Finally the day dawned bright and clear enough for us to go on our long anticipated mission to hunt dragons. Or, as the layman might see it, to go for a walk in some hills. Whichever. The trip did not start out excellently, it must be said, it seems that in order to find dragons one must first be tested in a series of challenges. The first challenge was that of navigation.
Navigating our way to the town at the foot of the dragon filled hills was a task fraught with a lot of swearing and multiple somewhat heart stopping manoeuvres. However, after a lot of persevering and a run through of many German swear words that I had previously not been aware of, we were parked underneath an autobahn. This, my guide informed me, was the correct spot to start the walk. I was happy to agree.
The next challenge was fairly easy, overcome the girl in the tourist information and get knowledge on the walks. She spoke English, and sold me a guidebook which was written in German. Perhaps I didn’t win that encounter entirely. Still, I now had some serious knowledge to hand, should I find someone who could translate it. Luckily, my intrepid guide is more than capable.
Finally, the time came to venture up into the hills themselves, the Siebengeberge, or literally translated, the Seven Hils. Because there are seven of them. German eh. Still, they have inspired poets of the like of Byron, so there must be something to their craggy wonder. (For those interested in Byron, it’s a part of his epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. To Google you may go.)
The hill we were tackling was called the Drachenfels, or dragons rock. Suddenly, I see dawning comprehension filling your eyes, I’ve not gone completely loopy you cry. There are dragons!
Well, if not actual dragons, there was at least a hill. And a dragon fountain. The hill had two impressive castles on it as we walked up, one half way up, a fully functioning castle with the wonderful name of Schloss Drachenburg, a fine edifice of a construction with crenellations, spires and the like liberally jutting out all over the place. The sort of castle you would design if castle design was something you were going to be doing.
The second castle was right at the top of the hill, and was called Castle Drachenfels. (There are some complex castle naming rules in German depending on if they are inhabited by princesses, knights, or your standard poncey 19th century duke type fella, I got a bit confused around this point and will just call them all castles). Castle Drachenfels was not quite in the same spiffing condition as the first one, being mostly a pile of rocks that gave a hint that a castle had once stood here. Well, that’s not totally fair. The hint was quite big. Some archways and walls remains. It was not hard to be believe that a castle had existed here.
I noticed that the German philosophy on providing information for your surroundings was to make it minimal. So we were standing in the ruins of a castle that the internet has subsequently informed me was built in 1140, with no real idea where it was from or why it wasn’t there any more (a local rock shortage in 1640 resulted in the castle becoming a quarry I learnt). I developed a theory that this was because the German tourist board liked you to come up with your own notions of the castles history (possibly involving dragons) and not feel weighed down by an abundance of actual facts. That, or they wanted to sell you another guidebook. I prefer the first theory, it opens up more dragon based possibilities. (Further research online revealed a legend involving some chap called Siegfried killing off a dragon on the rock. Given that the rock had been the dragons home this seemed a bit unfair, but as there are no further details regarding the behaviour of the dragon I will not draw conclusions yet.)
So that was the hill climb. The views up and down the Rhine from the top were particularly excellent, with huge cargo carrying vessels plying their way through the waters, and the two castles were outstanding. It wasn’t overly challenging as a hill, but the area looked promising for further walks, six more hill tops to conquer, at least one more with a castle on the top. Good times ahead.
On our drive back we took a further scenic tour around the parts of Bonn I had not previously seen, and the benefits of a local guide shone through, as we were able to drive through a dodgy industrial estate and into the red light district, past a brothel which advertised with a giant heart (brothels are legal in Germany, street side prostitution is not), and past a whole assortment of young ladies plying their trade. Certainly an interesting sight to behold, and one to leave you with. Tomorrow it’s going to be 12 nine year olds and a treasure hunt, plus the inevitable delicate questioning around how I feel England may perform on Sunday. If only they knew how little I know about football…