A Hike Across the Rhine

Hi! This post was originally written on September 21st but I have been too lazy to post it. Enjoy.
Last weekend,  we went hiking to some castles and ruins. We took a ferry across the Rhine. The ride was short but the ferry captain was very friendly!

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It took us an hour to find the trail. We accidentally wandered into some industrial war house complex and a private residential road before finally finding our way. By the time we got there. My Fitbit had already reached 10,000 steps! I had assumed it was some small trial though the wooded mountains but it actually much more touristy. A wide, paved path started straight up an incredibly steep slope and we were all out of breath. Our first stop was a castle. We thought about walking around the grounds but we had to pay an entry fee. We hiked some more. The trail took us into the woods an by a tall rock mound that looked like a good place to stop for lunch. The next stop was at Drachenfels Ruins. The ruins were overrun with tourists but the view of Bonn was magnificent.

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We ran into two there friends and continues hiking with them.

At one point along the path we found a grove of apple and pear trees so we picked a bunch for snacking.

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Finally we sat down at the biergarten at Petersberg Hotel. It was relaxing and I ate some pretzels.

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The week was busy with class and excursions. On Wednesday we visited a museum exhibit about play structures which was really interesting! AND we got to play!

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Yesterday we walked around Köln for class, then went to a youth orchestra concert that was a mix of western and Indian music for Beethoven Fest.
Right now, I am on a plane headed for Berlin for the weekend. I am sitting in the very front and had to store my bag in the overhead for takeoff. I forgot to get my headphones out so now I must wait until we are in the air.

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Aachen Site Visit

For the last three days (Monday through Wednesday, actually) our team of heroes has been in Aachen doing a site study for our studio. Aachen is a town on the border between German and the Netherlands. Literally a tiny scoot across the border is the neighboring town of Vaals, in the Netherlands. The history of the border itself is also quite interesting , although I can’t recall anything off the top of my head. Our site is focused on a main street that runs through both towns.

Looking toward the Netherlands side from Germany

For our site study, we had to observe, photograph, and sketch the place and choose something about the site that we wanted to investigate further. I chose graffiti after two days of indecision. Anyway, we stayed at a nice hostel by the train station. Some people enjoy having trains go by at night but these trains were not chugging, but screeching and whining across the tracks. Luckily, we walked so much every day that falling asleep wasn’t too difficult.

We spent a lot of time on site.

On Wednesday morning, we hiked to the three countries point where Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium meet.

Here I am sitting in all three countries at once

We also played on a playground which was quite fun.

In studio on Thursday, we had to compile all our photos and notes we made about our chosen focus and pin them up for a classic longer-than-Zoe-can-pay-attention-for group critique. I sat on the floor for some of it. There was a wide range of focuses from colors and textures across the site to the location and types of trash found and what that says about the area. The pin-up actually looked really cool because it was a jumble of loose paper instead of a finished board. This, however, did not detract from how long we had to sit there.

My pinup

Farms, Forests, and Fairs

This will be brief because I have to get up at 6:00 AM (It’s currently 12:14 AM but I’m not tired yet). Anyway, here’s the low-down on the last few days.

On Thursday, we took a day trip to Andernach, a permaculture town. It has a farm to generate revenue and it’s super neat.

They call the downtown area the “edible town” because there is an area where they grow produce that is available to the public for free. Here is a picture of it. It’s in an old moat.

Also, all throughout the pedestrian area are planter boxes with edible herbs, flowers, and such. Pretty swanky. At the end of our tour, they provided a nice spread of foods that were produced using the farm we had toured! It was delicious!

Friday was our first “Independent Study” day where we are free to travel or do whatever we like. A group of us got together, rented a car, and drove down to the Black Forest for a little camping trip. (Shout out to Ben for driving there and back because no one else knows how to drive stick). It was nice to sleep in a tent while wearing less than five layers of clothing (Which is what happened in Iceland). We had trouble finding a good place to hike on the first day and ended up wandering around some logging roads which were still pretty cool. Rain poured down on us for most of the afternoon but cleared up before the hike finished. Honestly, the woods looked a lot like Pennsylvania. Like if I saw a picture of where we were hiking and someone told me it was in PA, I’d be like, “Yeah, ok”.

There were more deciduous trees than I thought and it was also not quite as dark. Germany prohibits any camping not on a designated camping site so we stayed at a cute little campground that was reminiscent of Iceland. There were bathroom and a dish washing station and a covered table for gathering. OK I’m getting pretty tired, I will finish this tomorrow…

Hello it is many days after “tomorrow”. I was in Aachen for a site visit but that is a post for another day.

After our hike we played on a really fun playground and in this fountain that we think was spring fed and felt very cold and nice on our gross, sweaty feet.

In the evening we played some cards, then went to bed.

The next day we packed up an headed to another part of the forest, saw some beautiful vistas and interesting things along the trail, then decided to pay nine euro to walk along a super high boardwalk and up this crazy wood spiral structure.

Pretty crazy.

On Sunday, Logan and I went to this big festival held biannual across the river in Bonn called Pützchens Markt which is a huge festival with tons of food and carnival rides. The rides were expensive so Logan and I jut ate a lot of food instead.

“It’s an Honor to be a BONNer”

Today was my third day of classes. I have now spent 5 full days in Bonn! I haven’t gotten lost yet but I have successfully used public transportation and said “excuse me” and “Thank you” in German. I love walking through the plazas with cool cobble stone and paving patterns and past random, old and interesting buildings that have turned into restaurants and shops.

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Classes are going well, but it doesn’t really feel as much like class since the schedule is different every day and we are “out and about” much more. The AIB “campus” is a few buildings and an enclosed courtyard that we hang out in during lunch or between classes. My abhorrent sense of direction makes it difficult to orient my self anywhere but I am slowly seeing familiar places and remembering turns. We spent Saturday after we arrived just walking around the city. Exploring and what not.

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On Sunday, we went to a festival. Some of my friends are staying in the neighborhood in Bad Godesberg called Muffendorf. It’s an adorable medieval-looking town with cobble stone streets and half-timbered houses. They have a festival called Muffinale in the street with food and music and shops selling their things. The tiny streets were crowded with people!

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Monday was the first day of classes. Class was uneventful, although it was exciting to be using the train to go somewhere (We hadn’t really used it much before now). Afterwards, we went to the HARIBO outlet and bought a butt-load of gummy bears.

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Today (Wednesday), we did a biking tour through Bonn. I thought that 17 students trying to navigate a foreign city on bikes would be a disaster but it actually ran pretty smoothly. We biked along the Rhine on both sides of the river and stopped at various places to rest, play on the playground, and eat paid-for ice cream. It was very hot and sweaty but overall quite enjoyable.

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Bonding in Blankenheim, Meet the Parents

Now time to get back to the real world. We flew from Keflavik into Frankfurt where we were picked up, along with some other Penn State and Texas A&M landscape, and driven to Blankenheim for a “bonding” weekend. We had a big delicious barbecue cook out and then walked around the city. It’s a quaint Medieval town with cobblestone streets and half-timber houses.

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Also, our hostel is a castle! So cool!

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The next day, we did some bonding activities at the hostel and other meeting stuff about important things. In the afternoon, we did a high ropes team building course. I don’t have any pictures of that but it was pretty fun!

On the last day, we hiked around in a National Park in Belgium.

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After our hike, we got back on the bus and were taken to AIB in Bonn, where all our classes will be. There, we had some introductory talking stuff. It wasn’t that exciting of course but they had drinks and food for us. Then, our host parents came to pick us up. Everyone was nervous and excited to meet their host families. We milled around in the courtyard, waiting eagerly to see the next person who walked through the door. One by one, my friends were picked up and taken to their new homes, until only Haoran and I were left.

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Not too long after this picture was taken, we got picked up by our host dad!

Our house is in a quite neighborhood. From the balcony, you can see mountains and castles. The family is wonderful! After we unpacked in settled in (each in our own rooms) we were invited to have dinner with them!  We talked and I impressed them with the amount of food I could eat. Then it was time for bed!

Iceland, Day 5: Bed at Last!

Today we are driving to the AirBnB in Keflavik since our flight to Frankfurt leaves so early tomorrow morning. There were no set plans or stops, except in Reykjavik so Ben could return his tent and buy an Icelandic wool sweater. However, still determined to sit in a hot stream of water somewhere in the mountains, Ben found a place along our route to achieve his dream. Getting out of the car at the parking lot of the Boiling Springs trail head didn’t really make we want to strip down in a bathing suit. Wind and rain gusted across the mountains and we were all shivering. Still, we pushed on. The hike there was tiring on the steep terrain. With my short legs, I struggled to keep up (as is usually the case). Steam peeked from behind distant ridges. Eventually, we made it over the ridge and down into the geothermal valley. Passing through boiling pools and thermal vents, the hot spring came into view. Dams along a portion of the stream allowed the water to pool deep enough to submerge up to you hips. A board walk followed the stream and had changing dividers in a few locations which protected you from other people but definitely not the wind. We claimed an area of the stream and changed as fast as we could. Wet wood froze our feet and putting on our bathing suits, still wet from yesterday didn’t help. Dressed, we made a mad dash to the hot spring. It was definitely hot. We had to move  because it was too hot, but found a bit deeper area where the cold and hot streams were mixing and just sat and looked around.

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Getting out was almost more painful than getting in. The rain had slowed but it quite windy.

The rest of the drive was uneventful. We didn’t stop anywhere since it was overcast and rainy. In Reykjavik, Ben returned his tent and then went to the Handknitting Association of Iceland for sweater shopping.

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Logan and Ben both bought sweaters.

At the Air BnB, we unloaded everything into a room and just crashed on the beds. A mattress never felt so nice. Also, we smelled feet.2018-08-27 15.29.24

We made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

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Iceland, Day 4: Black Sand and Hot Spring Disappointment

We did a lot of driving today. Before leaving our camping spot in Skjol, we stopped at Geysir, the original geyser. Logan and Ben didn’t see what was so great about it but when it erupted right as we rounded the bend, they decided it was worth the wait to see it go off again. We didn’t have to wait long though. After a few minutes, it erupted! This time we were ready with cameras.

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Today was a long day of driving, heading from Thingvellir to Reynisfjara and then to a camp ground an hour west of there. Our plan was to first stop for a hike to the Landmannalaugar Hot springs but the road leading to the trail head was uneven grave and required a larger vehicle to safely drive on the road. Our little rental was not up for the challenge. Plus, Iceland doesn’t allow rental of a 4-wheel-drive vehicle until the age of 24. Disappointed, we had to change our plans. We backtracked an hour and instead went to the Secret Lagoon, the oldest pool in Iceland, naturally heated by hot springs. There was an entrance fee but the experience was definitely worth it. Plus, showering before and after was required and we hadn’t had a real nice shower at all during the trip. The hot spring felt so wonderful. A decent number of people waded slowly around or floated on pool noodles. After a nice swim, we got a fish and chips lunch from the snack bar. We just sat for a bit, enjoying the warm sun and the fact that our feet were clean.

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Next stop: Mýrdalsjökull Glacier! The weather shifted from sunny and warm to cloudy, windy, and rain on the horizon. We drove down a winding road toward the glacier and hiked down the trail, hoping to get close to it. A rope prevented anyone not with a tour from getting all the way up to it but we still got a pretty good view.

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And, when we were ready to be out of the wind and cold, we got back in the car and continued the drive south the the Black Sand Beaches at Reynisfjara.

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Dinner was at a hostel restaurant along the road. Our Icelandic meat soup and bread was delicious and so reasonably priced that we splurged on salads as well! That evening, we camped in Hamragarðar. From our tent, we could see four waterfalls!

Iceland, Day 3: To Thingvellir

Today we drive to Thingvellier national park. Of course, we had to make a few spontaneous stops along the way. First was this waterfall.

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Svodofoss. In the backgrouund, you can barely make out the the Snaefellsjokull Glacier.

 

We also saw Kirkjufell Mountain, which is (I think) one of the most photographed mountains in Iceland, according to our map.

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And across the way was Kirkjufell Waterfall which was pretty cool but quite touristy.

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The Icelandic indie music playlist Ben downloaded for the trip perfectly fit the road trip montage-esque experience of driving through the vast landscape.

In the early afternoon, we arrived at Thingvellir National Park. It seemed funny how a certain part of Iceland was designated as a National Park when the entire island looks like one. We parked, got out, and started down a well-maintained gravel path. The landscape here was much scrubbier than the lava fields we’d been driving through. Our first thought was to see one of the more famous waterfalls in the park, but the falls was crowded with people. They waded into the stream, sat on the rocks, and some were smoking. It wasn’t particularly pleasant so we decided to just wander around on the paths.

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Part of our hike took us through the Almannagja Gorge which is the divide where the North American and Eurasion tectonic plates split.

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After a long day of hiking, it was dinner time. Unfortunately, finding dinner proved to be a difficult task – as least for three stingy college students with high metabolism who’s meals for the day consisted mainly of bagels and peanut butter. We found a few places but they were all pretty pricey. Eventually, we just drove to Skjol campsite where, luckily, there was a little restaurant. We all ordered fish and chips.

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No longer blinded by hunger, we set up our tents. Evening was setting in an we thought that it would be a good time to go see one of the most famous waterfalls, Gullfoss. Even with the fading light, the waterfall was spectacular.

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Iceland, Day 2: Snaefellsnes Peninsula

We broke down our campsite and began driving to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, north of Reykjavik. It was a busy day of hiking! Our first stop was at a naturally carbonated spring at the end of a gravel road, surrounded by farm. A spigot stuck out of the ground where you can fill your bottle up with water. Carbonated water bubble up around the spout and flowed off into the grass.

After that, we stopped at a Bonus Grocery store so we only had to eat out for dinner, since apparently we are terrible at finding not super expensive places to eat. As we drove along, we came across a waterfall and decided to stop there for lunch. With our sandwich fixings in hand, we walked over to find a nice little picnic table. People seemed to be climbing up the side of the falls, so we decided, why not and hiked up to the falls.

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Another cool thing we happened upon was a crag in the side of a mountain. A stream ran through the crag and we climbed/waded to the back of the cave to discover pieces of a glacier must have broken off some time ago.

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In the evening we drove to a little harbor inlet which we happened upon becamuse Ben thought he saw a whale in the ocean. It turned out to be a rock but we still had fun exploring around.

That night, we camped at Olafsson on the Snaelfellsnes peninsula. The view was pretty great even though the night was very cold.

And here are some other pics of stops along our way.

Iceland, Day 1: We Made It!

After 3 days, I finally have wifi and a little time to post! So me, Logan, and Ben left for Iceland on Wednesday (the 22nd). After a long day of flying, we arrived in Keflavik international airport at 5:45 am, Thursday. Still groggy from an uncomfortable sleep on the plane, we stumbled through customs, grabbed our luggage, and made it just in time to catch the shuttle to the car rental place. Threw cold was quite a shock after the muggy airplane cabin and we all immediately bundled up before driving to a bakery for breakfast.

With food in our bellies, we drove off! We stopped along the coast of the peninsula. There were towns and light houses. We pulled over at one stop in an old lava field. A winding path lead off in to the distance. It didn’t seem too far so we started off. Unfortunately, distance is deceiving. Our trek along the black, sandy trail was more like 2 miles. Here are the cliffs.

We were still pretty tired and trudging through sand didn’t exactly make it easy to wake up. Eventually, we made it back to the car and continued to Reykjavik-our camp site for the night. Along the way, we stopped at some cool things. Including a lighthouse and the split between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

Above is a picture of a geothermal vent. It smelled like sulfur and the mist got on our clothes so we smelled like rotten eggs when we got back into the car. Then I fell aslep.

When I woke up, we were parked on a street in Reykjavik, about to go look for the store where Ben was renting his tent. Here is a picture of one part of the city.

After that, we drove to the camp site and set up. The Reykjavik Eco campground was probably my favorite campsite so far. It was a whole compound withbathrooms, showers, a kitchen and common area and a camp store. It was really great! Here is a picture of our tents.


After setting up, we went out to find dinner in the city. We got back, hopped on the wifi for a bit and went back to sleep.