Le Lac de Montsalvens, Switzerland

2nd November 2017. Switzerland.

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.

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The centre of Crésuz.

I walked on the path down the mountain from Crésuz and passed through beech woods, ankle deep in bronze and copper leaves.

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Glimpsed the lake through the trees.

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A place for meditation.

Around the bend was the Barage de Montsalvens offering glorious views.

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The lake is at a different level to the incoming river Jogne.

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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.

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‘I get filled up with space when I come here’. Karine Polwart,  Wind Resistance.

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I think it is one of the most beautiful places I have visited.

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My lunch spot. I saw a huge brown fish sailing under the surface of the dark green water.

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.

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Only the sound of the cascades.

On the opposite side is the Ruisseau de Montélon river.


From here the way climbs up.

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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.

Wild flowers and grasses.

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.

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With thanks to Justine.

Tourist info page: http://charmey.ch/tour-du-lac/

Walking without a donkey – Graz, Austria

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.

A clean room with newly laundered cotton bedding and windows which opened for air.

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.

I really like the colourfully decorated buildings to be found all over Austria.

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.

A Graz-style shopping arcade.

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.

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.

Graz is an attractive city.

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.

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.

People sit at its base and dangle their feet.

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.

 I stayed at the ugly A and O hostel not far from the main station. It is huge but the facilities are adequate and the receptionists helpful. https://www.aohostels.com/de/graz/graz-hauptbahnhof/

Lonely Planet Guide https://www.lonelyplanet.com/austria/the-south/graz

Walking without a donkey – Via Sacra day 2

6th October 2017 Day 2 Heiligenkreuz to just outside Kaumberg, Austria. On foot. The second half of Stage 2.

The Via Sacra path.

I rose very early for the first service of the day at Heiligenkreuz Monastery where I slept the night. In the chilly church, the Fathers must have been happy to have their white habits with wide sleeves to cosy their hands in. Some had additional black skull-caps; one his pointy hood pulled over his head.

Intoning their Gregorian chants, the 30 men from all around the world enacted their daily rituals, taking it in turns to start off the constituent parts. Sitting then standing, turning towards the altar then backing into their own wooden slot like well practiced horses, turning the pages of the great books propped up in front of them, they alternated being upright and bowing in reverence.

There were 6 of us congregation dotted about the pews, which was very different from the 200 strong crowd of the previous evening when a group of business people were there for a visit.

Heiligenkreuz Monastery, Lower Austria.

Breakfast consisted of fresh white bread rolls, yoghurt, cheese, some fresh and some tinned fruit, jams, honey on tap, and a broad array of drinks etc which set me up for the day.

Outside of Mass, the brethren were delightful, laughing, ruddy-faced and balding, making jokes with everyone and giving what looked like entertaining tours in English when required.

Spot the red and white sign on the tree!

It was a windy day when I set out, and I gave thanks for the red and white horizontal striped way-markers because the Via Sacra yellow arrows were few and far between. Lost once more amongst the hills, the green chestnuts’ littered the paths with their shiny brown tokens. The walk was slow with fragrant white roses, gleaming red berries, the sun shining from behind the clouds and lighting up the almost luminous Autumn leaves. Although I felt urgency and some sort of competitive streak I wondered with whom and why for as I had no itinerary or deadlines to meet. In fact I had the luxury of no companion and no compunction to arrive at a particular place by a certain time, so I encouraged myself to stop and take notes, photos,  write messages and bask in the sun.

Kestrels (or some such raptor) danced together on the thermals, six of them mimicking those which entranced me in the Basque country last year – piping and whistling they were.

There is a tremendous amount of forestry and logging all through this area.
The church at Maria Reisenmarkt.

Maria Reisenmarkt is a very pretty village with a steep climb out via a stony  road (medium and tiny white rocks with tree roots, leaves, sometimes concrete, mud or grass). The beechwood was  wonderfully quiet with occasional rustling, and there was a corresponding quiet inside me.

With pines interspersed, the sunshine is away up in the tallest canopy rather than on the ground allowing a cold wind to transport its Fall scents. Every now and then a golden leaf wafts down, and sometimes the trees catch most of the wind and I only experience a breeze.  Once out in the open there was a tiny village with a huge gasthaus to serve me lunch.

I was glad of the salad bar but could not eat  all those chips.
It had a kitsch garden.
And in the car park was something I had not seen before: cars with their padlocked dog boots open for air.

After my welcome break, the path took me through Mayerling which I knew from Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet of that name. The full-length dance opens in Vienna and closes in the cemetery at Heiligenkreuz so its tragic trajectory mirrors my journey.

The Emperor Franz Joseph in the window at the Mayerling Convent’s museum.
The village of Mayerling has a private convent.
With the most beautiful little lake.
Going out of Mayerling I came across this ‘come and cut your own’ flower farm with fields of gladioli and sunflowers.
Most attractive and typical Austrian domestic architecture.
A wayside shrine.

The last part of the day 2 walk was along a concrete cycle path which was hard on the feet so I did not make it right into Kaumberg. Instead I chanced my luck at Gasthof Renzenhof by the main road which is not one I would recommend at this time of year. The owner obviously did not expect anyone so the beds were as their previous inhabitants had left them and nothing was clean.

However the harvest was almost in, bottled or made into jam, and the breakfast was a delight. She even made me a boiled egg, bless her.

I used my sleeping bag for the first time having carried it around for nearly 2 weeks, and needed two of her duvets on top in the unheated room. Happily 5 euros was knocked off the price!
It always seems fortuitous when I come across a donkey on my travels as I did today!

Via Sacra pdf leaflet to download but do not rely on this alone. Make sure you also use other maps and more detailed information to avoid getting lost.

There are maps at some junctions.

http://brochures.austria.info/en_US/brochures/show/6006-Via-Sacra-and-the-Vienna-Pilgrimage-Trail

First I thought these little tree houses were for playing, then for bird watching. Sadly it turns out that they are for hunting deer.

Walking without a donkey – Via Sacra pilgrimage

5th October 2017 Day 1 Hinterbrühl to Heiligenkreuz, Austria. On foot, 5 hours.

The wonderful Sabine drove me from Andlersdorf to Hinterbrühl through Viennese traffic jams and what threatened to be an endless search for the start of my pilgrimage.

After asking several people it turns out that the yellow sign was like a street one at the crossroads, and that confusion over signage was to be the order of the day.

It started well with a downhill hike. A gentle man spotted me minus a boot and administering a plaster. He sympthised with my blister condition (though I was reminded at every turn, by the wayside Christ figures, that any suffering of mine was minor).

I was continually returned to my Spanish caminos, what with barking dogs, and chestnut hulls littering the paths with familiar earthy smells as they start to decompose. There were Canterbury bells and Chinese lanterns in the woods as I began to climb steeply, and golden and tan beech leaves in heaps by the paths.

It was very hot at the top when I eventually emerged from the trees, and I passed a few people along the way who did not know about the path I was searching for. I had followed yellow signs but they were different ones!

The forest was absolutely beautiful. The next day a monk was glad for me to have taken this route, pointing out that much of the way is by the main road.

If I had been so inclined I could have dined and drunk to my heart’s content at the 2 large ‘gasthaus’ in the middle of the forest.

Nearing Gaaden, on the way down.

I had departed at 9 am and finally arrived in Gaaden at 12 having taken a wrong turn early on it transpired, and and after adding 2.5hrs and 600 metres of very steep climb up and totter down.

Carrying my hefty back pack like that used up most of the day’s energy. I managed a little further after a 20 minute lunch break, but on getting lost again my spirits plumetted.

Once more in a forest without the requisite arrows, I sought advice from walkers with a big bag. They were mushroom hunters returning to their car with a grand haul, all smiles. Luckily for me they offered me a lift to the next village and I gratefully accepted as I was at the end of myself.

We passed the famous Heiligenkreuz Monastery and I asked to be put down there. As I entered for a look I wondered if they might allow pilgrims to stay, and once again I was lucky.

I rested in the sun beside the trickling fountain until 5.30 pizza, then attended both 6pm vespers and 7.50pm ‘komplet’ or compline. Traditionally the same three psalms are prayed each night: 4, 90 and 133. They contain clear references to the night, going to rest, dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, protection of the angels, etc., and so are perfect for the end of the day.

Saint Teresa, at the end of the day.

The Heiligenkreuz monks are renowned for their Gregorian chanting and so I was happy to hear them. Dressed in their white robes, half on one side and half on the other of the wooden choir stalls which were exactly the same colour as the beech leaves in the woods, their sound is both haunting and eerie.

The entrance to the Stations of the Cross outside the Monastery gates.

The final service of the day consists of them first lighting candles, then extinguishing the altar lights. At the end the bells toll for 5 minutes, rolling through the valley, and the candles are blown out leaving us in near darkness while the Fathers begin their silent period 20hrs until 5hrs the next morning when we reconvened for the first prayers of the day.

I took a brief dusk walk beside the deer to find the full moon and commune with my sisters, but it was not to be seen behind the rain clouds. Instead I climbed along the path of the 12 stations of the cross and watched the remnants of the sun turn the sky a bruised orange.

Private accommodation in a simple room with 2 beds and sink cost 26 euros including evening meal, lunch and breakfast and copious mugs of tea to rehydrate myself before a very early night.

Vienna to Andlersdorf

Walking Donaustadtbrüke to Schönau an der Donau. 30 kms.

Carla, Karen and Nicolas.

I took the U2 metro line to Donaustadtbrüke which means the bridge over the river Donau (Danube),  from the town side to the island.

I had the pleasure of some unexpected company in the form of 3 pals from the European Shiatsu Congress I had lately attended. They even carried my heavy rucksack for me in relays for the first hour and a half. That’s what friends are for! We sung Lets Go Fly a Kite from the film Mary Poppins and we fair swung along together.

It was great to be out of the city after a hectic and action packed week. It is a wide waterway with extensive tributaries making for divers intermediary land masses with little to distinguish them except that they are basically green and not built-up.

Having left nearly 2 hours later than planned, we crossed to the southern bank earlier than the map showed. There were toilets there and what looked like a good place to eat and drink.

The sun was still shining with a strong wind when I struck out alone and having hugged my goodbyes.

What with new boots (which broke slightly when I put them on that morning) and it being my first long walk with a back pack since June, it took me a while to get into my stride. When I did, big deep sigh, I rediscovered the joy!

I was on green paths beside flowing blue waves, amidst wild flowers of purple,  pink, blue, white and yellow with butterflies to match. They seemed to appear by magic from the ground they were camouflaged by as I trod on it.

I had to negotiate the oil refinery which smelled very unpleasant complete with loud machinery. Up until now I was on cycle paths with the bikes tinkling their bells or skimming past, but once clear of the industrial area, dragonflies played around me, walnut shells crackled underfoot (reminiscent of the Camino Francés), there were ducks, swans and swathes of happiness.

The path moves through a Natural Park and there are attractive wooden dwellings on stilt legs at regular intervals. Many of them have the same bucket fishing nets I saw along the coast of Brittany in France in May.

It was beautifully quiet and I caught myself exhaling again. A heron took off from the pool’s surface, dragging its webbed feet out of the water with sheer determination on the way to a better spot.

Having changed to sandals to give my new blister some air, I enjoyed the soft white sand between my toes.

There were 2 men on the opposite bank when I stopped for my picnic. Other than that I saw no walkers until I changed back into my boots several hours. I I was sitting by a pool on the bleached stones when a couple of experienced looking hikers came by and were able to point me in the right direction for what turned out to be the final half hour.

I thought I was three quarters of the way there and would have to just stop in order to avoid being on the path when it got dark, and so I stopped at the pleasant looking cafe to ask the way to the nearest town. Someone overheard me and said I could get a bus. I had 5 euros on me so had to forgo a cup of desperately needed tea when I spotted the sign Schönau an der Donau. Wow I had made it to the end of the walk without (a donkey) without even knowing it!  I was elated and full of sun.

In fact I needed 2 buses which collectively came to more money than I had, but the second driver waved me on anyway. What a great sense of achievement I felt!

Late afternoon in Schönau an der Donau.

Schönau has pretty, pastel-coloured bungalows, a church and fire station amidst flat and fertile farm land full of serious farm machinery as it is harvest time. The post bus was full of giggly school girls and posturing boys tossing back their fringes and feigning disinterest.

Here is the link to the page: https://www.bergfex.at/sommer/niederoesterreich/touren/fernwanderweg/40738,07-grenzlandweg-02-etappe-wien-donauinsel-u2-schoenau-an-der-donau/

It is a flat, easy walk. The map looks like an ancient one, but the walk is simpler to follow than you might expect. There are hardly any arrows or signs (just one or 2 red and white horizontally striped ones after you cross the river), but as long as you stay close to, and on the right side of the Donau (Danube) you can take the footpaths with confidence. Skirting around the oil refinery is the least enjoyable stage, however what follows is glorious.

Beware of Google maps! It does not cater for hikers, taking us on main roads and over busy junctions. It is great for getting your bearings, for orientating yourself when lost, but not for footpaths and tracks.

Both the map and Google need Internet. I have not yet found a suitable offline map but am working on it and will share when I find it.

Vienna 2

A second blog about Vienna – photos, food, safety for women, tourist services and more.

I was visiting this elegant, dolls-house city for the first time for the purposes of attending the largest European Shiatsu Congress ever held. There were over 600 participants from very many countries including Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, Scotland, England, Germany, Switzerland and of course Austria.

It was truly wonderful to meet up with friends I made in France and Spain during the last year; spend time with colleagues from previous meet-ups; and forge new acquaintances.

In the same way that Gill, fellow practitioner, helped me find friends and hosts in Spain, Sabine was my guide and support here. I am grateful to her, her mother and Ursula for their kindness, generosity and friendship.

The Votifkirche.
Palmenhaus (palm or glass house) for overwintering plants years ago, now a cafe.

Trying to find the Tourist Information I was drawn to a certain loudness which turned out to be a slightly pop version of Gloria In Excelsis Deo. On October 31 1517 Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the gates to the Wittenberg Castle Church. Thus began the Reformation whose 500th anniversary was this year. I had stumbled across the preparations for this event.

 

Useful facts: The ITI Tourist Information in Schmerlingpl. 3 is not the one you want, despite what Google maps tells you. Find the website for the right place and follow the link from there. And note that they cannot tell you anything about anywhere outside Vienna, including treks which leave the city or well-known pilgrimages.

All very grand and gold but the sun cannot usually get down to street level.

There are a lot of men in statue form standing high on rooves looking down at us mortals.

Maria Teresa had 16 children.

She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma.

Mozart cuts a fine figure.
Whereas I thought Goethe just looked fed up and resigned.
I liked the patterned roof of St Stephen’s Cathedral.
And the interior was impressive.
But the roccoco church of St Peter was altogether in a different league.
Exterior of St Peter’s Catholic church.

I walked all over the city day and night and believe it is safe for solo women. I even made one very early walk alongside the metro line U6 which is raised up above the road level, and there were many men who looked ‘down at heel’, but no-one bothered me at all.

Controversial tourist carriages. There are rules in place to protect the horses from the heat and boredom but not everyone is convinced.

The Viennese speak great English which made it tricky to try my schoolgirl German. There are 1000s of tourists so most people you stop to ask the way have no better idea than you!

Jesuit church.
Fine stonework.
A screaming gargoyle.
Grumpy burghers.

I was taken to the Nachtsmarkt (market) where I sampled olives and dried fruit, chocolate, and was given free soap. The vegetarian restaurant was amazing. Details below.

Nachsmarkt: so many stalls and wonderful arrays of round-the-world delicacies.  https://www.wien.gv.at/freizeit/einkaufen/maerkte/lebensmittel/naschmarkt/

Chocolate, and especially the pistachio, that is sustainable as well as delicious http://www.zotter.at

Lovely soap with natural scents: http://www.allesseife.at

Recommended deli (veg and vegan) in Mariahilferstrasse main shopping area: http://www.freiraum117.at/Startseite_m

Evening vegetarian restaurant with charming service at Opernring: https://veggiezz.at

 

Vienna 1

An evening wander in pictures (with a few words). Tuesday 26th September 2017

It was a stroll really, around the Theresiengasse area of Vienna this balmy evening.

Amongst pastel shaded, elegant streets looking mellow in the last rays of the day’s sunshine.

Craning my neck to enjoy the skyline.

With a quiet mind. I realised it had something to do with the fact that the voices around me, the advertising posters and signs, were all in a language I can barely understand (although some German vocabulary is slowly coming back from O’ level days).

 Mother and daughter on their phones, each walking a small dog, stop to untangle the leads.

I followed my nose, my only aim being to find flowers for my kind host Ursula,  and tissues to stem my Autumn cold. I am reminded that these were my father’s last days 19 years ago.

Kids playing in floodlit playparks on street corners, people smoking inside bars, zebra crossings everywhere.

Night fell and I relied on my GPS to find my way back, still comfortable in sandals and shirt.

Visit Vienna