Being woken up in Graz by a scary voice
Where? Grat-zuh? Where? Grat-zuh? Where? Grat-zuh? Where? Grat-zuh? Where? Grat-zuh? Where? Grat-zuh? Where? Grat-zuh?
I was woken up in the middle of the night by a low repetitive voice that almost scared me witless. After turning on the night lamp in our hotel room in Graz, Austria, I realized that the sound was coming from my sister over in the next bed. And in whatever dream state she was in she sounded freaky. Her voice belonged to someone else, the accent, the intonation, the low purr.
I waited for almost 3 minutes for her to stop, and tried to shake her awake, which she didn’t, before finally hitting her with a pillow. So she wakes up and asks what the hell is wrong with me. She had no idea she’d been saying these words, so just turned over and went back to sleep.
About an hour later, she does it again. This time the words are ‘Se-ven, se-ven, se-ven, se-ven, se-ven, …’ Of course, this resulted in my spending the rest of the night awake, wondering what on earth had gotten into her.
Well, actually, I wasn’t wondering. I had this crazy idea that she’d gotten taken control of by Mary Vetsera. Now, I don’t believe in ghosts, but that was the first time I had ever heard that voice from my sister (also, the last so far) and my mind was spinning with a thousand explanations. In the middle of the night, Mary Vetsera seemed like the perfect person to blame.
Talk about crazy. Ha! But anyway, what happened was we were in Vienna the day before, because it’s one of the must see places to visit in Austria; And we did a bit of sightseeing including Mary Vetsera’s coffin. It was a sisters’ only trip and we were travelling across Austria on our own, with our handy Eurail passes. On our last day in Vienna we wanted to see some of the Vienna attractions, specifically Vienna Woods and the famous Mayerling chapel.
We usually walk or take local transport, but found out we’d be wasting an awful lot of time getting from Wien Oper to Mayerling. We would have had to take a 40 minute train or bus ride from Wien Oper to Baden bei Wien, and then change to another 30 minutes bus ride from there to Mayerling. We were staying in one of the best area to stay in Vienna, but having only half a day left in Vienna, being without a car, and the distance being too much to cover on foot, we joined a seat-in-coach group that day.
Lush green Vienna Woods
The trip started by entering the Vienna Woods or Wienerwald and learning about its history. The Vienna Woods was earlier a hunting grounds for the royals, but now is an easily accessible outdoor destination for walking, hiking, mountain biking, and so much more. Vienna Woods were designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2005. Bordered by the rivers Golsen, Traisen, Danube and supposedly the Treisting, it is a beautiful place with a diversity of wildlife and plants. Vineyards and meadows, fields and pastures add to the vibrant array of colours that livened up our senses. We could have easily spent days exploring the woods.
Alas however, we were on a seat-in-coach ride and were quickly shipped off to Heiligenkreuz Abbey in the Southern part of Vienna Woods. We were lucky however, since the Abbey is still in use and entry is only given to guided groups.
Built in 1133 by St. Leopold III of the House of Babenberg, it is the 2nd oldest Cistercian monastery in the world. The Monastery is also known as the Vienna Woods Monastery since the Cistercians still take part in farming and forestry to support themselves.
We were shown some of the artist Giovanni Giulianni’s work – the Holy Trinity Column in the centre of the Courtyard, St. Joseph’s fountain depicting biblical scenes, the exquisitely carved statue of Jesus washing St. Peter’s feet, and other beautiful work done by him. He is buried in the Abbey, along with other famous artists and sculptors who worked there.
Most of the monks do not like being photographed, except for some who happily posed for group photos and told young children more about the Abbey or Stift Heiligenkreuz as it is known in German.
They showed us the Fountain House with a fountain built in Rome that used to serve as a washing room till the mid 16th century. We also saw the beautifully sculpted Chapter House, the long Reading Corridor, the sombre Funeral Chapel, the clement Fraterie and the light-filled Abbey Church.
By the way, the Funeral Chapel was also called the Chapel of the Dead, and is still used to keep a day’s vigil for deceased monks. The candelabra in this room were designed by Giovanni and look like dancing skeletons. But no, they weren’t the reason for my sister’s night voices. That bit comes next!
Karmel Mayerling’s tragic history
A 10 or 15-minute drive from Heiligenkreuz Abbey and we found ourselves at Karmel Mayerling or Mayerling Chapel. This Chapel that is maintained by the cloistered Carmelite sisters was a hunting lodge with a tragic history. Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, who was married to Princess Stefanie of Belgium, bought the hunting lodge at Mayerling in 1887. At age 30, he met the 17-year-old Baroness Mary Vetsera in 1888, fell in love with her and had an affair till the Emperor Franz Joseph demanded that they end their relationship.
Rudolph and Mary could not bear to be separated and so committed suicide together in their bedroom at the hunting lodge. Rudolph first shot Mary in the head and then himself. To prevent a scandal, Mary’s body was smuggled out at night and buried in the Heiligenkreuz cemetery. Rudolph was declared mentally unstable so that he could have a Catholic burial.
The hunting lodge was donated to the Carmelite convent, and a chapel was built on the exact spot where Rudolph and Mary were found dead.
To this day, the nuns say prayers for the restoration of Rudolph’s soul. The exhibition rooms to the right of the church show furnishings and paintings from the hunting lodge.
There is a statue of the Madonna in the Chapel representing the sorrowful Mother with a dagger through her heart. It was donated by Empress Elisabeth, Prince Rudolf’s mother. Did she know that she would die the same way? With a dagger through her heart?
But Mary’s story wasn’t over yet. In 1945, at the end of World War II, her coffin was broken open by grave robbers. It has been on display in Mayerling since 2007, almost an eerie sight. A few of the group that was with us stepped into the last room containing the coffin and high tailed it out of there. (Maybe it was our guide’s vivid storytelling.) My sister stopped to take pictures, and read the information on the walls. Hmm, that’s probably why she did the voices the next day. She’s been normal since then, but I’ll definitely let you’ll know if anything strange happens. 😉
Anyways, after that we went on to see an old gypsum mine that had a lake under a lake under a mountain. But I’ll tell you about Seegrotte in the next blog!