The Via Sacra pilgrimage runs from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. This is an account of my day 7, 11th October 2017, the first half of Stage 4.

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Annaberg from the youth hostel.

I was on foot with my backpack, not walking overly far each day although there was a lot of uphill. Without stopping for more than 10/15 minutes twice, I was savouring the countryside because such beauty should not be rushed. Moving slowly from a to b to c, this is wandering rather than hiking at speed, so it took me longer than the guide said it would. Taking photos was, as always, almost obsessive: to share and to show those who have not visited. I also answered messages sometimes (unnecessarily), and constantly checked the map as I went along to avoid getting lost.

‘..follow the Buddha’s simple advice: “When walking – just walk!”‘ quotes Adam Ford in ‘Mindful Thoughts for Walkers, Footnotes on the Zen Path.

Today’s route: Annaberg, by-passing the towns of Joachimsberg and Wienerbruck which are on the road, up Josefsberg (berg is mountain in German), that is, over the Türnitzer Alpen and down again to Mitterbach. It was the gentlest morning followed by a terrible climb, but all in glorious sun.

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I had this gorgeous peak in my sight all day.

Birds trilled as I left the youth hostel (Junges Hotel). It had been a strange and rowdy experience there: no-one spoke any English and indeed, the mirror in my room was framed with the word ‘Welcome’ in every imaginable language except English which is unusual for an internataional place. The staff were friendly enough, despite being so very busy.

I startled a single deer under the trees – no wonder she did not usually expect any one to be there as it was thick undergrowth: nettles, twigs, a steep slope and a river to cross. Of course I had taken the wrong route but I could not turn back – somehow that was the worst of ideas. I emerged scratched and panting, to admire the wonderful mountain.

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The alp (here resembling a volcano) had snow on it.

There were sounds of cow bells, as you might expect, and again, memories of the story of Heidi (by Johanna Spyri) with the mountain and its squat houses with brown balconies. They were all girdled by a majestic raptor: was it an eagle? It had a big fanned tail and a hooked beak and it circled through a sky blue enough to rival an Iberian one.

Once I got my breath back it seemed a good time to visit the Catholic Parish Church which I had seen from the outside the day before (a mixture of medieval and early Baroque features). The crocheted seat covers, the stained glass, the late Gothic vine painting 1440-1444, and the detail on the organ (1898, Max Jakob) where the angels seemed to be having a real drama, were all worthy of admiration.

Then the path descended, downhill through the village and out along the Annaberger Kreuzweg, into the cold shade where modern Stations of the Cross can be found at intervals. As with the Camino Frances in northern Spain which is 500 miles (800 kms) long in its entirety but can be shortened to the final 62 (100kms) in order to get the compostella (the certificate at the end), there is a shortened Via Sacra which begins here in Annaberg rather than in Vienna but still ending in Mariazell.

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Created in 1973 by Sepp Gamsjæger with a special technique.
I crossed the Brücke uber den Tannbach (built in 1870) and admired the trickling brook and pretty homesteads in the distance.
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Josefsberg seemed to be horse mountain.
It was a very steep and hot climb to Josefsberg (the third Sacred Mountain) but a relaxing stop for a snack by the horse exercising ring of white sand, and the spectacular view from the top. I peeked into the tiny square (also Baroque) chapel because my information had told me about a series of fascinating wall paintings in the presbytery. There was no sign of them inside.
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The Catholic church of St Joseph.
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There seems to be some sort of exchange going on here.
There was a woman moving boxes of flowers outside the house next door, so in my broken German I asked her where were the frescoes. She did not understand! So I tried in English and unusually, happily, she did comprehend that. Lo! she was the key holder and proudly unlocked doors, showed me around and told me all about them.
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They were painted directly onto the walls in 1830, and tell stories of the surrounding area from the past and at the time.
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They showed people visiting from Vienna.
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Different seasons are depicted and there are also some museum artefacts in the room to enhance the experience.
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They clearly illustrate the landscapes I had walked through and ones I was to visit when I left.

It was a fascinating interlude and I would highly recommend them to other visitors.

My mind this Autumn time, turned to grief and the passage I read on Facebook (and now cannot remember the source) rang true. I had time to reflect as I made my way.

‘You have to pick it up, hold it, feel the weight of it in your hands, on your heart and within your life. You have to feel the whole loss. Grief demands to be felt with an insistence that needs no sleep. You either allow yourself to encounter the feelings or you remain encased in a shell of yourself under a misguided sense of self-protection.’

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No wonder this place evokes spirituality.

A few days before I had checked out Shiatsu practitioners who lived in the area, and to my delight I received a text in reply last night offering me a bed in exchange for a session. Petra is native to Mitterbach and she lives there with her baby son Amor, his father Mao from El Salvador, and a delightful friend Gudrun. They are very active in the town, giving Shiatsu and baby Shiatsu, yoga, chi gung and dance classes, hosting festivals and being patrons of architectural murals.

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By Obed Osorio, artist, El Salvador.

I came down from the mountain with quiet echoing in my ears. I was earlier than I had anticipated so I sat in silence on the outskirts of the town, acclimatising to the busyness and noise up ahead. My meet-up with Petra was by a pond outside a cafe at 4pm. A father was playing guitar while his children played in the sandpit. Nearby a family carried a baby in a papoose with 2 other kids shrieking delightedly on a make-shift raft. Older women sipped pink wine in the sun. I felt mellow and more at home than I had so far on this pilgrimage.

They live by the Erlauf river on the main street, with a garden where we had our evening meal. I brushed up on my Spanish at the class Mao gave that evening for people in the town, and was generally made very welcome. Many thanks to these kind people who opened their home without ever having met me before.

Annaburg Youth Hostel annaberg.noejhw.at +43 2728 8496.

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