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!

 

Oslo 2, Norway

A rural walk: Hammeren to Frognerseteren via Ullevaalseter, November 2017

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The ice making beautiful patterns.

I stayed a night with Sarah Huby, a Shiatsu School Edinburgh graduate and Oslo Shiatsu practitioner specialising in mothers and babies; and the rest of the time with Guro and Chris with whom I renewed acquaintance after many years. I was pleased to give Shiatsu sessions to say thanks for all the hospitality which came my way, and I particularly enjoyed the conversation, delicious meals, Zen morning meditation and the countryside walk.

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There are many routes out of this area to the north including the St Olafs Way.

Oslo is the capital city of Norway, with a centre which wraps around the edge of the fjord rather than in the middle of the sprawl. Did you know that there are 40 islands within the city limits?

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In the distance you can just see the city centre beside the fjord with some of its islands.

That is where I sat the only other time I visited, on my 25th birthday (or thereabouts), before a women’s theatre ‘Magdalena Project’ took me to Porsgrunn where I stood on a bee.

More than 25 years later I spent 5 days here and I took simple ‘a to b’ utilitarian walks for visiting purposes or to the workshop venue, appreciating the scarlet houses, exposed millefeuille banks of rock on which the city rests, and a spectacular waterfall which is part of the Akerselva River.

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The countryside walk began with a gentle pavement climb from the flat along the bus route and, though freezing, the sun lit up the primary colours making a real contrast with Austria’s pastel shaded buildings.

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Once uphill we entered the forest, slipping on ice, inhaling the freshest air, and ‘putting the world to rights’ in compulsive conversation. It is not often I take a walk with others and I enjoyed the informed companionship of friends who could enlighten me about local customs and show me the way.

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Chris up ahead.

Others jogged by at quite some speed and made fascinating crunching noises leaving me wondering how they were not ‘coming a cropper’. Later, as I donned a pair of crampons for the first time (so simple – they just stretch and hug on to the toes and heels of walking boots), I realised why these athletes were safe: the tiny spikes on the soles break through the ice and hold you steady. I was like a child discovering something everyone else knew.

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I had been promised ‘rubber pancakes’, so we stopped half way at a large, warm hostelry with a great many dead beasts’ heads on the walls – moose and the like, as you would expect. It transpires that the local delicacy is so called because they are made in the morning and are considerably less fresh by 4pm! They are thicker than crêpes but not as deep as Scottish drop-scones. Served cold, they are pasted with butter and jam and I would not recommend them. The apple cake, however, was yummy.

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Guro putting on her crampons after ‘rubber pancakes’ and hot chocolate.

In the airport, everyone said ‘hi hi’ to me and were very pleasant, but as a rule Norwegian strangers do not smile easily at strangers. My friend tells me it is out of respect for ones privacy and space. It is weird for me when I am used to smiling and exchanging a greeting when walking in the Scottish or Spanish countryside.

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The sun catches the trees on its way down.
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The pathways are lit, so many Norwegians walk after work in wintertime, despite the dark.
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Frozen lakes.

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As I left Oslo, the flakes were falling once again, children in the playground had their tongues out to catch them, the edges of the motorway were edged with icing sugar, and I admired the neat pink and yellow gable-ended flats and very tall pointed trees. Of course the Norwegian people are very tall too, compared to me. The Oslo temperature was raised to a high 4 degrees, matching the Edinburgh weather we were flying into.

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Norway has perfect living conditions.

Gardermoen Airport (Oslo) is a peaceful and calm place: no-one seemed to be rushing or stressed. I wondered why and came to the conclusion it was because there was no canned music – fantastic. I had 50 NOK for refreshment which turned out to be very little, so in case you are in the same situation here is my advice: have a personal stock of tea bags and get a cup of free hot water which is available in all the kiosks (cold is available to fill your bottle too – after all this practice, I now remember to empty it before security). Add to your hot drink, a bag of nuts (29 NOK), a bread roll with chocolate bits (I thought they were sultanas) 17 NOK, and a piece of fruit (4 NOK) and you will have a feast.

Note: In the duty free shop you can use £ sterling but any change will be given to you in NOK so try to be exact.

I just cannot resist taking photos through windows when I travel.

I have to report that the Edinburgh Airport loos were for the first time cleaner than those of the country I had recently visited. And I am also proud to say that our Airlink buses have tourist information on video in BSL sign language. (Take bus number 100 to the city centre; 200 to Granton, Newhaven and Leith; 300 to Ingleston, Gyle, Saughton etc for £4.50 single, £7.50 open return (have the exact cash ready or download the m-ticket app (minimum £10 spend)).

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The Pentlands set against a backdrop of smog-like clouds and deep orange sky lent an eerie glow to the Forth and my home below as we descended.

I flew Norwegian.com which was affordable because I booked months in advance.

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Links

Sarah’s classy Shiatsu website (she speaks English): https://www.shiatsupunktet.no/

Norwegian Shiatsu Society website: Norges shiatsuforbund shiatsuforbundet.no

Search Shiatsu Norge for courses in Oslo with Ane Grimsaeth on Facebook or Twitter.

The Magdalena Project, Norway https://themagdalenaproject.org/en/content/background

Norwegian houses blog http://mylittlenorway.com/2009/05/norwegian-houses/

Free things to do in Norway, National geographic   https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/free-oslo-traveler/

St Olaf’s Way, a long hike from Oslo to Trondheim http://stolavway.canalblog.com/

Finnisterre, Spain

Finnisterre / Fistera (by bus) / Santiago de Compostella 24 – 28.11.17

The bus from Santiago de Compostella to Fisterra in the O Coruña province of Galicia, Spain, takes 3+ hours. We drove through torrential rain, along a really beautiful coast which was often shrouded in mist, arriving in the dull damp, with rucksacks and immediately wet shoes. Happily, the bus stops in the centre of the town and the accommodation was only a short walk away.

Oh it was dreadful! Booking.com did not come up trumps, and, later, a complaint had to be made. It was surely the dirtiest kitchen and coldest set of rooms imaginable, without wifi. The only thing going for it was the hot baths.

But look what happened! The next day the sun was shining, and Spain was it’s usual, stunning self.

The final part of the long ‘chemin’, the Camino path, is to the fin de la terre that gives the area it’s name, the ‘end of the earth’. It’s a slow hour’s 3kms wander, uphill out of the town, and past the final milestone.

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The road passes a church.

Parroquial de Santa Maria da Vila de Finsterra

There are glorious views to gawp at!

Here’s the last of the grand pilgrim statues.

There is a small group of buildings at the point – a hotel, gift shop and the lighthouse.

And, oh, there was the Atlantic Ocean, and it was a wonderful sight to behold.

I sat and contemplated the expanse of water.

Taking photos of more walking-related statues.

While I sat, two men arrived. They had obviously walked the last part of the Camino de Francés, and they undressed and danced and whooped with joy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went on to burn their boots ceremoniously, as many do. Too wasteful for me!

On the way back down, there were still nasturtiums even though it was the end of November!

And other vibrantly coloured flowers growing by the roadside.

The harbour is full of fishing and pleasure boats, and there’s lots to see at all times of the year, even when it is out of season.

There are several supermarkets, one gift shop, a post office and banks, but it’s a sparse town with an air of bewilderment at the wacky backpackers pouring in and out every day. There are also dogs just running around the streets, with cars swerving dangerously to avoid them.

The view from the balcony of accommodation #2 was gorgeous. I enjoyed my sunset sangria and snacks of mussels in spicy sauce ‘en escabeche’.  These were slow, peaceful days after the long trek, spent mostly in the open air because it’s a habit that is hard to break. We breakfasted and supped on the terrace, grand meals prepared in the spotless self-catering kitchen. It was, however, slightly less private, what with the loudly copulating couple in the room above.

It is almost obligatory to beach comb in Finnisterre,  reputedly the home of the coquille Saint Jaques shells. At that time of year the strand is totally deserted, almost rivalling our Scottish ones, but that suited the end-of-the-road mood. It was good paddling weather!

Reminds me of Claigan Coral beach on Skye, Scotland
The only complete shell found that day, and one half of a matching pair

Being away from the city of Santiago, the cafés are cheaper, with free wifi, cake and biscuits, and no-one takes any notice of how long you sit there, or if you simply pop in to use the toilet

I only bought the coffee, the rest was gratis.

On the 27th it was back to Santiago and getting to know the attractive wee streets and gift shops some more. There was a delicious final meal of paella, including my first taste of razor fish, and much happy on-street greetings of friends previously met along the way.

After several brandies,  I danced in a jazz bar with C. (Although I didn’t know her name then, she was someone I was to meet unexpectedly the next day, on the Via de la Plata (see later blog https://wordpress.com/post/shiatsutamsin.wordpress.com/687).

Europe was made on the pilgrim road to Compostella.

It was an early morning farewell to Alain, my walking companion of the previous weeks, on 28th, and afterwards I wandered around Santiago feeling somewhat lost (and hung over). Then, well, then of course, I set off walking again.

Thoreau, Gros writes, ‘… we store when walking vivid feelings and sunny memories for winter evenings’. From A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros