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.