‘Going into the woods is going home’ John Muir
Whenever I get the chance, I slip away into green spaces and drink in all the beauty that surrounds me – the beckoning stillness, the rustle of leaves, the patient wait of woodland flowers, the rap of the woodpecker and the calling cry of circling buzzards. Each time I venture along a familiar woodland path, something new calls my attention. On this occasion, I slipped away into the woods a short 10-minute bus ride from our Vienna home.
The Vienna woods have been called ‘the Green Lung’ of the city. Over 1000 sq. km of heavily wooded hills, that form the foothills of the Northern Limestone Alps. That’s an extensive amount of space within which to disappear. That may sound a little frightening, the disappearing part and may lead you to think it would be easy to get lost. I suppose it would, but don’t worry there are over 240km of marked trails and the well-organized city of Vienna has set aside eleven specific city paths, called Stadwanderwegs, to get you up into the woods easily.
The woods prove a welcome rest from the hurly-burly of the city and a cooling touch from the intense summer heat. Many times, I take my thoughts and walk into the green to drink in the dappled sunlight and be whispered to by the breeze. I bathe in the forest, letting the sounds, smells and the atmosphere calms my mind and delights my soul.
Forest bathing is a Japanese form of nature therapy, which has received attention for the scientifically backed evidence that it improves mental and physical health. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure among many things, not just because you are physically present in woodland, but the chemicals certain trees emit are good for us.
Think how the smell of pine makes you feel, that moment the Christmas tree goes up and the whole house smells divine. It lifts your spirit. It’s actually good for your health too. Perhaps not for the tree, which was cut down. It’s a moot point in our household that my beloved doesn’t like cut plants in houses where they will die. Reluctantly, I take his point, but I do like real Christmas trees and fresh flowers. As a compromise, last year, I bought a Christmas tree with a root. It stayed inside for Christmas and now grows happily in the ground outside my window where I can still see it.
Time spend bathing in a woodland, needs to be ‘slow time’, so that you can become immersed in the natural environment. It is different from taking a walk to improve your fitness or as physical exercise, but I some times combine the two. There are some incredibly tranquil spaces up in these Vienna Woods, but you need to hike to get to them.
I am going to briefly share a simple way to get up into the woods for some meditative time. You need to take the 39 bus to Sievering. When you go off the bus, walk up Sieveringer Strasse for about 5-10 minutes. As the houses come to an end, the footpath separates from the main road for a while and you begin to climb gently. Finally, you reach a point where you can turn right, cross the road and take the earth track into the woods proper.
It’s at this point that the forest of tall beach, hornbeam and oak welcomes you into its woody court. The heat of the suburbs loses its grip and you bathe in cooling green. As you climb, a stream hails you on its way past and you spend a while listening to its excitement. Ahead there is a choice – a fork in the path. Which route to take? We face many choices in life; decisions to take that do not come easily. Both routes led further into the wood. One follows the stream, while the other climbs. There is no right or wrong here just a choice. Light bathes the ascending path and for now, that is the route chosen for further exploration. Slow, steady steps are needed, as the wind strokes the trees with friendship. All is well here. You are welcome to enjoy. Soak, bathe, breath. Here is time to meander, to linger and listen.
Talk to me please, Dear trees, dear trees Bring my battered soul some ease Let this jaded heart Take part, take part In eternity’s musical march A beat so simple. A melody clean. All but forgotten by human beings.
The path suggested will eventually lead to an open space containing a circle of trees called Am Himmel. Here is a very good café/restaurant, so sit back grab a coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy your quiet meditative view of the city of Vienna down below.
To return to the city from Am Himmel, you can either walk back to Grinzing down Himmel Strasse and then jump back into the excellent public transport system or walk from Am Himmel to Cobenzl and ride the 38 bus back. Vienna has a public transport system that truly works. A weekly ticket, running Monday to Monday will set you back € 17.20, that’s one ticket for every form of transport – tram, bus, city train, underground – for any number of journeys within the city limit.
I recommend an app called ANachB for finding your way around the city.
Further information about Stadtwanderweg can be found here and along with the relevant public transport to you there.
Read this post to find out about slow things to do in the city itself – 8 things to do on a slow walk in Vienna
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All images by D Robinson