I was sad to part with my friend Anne and her wonderful family. Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest have really left a great impression on me, but the urge for adventure forced me to move on, to discover new cities and meet new people. From Vienna, I caught the overnight train to the northwest of Germany, to Cologne. As Cologne is just over 800 km away from Vienna, it required ten-hour journey on a night train. I used that time to sleep so I would rest for a detailed tour of the city and the time I planned to spend with my German host.
Cologne left a huge impression on me. If the gene which brings joy of life and the holiday spirit really exists, then that gene is more evident in the population of Cologne. In fact, Cologne is something you carry in the heart, like a feeling or an optimistic outlook on life. Parts of this are the carnival, Cologne Kölsch beer, of course Cologne Cathedral and Eifel National Park. Indeed, if there is a city that still has the look of the Middle Ages, then it is indeed Cologne, not only in its architecture but also in spirit.
My host took me immediately to the Eifel National Park. This is one of the most important national parks in Germany, and certainly very important for German area of North Rhine Westphalia. Officially opened to the public in 2006 because it was previously used only for military exercises, it is known for training of Belgian troops involved in the NATO military alliance. Eifel National Park is located near Cologne and covers the area of over 100 square kilometers. The motto of this paradise of nature is “Let nature be nature”. It is interesting that according to the available information there are over 1600 protected species of plants and animals in the area. I was most fascinated by the fact that park has an outset to the beach, and the lake on its campus. Many activities are available within the park, professional guide who can take you through the forest, but also give you various data related to the complex. It is even possible to go through the adventure of Eifel National Park accompanied by a real ranger, and it’s totally free.
For an easy and enjoyable tour of the complex, the management has enabled four gates for the visitors of the national park. We entered through Heimbach. A continuous performance called ‘Secrets of the forest’ is organized in the auditorium near the entrance, so the visitors can visualize what to expect.
Indeed, when we went inside, it felt as if we stepped into a different world. It was so comforting, as if we actually got into a story about knights of the Middle Ages. Next destination was the Mariawald Abbey monastery complex above Heimbach. It is interesting that this is a monastic complex of Trappists monks who, in the course of their turbulent history, often came in conflict with the official authorities. The monastery was significantly refurbished only after the Second World War. After such a long walk, we decided to rest and have lunch in the abbey tavern. I can safely say that I had one of the best meals in my life in this monastery: pea soup with sausage and a home brewed beer, made by monks. I took time to buy a postcard for my friends in the Philippines.
After a short break, we have continued the adventure to the famous Vogelsang Military Training Area. The city is very popular for the tourists, but well known for all lovers of military doctrine. Primarily, it was built by the Nazis for the need of army trainings, but after the Second World War, it passed into the hands of the British, who considered it one of the symbols of Nazism. After 1950 entire complex of around 100 acres was taken over by Belgians, who used it until 2005, when it was closed. It was not associated to the Eifel National Park until 2006.
As the nightfall was slowly sneaking up on us, my host and I decided to visit Nideggen Castle, too. Even though I was quite tired I was pretty excited, because since childhood I wanted to see the real, authentic castle, and Nideggen truly was one. It was mentioned in history for the first time at the end of the 12th century. It is interesting that town was built around the castle in 1972, comprising several small villages with a few hundred inhabitants.
(click photo to enlarge)
A beautiful day ended with refreshments on the lake shore, pleasant conversation with my kind host and summing up the impressions.