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In Europe/ Outdoors

A Sauerland Jaunt: Hiking Two Stages of Germany’s Rothaarsteig

Hiking in Germany Rothaarsteig

Germany is home to lots of Steigs. I should know, I’ve now hiked portions of four or five. The latest addition to my Steig-repertoire is the Rothaarsteig — a 97-mile (156-kilometer) trail running south from Brilon in the Sauerland region. I had hiked in Sauerland before, a loop along the Drei-Türme-Weg out of Hagen, which is more or less the gate into the Sauerland region coming from the west. The hike left me with fond memories of dense forests and actual elevation, a gift not to be forsaken coming from rather flat Düsseldorf. Needless to say, it left me longing for a return to the region and I was pleased to find yet another multi-stage trail in the Rothaarsteig.

With an upcoming empty weekend, I reached out to the folks who manage the trail, asking for a stage with the best connection to public transport but still a challenging hike. They recommended starting from the beginning in Brilon, hiking 20-plus kilometers to Willingen and another 20-plus to Winterberg the following day. Indeed, these were excellent choices in terms of public transport, with both Brilon and Winterberg within two-and-a-half hours of Düsseldorf and just one transfer in Dortmund.

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In Europe/ Outdoors

Robin Hood of the Alps: Hiking in the Footsteps of Jewish Refugees

Disclaimer: Vorarlberg and Montafon Tourimus partly supported this visit.

Gargellen, Austria. A village on the foot of the Alps in the Montafon region of Vorarlberg sandwiched between the Swiss and German borders.

Snow-dusted mountain peaks towering of green countryside, picturesque Medieval towns, and quiet streams rumbling by along hiking footpaths. These are the views one might expect of such a place. But as you might imagine, this was not a place you’d want to be 80 years ago. If you were Jewish, you wanted to be in neutral Switzerland. That’s where the Juen family came in. Friedrich Juen, a Gargellen local and storyteller, explains.

“My grandfather and great uncle were poachers before smugglers. At first, they took advantage of the bad times to transport goods. Then in the Second World War, they smuggled people. Refugees, well-known Jewish writers and actors who would dare to say anything were prosecuted.”

Today, Friedrich leads what he calls ’theatrical hikes’ around the Austrian Alps using routes his family took to smuggle refugees, telling stories along the way. But in order to smuggle refugees, they needed the right conditions.

“Not with this weather, nice weather, but rather truly terrible weather with fog in the night. Perhaps even rain. You needed bad enough weather so customs would get fed up and decide that nobody would come that day and leave the customs station. The worse the weather, the better it was for smuggling.”

Of course, taking on such a task put Friedrich’s great-uncle, Meinrad Juen, in danger himself.

“He was arrested but managed to escape and hide in St. Gallenkirch for two-and-a-half-years. He hid among neighbors, but not somewhere in the Alps in a cave or in a forest. He hid in the middle of the village where nobody would’ve expected.”

Friedrich first learned about his family’s smuggling tradition from his father, but the story is well-known around Gargellen.

“You could go to almost every house in St. Gallenkirch and find someone who could say something about Meinrad. He was something of a legend. A rebel. A Robin Hood of the Alps, one could say.”

Given his family’s connection to helping refugees, it’s important for Friedrich not only to reflect on what his family did but to connect the stories from those times with the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

“Some people get brought to tears. They’re touched because they might have had a refugee story in their family.”

When visitors are able to reflect on their own history as refugees or meet someone with that experience, it makes it easier to empathize with the millions fleeing violence and persecution today.

“And of course this topic is incredibly relevant because there are flows of refugees across Europe. It’s not just a story from the past. It’s today’s story as well. There are people persecuting people. In the Second World War, Jews were the ones being persecuted. Today they’re from somewhere like Pakistan or Iraq. When someone’s being persecuted, they have to flee and find a new home.”

In Europe

Belgian Beer in Bruges Figured Out Craft Beer Centuries Ago

Brewery De Halve Maan - Brugse Zot Dinner

Disclaimer: Visit Bruges partly supported this visit. As always, all opinions are my own.

Craft beer. Anyone within the millennial age range or adjacent to it roughly knows the story. An image comes to mind of the typical customer – a white guy tatted up with a beard, black-rimmed glasses, and a story about trying to homebrew that ended in mediocrity and a patient significant other brooding with an “I told you so” look.

The fad has hit such a stride, people are traveling for it, and thankfully, the ranks of the typical customer and provider are diversifying a bit. At the same time, there are those who despise it. Even traveler-favorite, Anthony Bourdain, lamented craft brew aficionados telling Thrillist, “You know, I haven’t made the effort to walk down the street 10 blocks to the microbrewery where they’re making some fucking Mumford and Sons IPA.”

Whether you despite the kind of people craft breweries are bringing to the neighborhood or you celebrate the industry’s ability to reuse otherwise lifeless buildings to inject a bit of life into a neighborhood block covered in weeds, there’s no denying that craft beer plans to stick around for a while.

The exception to this seems to be Belgium where craft beer never stopped being a thing. I’ve seen craft beer throughout the Americas and Europe, and though you can certainly find beers proudly slapping the “craft beer” label to their product, the fact is that Belgian beer is already such a masterful product that they don’t seem to need a fledgling, micro-based industry to cater to those who prefer a bit of complexity in their brew. Belgian beers are quite simply already as craft as they get. No, they don’t usually have an infused jalapeño or some other gimmick you’d try once just for the story, but they have the best of the best when it comes to what people actually want to drink. That’s especially obvious in a city like Bruges.

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In Europe

Craft Beer Berlin: Where to Drink in the German Capital

Berlin Street Art

Disclaimer: Visit Berlin supported this trip with lodging and the WelcomeCard covering public transportation within the city for 78 hours. As always, all opinions are my own.

Berlin is a city that manages to blend hipster culture with romanticism. We know Berlin as the modern epicenter of free-range artistic expression where an artist can still get by without fully sacrificing their creative ambition by working a soulless day job just to get by (for now). Much of Berlin flies in the face of traditional Germany where Ordnung Muß sein (there must be order). When the wall fell, artists were encouraged (and still are) to leave their mark whether it’s an impressive mural with deep political meaning or a childish Bart Simpson-style tag. That sentiment can still be seen throughout the sprawling German capital.

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In Europe/ Podcast

Welsh Travel Writer Pip Jones Sips Cocktails on the Rooftops of Palestine

Portia Jones

Pip Jones, Welsh Travel Writer

Pip Jones has been traveling and writing for the past 10 years in hopes of recreating a Carrie Bradshaw-esque fantasy of sipping wine and tapping away on her laptop. She joins Without A Path in Düsseldorf by way of Wales to talk about Welsh culture, drinking cocktails on a rooftop in Palestine, and how a childhood admiration of Pip Longstocking started it all.

“A big part of travel is speaking to lots of differnet people and lots of different perspectives and not forming ideas and opinions just from what you’ve read in stories. It’s actually going to these places and speaking to the local Palestinians and all the pople that are affected by the situation there and making up your own mind about the situation and what’s going on.” — Pip Jones on traveling in Palestine

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Music courtesy of Los Waldners

In Europe/ Outdoors

Mittenwald, Germany: A Little Something For Everyone

A summer rain in Mittenwald, a small town on the edge of Bavaria, the Alps somewhere behind the impenetrable fog.

No hiking today.

So what to do to kill the time? A stop at the Geigenbaumuseum detailing Mittenwald’s centuries-long tradition of violin building. Lifelong Mittenwalder Petra Summer explains.

“There was a man named Matthias Klotz who at the age of 12, as far as I know, went to Italy to study violin building,” says Petra. “He then came back and made violin building popular, spreading it across Mittenwald.”

Indeed, to own a Mittenwald violin is akin to rocking out on a Fender Stratocaster, built especially for your calloused fingers. (Even the art features characters playing the violin.)

Speaking of art, Mittenwald carries on the Bavarian tradition of painted homes featuring a mix of scenes from everyday life and Biblical characters. In fact, you really can’t escape crucified Jesus in these parts.

But enough intellectual culture. What about the culture I can eat?

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In Europe

Travel Europe By Train: Routes From Major Cities Across The Continent

Inside Hamburg German Train Station

Europe is a continent of rails with some of the best opportunities for train travel in the world. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to ride routes in Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and plenty more. Despite the ease and affordability (with planning) of train travel in Europe, I’m still surprised to meet people from overseas who treat the continent like they’re flying into Phoenix, renting a car as soon as they land. In reality, train travel is often much faster, shedding as much as a few hours off your travel time when compared to automobiles, especially when looking at long distance routes covered by high-speed rail.

Below is everything you need to know about traveling Europe by train including information about the various high-speed train lines and how long it takes to travel between some of the most popular routes on the continent. Obviously, there are some omissions, but we’d be here all day if I typed out every route, especially once we get into central Europe. But by the time you’re done with the first couple sections, you’ll know how to search and plan your own train trip through Europe.

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In Europe

Wine on the Rhine: A German Wine Tasting in Mainz

Mainz, Germany — a city tucked away firmly into the heart of Riesling country. Eighty percent of the city was left destroyed following over 30 air raids in World War II and the scars are still readily apparent in the dominant 1950s post-war architecture surrounding the rebuilt Altstadt or Old Town.

Playing a significant role in the city’s recovery and rebuilt reputation has been German wine. Traditionally overlooked by the French, whose border is just a couple of hours west of Mainz, German wine (and food) is making a name for itself thanks to passionate advocates looking to connect local delicacies with an already fiercely local culture. Jérôme Hainz and Christie Dietz of BottleStops share how they became enamored with German wine and food during an afternoon wine tasting tour through the shops and taverns of Mainz.

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