5 Ways to Escape into Nature in Vienna

As COVID continues to savage travel plans, the possibility of a long weekend city break may seem unappealing. The word ‘city’ suggests crowds, fumes, and potential virus danger. Connecting with nature has been shown to benefit physical health, so what if you could take a long weekend break and spend time safely in nature too! Would one of the greenest cities in Europe be of interest? A city with imperial style and culture, where escaping into nature is easy and varied. Here are 5 ways to visit Vienna and escape into nature.

1. City Hiking Trails

The Vienna Woods is the perfect place to find peace and solitude. If you do come and visit Vienna, take some time and head out into the nature that surrounds this city. The Woods can be easily accessed using one of the well-marked city hiking trails – Stadwanderwegs. There are 10 altogether. I must confess to only completing 4 of them, but several times over. Stadwanderweg 3 has become a Sunday morning favourite. It starts in grand fashion with a walk along Schwarzenbergallee – a beautiful tree line path. Very quickly you reach a small hütte, ZurAlle, which serves nice hot chocolate, perfect on a winter’s morning to fortify you in readiness to tackle the hill up to Hameau. Stadwanderweg 1 was the first trail we tried and is a beautiful walk because it introduces you to the loveliness that is Ginzing and the vineyards around it.


2. Vineyards around Grinzing

Grinzing was until the end of the 19th century an independent municipality, but today it is part of Döbling, the 19th district of Vienna. It is an old wine village with many heurigers and vineyards. The Village has had its up and downs invading Turkish Troops, fire and Napoleon sought to destroy it, while countless famous musicians, writers and thinkers visited it. Beethoven was staying at number 64 Grinzinger Strasse while writing his Pastoral Symphony no less!

Grinzing is such a contrast to the grandeur of Vienna, so it is worth a wander, but do remember to look up and if you should happen to wander into the Vineyards and find one of them open – weekends between May and October – well you would have to try the wine! It would be rude not to! In September there is a whole wine festival, the Vienna Wine Hiking Day.  It is the winemakers’ opportunity to show off their latest wines. Why not plan to come then? Check out the information here.

Grinzing is the terminus for the 38 Tram. Here you can ride all the way back to the centre of the city, in about 30 mins.


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10 reasons the beach is good for your well-being

What is it about the sea that is good for our well-being, that captivates us, that seeps into souls and like a siren draws us into its arms? Perhaps it is because standing on the shore and looking out to sea is the place where dreams, ideas and longings are created?


3. City Parks


As a city, Vienna is blessed with a vast array of parks and gardens from the formal parks of the Belvedere and Schonebrun Palace to the very popular city parks, like the Stadtpark and the Prater. However, if somewhere away from the crowds would be your preference, then here are two little quiet gems – one, a park on the edge of the city, and the other, a palace.

The Pötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark can be found at the end of the 41 tram line. Whenever I walk around this park, I anticipate meeting Mary Poppins at any moment. It has an old fashioned feel which is appealing. This is jolted momentarily by the curious emergence of several Greek-style statues. These statues once stood proudly on the front of the Ringtheatre, which burned down in 1881. The statues are huge, so the building must have been impressive. Strangely, they don’t look out of place and add to the uniqueness of the place. The park is also suitable for families with a large play area and a small animal enclosure.

The Liechtenstein Palace can be found in the Alsergrund area of Vienna. Its beautiful grounds are rarely crowded. When the weather is warm, this is the perfect place to take a book and read. There is an outdoor cafe where you can sit a drink a coffee or sample a glass or two of crisp white wine. 


4. Donau Island

At 42km long Danube Island was built as part of the City’s extensive flood defences, but is also a key leisure area in the City. There are bathing areas and beaches, picnic and barbecue spots, a range of paths for walkers, cyclist, joggers and roller bladders. Towards the centre of the island is a range of restaurants and bars, while the northern and southern end of the island is reserved as nudist beaches. Various festivals and concerts are also held on the island particularly during the summer.

On very hot days, the island will be very busy and if you want a quiet spot by the river you would need to grab it early. During the week, or in the offseason, the island is a perfect place to spend time and brilliant for a vehicle-free Sunday morning cycle ride.


5. The Lobau

Covering over 2300 hectares between Vienna and Bratislava is the last major wetland in Central Europe, the Donau-Auen National Park. The National Park is the habitat for many animals and plants some of which is very rare. Part of the park lies within the city of Vienna and is known as the ‘water forest’ of the city or the Lobau. You will find lots of well-organised hiking and cycle trails, while some of the lakes are popular bathing spots particular on very hot days and it seems bathing suits are not always required. 

I have visited the park twice and both times went hiking. From experience, choose a cool day to explore or better still hire a bike to venture further into the park. The wien-lobAU National Park house is well worth a visit. You can learn lots of information about the area. 

It is easy to reach using the public transport system. Hop on the U2 to Donaustadtbrücke and then catch the 92B bus heading to Wien Ölhafen. Get off at the 5th stop, Wien Biberhaufenweg. The Lobau and National Park house is a short walk from the stop. It is signed, but not clearly.

Alternatively, try the National Park boat, which leaves from the Donau Canal in the City Centre at 9 am between May and October. Numbers are limited, so book ahead.

Discover more?

Head on over to my Youtube channel and talk a walk in the Vienna Woods from where you are

The Healing of a Broken Heart

Is it ever possible to recover from a broken heart? The short answer is, yes. Yet when the brake is raw and the world has stopped, it is difficult to see how. Trust me, when I say this. Your broken heart will heal. It may happen slowly, but it will heal. How do I know?

Well, I am going to share a little of my own story and the things I did to heal my own broken heart.

Since I left the place of my birth, I have returned on a regular basis to visit my mum. However, those visits only occurred at the weekend. Time was short. There was no opportunity to visit the wild places I had spent discovering when my marriage ended and my broken heart began to heal. I gave little thought to the importance of this period in my life until several years later, I came home for a more extended visit. A desire to walk in the valley and surrounding hills that I spend many solitary hours exploring returned. As I reflected, I put my thoughts on to paper, realising the value that spending so much time in nature had been. Nature had been medicine to my heart.

So, for you with a broken heart, here are my feelings on my recovery in the form of a poem, followed by five practical things I did that helped.

Once upon a lifetime ago
When my heart was repairing,
I would drive these country lanes On early mornings looking for the sunrise
.
I would wander these hills alone
.
Exploring the paths
,
Watching the heather clothe the hills with royalty. 
A tree tread its resolute path to the top of the hill,The river gossip it’s friendly way out of the valley to the sea.
Once upon a lifetime ago
My heart healed in these valleys.
On early mornings when I found the sunrise.
As I wandered the hills alone
,
The paths led me to new joys.The trees whispered tales of places new And I chattered with my friend the river, 
As we left the valley and headed out to sea.

5 pieces of advice to heal a broken heart

  • One – Face it. Look the whole sad, and it is a sad, event squarely and deal with it. When the first warning signs blasted into my life that my marriage might be over, I crumbled. I was devasted and remember saying quite clearly to a good friend that I could not, ‘do this’. On reflection, it was the label that was more important than the quality of the relationship and the fact that I could not comprehend living on my own. As the relationship stuttered forward, I gradually found my own strength and self-worth, so that it was me, who eventually decided that if the choice were this relationship, or living for the rest of my life on my own, then I would take the second option. I faced it.
  • Two- Get out into the natural world and find a happy place. It will be tough opening the door and venturing out on your own. But a walk in a public park or wood would be a good start. Take something to do.  It was photography that took me into nature. It gave me the ability to focus my attention away from sadness and to on to something else – colour, shape, light.  I bought a book of local walks, a pair of walking shoes and I started to explore. I wandered the hills and valleys of my home county and found happy places by streams and with trees. I discovered people who shared a love of photography, and I learned from them. I made friends with folks who invited me to go walking so that sometimes I wasn’t on my own.

Revisiting the places that healed my broken heart

Watch this Youtube video I made recently of one of the very first walks I discovered on the journey to a healed heart.


  • Three – Find your courage and go on an adventure.  Do something beyond your comfort zone. For me, I bought a plane ticket to New Zealand and spent four weeks driving around the South Island. At the time, I was nearly forty, nearly divorced and didn’t really have a lot to show for my life. I freaked out a few times after the ticket had been purchased. But gradually the pieces of that summer adventure came together, and I relished another me who found it easy to swap stories with people over dinner, sharing similarities and exploring differences.
  • Four – give something back  Get involved in a project that makes a difference. I got involved with a youth group that met weekly. It allowed me to be creative and get to know people from a completely different background to me. A good friend of mine took her broken heart to a stonewalling course in Wales. This year, I was a bridesmaid at her wedding to the man she met repairing walls.
  • Five – Learn to love your independence. This one starts with the word ‘learn’. I learned to take myself to the cinema or out for a meal if I wanted a treat whether  I was with someone or not.  In the early days, I felt as if I was being pitied as a sat on my own. In one cafe, I was overlooked as I waited for a table and when finally the mistake was realised, the waitress asked: ” Is it a table for….one?” It was the excruciating pause that rattled my confidence, followed by the sudden loud exclaim from a friend, who was sat nearby with her husband, “Are you are your own?!”  Sat at a small table in the middle of the cafe I felt I stood out like a pimple, so I drank my coffee rather rapidly and made a hasty escape. That was back in the early days. Now, I regularly eat out on my own and rather enjoy it, but it took a while. 

I hope these words of wisdom and this story help. At the time when my broken heart was raw, I wanted to punch the person who said that time is a great healer. If I had punched the person, I would now be apologising and probably adding and so does spending time in nature!

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In Uncertain Times, 5 Things​ Nature Teaches Us

‘Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts’

Rachel Carson

Why we need to learn from Nature

 I wonder if you are the sort of person who finds it difficult to do something simply for the pure pleasure of the pursuit? The process itself is the focus and not the end product. I often waver between the two, let me explain. I believe that life is a learning journey, a process that leads from one moment of discovery to the next. The experience of learning, growing, failing, struggling and overcoming are the essential elements of life. Yet, my impatience, coupled with the type of society we live in, emphasises heavily an ‘end product’. 

We fill our magazines and media with perfect ends – the lifestyle, the completed renovation, the great achievement. We draw upon these to define our own value.  Life is presented in linear form – there is a start and there is a finish, while success is a measured and achievable outcome. We look to others for affirmation of success. Yet as life becomes increasingly uncertain and unpredictable, is there an alternative to spending much of life focusing on a tangible end.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is something very beautiful about watching someone succeed or reach a defined end on a world-stage. I defy anyone not to have a lump in the throat during an Olympic medal presentation ceremony. Moments of triumph are jewels to be shared and celebrated. Yet I wonder if the true celebration is in the journey. It is the story of triumph after much trial and tribulation that brings a far deeper pleasure.

Looking at the beauty around us in nature, I believe we have a valuable teacher. Glorious moments of wild celebration happening around us all the time, with no news or social media coverage. These nature moments are what they are. Perhaps there are some lessons that we can learn and apply to our own lives? 

The 5 things we can learn from Nature?

Stillness: Nature teaches us stillness. The trees and plants grow as the seasons’ change. They respond to light, warmth and rain with calm unhurried ease. They know when to expend energy and when to stop. 

Connection: Nature teaches the value of connection. Oak trees provide food and shelter for a myriad of animals and plants. All rely on the oak and it willingly provides. Wildflowers feed bees; bees pollinate plants. Birds eat fruit and then kindly spread seeds. All over the natural world, a finely balanced connection demonstrated mutual honour, even if that involved the death of one to provide life to another. Only we first-world humans march about our planet with the limited belief we are the exception. 

Hope: Nature teaches us to hope: the seasons’ cycle; the rains do eventually come; the flowers blossom; the tide returns and nature can regenerate. There is nothing more powerful than the emergence of a snowdrop after a long dark winter or a swollen river feeding life into a dry dusty plain. 

Beauty: Nature teaches us beauty. Stand and watch a sunrise or sunset and you will experience a thing of unique beauty. Admire the delicate complexity of a flower and smell its intoxicating aroma. Gush at the sighting of dolphins and laugh at the comical attempts of puffins to land in the sea. There are far too numerous things to mention of the beauty of the nature that is immediately around us. We simply have to open our eyes, stop pursuing things, and see. 

Simplicity: Nature teaches us simplicity. A flower needs no more than soil, light and water and the right environment to grow into something truly beautiful. 

How to apply the lessons nature teaches

Nature offers us an opportunity to value life in greater harmony with an underlying ebb and flow. It offers us freedom from the constant rapacious drum that values only a measurable goal. Perhaps if we have a focus on the process of living a life well, then we have a greater opportunity to recognise and celebrate the quieter moments happening around us. We can hold our sense of person and value, despite the uncertainties swirling around us, because we define our success from the lessons nature has taught us. If wider recognition comes, so be it. If not, we have lived well.

Mindful Photography walking

This is an update on an earlier post – I hope you enjoy the improvements!

Here are my tips for a mindful photography walk. An effective way to focus your mind and connect with nature is to take a walk with a camera. The camera enables you to look with a purpose. My tips give you some simple and easy subjects to focus your lens and your mind.

‘Easy like Sunday morning’ is one of my favourite songs and there is nothing easier than a soulful, stroll along the Danube, or the Donau as it is known in Vienna. Heading out for a walk, run or cycle is quite a Viennese thing to do. The river becomes a hive of activity for the city’s inhabitants during the heat of summer. If ‘people watching’ is your thing, then there is no better place. Find a bench, sit down and watch the world pass by. The Danube guarantees there will be plenty to observe.

The speed of the river rushing past is like my life

Unstopping, pushing, silent

The walked dog wishing to sit is like my soul.

Unmoved, determined, steady

Taking time out is good for the soul and there is something rather special about a Sunday morning here in Vienna. It seems calmer. Perhaps because here most shops are shut and stay shut all day. I think this influences the atmosphere for the better. No popping off to the DIY store or out food shopping. You have to plan to do those things on a different day. To me, life often seems a relentless stream of things to do and a myriad of ‘convenient’ opportunities in which to do them. I can feel overwhelmed. Less choice has created space to do other things, for example, get the camera and go for a walk. So would you like to try, then read on?


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Here are my tips for a slow soulful Sunday stroll

The Camera

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, a phone camera will do. Then again phone cameras have become pretty sophisticated nowadays. Ultimately though a good photograph is about what the photographer sees and not the equipment. This was illustrated clearly with this image taken on Derwent Water in the Lake District. A group of ten photographers stood in exactly the same place, but only one took the shot of the view and the seat and it happened to be me. I didn’t have the most sophisticated camera equipment and I had less experience than others in the workshop, but I could still see!

However, I digress. The aim of this soulful walk is to take life at a slower pace, become focused in the moment itself and come away rejuvenated – it’s called being in the ‘flow’. This is defined as becoming so engrossed in something, time stops. I sincerely hope you take an image that makes you smile with a sense of accomplishment like the one I took above, but most importantly that you enjoy the process.

Derwent Water, Cumbria, UK

The Place

Choose your location carefully. Make it a familiar place so that you can concentrate on the photography and not on trying to find your way. Remember, too, this is a mindful walk, so you might very well walk only a short distance, but it might take you several hours and that is fine. When you are ready, stand in your chosen location and take a few slow breaths to still your mind. Slowly use your senses to listen, smell, feel, and see what is around you. Now begin to walk and as you do let your eye be drawn to something interesting.

The Image

What sorts of things might you notice? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Moss on a May Morning

Focus on a particular shape. You may look for a simple shape like a circle, square and rectangle – an extension to this, and one that is totally absorbing is to look for letters of the alphabet hidden in the world around you.

Buttercup on a May Morning

Focus on a particular object. For example, look for leaves, flowers, tree bark, tree roots, pathways, doors, and windows. The list is endless.

Dealing with disappointment

Focus on colour. If you are in a woodland or green space, how many different shades of green can you find? It is fascinating to notice.

Focus on one thing, but reframe the shot. This means how many different ways can you photograph the same object. Try a landscape shot and then a portrait shot. Now you have framed your subject in two different ways. Now try a close-up shot and one from a distant and that’s two more. Mix in landscape and portrait at a distance and close up and suddenly you are starting to build an array of different images while giving your attention to one thing. Keep going, the ideas will come, time pass and you will become absorbed in one thing.

See below for my example, when I focused on this Dog Rose.

With these ideas to get you started, you can become absorbed in the image-making. Nothing else matters for those precious moments.

Finally

Once your walk is over, give yourself time to look and do something with the images you created. So often pictures are left on a phone or camera and rarely looked at. My photography often inspires me to write and this is often a good way to process my thoughts. Like the poem at the beginning. How will your photography inspire you?

A Danish Coastal Woodland – Nørreskoven

I am in my element spending time outside in woodlands and I take great pleasure in seeing the seasons change within them: the monotones of winter and the possibility of snow; the limes greens of spring and the beauty of a woodland carpeted with bluebells; the heat of summer, balanced by cool evenings and finally the riotous shades of autumn and the twirling dance of falling leaves  There is such a joy walking through a beach forest in the early morning listening to the birds sing. It is welcome relief as you sink beneath the cool green on a blisteringly hot day. Woodlands have always been my go-to place for peace and solitude. That was until I arrived in Denmark and discovered Nørreskoven. Nørreskoven taught me to fall in love with the sea. I decided there and then this was heaven and that experiencing the best of both worlds was no bad thing.

Where is Nørrekoven?

Nørreskoven is a 9km Coastal Woodland located on the Island of Als, a small Danish Island, which lies to the east of the Jutland peninsula with Sonderborg as its main town. The Woodland itself is mainly beach, but oak, maple, cherry and birch can also be found growing contentedly within this ancient forest. However, it is the towering beech trees that truly take the breath away. I have been fortunate to visit it in both summer and winter. Each visit, I have been mesmerised by its quiet solitude. If ever a place was going to make you fall in love with the sound of a lapping sea, then this would be it. It is perfectly possible to sit with your back against a tree and listen to both singing birds and the waves arriving on the shore. The blend of wood and sea is magical. 

How to get there?

The woodland can easily be reached by car. The simplest way I have found it to take the A8 towards Fynshv and turn off towards Helved just before the ferry terminal. The first junction on the right is signposted Nørreskoven. Follow the signs to the car park at the south end of the wood. The parking space is very small, but I have rarely encountered more than two cars there.

Things to do

Walk the coastal path – A generous earthen path runs along the edge of the coast between the woods and the beach. It is possible to wander slowly for the full 9km if you would like to, but do not rush too much, allow time to listen to the sound of the wind in the trees and the gentle lapping of the sea. The path gives a wonderful view out over a stretch of water called the Little Belt and on clear days it is possible to the large Island of Fyn and see the Ferry making its way across from Fynshav to Bøjden. At various intervals were fire pits, stacks of logs and picnic tables ready for use. 

Visit Taxensand Lighthouse – This lighthouse was built in 1905 when Southern Jutland was part of Germany. It was originally 32m high but was shortened to its current height of 19m in 1953. The lighthouse sits directly on the beach, hidden from the land by the woodland. It is possible to stand in front of the building, look out to sea and wonder at the dangers sailors encountered in this seemingly serene place. 

Spend the morning at the beach – Fjordmose is a quiet pebbly beach located about halfway along the 9km path. I explored by car determined to discover more of this tranquil place. Head for the tiny village of Østerholm, once through the village, signs for the beach direct you along an unmade road. I had the beach all to myself pretty much for the morning, until mid-afternoon when a few families arrived for a late lunch.

Watch the video

 

Where to stay

Camping – There is a large campsite just to the south of the Woodland, called Naldmose, follow this trip advisor link for more information –

Wild camping – in the woodland itself are several areas where wild camping is allowed. The Dane’s love of the outdoors is shown clearly as they provide picnic tables and fire pits should you wish to spend an evening by the fire. 

AirBnB – If you come off season, I think the Autumn would be wonderful, there are many AirBnB options to choose from. I recommend these two

E Smirre

We have stayed in both. They are a little way from the Woodland in the small town of Norborg, but both are charmingly restored old Danish Houses and at our time of visiting, well priced and comfortable.

PS – These are my recommendations because I have stayed in both places. They are not affiliated links.