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.

Vienna to Andlersdorf

Walking Donaustadtbrüke to Schönau an der Donau. 30 kms.

Carla, Karen and Nicolas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late afternoon in Schönau an der Donau.

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

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

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

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

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

Vienna 2, Austria

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Maria Teresa had 16 children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Vienna 1, Austria

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

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

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

Craning my neck to enjoy the skyline.

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

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

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

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

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

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