Some of my favorite vacation days are the ones when I have time just to wander, getting to know a new place with no particular destination in mind.
Linz is particularly suited to this type of serendipitous discovery. With just over 200000 people and few tourists, its uncrowded sidewalks and unhurried pace of life are welcoming to those of us who make the 2-hour trip west from Vienna.
I started my trip by walking towards the Christmas market at the Volksgarten, just a few minutes from our hotel. It was fun to see animated scenes that were no more sophisticated than the ones I remember seeing as a kid in Edmonton’s Hudson Bay store windows.
I also enjoyed the trees that had been decorated by local students, especially the one from a department of neuromedicine that made innovative use of their old CDs and used cream and Keurig containers.
I’d just begun to look around the market booths when six young women from a local middle school, lugging audio and video equipment, asked if they could interview me about Christmas for a media project. After finding out that I spoke English, they had a brief discussion about who would do the translation into German: a girl wearing a toque that proclaimed she’d rather be at Hogwarts offered her talents and we were ready for the shoot. They posed me in front of an evergreen and we all agreed that we could post each other’s images on social media.
Knowing there was another Christmas market at the other end of Landstrasse, the main shopping street in Linz, I windowshopped my way along, remembering to look up from time to time at the historic buildings that backdropped the district.
A turn along a street marked Promenade brought me away from the shops and into quieter old town Linz.
This area is dominated by the massive Mariendom, also called the New Cathedral, because it was completed in 1924. It’s the largest cathedral in Austria and freely open to the public so I went in for a look around. The grand lady’s somber exterior didn’t hint at the splendor inside.
On my way back to the hotel, I ran across the Jindrak Cafe, home of the Linzertorte, said to be the oldest cake in Europe. I joined many locals who were also enjoying midafternoon cake, coffee and conversation.
Not much later, as dusk fell, the Christmas lights winked on – over the streets, on balconies, and in the markets. Though not the grand display I had seen in Vienna, their simplicity, dignity, and occasional humor suited the low key vibe of Linz.