Urban walk: Maridalsveien to Storgata, November 2017
When I arrived in Norway it was minus 6 degrees, and I was greeted by thick snow which I immediately had to wade through to descend from the airplane. That was a new experience.
I had unwisely changed money at Edinburgh airport before I came (£20 into NOK (Norwegian Kroner) using my debit card, which incurred a hefty £13.50 in fees, and then paid for the bus in the same way as directed by my host (22 euros + £1.10 Bank of Scotland fee / exchange rate). Note to self, either go back to my Post Office money card or try Revolut so that I can store and use money in local currencies. In Oslo it seems that you do not need cash, only a card.
We drove through industrial areas, and forests while I excitedly snapped photos through the dirty coach window. I have found that it makes for interesting effects which in this case reminded me of old black and white plates which have been delicately painted by hand.
Sarah met me from the bus and I left my camera at her flat to charge while we trudged through the white stuff to pick up her son from school. In English we are supposed to be very low on other words for snow compared to the Inuit’s 50, but have a look at the link below for 400+ Scots alternatives.
There were Xmas card scenes: a church in the street lights as we diagonally crossed the frosty grass, its outline emphasised by the snowy covering; strings of coloured lights brightening doorways. It all delighted me after around 8 hours of travelling, and I was only slightly cold because we dawdled home at an 8 year old pace.
A few days later I walked from the cosy flat at Maridalsveien where I stayed for most of my visit, to the Shiatsu studios where I taught a 2 day workshop, a venue shared with a Triratna Buddhist group.
I was sharing some techniques and information with Norwegian practitioners gathered from my 25 years of practice with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), multiple sclerosis (MS), myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME / Post Viral Syndrome) and cancer.
I walk as much as possible when I am visiting cities to work. It gives me time to assimilate and integrate all the new sights: see the architectural details, listen to the local voices, smell the air, and get to know a place at a slower pace.
Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 8th October 2017. Day 4. On foot with my backpack. The second half of Stage 2.
My route: Starting just outside Sankt (Saint) Veit an der Gölsen, Staff (approx. 800 metres), Wiesenbach (approx. 600 metres), Vordereben, Lilienfeld Stift / Monastery.
I wanted to be clear about my reason for this pilgrimage before I started and it surprised me to realise that I was doing it to ‘develop my soul and atone for my sins’. At least, these were the words I heard in my head when I asked myself the question. I am not religious (although I was bought up firmly in the Christian faith) but this language definitely comes from that tradition. It is now understood that terminology and ideas laid down in infancy are prevalent through life, tricky to shake off. Whilst I subscribe to some Church of England core beliefs such as kindness, the notion of being born a sinner is one I struggle with. That gave me something to ponder as I wandered.
The first three days had been quite hard in terms of terrain, blisters, wind and rain. I got lost a lot, but the landscape I was walking through was so beautiful I forgot all about those tribulations. Given my aim in walking, it was fitting that I was to find myself at the door of not one but two monasteries (see day one) where I attended a number of Masses, sitting quietly, interested in the ritual, and absorbing the atmosphere.
Today was a grand day.
After a good breakfast, and having recovered from the previous day’s struggles, I made my way back down into Sankt Veit an der Gölsen where I had failed to find accommodation the evening before. My plan was to visit the Austrian market which the kind people who had helped me (see Via Sacra, Day 3), had been setting up their stalls. I had been promised traditional dress and local food.
I was close to the central square and stopped to ask the way from a woman with a dog. She spoke some English and asked me what I was up to, what with my backpack and all. Then she offered to walk with me towards Mariazell, so I changed direction and set off up the steep hill with her. (I am getting better at being spontaneous and accepting the invitations as they present themselves!). We had a lovely conversation and she told me stories about her two sons and said, ‘getting a dog was best thing I ever did to avoid a nervous break down!’ It gave her an excuse to get out of the house on a Sunday morning, she said, and walk in the beautiful countryside.
We traversed the pine forest which turned to beech and that was where we parted company. The pine part is a dark olive/seaweedy type of green, whereas the beech trees are a brighter spring green and they let more light through. As we came to the edge of the darker section it was like standing back-stage in the wings, looking onto the lit stage. It was interesting to note the inadvertent change in mood as I moved from one to the other.
My thoughts turned to memories of a previous shared hike, the delights and problems, acknowledging my part in the relationship difficulties: my bad habit of unhappily holding on to slights, not finding it easy to let them go. I found myself turning these things over and over with my footsteps, ‘maybe if…’, ‘perhaps if…’, but then caught myself at it, drew my attention back to the present, one step at a time, heel, toe, heel toe, heel … and that allowed me to see more of my surroundings.
I was making my way along flat paths which stretched into the distance. The wind was strong and it was cold, but fine. In fact as the hours went by, it was decidedly good and I was not lost – hooray.
The Gutenstein Alps are a mountain range in the Eastern Alps of Austria, and the northeasternmost part of the Northern Limestone Alps, reaching heights over 1,000 metres.
Downhill from Staff then up again to Weisenbach I went, taking the steeper option described in the leaflet as ‘a very rewarding mountain trail with two successive ascents’. I followed the effective red and white markers towards Lilienfeld Monastery, my destination. The leaves shone, the wild cyclamen peeped out from between tree roots, and there was peaceful thinking time. Autumn leaves drifted all around and I had the luxury of making very slow progress because the stage was short.
Suddenly in the middle of nowhere (11.15am) were the first two Via Sacra signs of the day, 2 hrs after leaving Wiesland.
It started to spit with rain and I stopped to cover my belongings. A dream from a few days ago flitted into my mind: A man and I settled down with our children (his and mine, 2 families together) to sleep. When the baby cried I left her. I tried not to anlayse it.
The recent fantastic bodywork I had exchanged with Alice Whieldon at the Shiatsu congress in Vienna slid into my mind. Walking gives me time, you see, to ponder and remember important things, to mull them over and observe them from different angles.
For two days I had been unable to wear my shorts but it was a shade warmer and that meant air around my legs. It also resulted in scratches but it was worth it.
Some of the wild flowers were familiar from British hedgerows, and others we have in our gardens. The geology was interesting: striations reminiscent of herring; and the sheer size of one huge crag was awe inspiring (too dark for a photo).
The path wound through a seemingly abandoned settlement where a zimmer frame stood at an angle in the middle of the farmyard as if a UFO had just dematerialised its owner and left it standing – a curiously poignant image. Then a car drove in – it was the first person I had seen in three hours.
On I calmly traipsed until the need to stop to search for the next sign. A great squarking and squeaking gave me quite a surprise.
I gobbled a quick sandwich in the drizzle, in the silence, and watched a single bird of prey swooping over the landscape. There was a chill meaning the trousers had to go back on.
Note to self: Add a thermos to the luggage if walking in October anywhere east of Lyon.
It was 3.5 hours to Wiesenbach Gasthaus. I was feeling very quiet after my silent walking and people could not hear my soft voice. I tiptoed through. It was very slow service and the truth was that I did not want to talk to anyone. I felt peaceful inside myself and welcomed a seat in the warm with a cup of green tea and yummy zucchini (courgette) cake. The smoking and fried food caused stinging eyes. Ah! of course the smells were all about Sunday lunch – they serve very large portions with lots of carbs in these places.
Once back in the fresh air I was completely surrounded by steep wooded slopes and it was all very pleasant indeed.
In fact towards the end of the walk I did get a trifle lost and chose to roll with the backpack, under two make-shift fences which I had previously tested for electricity. Then I made my way down the slope and got to a farm, stooped to pick up a windfall apple and promptly got a shock. The farmer pointed down the road and there was a Via Sacra sign which took me to my destination.
In Austria when you arrive somewhere or pass friendly people on the path, they say Grüss Gott meaning good day or more literally, may God be with you. (Thanks Sabine for clarifying).
I arrived at the Cistercian Abbey at 4pm for the night. The monks reside in long, low stone buildings with port-hole type windows, one per cell, opposite square pools of water.
I was initially told that there was no room. You can imagine my heart sank, but I said I was a pilgrim and they gave me a bed in a 3-person room with a beige velour sofa and access to a toilet/shower room 5 minutes walk away (a long journey in the night).
Vespers was in the Baroque chapel. The nine monks dressed in white habits were joined by a smaller man in black who came in late. Most were elderly looking with tonsures except the one younger man with a skinhead of Scottish red hair. He continually adjusted his neck and wore Vans (trendy trainers). Another sported a sweat band around the perimeter of his bald head, had specs and a beard, and rested his hands comfortably on his belly.
There was no Gregorian chant as at Heiligenkreutz; it was mostly spoken in Latin with some German, and there were periods of silence. They turned in unison to face the altar, a ritual back and forth, sitting and standing, bowing and straightening, and every now and then one turned the pages of a huge prayer book. They took it in turns with call and response.
For 8.80 euros I was served a cheese toastie with an egg on top, a small red wine, cake and peppermint tea. It was a very early night as the monks rise in the small hours for worship.
Dry cardboard leaves and wrinkled skin. It is autumn. The smell of decomposition heralds the beginning of winter, but the azure skies are reminiscent of last year in Spain on the Camino.
These happy memories inevitably lead to sadness, made worse by the season’s proclivities. There are almost no leaves left on the trees and part of me doubts if summer will ever come again.
I feel contentment not happiness as I climb in the silence and contemplate this solitude.
In the distance Swiss flags are flying. Nearby there is dung on the path after last week’s flitting when the cows were brought from the slopes for the winter. Lambing is in progress. I can distinguish now between the different timbres of cattle bells ringing round the mountains, their walls creating a huge singing bowl.
I move between open grassy slopes to dark fir woods where no photos are possible. There is also very steep, carefully managed woodland to the tune of bing bong ben. Underfoot are, variously, beech leaf-piles and phallic cones. I breathe heavily with the effort, my muscles toning and strengthening (so I promise myself) as I strain up and higher.
Blue birdseye to match the sky crouches next to the mini-suns of a dandelion-type flower. It is shorts and T-shirt weather and I come across a mountain cabin with a veranda just for me to bathe on.
Here I meditate and muse for an hour facing away from the sun to warm my kidneys and let the rays shine between my vertebrae. It feels as if I have a back of velvet. I hear axe on wood; a bee busys by my ear and it is easy to imagine it is trying to tell me something. If I lived here what would happen? Would my mind be quiet or is it just that I would be able to hear things which usually the world is too loud for?
But no, other noises disturb my reverie. I am not scared, I only want to know what is in the forest over there. However much I watch nothing is revealed. I settle back. It is so still that an inertia or reluctance to walk has come over me. My skin feels caressed by the breeze.
A wood pecker taps. I see spider skeins in the air made visible by the rays. Far away, wisps of cloud sit in the lap of the mountain. Diagonal ribs of grassy slopes ripple down below an opaque turquoise, which in turn sets the rocky teeth of the horizon into relief.
My eating disturbs the silence but then again so does my tummy rumbling. As if this place is my private domain, I sit in my bra. Last night I dreamt of a conversation with a Border collie, and today I congratulate a mother sheep whose newborn couries doun beside her. This landscape is having an influence!
At 927 metres is the closed Carthusian chapter of Chartreuse La Valsainte, Cerniat. It is fitting that nearby there are silent and solitary monks secluded from the rest of the world.
I spot a pair of the raptors I saw yesterday and when they are further away they do sound like the rare bearded vultures on the internet. They certainly looked like them from a distance.
Eventually the sun leaves my idyllic corner, although the wooden door I lean against remains cosy for ages. I didn’t see a soul though I fancied I heard the odd voice wafting up. Maybe they were spirits, given it is so close to Samhain (31 Oct / 1 Nov: the Gaelic festival where a sort of veil comes down between harvest and winter’s dormancy).
Meanwhile aeroplanes create white crosses looking like cotton wool when you pull the whole length out of the bag.
What grand old trees I move between! I am hot again as I negotiate the steep.
Then I am at the first summit and I know what is there below me: Lake Gruyère. I can identify the town of Bulle, and the 2002 metres of Moléson which I climbed 3 days ago, to the left. I have the urge to run uphill – mountain goat madness.
Soon afterwards I am on Mont Bifé.
Sitting down to manage the vertigo ‘in the pit of my stomach’ I feel waves of sensation in my base chakra. I open up the map and the land is open in front of it. There is a viaduct over the Lac de la Gruyère, a castle or quarry (maybe Verchaux), and a black and white bird suddenly flies past in front of my eyes. There is no wind. It is warm, warm. Harebells dangle, and I smell the odour of wild thyme in bloom.
The ear splitting aircraft is a violation of this landscape.
After this, I wander gently downwards, find a helpful signpost, and start to negotiate more slippery, damp-smelling and slightly treacherous pathways on the Yin side of the mountain facing away from the sun.
I have come over the other side of my morning’s world into a shadier environment with places the width of one foot to walk on as I totter round the edge of precipitous rocks on boards which have been laid there to enable access. Then it is down a steep ladder, through undergrowth and over the many fallen tree trunks, before I come out once again into the open by one of the occassional stone houses which shepherds use in the summer.
Now where do I go from here? There follows an hour or traipsing over and under, through and around, until I finally accept defeat and retrace my steps through the tricky part and back to that signpost. I find this very difficult. I like to move forward from a to b and have never enjoyed going back and starting again.
In fact, the way down is easy once found, and I even meet two friendly women coming up, although their conversation seemed so loud.
I get cold and hurtle on to get my circulation going, arriving some six plus hours later back where I started and ready for a cup of tea.
I took the Tour du Lac, around the Lac de Montsalvens, near Charmey in Switzerland on the advice of Justine who grew up close by and used to walk her dog there.
I walked on the path down the mountain from Crésuz and passed through beech woods, ankle deep in bronze and copper leaves.
Glimpsed the lake through the trees.
Around the bend was the Barage de Montsalvens offering glorious views.
The lake is at a different level to the incoming river Jogne.
There are picnic places at this end and the choice to go to the nearby town of Broc, though the tour carries on around the lake.
‘I get filled up with space when I come here’. Karine Polwart, Wind Resistance.
I think it is one of the most beautiful places I have visited.
It disappeared into the depths and when I later saw a fisherman searching in the clear pools I sincerely hoped it would stay well hidden.
There was movement on the facing bank: when my eyes became accustomed I saw tiny birds scuttling along branches and flitting into gaps in the rocks.
On the opposite side is the Ruisseau de Montélon river.
From here the way climbs up.
I missed the leafy sentier off to the right, and clambered instead up the grassy slopes where men were building a house loudly. But there too were a pair of red kites which glided so close I could see every detail of their orange bodys, striped wings and split tails. Magnificent.
I eventually identified my whereabouts (this time I had a map), rolled under a barbed wire fence (I find myself doing this a lot), edged with my boots along the steep fields to avoid tumbling, and found first a traditional wooden house with pointed woodpile like a haystack, and afterwards a wee chapel.
Then down towards Charmey, sticky brown clay underfoot, cowbells tinkling, traffic sounds ever stronger, and I had the familiar feeling of wanting to go back up and stay out for always.
Graz is in the region of Styria in Austria and is the second largest city after Vienna. I visited for 2 days in mid October 2017 and as soon as I arrived at the train station I was struck by the numbers of young people with their caps on backwards, knees poking through jeans and skateboards in hands. It is a vibrant place.
Having recently completed a pilgrimage where I walked alone for 10 days on the Via Sacra (Vienna to Mariazell, Austria), my first days in Graz turned out to be more about the people I met than the landscape, and therefore my observations were about noise/silence, harmony/conflict, and sharing space.
The main difference was that I slept in a shared women´s dormitory which was full, whereas I had earlier stayed in large rooms where I was the only inhabitant. There was an older woman visiting Graz because her parents were buried there and she was tending their graves. She very kindly produced maps of her home region of Corinthia, showing me where she walked to school as a child, and this impressed me so much that I went there later.
I quickly made friends with an Australian teacher who has two sons the same age as my daughters and was also travelling around Europe. She laughed when I told her I had chosen to fly home from Basel because I was meeting an old school friend for lunch in that place. She came to Graz, she said, for the same reason: to dine with a past colleague.
There was a very popular retired engineer from Germany. Popular because she had a kettle and generously doled out hot water for our tea. It transpired that we all carried a private stash of tea bags! I was amused to see that she also had a beautiful china platter with a gold border in her suitcase from which she ate her meals.
L was from nearby Croatia, here for a Lindy Hop (dance) convention; and the final bed was taken by a medical student who recently discovered acupuncture and was in Graz for a weekend´s training.
Graz is an attractive city.
I was regaled with stories of the previous dormitory which they had quitted as a result of a woman who came back at 2am, turned on the lights and noisily completed her toilet for several hours, keeping them all awake. Maybe as a result of that broken night, the helpful older woman became increasingly argumentative as the evening progressed and there was some shouting and disharmony between her and two of the others. When she was out, however, four of us happily shared a picnic, swapping stories in several languages, and the engineer and L spontaneously danced together.
The next morning I packed up and started into town with a plan to find an internet cafe and book both bus to and hostel in Corinthia for that night. At the first set of lights, a man from Salzburg struck up a conversation with me. He told me about his work at the university identifying the whereabouts of large groups of people via satellite in order to direct the doctors of Medicins Sans Frontiers to where they are needed. He was coicidentally also in Graz for the Lindy Hop convention, and when we arrived at the river we discovered a jazz band playing as part of a Green Party rally. So, off came my rucksack and we jived in the sun. What enjoyable random meetings I have when I am travelling!
Word of warning: there are no internet cafes in Graz. I went into an Apple shop to ask where I might find one and he let me use one of their display models for several hours which was mighty kind. The hostel I wanted to stay in was shut so I decided to remain in the city for a second night and go to the free Lindy Hop evening party which both dancers I had met had suggested I attend.
L accompanied me there on the trams and later she won the Crazy Cat competition with her partner which was a great achievement. There were dancers from all over the world rocking the hall to the live 8-piece band. Nattily dressed gentlemen of diverse ages wore checked suits, panama hats, black and white shoes, and drainpipes. It was clear that everything had been chosen carefully and was part of the outfit. Women had flowers in their hair, lipstick a-glow, black seamed stockings, with a glimpse of red knickers mid-swing. Whirling and twirling, guys with their concentrating faces, subtly guided using a firm hand on their lady´s waist to avoid collisions. There was inviting vintage gear on sale. Celia in red and black chose only women to dance with, meaning she had to lead. She smiled encouragement as she steered me round the floor. Later she told me that she was off on a 2-day walk up the large mountain I had spied on my last hike. I warned of snow. She said that the hut at the top was open and invited me to join her. If I had not booked my hostels in advance I would have done so. Yet again I am reminded that advance planning closes down my options.
I chose a different room to sleep in to avoid the arguments, but shouting men and barking dogs interrupted my breakfast by the fountain the next day. I was looking for quiet and an absence of conflict, but a woman moaned and shouted as I did my t’ai chi in the park so I moved on afterwards, but it was a beautiful spot. Perhaps the reason I walk in the mountains is to escape the external noise, to find the wonderful and amazing quiet. No doubt the external reflects my internal state of mind! I understand monks needing to go into silent retreat or live in a cave in the Himalayas!
I saw a wooden slope in the distance and navigated my way there, spotting a giant thermometer / art work by Michael Schuster (2013) as I went. It was measuring the temperature of the city over years showing that it was rising, perhaps due to global warming.
And I took the funicular up the Schlossberg (castle mountain). There were people smelling of last nights alcohol excess in there with me. From the top I saw the massive city below pushing up to the foothills of the mountains beyond and in some cases crawling up the lower slopes. There were grey rectangular boxes laid out before me with useeing blind square eyes, as well as some edifices with red rooves and trees dotted between them.
A theatre has been fashioned from the old castle walls and Fidelio was the first performance there, one of my favourite operas. I recalled the part where the prisoners are finally released and sing their freedom song.
The distance between Graz and the other places I have visited.
I come across a harpist playing Greensleeves. Ironically this was the old English song which a large group of children and their parents were singing outside Estrella, Spain exactly one year ago at the start of my first Camino walk. Lower down the slope an accordionist played a traditional Austrian song and two tourists sang with him.
By chance I was beside the famous clock tower symbol of Graz at midday and the bells pealing all around the city from its churches and cathedrals created quite a symphony. I sat on a bench in the sun and shut my eyes and when they ceased there was the sounds of the accordionist, a plane and a simple murmur of voices.
I walk down, past Sunday revellers in cafes, into a church where christenings are taking place, drink a glass of deliciously cold white wine and around me Italian is spoken. Ah, it’s a Sicilian street market! How bizarre.