idea for few minutes then booked myself a ticket hoping not to regret missing those double spiral stairs.
As much as I love live music, I have never attended an a cappella concert before and the idea was both intriguing and worrisome. The competition consists of four categories, pop, jazz, comedy, and classical. I was kind of looking forward to the jazz segment, but I have to admit that the pop and comedy were the ones to blow my mind. Honestly, I used to think such performances are lame especially after that movie Pitch Perfect but what I have witnessed that night was surprisingly astounding (check my Instagram for videos).
That concert marked my last night in Austria, I was to leave Graz in the morning to start my 10-days trip around Croatia. I knew already that Austria is a gorgeous country but I have to admit that it exceeded my expectations. My short visit was filled with music, breathtaking landscape, history and architecture, but most importantly the company of genuine people. That short visit was rejuvenating after the ordeals I experienced earlier. I absolutely loved every minute of the time I spent there and will be looking forward to more visits to come. Austria, danke meine Liebe ❤