SOUTHERN CHARM OF AUSTRIA: KLAGENFURT

When I stepped out of the bus at 6 o’clock in the morning, I didn’t know what to expect. I had just gone through a 9-hour ride from the city I live in to Klagenfurt, and I was a bit weary from the sleepless and quite uncomfortable night spent on the bus. It was the beginning of October, and it was cloudy and chilly, but still pleasant and quite refreshing to breathe that sharp, Austrian air after the stuffy bus. I was traveling with my college friend, as both of us took part in the exchange program, and we were going to be roommates in Klagenfurt. Since I was going to spend 4 months there, my baggage consisted of 2 large suitcases plus a backpack and a handbag, which were a challenge to handle for my tiny self, but, luckily, I wasn’t alone.

The University of Klagenfurt ran a so-called “Buddy System”, which involved local students meeting international exchange students on arrival. They help get settle into the residence halls and facilitate the process of acclimation to life in another city. We were very lucky to be assigned a lovely and friendly local girl. She met us at the bus station, took us to our new home, and spent the next 4 months showing us the perks of living in Klagenfurt. Even going to every student party with us, and being a great support in every sense of the word. The following few months could be described as some of the best moments of my life.

The first thing you notice about Klagenfurt is the breathtaking scenery. The magnificent Alps acting as the backdrop, I was able to admire this picturesque view from my room window every morning. Klagenfurt is a small town that lies in the south of Austria, close to the border with Slovenia and Italy. The way you refer to this town depends on which side of the border you are. Austrians call it Klagenfurt, the neighboring Slovenians know it as Celovec. The official name of the town is “Klagenfurt am Wörthersee”, i.e., Klagenfurt on Lake Wörth, due to the beautiful nearby lake. The lake is a well-known tourist destination with high-end hotels and plenty of activities to keep you busy. The Slovenian version of the name literally means “a place at or in the water”. Whereas the German version has a more bleak meaning that translates as “ford of lament” or “ford of complaints”, which reflects the old belief that deadly demons or similar ominous spirits inhabit the areas around dangerous waters.

The name isn’t the only mythical thing about Klagenfurt. According to the local lore, Klagenfurt was founded after a few brave men had slain the horrible “Lindwurm.” The dragon that resided in the upland near the lake. The dragon is said to have frequently feasted on virgins, but it also didn’t pass on the huge bull on a chain that the men had placed on a secure tower, which ultimately lead to its demise. To mark this act of bravery, the city built an impressive 9-ton monument, which stands on Neuer Platz and is an necessary photo taken when visiting Klagenfurt.

My roommate and I lived in Nautilus, a beautiful building that served as a hotel in summer months and which transformed into a student residence during winter. We couldn’t have asked for a better place. The university was right across the street, as was the bus station that led to the city centre. The main dining place for students was on the left, so we had practically everything we needed within a radius of 100 meters. The university was quite different from the one I attended at home in terms of the course and lecture organization. Still, I enjoyed it nonetheless, and I seemed to have much more free time than I did back at home. Naturally, being involved in an exchange program doesn’t only encompass studying, but also taking part in extra-curricular activities. This lead to meeting some incredible people from all parts of the world. I improved my language skills, learned about different cultures, and realized how much you have in common with your foreign peers, regardless of the fact that you come from completely different backgrounds.

A regular meet-up place for international and local students was an Irish pub called Molly Malone, located in Theatergasse, in the inner city. This pub displayed an authentic, welcoming Irish spirit with a friendly atmosphere, affordable prices, and lots of dance and music. The pub frequently organized gig nights featuring performances by local bands. My favorite thing about Molly was its home-like design, with comfy sofas, leather couches, and shelves filled with books that made it seem as if you’ve stumbled into someone’s living room.

Another place we frequently visited was Salud Alm, a bar and grill in St. Veiter street that provided plenty of space for dancing all night long. The busiest time was during Saturday evenings when it was absolutely packed, so we preferred to go on Thursdays when we had enough room to socialize and show off some dance moves. Just up the road there was a restaurant of the same name that served amazing Mexican food, so if you were hungry after an evening out with your friends, you could stop by to have a bite as they served food late into the night. Some other pubs and clubs that are also worth a visit are The Claddagh Irish Pub, Speki Bar, and New York American Bar & Grill, so be sure to check them out if your adventures lead you to Klagenfurt.

When you need to get away from the crowds and enjoy some quiet time in nature, stroll down to Wörthersee ( Lake Wörth). This incredible lake was just a short walk from my dormitory, so I used to spend much of my free time there. Apart from a sandy lakeshore and crystal clear water, the lake is next to the stunning Europe Park and Minimundus. It is an outdoor park that contains over 150 miniature models of world-famous architectural landmarks. Another gem that lies on Wörthersee is certainly Krumpendorf, a county that belongs to Klagenfurt-Land region. It is home to one of the most beautiful and peaceful forests I’ve ever seen, perfect for relaxing and re-charging in early autumn days.

When the weather gets colder and the first snowflakes begin to decorate the surroundings, you know it’s time to open a bottle of wine. The Winter Festival in Klagenfurt happens in mid-November. It’s celebrated by the opening of Christmas Markets, which sell all sorts of food, home-made sweets, and Glühwein. A sweet type of wine that you traditionally drink during winter festivities and which is a great way to stay warm when days become nippy. On New Year’s Eve, there is a celebration held on the main square that includes food, drinks, and a lot of musical performances. When the clock strikes midnight, everyone joins in the dance to mark the beginning of the New Year, which can look quite silly and clumsy if you’ve had a couple of drinks, but you’re guaranteed a good time regardless of your dancing skills.

The end of January meant that our stay was coming to a close, and we couldn’t believe how quickly the time went by. I had an amazing time, met some wonderful people, visited some stunning places, and took some great memories with me. The only bad thing about such journeys is that you have to part with your newly-found friends, but the fact is that whenever you meet again, you can simply pick up where you left off. As for Klagenfurt, once you go there, you are bound to come back.

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