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Via Sacra – Day 4

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.

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Not bad weather for starting day 4 of my walk.

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.

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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.

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River Gölsen.

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.

IMG_20171008_113755 (480x640)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.

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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.

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A harebell photo for my mum.

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.

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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.

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Slightly blurred set of good direction signs. I had given up looking for the Via Sacra ones and clocked that the red bars were more efficient.

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.

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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.

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Fascination with the diverse types of funghi hidden in the fallen leaves.

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.

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Pink quartz in a box?

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.

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Taken with a zoom as I did not want to get too close to these disgruntled geese.

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.

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Traditional Austrian architecture.

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.

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Once back in the fresh air I was completely surrounded by steep wooded slopes and it was all very pleasant indeed.

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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).

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The grand front door of Lilienfeld Monastery.

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.

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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).

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The Monastery is situated at the foot of the hill making for stunning views.

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.

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A highly decorated church with a beautifully simple Baroque ceiling. Golden orbs, putti, adult angels, black marble pillars with golden heads and feet, and a multitude of golden figures above the choir stalls. Amidst all this ornamentation, a grey stone Christ, bowed and be-staffed.
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 Statues line the outside walls.

 

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Pink roses in a courtyard for contemplation.
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Scottish heather for sale.

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.

 

 

Swiss Alps: Mont Bifé, Vanils des Cours

3 November 2017. A walk with views.

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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.

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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.

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The sun is low in the sky at this time of year and does not reach everywhere.

I feel contentment not happiness as I climb in the silence and contemplate this solitude.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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I can see civilisation but hear only birds.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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It is a little scary right on the edge.

Soon afterwards I am on Mont Bifé.

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1483 metres above sea level.

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.

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The ear splitting aircraft is a violation of this landscape.

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Vanils des Cours is the third height.

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.

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I might have known that this way was doomed! Although I was pretty sure that the bull had been moved, it was not a good omen.

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.

A bear sculpture tethered to the overhanging rock is a surprise find.

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.

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A lovely blog about alpine flowers: https://wanderwisdom.com/travel-destinations/alpine-flowers-switzerland

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/

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

Via Sacra – Day 3

Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 7th October 2017. Day 3. Starting just outside Kaumberg and walking to Sankt (Saint) Veit an der Golsen, Austria. On foot with my backpack. The first half of Stage 2.

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‘All good things come to those who walk. Walking is a recreational pastime that Austrian’s themselves are passionate about, and it’s obvious why.’ From http://www.touchingnature.co.uk/austria-walking-carinthia.htm

My overnight accommodation in a secondary building separate from the main house was cold and dirty. Having arranged for breakfast at 7am, I braved the cold morning across the small yard and attempted to enter via the backdoor. It was locked. When I looked up, all the upstairs curtains were closed and the house silent. I scoured the perimeter and discovered there was no way out. There were some huge rabbits in stacks of tiny cubes, a series of hutches with wire fronts; a great deal of rubbish and minor farm machinery; and the back of the gates which I knew opened onto the road. I had no choice but to return to my dormitory, wrap myself in my sleeping bag and wait. On the third attempt the door opened and I was welcomed into a completely contrasting environment: a warm, clean and bright pub bar with many large wooden tables (I was the only guest) and served with a wondrous breakfast of hot bread rolls, homemade jam, yummy butter, tea, juice and then a boiled egg! Both the lady and gentleman of the house were friendly and kind and with a full tummy I was ready to leave at 8.40am.

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Church on the hill, Kaumberg.

It was a very short dander to the town and I arrived at almost the same moment that crowds of walkers were collecting, it being a Saturday morning. Not one of them appeared to speak English or understand my German, and all were too taken up with greeting friends to be helpful. However, I did eventually find a helpful woman behind a stall who pointed me in the right direction and, at the top of a steep flight of steps, I came across the town church with beautiful views.

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Mariazeller Pilgerverein Mauer – Mariazell (the place of pilgrimage I was walking to) Pilgrim Club Wall.

IMG_20171007_100557 (480x640)The hiking crowds were ahead of me, lively and chattering with a guide (reluctantly indicating with a shrug of a shoulder where I should be going), and there followed a long steep climb, arduous both physically and mentally. A cold, cold wind invaded my layers and some spitting rain wetted me as we wound our way through farm land. As I skirted a field I watched kids at play while their mum worked at fencing. It was soggy and muddy underfoot but not too bad.

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Araburg in the distance – it does not look too high does it? But it is a steep ascent.
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Nearly there.

Araburg Aussichtstrum  (observation tower) sits at 799 metres and was built in the 12th century. It continued to expand into the 17th century and during the first Turkish siege of 1529 it was a refuge for the local population. Araburg also played a role in the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. In 1683 it was destroyed during the second Turkish siege and since then has been ruin. It is a hostel and although the shop and cafe were open, the accommodation was not. I was glad to climb staircase after rickety ladder for the view from the top, but it was vertigo-inducing and impossible with a rucksack so I left it with my poles at the midway point. Half an hour later I had to retrace my steps to find the said poles which I had forgotten in the toilet.

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Made to look attractive and full of tourists (there was a car park on the opposite side).

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A misty vista from the top.

As I continued (no need for a cafe stop an hour and a half after breakfast), I passed people who did not look at me or say ‘hello’- a great contrast from previous pilgrimages. In my notes I wrote that it was the ‘hardest climb I have ever done’. Day 3 of a walk can be the hardest and today was challenging in various ways: the path was not clear, the weather gloomy, and the thoughts and memories sad. Sometimes, I reflected, you just have to sit down and weep. As I rested at the foot of the hill there was an extremely loud wailing siren sounding for I knew-not-what reason, but it mirrored my inner state of mind.

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If you happen to have a similar sort of a day, and arrive in Ramsau (a pretty stone village further along the Golsen river down at 470 metres) at lunchtime as I did, perhaps you will also need to eat ‘apfel strudel’ to cheer you up. Maybe you will also then slowly recover and dry out with the aid of hot tea. If you are as lucky as me, you could be seated by 3 generations of sweet males sitting at the next table: one in his highchair who will offer you his book to read and the others who speak English, recommend a hiking app to help you find the way, and eventually the world will seem a better place again.

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One of Austria’s vast network of cycle tracks…

And so I set off feeling somewhat brighter and the sun came out and I meandered along a cycle path with the chain-saw-sound of forestry around me.

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…with Autumn colours in the afternoon sunshine.

The leaflet I was following states six hours of trekking to Stankt Veit an der Golsen (371 metres) and suggests you go on a further four but that is too far for me in one day, so once again I divided that stage into two.

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There are many notice boards with signs and maps along the way. You can see Araburg and then the mountains below, a seriously steep climb.
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The River Golsen.

I arrived in Sankt Veit with very little energy to spare, only to discover that the single place to stay at this time of year was unexpectedly shut due to bereavement. I was in the middle of another adventure – it was nearly dark and I was stuck. Time for some deep breaths.

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Colourful houses.

I spotted some people outside a cafe and stopped to ask them where I might stay for the night. They were setting up for a special Sunday Austrian market the next morning. Within minutes they were bringing me a free half pint of wine and were all on their mobile phones searching for me.

After a few sips I remembered that I had stopped at a bar the day before and a very willing woman had taken the time to print out a list of bed and breakfasts. I handed this over to my new-found friends and by the time I had enjoyed my drink in the evening sun, which helped to calm my perturbed spirit, I begun to trust that all would indeed be well.

Not long afterwards I was bundled into a car with a young woman and her little brother, driven out of town (up a hill which I honestly do not think I could have climbed, I was that tired), introduced to the inn owner, and received a translation of the breakfast and room details (it was very expensive by my normal standards at 35 euros but I was immensely grateful for a roof over my head). Once again I had ‘landed on my feet’ or, as the Americans say, ‘lucked out’. Oh, the kindness of strangers!

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My room – considerably more comfortable and smarter than the previous one.

Via Sacra pdf leaflet to download but do not rely on this alone. Make sure you also use other maps and more detailed information about the to avoid getting lost. http://brochures.austria.info/en_US/brochures/show/6006-Via-Sacra-and-the-Vienna-Pilgrimage-Trail

Austrian tourist information including Araburg. https://travel.sygic.com/en/list/top-tourist-attractions-in-lower-austria-region:636

Araburg Castle https://www.spottinghistory.com/view/6718/araburg-castle/

Note: There should be an umlaut over the o in Golsen but after extensive search I cannot work out how to do this on my Windows laptop.

Via Sacra – Day 2, Spain

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.

Via Sacra pilgrimage – Day 1, Austria

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, Austria

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

 

London and Paris – Green spaces

Camley Street Natural Park; St Pancreas Parish church and gardens; and Goldington Crescent Gardens, Camden London.

The entrance to Pitzhanger Manor (being restored – it opens in 2018) and park, Ealing, London.

As I wander through European cities I find myself attracted time and again to the green spaces. Indeed a few days ago, at the advice of my walking guru, I traversed most of Paris from the Bois (woods) de Boulogne in the far east, to the Pont (bridge) Bercy.  I did not manage all the way the the Bois de Vincennes in the west due to time constraints.

Bois de Boulogne
Bois de Boulogne
Bois de Boulogne
Pont Bercy, Paris

Today I arrived off the Eurostar at St Pancreas London, weary in body and of spirit but the sun shone so I googled parks and gardens in the area. I made my way to the St Pancreas gardens, narrowly avoiding being run over by a London taxi due to the lack of a pavement, and came across a community garden I had tried to enter twice before, Camley Street Natural Park – this time it was open.

A slice of sylvan pleasure between railway, canal, and high rise buildings, I discovered that this London Wildlife Trust funded oasis is an ideal place to picnic. Flower beds are constructed from railway sleepers and hunks of stone with bordered pathways lined with bark pieces.

There is an extensive pond with a green membrane pierced by rushes, and a wild flower meadow with rose bay willow herb. It constitutes a very brief, windy way to the other side if you use it, as many suit-clad workers obviously do, as a thoroughfare; but you may also make a circuit and take in the bug-finding, log-pile place; the ‘fairy glade’ (where if I was not mistaken a counselling session was happening); and pond-dipping where a quiet volunteer was carefully cleaning the sign.

There are rustic benches in private nooks, and luckily a few tables in the cafe clearing because it was so densely wooded that there was almost no sun this September noon.

Bring your little ones and they will have hours of down-to-earth fun – inside if the weather is inclement (there is an activities room and exhibition with nests and pine cones) or out, learning about bats and birds, recycling and natural landscaping. I saw willow, birch, brambles and cherry, and there were tourists in the Visitor Centre being helped by the member of staff.

This old coal yard is located by the waterway which once transported the fuel to Yorkshire, where incidentally the next-door sliver of a bridge was formed before being placed in its current position in 2016. Unlike the Park’s paths which absorb any sound (do not try with buggies, bikes nor suitcases), the bridge’s smooth surface resonates with and amplifies joggers’ footfall and cycle wheels.

Just down the road is the St Pancreas old church and gardens, today shining in the sun and showing off its higgledy-piggleddy stones, working mortuary, royal blue water fountain (at least I think that is what it is), and unusual monument “especially dedicated to the memory of those whose graves are now unseen or the records of whose names may be …(could not read this word) obliterated”.

They have done a great job of bringing interesting facts and people to our attention in the wee church: the relationship of Thomas Hardy to the ‘consecrated burial ground’, and memorials to Mary Wollenstonecraft, female activist, and John Soane, architect of the Bank of England whose main residence is in the area and whose ‘country’ house in Ealing (Pitzhanger Manor, see above) I coincidentally visited last week.

Under the trees sit study groups, lunching pairs and individuals reading or on their phones. What a contrast with the welcome smell of warm wax which filled the holy interior. I enjoyed the plaque ‘in memory of my dear husband Earnest Wiggins d 1975’ before drifting into my third bout of 60 winks sitting on a proud wooden chair at the back listening to the ponderous ticking of an unseen clock.

Making my way towards Mornington Crescent tube station, with its faint hints of Mary Poppins and WW2 popular songs, I come across Goldington Crescent Gardens. In the Autumn sun, causing the fallen leaves to glow and throwing strong olive green and top-hat grey shadows on the grass, there is a public sculpture. It is in three parts: one resembles a silver pile of unmentionable; the second an ant eater with its snout in the ground; and the third I know not what. It stands out starkly beside the pink and red brick 1903 Goldington Buildings opposite, its edges elegantly wrapping around whatever is in its heart. Interesting fact: in Vienna they have a word for these buildings which conceal a space behind the facade which is ‘Hof’.

Goldington Crescent, London.
St Vincenz Hof, 18th, Vienna, Austria
Behind St Pancreas station, London.
Love, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.
Beehives, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris.