A Diary of the Wives‘ Fellowship Pilgrimage
The Jakobsweg from Vienna to the Tyrol 2nd – 10th September 2015
Leader: Reverend Pamela Soult
Wednesday 2nd September 2015
The idea of following the Jakobsweg, a pilgrim route through Austria from the Hungarian border to the Tyrol, came to me following the WF visit to the Passion Play in 2010. McCabe Pilgrimages, through their contacts with Werner Bischof, an Austrian agent, were only too happy to produce a package, so it was with a mixture of gratification and trepidation that I arrived at Heathrow ready to greet another group of pilgrims at the start of another journey. Apart from a slight hiccup as our aircraft was ‘re-configured’ (more seats were squeezed in), we had an uneventful journey and were met at Vienna airport by Werner himself and our local guide Daniella. With them was Roland who would be driving us all the way to Munich. Having collected our luggage we set off on a tour of the city with Daniella explaining the sights and the history. To my delight we were staying at a hotel I had known well in my childhood when my father was stationed in Vienna. I was even more pleased when I found that although the facade was the same, the hotel had moved on, with a modern accommodation added at the back. With time to unpack and settle, in we met for our first meal together and then gathered for an introductory session from our leader, Pamela. She led us in evening prayer, and gave us a short history of St James himself.
Thursday 3rd September – Vienna
I always look forward to my breakfast when I’m staying in hotels and Park Hotel Schönbrunn did not disappoint. On this, our first morning in Austria
, we were faced with a huge choice of goodies including ‘bircher’ (the muesli of my youth) and bespoke eggs cooked before your eyes! Cathy, who had already spent a couple of nights in the Park Schönbrunn, had recommended the omelette which was indeed delicious.
The day dawned fairly bright and we were on the coach with Roland, Werner and Daniella by nine o’clock. Pamela led us in the Pilgrim’s Prayer, first taught us by Ray Hubble en route to Santiago de Compostela, and then we were driven to St Stefan’s Cathedral to start our walking tour of the city. There has been a church on this site since the 12th century, expanding and growing over the years. It is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna. After it was gutted by fire in the 15th century, all regions of Austria contributed to its rebirth in the form we see it today; for example, Vienna paid for the very unusualand beautiful multi-coloured roof tiles. Today its very impressive tower was slightly hidden by scaffolding and the square buzzed with visitors. Men in colourful 18th century jackets and wigs milled around, handing out flyers for concerts. Impressive though the huge interior is, with its soaring roof and many altars round which banks of votive candles burn, I found the atmosphere less than holy and I’m afraid after only a brief visit I decamped to the souvenir shop and neighbouring chocolate shop across the square.
The group reconvened to walk through the streets to the Hofburg Palace. On the way Dniella pointed out many interesting architectural features including the huge Trinity (or Plague) Statue built to commemorate the town’s delivery from the plague – thanks to the Emperor’s special powers of intercession with the Almighty. We also saw a contemporary piece of a soldier sitting on the ground by his horse; I think this was called ‘Taking a break’.
The Hofburg Palace stands in St Michael’s Square. Here as in many other areas of the city men in bowler hats offer the tourists rides in horse drawn carriages.
We visited the Sisi Museum where the story of Princess Elizabeth, Franz Joseph l’s wife assassinated aged 62, caught our imaginations. She is a very tragic figure, reminiscent in many ways of Princess Diana. Her marriage to the Emperor as a very young girl forced her onto a glittering public stage which she hated. Bulimic and possibly bi-polar, she spent most of her life running away from court. You couldn’t blame her.
The apartments and State rooms were designed and decorated in the grandest manner for the most public of lives. Like so many of the imperial buildings in Vienna, they represent the wealth and power of the Hapsburg dynasty. Often these places (like the family’s private metropolitan railway station designed by Otto Wagner and completed in 1899) were built to the most extravagant specifications and then never used. Today many are museums while others house government departments. On the way out of the Hofburg, we had a glimpse of some horses from the Spanish Riding School and went past Schubert’s house.
Many of us lunched in a Rosenburg café or in Café Mozart in St Michael’s Square (where some indulged in Sachertorte). Then it was off to see the British Ambassador, Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque. Through some Wifely networking back in the UK, her mother had persuaded her to invite us to tea. She was extremely welcoming and gave us a detailed overview of her career in the Diplomatic service and something of an idea of daily life in the Embassy in Vienna where she has been Ambassador since 2012. Also a wife and mother of two boys, she came across as a most impressive lady. However as a retired drama teacher, I would have rearranged the layout of her drawing room so that, while she spoke to us, she wasn’t obliged to stand with her back to the light so we could see through her somewhat diaphanous skirt!
From the Residence it was ever onwards and upwards into the hills north of Vienna to the wine-growing region. We travelled on the Heurigan Express, a little ‘tschu-tschu’ train. At one point we travelled along the Eroicastrasse, one of the many places Beethoven lived when in the city. The narrow roads twisted up and up giving us panoramic views of Vienna and took us to supper in the village of Gradnitz. The restaurant was called the Maly Heuriger, a typical ‘wine tavern’, much patronised by the locals. Sitting outside at long tables set under the trees, we ate a huge meal – salad followed by pork, chicken and gammon served with sauerkraut and potatoes with apfelstrudel and cheese for pudding. We drank the local wine from 1/8 litre jugs – the first taste for me of the delicious Gruner Veltliner which many of us continued to enjoy over the holiday. The schnapps was yet to come.
A couple of musicians serenaded us. We sang ‘Edelweiss’ (of this and The Sound of Music generally see later in the diary, I do not doubt) and then Mita and John Hill took to the floor, well, the gravel. Mollie would have been proud!
Friday 4th September
A lovely sunny day, so off to the nearby Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburg Emperor. The palace is an elegant but massive building painted in tones of yellow. The apartments, the stables, and the courtiers’ residences form a large square with gardens and avenues of trees leading to the Gloriette. Here we learnt a lot about Empress Maria Theresa, the only female Habsburg ruler, also the mother of sixteen children. The rooms were magnificent with great chandeliers and painted ceilings.
We reassembled at the main gate to be taken on one of the circular roads round the old parts of Vienna, which was previously part of the defensive walls and the outer ditch. We continued out of town to the wine village of Heiligenstadt with a pretty village square where the church was dedicated to St James (482). Stepping down into this little church on Roman footings we prepared for our pilgrimage with our daily prayer. Before leaving the village we saw one of the houses where Beethoven came to stay in the countryside to seek a cure for his deafness. Roland then took us back to town where there was a choice of things to do for the afternoon. Some chose to visit Upper Belvedere, others went to the art gallery in the opera building, and of course there was always shopping available. A few of us ventured on to the underground system back to Schönbrunn, having mastered the ticket machines. A spot of lunch in the sunshine and a walk back through the gardens of the Palace to our hotel was our choice. Then time to change and have early supper before going to a Vivaldi concert.
Entering the Karlskirche, our senses were stunned by the Baroque interior, marble and gold carvings, a magnificent altarpiece with cherubs and clouds, gold and garlands up to the dome. We were shown to our seats (thankfully chairs not pews) at the front. A young 14 piece orchestra and a counter tenor gave us an exceptional performance of the Four Seasons. The whole dome was filled with violins, violas. bass and historic instruments. What a way to end the day!
Saturday 5th September 2015
As we were leaving Vienna today and saying goodbye to the lovely Park Hotel Schönbrunn, we had to leave our luggage outside our bedroom doors at 7.30 a.m. so an early rise was necessary. We were all on the bus by 9.00 a.m. and kitted out for our first Jakobsweg walk. We drove through the Wachau Region of lower Austria which is the main wine-growing area of the country and the vines in the fields were looking well stocked with fruit. The weather was decidedly iffy although warm and when we arrived at the Aggstein Castle, the beginning of our walk, it was beginning to rain. We donned waterproofs and used the facilities (only one male and one female loo so we ladies commandeered the men’s to the irritation of some of the men folk.
Three members of the party elected to stay on the coach. The weather soon cleared and we had a pleasant walk through the Dunkelsteiner Wald with Tony and John setting a good pace. Lunch was in the delightful Klosterstueberl – one of the official hospitality venues along the Jakobsweg, with staff dressed Austrian style. The food was delicious and inexpensive. Following refreshments, we visited the small church of Maria Langegg. A chapel was founded here in 1600 by a pilgrim whose daughter was cured of a serious illness following his prayers to Jesus Christ as intercessor. The chapel was expanded to a church in 1614. A pilgrimage walk around the church is encouraged and details of how to go about this are printed in several languages. The painting depicting the “Sorrowful Mother of God” is mind blowing. This is a World Heritage Site.
We continued on to ‘Stift Goettweig, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1083. We toured the museum, the most amazing room being the library which contains a historical book inventory of 40,000 books and 150 medieval manuscripts.
It being Saturday afternoon, the collegiate church was in the middle of a wedding service, and we were only able to enter the west door to take one or two photos from the back, before quietly leaving. We then boarded the coach and went on to Lintz, where we were spending one night in the Steigenberger Hotel. We arrived during late afternoon when the skies were beginning to clear. After registering and sorting out our luggage, Julia and I popped out and had a bit of a wander. The shops close fairly early on a Saturday and the market place was empty, but it was nice to have a look round before going back and getting ready for our evening meal. We were given a small private dining room where we were able to have an act of worship following our meal, followed by Schnapps in the bar.
Sunday 6th September – Linz
Waking up in the Steinberger hotel in Linz we were disappointed to see rain spoiling our view of the Danube flowing wide and calm around our hotel. However maybe Werner’s forecast was right and the breakfast was excellent; only I would lavish fig jam on my croissant when in fact it was fig chutney! By the time we left the hotel to start our tour of Linz, the rain had stopped and we were met by Dagmar – our pretty guide, blonde and petite, who had a charming way of addressing us as ‘dear guests’. We drove through the streets of Linz, a mixture of modern and old and our first stop was by this statue of Johannes Kepler – the 17th century astronomer who had lived and taught in Linz.
A short step took us to a high point overlooking the town and river – the most romantic spot in Linz according to our guide, with a superb view of the city laid out on both sides of the Danube. Dagmar gave us a concise Linz history and it was interesting to learn that Adolf Hitler had been educated here as a boy. We learned that Linz this year 2015 is the City of the Future, that it boasts the biggest cathedral in Austria capable of housing 20,000 people! and also the oldest church in Austria that is still operational. We saw the house where Mozart wrote a symphony in three days and learned that he had played here at the age of six – that there is a very important steel works on the outskirts of the town, how Linz was divided during the war – so much information! And then to the main square and into the museum and you will all remember the whole floor which was the map of the area. I really liked this photograph in the foyer of the museum showing the Governor of Upper Austria dancing with the wife of the mayor of Linz on the Nibelungenbridge Bridge over the Danube in 1955 to celebrate the departure of occupying troops.
We then walked to the Martin Luther Church where Pamela led us in our Sunday Eucharist Service. We sang heartily with no accompaniment and Pamela’s message after the reading of Jesus calling Peter, James and John to be fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11) was that we should have the courage to go forth and spread the word.
Lunch followed in a hostelry in the town where even Wives could not hear themselves against the large and loud members of the Dusseldorf hockey team at the next table.
It was now the time for our second walk and it was quite steep! but the weather was kind and we talked as we walked through lush woods, leaves and branches crackling under our feet. I did see two dead frog skins on the path and a huge variety of trees, different grasses and ferns – it took us
probably one and a half hours to cover 5 kilometres and then we were whisked off to visit the Wilhering Monastery. The church attached to this monastery is one of the finest examples of baroque in Austria, breathtaking in its beauty, with its soaring columns stretching to arched painted frescoes to the glory of God. We had the good fortune to meet the Abbot of the monastery who greeted us and gave us his Blessing – a relatively young Abbot, who was taking 28 brothers the next day for a week to Ireland to study St Patrick. A fitting finale to a very special Sunday and then we were on our way to Salzburg.
Monday 7th September
We left Salzburg to travel out into the attractive countryside surrounded by mountains and lakes. Our first stop was in the hamlet of Oberhofen where we had our daily prayer in the church dedicated to the St Blasius and the fourteen helpers (more saints). The church was of gothic architecture dating back to the 15th century but with the inevitable baroque altars and pulpit. There was an interesting panel painting of the 14 helpers dating from 1500. The altars are the work of the famous sculptor Meinrad Guggenbichler and they are said to be his most important work. We then set off to walk through the country side, more open landscape and longer views than we had encountered on our previous walks. Although it was a rather a dull day, the air was clear and we had views across the valley to the mountains. One of the highlights of the walk was coming across a small chapel in the fields called the Hager Kapelle. Jacob Hager, who lived in the early 18th century, was engulfed in earth whilst digging a pit and he made a vow that if he was saved he would make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He got out alive and fulfilled his promise to walk the 2500km to Santiago. The villagers were convinced that he would never return and rang the death bell after he left in 1738, but he returned two years later and in 1744 built the chapel to commemorate his safe return.
As we wandered through the small hamlets we were surprised to find the 21st century intruding in the form of a robotic milking machine on one of the farms.
After a delicious lunch (and schnapps) at a local gasthaus, where all the food was produced locally, we were back on the coach to go and visit the famous pilgrimage church of Maria Plain with views of Salzburg and the surrounding region. The church is on the Jakobsweg and directs the way to Santiago and Jerusalem. Then some free time in Salzburg; quite a few of us made our way to the Furst Chocolate shop to buy some of the famous marzipan chocolates. Our evening meal was a few yards away from our hotel in the Skyline Restaurant which gave us a view over the city, setting the scene for our guided tour the next day.
Tuesday 8th September – Salzburg
We woke to a grey sky with fine rain: Once again cases were packed and outside our room by 7.30am followed by breakfast, after which we greeted Harald, our guide for a 2 hour walking tour of Salzburg. The clouds gradually lifted to give us blue sky and sun. The old town of Salzburg (meaning “Salt Fortress” due to its surrounding Rock-salt mines) was mainly rebuilt in Baroque style in the 17th Century. It lies on the banks of the River Salzach where the ancient Roman settlements were located. It is the third largest city in Austria and stands at an altitude of 425m surrounded by mountains, giving a spectacular panorama. Its original wealth came from salt which was carried in barges along the river but now relies on tourism, and last year welcomed over 3 million visitors. “The Sound of Music” was mainly filmed here and in the surrounding areas, resulting in coach loads of tourists visiting the locations. Harald led us through the beautiful Schloss Mirabell Gardens over a river bridge and into the Old Town. As we wandered through the narrow winding streets with small shops and decorative overhanging wrought iron signs we learnt a little of the history of the area. For many years Salzburg was an Ecclesiastical Principality ruled by various Prince Archbishops (R.C.) but it was then besieged by Napoleon and became part of the Hapsburg Empire. It was bombed in 1944 and again became Austrian after the last world-war.
After viewing the building where Mozart was born we walked into a large square with the cathedral along one side. St Rupert Cathedral was built in 1628 but was badly bombed during the war and finally restored in 1959. It houses seven organs of which five have been played together during a concert. We all admired the huge bronze font dating back to 1329 with its modern sectioned cover. Mozart was christened here in 1756. He is heralded as Salzburg’s most famous citizen even though after composing for the Archbishops until aged 25 he left to live in Vienna. He gambled away all his earnings and died penniless at the age of 35. Schools, a university, an airport and even chocolates are named after him. His sister was also a very talented musician but never recognised as such. Doppler, the scientist who discovered that “a wave changes frequency if it comes from a moving object” (known as the Doppler effect) was also born in Salzburg. This theory is the basis of our radar speed traps today!
We eventually made our way back over the river to the waiting coach to continue our journey. Driving alongside the river Saalach we reached the pretty village of Unken where we enjoyed lunch in a Tyrolean restaurant decked with flowers, after which we ambled up the hill to the little Church of St James for daily prayer. A short coach journey took us to the start of our fourth pilgrimage walk. The path took us alongside the river which flowed through a gorge surrounded by mountains which were very spectacular against the blue sky. It was a very pleasant gentle walk and fairly flat in contrast to previous days. A short coach drive to and through the village of St Martin brought us to the start of a narrow toll road (35 euros) which climbed up the steep mountain round hair-pin bends to the car park for the pilgrimage church of Maria Kirchental in St Martin. The views were stunning as we walked towards the church where we had short prayers. It was the celebration of the Birthday of the Virgin Mary and so we sang the first verse of ‘Tell out my soul’. The final coach journey for the day took us through spectacular Tyrolean mountain scenery as we listened to songs from “The Sound of Music”. We passed Wattens, home of Swarovski crystal, en route, but no time for shopping! Bypassing Innsbruck we were climbing up again through Seefeld to Mosern, a small settlement about 1100m above sea level. We were all pleased to arrive at the very attractive “Inntalerhof Hotel where we had a warm welcome. There were wonderful views westward down into the valley from the balconies of our comfortable rooms and we all wished that we had more than two nights there!
Wednesday 9th September – Innsbruck
We had a new guide for the morning, Rainer, who joined us at the hotel. On route to Innsbruck he gave us snippets of information about Innsbruck and the surrounding area. We passed along a deep valley where lots of crops were growing. There was a higher area which was the original level of the valley. The present base of the valley was formed long ago by a huge glacier, gouging out tons of earth and rock as it progressed very slowly onwards. The mountains here are half granite and half limestone. Water on limestone slowly seeps through the rock, reaching its base 10 year later. It is very pure having all its impurities filtered out during its passage through the rock, thus most rivers and streams are already fit for drinking. We were travelling through the heart of the Tyrol; we saw a huge ski jump and were surrounded by high mountains.
Historically, first the Celts settled here and then the Romans had a military base on the side of the River Inn at Wooten. This increased in size as villagers settled nearby. The village soon became overcrowded and spread to the other side of the river forming the beginning of Innsbruck. This is now an important tourist city filled with walkers, climbers and, in the winter, winter sports enthusiasts. In the past it became very important for the mining of copper and its large silver deposits. Salt was another source of wealth. Businesses grew up and people became rich. There are still shop signs advertising bell casting, cannon making and associated engineering trades. There is a large university started by Jesuit monks. Accommodation has always been a problem for the people hence many live in apartments. The Imperial Gardens, outside the city walls, were opened to the public over two centuries ago and have become an important meeting place, especially at weekends. In the Summer time there are concerts and entertainments.
We first stopped at the huge Dom St Jakob or Cathedral of St James which was built in the late gothic style but was much damaged in an earthquake in 1860, and rebuilt in Baroque style. Its present form was largely influenced by two brothers, one of them doing most of the sculpture and the other the paintings. A painting of the Virgin Mary survived undamaged from the ruins and was put behind the altar. It is unusual as she was painted during the Reformation, without a halo. When Innsbruck was returned to Catholicism it was suggested that a halo be painted on it but instead it was surrounded by a golden screen which supplies the halo. The church was full of wonderful paintings and the ceiling looked domed but in fact was flat, an amazing example of trompe l’oeil. In the streets around the market the old houses had buttresses and tie bars that reinforced them after the earth quakes. One building stood out from the rest as it had been embellished in the baroque style. When America was discovered, cheap Mexican silver was imported and flooded the market. Innsbruck could no longer sell its silver at an economic price and people lost a lot of their wealth, including Emperor Maximilian. He had been very happily married with two children when his wife died in a riding accident. He recovered his wealth by marrying Bianca Maria Sforza from a very rich Italian family. As a wedding present to her he built the famous balcony with a golden roof. This is now part of the Registry Office.
Back in the coach we set off for the village of Karres, for lunch in Gasthof Taube, a simple Pilgrims’ Inn on the Jakobsweg. The Pilgrim Way follows the River Inn through the Tyrol and on our section of the walk we followed an ancient Roman road. Original stones stand at the side of the path at intervals, 45cms high, still standing after hundreds of years; the scenery was spectacular. The Alps soared around us as we walked. Walking uphill from where the coach met us we went to the pilgrimage church of Maria Locherboden which was a beautiful small church on the top of a hill overlooking the valley. Inside, looking towards the altar, all the walls were painted with coloured patterns and pictures of the four Apostles and the altar decorated with beautiful mosaics. Walking back to the coach we paused at a small chapel where hundreds of red and yellow candles lit up pictures which adorned the wooden walls.
Back at our hotel, sitting on our balconies at 5pm, we were treated to the tolling of the very large Peace Bell. It rings daily and is a memorial to 25 years of cross border cooperation of eleven Alpine cantons and counties. It is the largest brass bell in The Tyrol, weighing 10 tons and was cast in a foundry in Innsbruck in 1997.
Before dinner said Evening Prayer in the small neighbouring church of St Mary of the Redemption. As we entered Julia and Mita gave each of us a small stone with a stripe running through it. They had collected them previously on our pilgrims ’path. At the beginning of the service we each took our stone and laid it on the altar with the stripes in alignment to make our own pilgrims’ way, and after the service we each collected a stone to take home to remind us of the path we had taken together. Before leaving the church Pamela led a post-pilgrimage discussion on what we had most liked, or possibly not liked about the trip and gifts were given with our thanks to Pamela, for her leadership; to Gordon for handling our finances so well; and to Jenny for having such a good idea for all they had done to make our pilgrimage so special.
Our final dinner was a lively one. Julia awarded husbands for their contribution to our trip, examples being, most colourful shirt, best shorts, most individual jackets and the most charming. There were other categories too, in fact one for every husband. See Julia for others!
Shirley, Alex, Yvonne and Liz
Thursday 10th September – Our last day
Suitcases outside the door at 7.30 for the last time, but a relaxed over the breakfast as we had a later start, though some of us were en route before we were fully awake! For those of us here for the ‘Passionspiele’ in 2010, it was a familiar drive, from the Inn valley to the Bavarian Ammer valley to the village of Oberammergau by mid-morning, sadly low cloud enveloped us all the way but cleared before we left Oberammergau.
Our visit began with a tour of the Passion Play theatre with knowledgeable guide, Inge. She took us backstage, to show us several costumes and the Cross used for the Crucifixion scene 5 years ago. All Principals have new costumes for each play and with the exception of those actors playing Pilate or Roman soldiers, no-one may cut their hair, nor men their beards, from January of the previous year! The theatre has 5,000 seats and an amazing 500,000 tickets were sold over the season in 2010. Later, in the Parish Church, we saw an ancient Cross: the one before which the villagers in 1633, having been spared the ravages of the Plague, made their promise to God to perform this play every 10 years.
Lunch venues were an independent choice and then we met at the Lutheran Church, kindly loaned to us for Pamela to celebrate our final Eucharist; some of the Lutherans were on hand to offer a friendly welcome. Afterwards, we made our final good-bye presentation to Werner for his friendly presence throughout the tour and said goodbye to Robert and Cathy Hartley who were returning to the Tirol with friends from Hanover, who had joined us for the service.
Finally, the point we knew this wonderful Pilgrimage/holiday was at an end. We drove on to Munich Airport where we said goodbye to our chief guide, Werner and driver, Roland. Some of us said goodbye to Jenny and Tony here, but they disappeared before the rest of the group had realised, to have a few extra days in Munich.
Pamela Soult, Jennifer Castens, Julie and Robin Coles, Helen and Ian Colvin, Vivian and John Cook, Alex Harris, Cathy and Robert Hartley, Jane and John Hill, Yvonne Hyrenen, Shirley Jack, Jenny and Tony Jeapes, Mita Johnson, Shena Jones, Deryn and Stuart Merry, Diane Norman, Juliet Phillips and Tamsin, Julia Pirie, Ann and Clive Sture, Jenny and Gordon Verity, Liz Williams and three pilgrims who were not with us in the Wilhering woods.