My Three stops in Austria have been wonderful. My first night was in Wels where Julia was overflowing with kindness, plying me with endless Austrian schnapps and baking fresh cookies for me to take on the road. We chatted, over food and alcohol, about many things but noticeably the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. She said “you’ve not done the Camino unless it hurts”, which got me thinking about my pilgrimage and what hurt I’m experiencing. I left Wels feeling warm with optimism from Julia’s friendly welcome.
Leaving Julia I headed along the Danube almost alone. It’s a week before all the cycle ferries and guest houses open up and on Sundays everything is closed anyway. I had no host for Sunday night so I was preparing myself for a night in my tent. During the day the temperature dropped and grey clouds threatened a downpour, but only managed a few light showers. There was excitement and foreboding at the prospect of camping, and as I rolled up to a very closed looking bar, the sun quite suddenly shone out through the clouds, which I took as a divine blessing on this little eatery. I parked up and found the bar open, and I the only customer. Oddly enough they even had wifi and as I checked my emails I had a message inviting me to stay on a couch just 5 miles away. I was saved from a cold night on the ground without a roll mat. Lisa was very kind and we chatted about German guilt and their aversion to nationalism and consequently their support of the EU. We also touched on the Scottish referendum which I now realise I know little about.
My next leg of the journey took me to my last Austrian stop, Vienna. I met up with an acclaimed travel writer, Duncan Smith, who gave me the best tour of a city I’ve ever had. We walked the streets near his house while he pointed out the secret wonders of Vienna. Particularly memorable was sneaking into an old peoples home which overlooks a particularly significant Jewish cemetery hidden from public view. We chatted about Austrian politics and Viennese history in between the hidden gems of the city.
My host in Vienna was a remarkable woman who had recently returned from doing peace work in Afghanistan for two years. We spent two evenings and two mornings chatting and seemed to bypass the awkward small talk. I particularly enjoyed her chosen Lenten abstinence, she had officially left the church, which in Austria requires forms to be filled and reasons given. Agnes’ disappointment in Church shows its failure to be relevant. Her search for a path in life took to her to priests who embodied something radically different to the oppressive structures she sees in the Church. Priests who gave up the manipulative weapon of guilt and learned not to judge, whether with the homeless of Vienna or in Spanish prisons. She had also walked the Camino and showed me a wonderful short movie called Plastic Bag which is almost about pilgrimage and wonderfully describes our need for impermanence. Agnes had a lot of wisdom and endless stories of adventure and I dallied over Afghan jam on the morning of my departure, not wanting to leave