As promised, the weather finally got beautiful again this weekend. Friday, with such promises in mind, I came home proposing that we spend Sunday hiking and exploring the nearby Rheinsteig. The weather wouldn't be nice for too much longer, and besides, what else is there to do on a Sunday in Germany. The Rheinsteig is one of Germany's largest national parks - so large that to cover the entire park one would take 20 days. I thought I had it all planned out - a route that looked like a good length and with a few hills.
Sunday we left almost an hour later than we'd planned, due in part to the previous evening's trip across the river to catch a show by local band NILG, featuring someone Chris knew from the UW almost a decade ago. Anyway, we took about an hour train ride south to the small town of Bad Honnef, where we would start our journey. However, my planning skills are not always the best, so I didn't really know how we were supposed to get from the train station to the park entrance. That became our first challenge, but after only one wrong turn, we eventually found the park. There we found a very detailed map of the park, however the "you are here" marking was no where to be seen. There were trail markings, but they were neither as frequent nor as detailed as we probably needed (the park is criss-crossed with countless trails). This just meant, pick a direction and start wandering. We soon came to a very steep hill, which we embarked up. The farther up we went, the narrower the trail got, until at the end we were scaling along a ridge of shrubs, hoping the loose rocks wouldn't slide out from underneath us. Of course at the top of what turned out to be Himmerich Hof was a beautiful view, as well as quite a few other hikers who'd taken much less risky routes up.
We continued back down on a better marked and less steep hill, until we found another map. This one too (like all the rest we would find) lacked the "you are here" marking. We thought we had some idea of where we were and which trail to follow, but we were usually wrong. Long story short, we made it out of the park after spending a total of three and a half hours there. Like all good German parks, there was a beer garden on one of the hills (which we didn't visit, since we still had to figure out how to home).
I learned about Chris's fear of beetles, as he contemplated the question of how many beetles lived in the park (more than there are people in Germany?). The forest reminded us of the Northwest's evergreen forests, and it was easy to forget that we were in Germany, until we were passed by mountain bikes ridden by Germans. Our original plan was to head north and board a train home at a different station than we had started at. However, we took a wrong turn somewhere and eventually found ourself dumped back in Bad Honnef, though at a different entrance. Perhaps that was all for the better, since we had a vague idea about how to get to the train station. Amazingly, my inner compass managed to work fairly well. This is something I always think will happen, but usually it fails. To continue our good luck, we waited less than five minutes for our train back to Köln, and had a seamless connection back home. It was a beautiful day in the sun, and wore us out enough to fall asleep early, so Chris could get out of bed much earlier than normal for his first day of German class.