“Where are we?” I said to Melanie. “How have I not heard about this place before?”
We were in Walporzheim, walking through the village center—a convergence of two quiet streets with a couple of restaurants and a bus stop—during a sunset that looked like it was painted with acrylics. The orange-violet sky shrouded the valley in darkness, amplifying the quiet of this place we’d never heard of until about a week earlier. We’d only had a glimpse, but I could already tell that the scenery would be something spectacular as soon as we got onto the trails in the hillsides the next morning.
Walporzheim is just one of a collection of villages and towns that sit along the Ahr River, a tributary of the much larger Rhine that runs westward to the half-timbered village of Blankenheim. I selected it for this holiday weekend getaway because the Internet told me it’d be easy to get to by train and it was along yet another one of Germany’s multi-day hiking trails, the AhrSteig. But what’s appealing about the Ahrtal (Ahr Valley) on paper is greatly exceeded by seeing it in person.
I’ve been in a bit of a running kick as of late, so much so that I’ve been signing up for half-marathons left and right––at least one per month since April. (That makes it sound like it’s more than three, but… it’s three.) Looking for one more to do before heading back to the States for a 10-day family visit, I spotted the EVL-Halbmarathon Leverkusen.
After doing the VIVAWEST-Halbmarathon in and around Gelsenkirchen, I decided I was especially digging races in smaller town/cities that I otherwise might not think to visit, following courses that show the best the region has to offer. Leverkusen matched that description to a T.
The direct train from Lisbon to Sintra runs every half hour and lasts between 37 to 41 minutes. It’s the last stop on the green line (Linha de Sintra), so you can’t miss it.
Although I picked it up from the Oriente station, there are about 17 stops along the way. Some other central stations you might want to grab it from include Braco de Prata, Roma-Areeiro, Entrecampos, and Sete Rios. A ticket to Sintra costs €1.90. You’ll need the Viva Viagem card, zapping it on a card reader before getting on the train and again when you get off. Keep in mind that you cannot buy this ticket in advance like you would a long-distance train with Comboios de Portugal. (For more detailed information on the Viva Viagem card and everywhere it’ll get you in Lisbon, click here.)
This story was produced in cooperation with Tourismus NRW. As always, all opinions are my own.
Bergisches Land refers to Berg Country, a region of low mountain ranges situated between the Rhine and Ruhr rivers in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Berg here is not to be confused with the German word of the same spelling, meaning mountain. In this case, we’re talking about a duchy (European for ‘territory’) that dates back to the 12th century.
Like much of European history, you can drown yourself in all the details of events that have taken place since that time. You’ve got your Neanderthals over 35,000 years ago; your typical, general awfulness of the Middle Ages riddled with conflict, war (though they escaped any major battles of the Thirty Years War) and the plague; the industrial revolution; Napoleon popped in for a bit to claim it for himself before Prussians took it back with the help of Russian Kosaks and it grew to become one of the largest economic centers in the German Empire of the late 19th century only to be destroyed in the Second World War. Post-war, the Bergisches Land Nature Park was founded (1973) and tourism has since become a focus for the region. That about brings us up to speed.
And like most corners of western Europe, it’s difficult to imagine the conflict and plague that ravaged these lands when you’re standing in a place like the Bergisch countryside, surrounded by woodlands, grassy meadows, streams, and lakes. But for me, that’s what defines this slice of Germany; that and––drumroll please––its mills.
The following is a chapter from an upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany. Read more here.
It started out like so many pivotal scenes from a psychological thriller. The dim festival lighting, the crowds of unwitting drinkers enjoying themselves, the spitting rain on a chilly September night. Then, out of the shadows, the creepily cheery voice of a man who knows something you don’t.
I was at a craft beer festival in Düsseldorf with my friend Chris at the time. We had just debated heading out for some food, having had more than our fair share of brews over the past three or so hours.
“Let’s go back to that one brewery with the guy from Tennessee and talk to him before we go,” suggested Chris. “He seemed like a cool guy.”
“Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes in variegated maze of mount and glen.” — Lord Byron, Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage
Sintra is one of those places that comes up when you’re looking for something else to do in Portugal besides the two cities you’ve heard of ––Lisbon and Porto. You’ve wandered the winding, hilly streets of both Lisbon and Porto, avoided the infamous 28 tram and fell in love with the melancholic music of Fado. What now?
Flory Leow is a Malaysian living in Tokyo. She loves books, food, and has a special fondness for wordplay and fried eggs. Her writing and photography have appeared in outlets such as Boutique Japan, Inside Osaka, Roads & Kingdoms, and Kyoto Journal. At present, she writes, leads tours, and occasionally does some travel consulting for a living. Her newsletter is the adventures of furochan.