Mariazell

The final day of my pilgrimage to Mariazell along the Via Sacra, Austria. Day 9, 13th October 2017.

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The Sebastian Church, Via Sacra, Austria.

A pilgrimage is traditionally called a “Wallfahrt” in Austria. I left Mitterbach in an angry mood as a result of something I had witnessed and I had never been so clear that walking allows for time to understand and then let that feeling go.

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A map to be found along the way – Mariazeller Land, Austria.

Watching the way things really are, and learning from that, is advice I often hear in my profession. It is hard! I have been trying while I trek, to notice what is actually happening in the world and not what I think in advance or want it to be. What I want is to be happy and good, but if I am not, then I try to be clear about that, to see things honestly.

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The Sebastian Church on the Via Sacra in its natural, mountainous setting, Austria.

I observed someone teaching and realised that my belief is that you do not teach by telling, much less by telling off or ordering, but by example. Making statements about the way you want things to be is not only didactic but useless, unless you just want to control and are prepared to force it. No-one learns like that.

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The beauty I was walking through was balm to my soul. Just look at the sunlight catching the autumn leaves of those new trees!

It was a short walk that day, just two hours and 80 metres of climbing. Thus, it allowed me to stop and see ‘the rosary wayside shrines’ (as the leaflet called them) with their mini flower gardens – the rather ugly Stations of the Cross. There were also pine forests and piles of logs, the cutting of which had made some sky space for the light to reach the saplings.

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Something about hearing a man speak in that way to a woman he is close to sparked off a very strong reaction in me. It was very unpleasant to witness such treatment, and hard to find the balance between speaking out and respecting the fact that I was a guest and completely outside the relationship. Of course, reflecting on the undertone of their exchanges and my reaction to it, helped me understand more about myself and why I find it so hard to keep quiet. Would that we could all have a voice to speak out against such lack of respect without fear of retribution.

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The were were large signs explaining the names of the flowers and herbs which had been planted. Here, Mutterkraut or chamomile.
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I loved the sentiment between these two.

For the first time I came across other hikers on the trail coming in the opposite direction – two unfriendly young women, one jolly red-faced, and panting with her rucksack. Then numerous dog walkers, such that I had to make way for people coming up towards me. It was also loud with the sounds of planes and vehicles from the valley in the distance – quite a contrast to the surrounding peace and the serenity which had once more settled in my mind.

I had one moment of practical difficulty when faced with an electric fence and I flattened myself on the ground to slide underneath. Apparently the threat of electrocution was preferable to going back down the hill to see if I had mistaken my way, only to discover I had been in fact been right and must come back up again!

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When I came out into the the open I found myself at the top of a ski slope with multiple games and activities available.
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It seems the mountain is a business.
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The chair lifts cut through the landscape and were vastly less attractive than the natural environment. There was even an airstrip.

All roads lead to Mariazell – at least there is a path from all Austrian provinces that leads to the famous pilgrimage site of Mariazell in Styria – in the same way there are caminos all over Spain which lead to Santiago de Compostella. Indeed, it has been described as ‘the quintessential Habsburg place of pilgrimage’ (from this website).

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There is a grey paved path down the mountain offering amazing views of the valley and spires below.

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Mariazell was first mentioned in 1266, and in 1907 its church was elevated to a “basilica minor” by Pope Pius X.

Here is the fairy tale cathedral at Mariazell, dedicated to the ‘Magna Mater Austriae’ (the Virgin Mary, ‘kind mother’ and patron saint of Austria).

 

My pilgrimage ended, I had arrived in the sunshine. It was so busy with tourists, school groups and coach loads shopping at the stalls around the entrance to the cathedral.

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The highly decorated and glittering interior. The Basilica Mariä Geburt, Mariazell, Austria.
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A side altar with a globe at its centre. The Basilica Mariä Geburt, Mariazell, Austria.

When I found the tourist information I was most impressed by the helpful woman there – what a difference from the one in Vienna who had never even heard of the Via Sacra! She made good suggestions, apologised for her colleague, booked me a hostel and printed out bus times. What a star.

I only stayed 2 hours, stocking up on supplies and walking around the back streets to the bus station, chatting with other passengers who were waiting in the hot weather. I would have liked to go on Die Himmelstreppe railway from Mariazell to St Polton (www.mariazellerbahn.at) but it would have been back the way I had come and I wanted to go forwards.

So, I took the bus towards Graz, which went up higher, I guessed, than I had walked. The slopes were all rocky and it got discernibly colder. In fact, yes, these were proper serious mountains: a half bowl of them like a massive satellite dish tilted towards us that may have been the Hochschwab (we stopped at Seewiesen).

I lounged – how relaxing it is to decide where to go, buy a ticket and then be driven!

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The mountains of Styria with the reflections of the bus window. Austria.

There were spectacular waterfalls, lakes of dark turquoise, alps with snowy peaks, and more pine forests than you can shake a baton at. We drove past wooden dwellings, livestock on fertile slopes, and logs of course, by the pile – all set against an azure sky.

A tortoiseshell cat sat in the middle of the grass. The bus buzzed each time it prepared to stop. I relished my mini bottle of prosecco as we roller-coasted through the countryside. A tree seemed to be sinking under its apple-weight; there were lots of day-walkers and people with poles.

We passed through Aflenz Kurort, a very attractive place with a book shop, and then I changed buses at Bruck an der Mur. I could have got a train to Graz from Kapfenberg (which is big enough to have a casino, get a tattoo or buy a new car, and where you can also visit a London pub with a red phone box outside!) but it was further to walk from bus to train station the kind lady told me, and I demurred.

Downhill we trundled, into the shade, and past disused, dusty buildings much like the relics of the textile industry near Hebden Bridge in west Yorkshire. A woman got on, smelling very strongly of perfume and flopped into her chair panting from the effort of making it. She picked her nose, wiped the sweat off her lower lip then checked her phone which had a screen saver of her handsome boy.

The bus picked up speed after its sedate earlier pace. Past a field of upstanding maize we went, and then another half cut, where the chickens were pecking away at the stubble. An outdoor croquet game was well attended. Tractors left wakes of sombre grass and there were the same posters for the various political candidates which I now knew by heart. I really did not like the threatening tone: it’s now or neverjetzt oder nie, nor the anti-Muslim ones.

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Shop window in Graz – lederhosen. Austria.

The nice lady whose head was covered in a black and white scarf, part of her traditional costume, told me the names of the places we stopped at so I could follow on the map, and  then said goodbye with a smile. I wondered if my leg joints would support me when I stood up after 1.5 hours!

There was a joking man who said I was from the dram country (In Scotland we talk about having a wee dram, a small measure, of whiskey) and, you only make small dogs! I am always impressed when folk can jest in a foreign language.

Bruck had a big station full of backpackers, but I did not get off.

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Heading towards Graz, Austria.

Finally I boarded a hi-tec train with lots of youths on it, and announcements in English as well as German. It was heading to Leibnitz after Graz, and thence to Ljubljana in Slovenia, 190 kms further on. I fancy going there…

Link to the beginning of the Via Sacra blog series

The Graz blog is here

Styria, Austria

Day 8, 12th October 2017. A detour: Der Hubertussee – wohlfuhl wege (feel-good ways or paths).

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These places are sublime.

Yesterday I walked from Lower Austria into Styria and I was all prepared to carry on to Mariazell, the final leg of the Via Sacra pilgrimage, but my kind hosts persuaded me to stay longer. Thus, close as I was, I took a walk around the luminous Lake Hubertussee, along the river Walster and many of its arterial tributaries, through the surrounding forests and back to Mitterbach.

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I had woken at 6.30am and done some writing before fresh-air T’ai chi in their garden by the River Erlauf.

Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still
Chinese proverb thanks rob_shiatsu.

When we were all ready, I was driven to Lake Hubertussee where two partook of a sugary breakfast, and Gudrun and I shared cheese and red pepper on rye bread.  Amor, the toddler, played while we sat in the sun.

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This lake is beautiful from every angle. A place to sit and contemplate. I was not the only one to appreciate it – there were many hikers that morning.

I walked away from the ‘family’ group around 11am, past the statue of the Imperial Kaiser Franz Joseph hunting. He was Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary (amongst other titles). I guess he must have come here for sport, but it is such a special place it is hard for me to imagine that.

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There was the moon again, in the day sky, like one of those off-white, grapefruit jellies.

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The road wound under a tunnel in the rock next to the Carl Ulrich von Bulow war memorial (1914).

I spotted the Hubertskapelle (chapel), every sight more magnificent than the last. I thought it had a golden window but it was the gilded autumn leaves in the sun through the gap. Weed and sky-white cloud hung under the surface of the lake; gentle air caressed my arms.

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Walking gives me the time to question things and here it was the ethics I have been raised with in the light of the unorthodox relationships I had encountered during my travels. Being an outsider and therefore able to witness the repercussions of them, I needed time to muse on the difference between opening to what might be possible thereby bringing new experiences, a way of challenging the norm; and at the same time asking myself whether it is possible to avoid being taken advantage of. I thought about ‘truth’, when or where it is important to tell it; if it is always necessary to do so; and if yes, to whom?

Then I became aware of the geese honking, taking my attention away from my thoughts and back into my surroundings. I continued, mindfully.

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I passed the gentle St Margareta a few times as I was searching for the way, standing as she was, between the lake and the river.
At the top, of course, I took the path down again, alongside the river which was diverted through attractive grey stone walls, channelling the water where man wanted it to go, and into yet another wonderful lake downstream.
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There were brown-planked houses with simple pointed roofs which matched the pines, poised for take-off on the mountainsides opposite; virgin-white water cascaded between mossy cushions and knobbles of silver escarpment; sparkling orange, autumn foliage illuminated it all – it mesmerised me.
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Once away from the lake one can walk and walk this trail and not see a soul, and it is to be relished.
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There are lots of signs at some junctions (the red and white signs with numbers indicated the cycle routes), but then again there are places soon afterwards with none. Which way should I turn? My phone (Google) maps were OK, but in the middle of the countryside there is rarely coverage. I discovered that the best way to know when there was a signal was to leave my data and sound on. That way when I happened to walk into a zone, some message pinged in which alerted me to check the location. Otherwise, it did not drain my allowance or disturb my peace because it was so very rare.
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Occasionally, unexpectedly, a village, no, not really that big, a collection of houses, appeared out of nowhere and helped me find myself on my GPS.
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I think this was Filzwieser. Or Faldental. It is all ‘She’ll be coming round the mt when she comes’, territory!
 It was a mighty, majestic landscape of grey crags, dark brooding firs, and flaming beech atop: stimulating sights. I went slowly, I sat and watched the grasshoppers, stretching out this gorgeousness because I did not want it to end. The sun connected the sky and the earth, and created pin-prick stars for a moment on the water, and then they were gone as I rounded the corner into the shade. It was all so sensual and I felt alive to every sound, smell and feeling.
I get filled up with space when I come here.
Karine POLWART from ‘Wind’.
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I had a rest and meditation here with the sound of water trickling.
I went up and over and round a small mountain and had a bit of an epiphany at the summit. It was that sort of a day. It seemed to be the summation of this Via Sacra pilgrimage. I had very clearly set out my aim in advance: to help others while I travel, and I realised that I must then trust that all the encounters I have are beneficial to those I meet as well as to me, even if I do not understand how or why; that the time we spend together is enough for them and me.
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 I wrote down what I could use on a leaflet to give out as I make pilgrimages: ‘I am an experienced bodyworker. I am walking from place to place offering a moment of touch. You do not take your clothes off to receive and we do not need to be in private. If you are tired or in pain, sit down and I will give you some support. There is no fee or charge. I can be what your energy needs to know itself better. For the time we are together.’
And I reflected that to do this I have to arrive in a calm state – I have to have some energy left after the walk, which is another reason why I must pace myself. It is important that I treat myself like that, that I experience the joy of the ‘camino’, take time and rest in nature, so that people can tell I am trustworthy (in therapy speke, I am being congruent) and believe that I can help them. And that is it. It was all clear, there, in that magical place.
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I got back to Mitterbach around 4pm as the sun came out again. I was full up.

 

I gave some Shiatsu, of course, while I was staying in Mitterbach, by way of exchange for my bed and board. I also joined in Spanish and creative dance classes, and I shared some baby Shiatsu with two of Paula’s clients while she sat in and watched.

‘If you take seven steps to help one patient, it is the same as circumambulating all the Buddhas. If you give medicine one time to one patient, it is the same as having made charity to all sentient beings. When you fulfill the wishes of one patient, it is equal to having made offerings to all the worthwhile objects.’ Thanks to Max P.

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For Gudrun.

 

Via Sacra, Austria – Day 7

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.

Via Sacra – Day 6

Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 10th October 2017. Day 6. The second half of Stage 3.

On foot with my backpack. It was 6 hours of spectacular climbs, rushing rivers, scary footbridges, and astonishing views, all in sparkling Autumn surroundings.

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A reminder that this is a spiritual journey.

Route: Türnitz (Gasthaus ‘Goldener Lowe’ where I spent the night and had breakfast), 2.5 hours to Falken Ravine, then Ulreichsberg, Ebenbaueralm, and Annaberg.

‘If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.’ Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

 

 

As I left Türnitz at 8.15am with its prettily decorated houses, I was minded of some early reads which have walking in them and which I still have a clear sense of. My mother read to us and gave us books throughout our childhood, and I am very grateful for the enjoyment she encouraged.  ‘Mary Jones and Her Bible’ was one I often returned to for some reason. Mary (16 December 1784 – 28 December 1864) was a Welsh girl who saved her pennies and then, at the age of fifteen, walked twenty-six miles barefoot across mountainous countryside to buy a copy of the Welsh Bible because she did not have one. I think it was her determination which impressed me, and it was a rare true story of a young girl’s strength.

Then there was ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri. Heidi was another girl with spunk (though fictitious this time), who also lived in the mountains, not in Wales (UK) but in one of Austria’s many adjoining countries, Switzerland, where I was headed at the end of this trip. I had not thought about these tales for many years, but now I wonder what effect they had on me at an impressionable age.

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My first view of the mountains, later in the day, after the climb which was ahead.
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I wore boots for this walk.

I followed the River Traisen out of town and focused on the tiny lovely things around me: a small, darting bird, dark with a white throat; dams and pools with fish just visible in slow motion under the surface; tiny waterfalls; the sun on the back of my neck; a quarry creating a natural bathing pool; the water jostling and stressing in its rush; trunks and stalks blackened from the old year.

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Small streams feeding into the Traisen at intervals.
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A strawberry flower nestling amongst the dry stalks.
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Jade coloured water again and luscious lichen.

I was living a real life folk tale: First traverse the land…

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I had no idea what was to come.

…visit sacred places along the way….

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One of the many wayside shrines.
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Ecce Homo – Behold the Man.

… Ford the river five times (twice the socks and boots had to come off, 3 times it was a matter of balancing precariously on the tips of rocks which weren’t submerged and hoping I would not topple because once I start to go the weight of the rucksack takes me all the way!)

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You can see how fast the water was rushing by the fact that my camera could not get it into focus. A tottering traverse!

Carry your worldly goods on your back looking carefully for signs.

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The wee red and white stripes are not always that easy to locate.

There will be obstacles on your path.

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Many wooden bridges to manage the ravines.
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Some of them slippery from the wet and not a little hairy.

Finally climb the Three Sacred Mountains (this is truely what they are called) and only then will you…. what? Achieve enlightenment / win the heart of your true love / be forgiven?

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My heart sang as I watched the leaves meander to the ground which was itself glowing golden and bronze; as I observed the white waters cascade and crash between dark green rocks.

As I hike, I am constantly reflecting on what I am about, travelling through countries, going on foot wherever I can. Why am I drawn to this life? And I wonder if it might be that it is easier to do this in foreign countries rather than at home; in a place where no-one knows me and I seem to be easily welcomed. In Spain, for example, they said yes when I asked to stay, and let me sleep on the floor and then gave me an apple to take away with me in the morning. Simplicity. Nothing expected from me except human courtesy and attention, although I always offer Shiatsu.

I have an urge to do this, to keep on walking, treading ancient pathways, like The Sisters of Mercy, a non-cloistered institute where the ‘walking nuns’ cared for the poor outside a convent; or the blind practitioners of Anma (Japanese folk massage, linked closely to Shiatsu) ‘who were often nomadic, earning their keep in mobile massage capacities…. in the 19th century’ (ref. Wikipedia). It seems that another woman I read and re-read about in my childhood, Helen Keller, interceded on behalf of these practitioners after they were banned from practicing during the Occupation of Japan after World War II, and managed to overturn that edict.

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Colour, marvellous colours, all around.

As I climb higher, there are the deep blue mountains in the distance. I take one of those  videos entitled ‘here’s some of my silence!’

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The pilgrimage church sanctified to St. Anna, 1217.

It was a steep descent out of the forest  and then a climb back up to Annaberg, perched high on a mountain of its own, where a funeral procession was reaching the Pilgrim’s church. In 1985 I arrived in a Sicilian mountain village by bus (many years before my walking days) in the middle of a wedding, and in Naples a week before I had almost interrupted an ordination ceremony for bishops in the only open venue due to the Holy holiday. However, this was the first funeral.

Most bars and cafes were closed for the village event and people were in traditional Austrian dress playing folk music. After a cup of green tea and a slice of cake, I made my way down the other side taking one of my short-cuts to save my tired back which meant crawling through undergrowth and squeezing under barbed wire – a bad idea which I do not recommend.

The Junges Hotel did not seem to have the booking. Strange. Until it transpired that I was not at the youth hostel, but at a much more expensive establishment next to the ski lift. As always I was treated with immense kindness. I was bundled into a van, and driven up the way I had just come, past the church again, and down (in fact only a small way from my original forest exit earlier) to the right place.

What a setting! Green slopes, grand trees, spire towering above in Annaberg.

There was no-one at reception although crowds of children played behind the building. I sat and waited and was eventually assigned my bed. The kitchens were full of preparations for the evening meal so I could not use them (although one kind man did pass me a flask of hot water over the counter). The wifi was intermittent, and what a lot of energy such large school groups create. As I was the only solo adult traveller and, moreover, in a dormitory of my own, they did not know I was there so in the end I had to ask them to quieten down in the corridor (2am), but they were very well mannered and friendly in response.

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Annaberg and its Catholic Church, from the youth hostel, taken the next morning.

 

If you want the youth hostel, be careful not to go here by mistake: Junges Hotel, Annaberg. https://www.annaberg.info/beherberger/a-junges-hotel-annaberg

 

Via Sacra – Day 5

Via Sacra pilgrimage from Vienna to Mariazell, Austria. 9th October 2017. Day 5. On foot with my backpack. The first half of Stage 3.

Route: Lilienfeld, Moosbach, Türnitz.

‘She had a long and uncertain road ahead of her, but once she was free again her serenity returned.’ from Gertrude Bell, ‘Queen of the Desert’.

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The architecture of Lilienfeld Monastery is impressive, and somehow felt like home, although I got lost many times and was late to Matins (the morning service) for that reason. I had been given a key and shown around when I arrived the day before, but it was dark in the early morning and all the doors looked the same. I opened them one by one, circumambulating the cloisters and finding myself repeatedly back where I began by the inside fountain.

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In the end I discovered the monks’ way in and sat silently behind the altar until the break between services when I moved into a pew.  I had received news of my Great Aunt’s death (she was an impressive 106 years old) and recalled happy memories and inevitably shed some tears.

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The architect meant for the chapel to be simple (see the ceiling and basic shape) so that the focus was on worship, but nowadays there is a deal of gold and ornamentation.

There is a very famous library here with amazing sounding manuscripts, but nothing I could say would persuade them to allow me access. You can find information by clicking here.

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The exterior is all mostly angular matching the pines.

‘..taught at least some wisdom by solitude, taught submission,….’ Gertrude Bell from ‘Queen of the Desert’.

It was a chilly, almost sunny day when I got outside. The hours of silence between 4.30pm and 8am meant that speaking to the kind people in the bank was rather weird, and I felt shy with my limited German. Although many inhabitants of Vienna and nearby have great English, once in the countryside I found that I had to dredge my mind for my O’ Level deutsch.  I was very grateful to receive helpful tips to find the path.

Looking back towards where I had walked the day before, it seemed as if there was a large beast behind the buildings breathing cloud and mist up in front of the mountains.

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That drifting cloud made the slopes look other-worldly up there where it is so quiet. There was a smell of wood smoke down in the valley, and a roar of lorries driving through the industrial area, all against a backdrop of wooded hills draped in their early autumn colours. Everywhere during this period were orange, green and yellow pumpkins on doorsteps, window sills and in shop windows, heralding Halloween and harvest.

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A very attractive town.
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The River Traisen.

50 kms to go – half way to Mariazell, my destination – with a cold wind about my ears once again. Men were at work and my footsteps felt gentle in this world of contrasts: a good balance between active Yang-type movement, and contemplative Yin-type peace by the River Traisen. Of course industry and nature both co-exist in the landscape.

The path was lined with silver birches and I was juggling my walking poles in order to take photographs.

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You can just see the blue sky reflected.
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The industrial area is further out of town.
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I walked along the bicycle track, parallel to the railway and river.

Further along there are two tunnels and the river is a jade green below.

I attempt to watch and follow my moods. Rather than fixing them in advance (deciding that I will feel good today, for example), or stopping myself by being critical (no, you can’t feel x), or practicing denial (of course you are not hungry, you have only just had breakfast), it can be interesting to follow them as they flow. In reality they constantly respond to the environment or to thoughts, and I observe that they change and morph if I do not focus on them too much. Moreover, very difficult ones do pass, perhaps more easily if they are not ‘trodden on’ or ‘pushed underground’.

There is more widespread logging at Moosbach, and bright yellow houses with pink pointed rooves. The slopes are steep and stony and there are Xmas trees growing. The  concrete paths are physically hard on the soles of my feet and mentally challenging with the repetition.

As I hike, family memories flit in and out of my mind; I spot Highland cattle and multiple funghi in all shapes and sizes; free range chickens seem to be enjoying their day.

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Black toadstools.
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Funghi which reminded me of seaweed.

Myriad fascinations: Himalayan Balsam the colour of my magenta scarf; spears of grass spike through the mottled leaves, dark brown at the edges; green-fronded moss softens rock oulines; wild strawberries send out lifelines to enable their offspring to live before putting down their own roots; hard ash nibs are just waiting for a sheet of paper to write on; wild marjoram and self-sown beech saplings sprout in the undergrowth.

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Water the colour of jade. I wondered if it was pollution but no, there was a big pike gliding under the surface.

There was more: a green field with a crop of solar panels; jolly geranium window boxes whose rooves sit over them like wooden bob caps; huge calving heifers; and inside an internal battle where I tell myself off all the time.

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Home from home: a rather blurry picture showing the hops in the hedgrows as in Kent (England) my home county.

There were rows of houses which might have been the first you drew and coloured in when you were wee. They have four square windows in front but no door. I note that, in line with the principles of Fung Shui which protects against negative, invasive Chi (which like all Chi moves in straight lines), the owners can see what is coming but because the door is round the side it does not let the unwanted energy in every time it is opened.

 

Well, it happened again! I arrived in Türnitz which was effectively shut for the winter, and although my leaflet gave me names of several places to sleep the night, the woman in the shop said there was only one option. I popped into that hotel/bar, disbelieving, to have a cup of tea and something to eat and she assured me her rooms were full anyway. But after investigating, it was clear that hers was indeed the only venue, so back I went to get my rucksack and to plead, and very kindly she allowed me to stay.

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Another expensive rooom, accessed via a metal walkway upstairs and through the back, however I had my own shower room, breakfast was included, and what a pretty suite of matching furniture!

 

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.

 

 

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.

Shiatsu in Graz.
OUGON SHIATSU CENTER GRAZ Ume Hannes Kunz Dipl. Shiatsu Lehrer & Praktiker
Ougon Shiatsu & more
Praxis, Beratung & Weiterbildung Bürgergasse 13
8010 Graz
+436508555777 ume@ougon.at
www.ougon.at
www.facebook.com/ougonshiatsu/PraktikerInnen Vertreter im Vorstand des Österreichischen Dachverband für Shiatsu
www.oeds.at

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.