A day outdoors!

Königstein Travel Blog

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My parents lament at times that I’m not the outdoor nut that they are, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the outdoors.  It’s just my idea of fun outside differs from theirs.  So when I got invited to go hiking in an area of Saxony called Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland), I jumped at the chance.  Sächsische Schweiz isn’t a town, but an area to the east of Dresden that stretches to the Czech border.  A lot of the sites aren’t far from the Elbe River that flows through it.  Bigger towns in this area include Pirna, Königstein and Bad Schandau, and there are many smaller towns to explore or start a hike from.

It was an early morning- out the door just before 7am to catch the 7:03 tram to Hauptbahnhof (main train station).
  I got there with plenty of time to grab some sandwich rolls (I think that’s what they’re called, in German- belegtes Brotchen) and coffee.  Since I was meeting Jara and her friend at the track, I just headed there because the train station isn’t all that interesting.   Jara soon came, and her friend Claudia a few minutes later.   We boarded the S-Bahn heading towards Schöna at 8am, and got comfy for the ride.

I wasn’t quite sure exactly where we were headed since all I was told that the direction was Bad Schandau.  But we got off at the train at Königstein, a place I’ve heard of because my guidebook as a couple paragraphs about it, and also because Goethe-Institut had planned a couple day-trips there that ended up being canceled.
   Once we got into the center, the first thing I noticed was the Königstein Festung (Fortress) high atop the mountain.  Most of the fortress seemed to blend into the land it was built on, but some of the buildings stood out.  

The walk to the forest took about 20 minutes, and the town of Königstein didn’t seem much different than any other town in Saxony, or even in Germany.  Just before getting to the edge of the National Forest, I heard a familiar, though unexpected sound overhead.  I looked up and turned around to watch a fighter jet soaring across the sky.  And yes, I was grinning.  I get it from my dad.  Once the jet had disappeared into the distance, the hike officially began.  The trail was easy enough to follow since it was about three feet wide and had gravel.

It didn’t take long to remember why I don’t wear my Mary Jane-style Tevas much anymore- the back of the shoe on my right foot was beginning to rub against the back of my ankle.  This was going to be a long day.   

Living in Dresden is very different than Beijing.  Aside from the obvious (language, continent, culture), one of the biggest differences for me is that there are a lot less people in Dresden (about 520,000 compared to Beijing’s 17 million), therefore the air is a lot cleaner.  But I still live in a city, my room is about half a football field away from train tracks and I’m not far from a tram stop (two trams use it) and a main road.  It can get noisy.

So being in the woods, with only Jara and Claudia, was a gift.
  The air felt so much better, cool against my skin (yeah, the sweatshirt came off early).  It was fresh and crisp, and breathing it in was reinvigorating.  Other than us talking, the only sounds were forest sounds- wind in the trees, birds, etc.  We even saw a rabbit on the path!  Fitting since Easter is only a little more than a week away.

Claudia was the one in charge, as I think she’d done this hike before, and she had the map and the plan.  So we followed the signs for “Pfaffenstein”.  The beginning was easy, mostly flat and gravel.  A little ways into the hike we turned off the graveled path and onto what I think of as a hiking trail- dirt, rock and root.  It got a bit steeper, but it was a lot of fun to traverse.

Pfaffenstein is what the Germans called a Tafelberg (table mountain, or mesa).  Getting up to the top wasn’t difficult, it had its steeper parts, but nothing really hard.  There was even a spot on the trail with an open field and a great look at the Fortress and Lilienstein (another Tafelberg).  We continued up until we got to a tower and a restaurant that didn’t look open.  Turning right at the end of the path, we went a little ways until we came to an unbelievable view- from where I stood I could see into the Czech Republic.  And looking down was fun!  It definitely wasn’t for anyone with a fear of heights.  But the view was amazing.  

We took a different way down, one that led to a town called Pfaffendorf.
  This way down was definitely way harder than the way up.  The hint that it wasn’t going to be easy- the two signs for the trails down marked “Bequemen Aufstieg” (comfortable climb) didn’t point in our trail’s direction.   Once we really started descending, it was a lot of stairs (some quite narrow) and was a lot steeper.  In a scene that reminded of hiking in China (the one near Xi’An), there was even a small ladder with narrow steps.   And the mountain had to be a bit in the way of my backpack.  Thankfully it wasn’t too long, and I passed my bad down to Jara while I climbed down the steps.  From there it was a really long, slow way down the unevenly narrow stairs.  I just kept telling myself “slow and steady” and at times there was something about winning a race in there.
  And just to keep things more entertaining, and because my whole body wasn’t shaking enough, there were patches of melting snow and wetspots.  At one point I looked at my hand and could see it shaking.  There went the thought of it being my imagination.  

Finally, endlessly and can I get a “It’s about **** time!”, the stairs widened out, they weren’t so steep, and my legs, that felt more like Jell-O in human skin rather than bone and muscle in skin, needed a break.  Thankfully there was a bench just ahead of me when I had that thought.  So we took a much needed and appreciated break, had some lunch (yes, we carried out what we carried in) and water, and just relaxed and enjoyed the outdoors.  On the rest of the way down, we passed quite a few people.
  And all I remember thinking was- have a great time with that way up.  The way down was enough for me.  The way out of the forest, past the town, and back into Königstein was quite pleasant and peaceful.  And as Jara and Claudia talked, I imagined the hikes I would do at home.

But one thing is for sure- there won’t be anything like this in Vermont.  Sorry, but we don’t have the German countryside charm, the half-timbered houses and the hilltop fortress.  We do have our own cool stuff though.

After a shower, I got a bandage on the back of my ankle since it'd gotten rubbed raw.  And I took a much-needed and much-deserved nap.  A day later found me at a bookstore, looking at hiking books for the Sächsische Schweiz.
  I didn’t find one I really liked, and so I opted to obey the nerd in me and buy “Tintenherz” by Cornelia Funke instead.  And as I walked around Dresden's Altstadt, my calves reminded me of the day before.  And I wonder- do I have muscles in my shins?  Because they're sore too...

Tintenherz= Inkheart (yes, I know I’ve read this already, but now I can read it in the original German).

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Looking back down at what Id just…
Looking back down at what I'd jus…
now remember, I am claustrophobic.…
now remember, I am claustrophobic…
The tower, our signal that wed re…
The tower, our signal that we'd r…
looking into the Czech Republic in…
looking into the Czech Republic i…
the town at the end of the hike
the town at the end of the hike
the Fortress in the distance
the Fortress in the distance
part of the hike through Saxon Sw…
photo by: german_eagle