Monday, June 22, 2015


I never did figure out the correct pronunciation for Wernigerode.  "Vern-i-grot-en"?  "Vern-e-ger-te?"  "Vern-e-grot-e?"  It was a beautiful and historic town in the Harz mountains in the former East Germany.  The cab ride from the Hannover airport was a harrowing 1.5 hours, including a speedy jaunt on the autobahn.  Despite my lurking carsickness, I was able to appreciate that the German countryside in May was spectacular.  The brilliant green and yellow fields unfolded around every bend until finally the rooftops of Wernigerode appeared.

Overlooking Wernigerode, seeming to jut out of the mountainside, was an enormous 900-year-old castle.  I couldn't see the castle from my hotel room, but I could feel its presence.  On the first night of the conference everyone was escorted up to the castle courtyard for a reception at sunset.  The route wound down narrow cobblestone streets of shops and residences, through the city center, then up a wide switchback to the castle gates.  At the top, the path opened into a garden the size of a baseball field, with a discrete fountain in the middle and surrounded by a low wall and several turrets.  From the garden we climbed a broad spiral staircase up into the castle courtyard, which featured flowering plants and frightening gargoyles.  

We didn't tour the castle that night, but I was enchanted by it nonetheless.  The conference was very busy and full of interesting and new topics to learn and people to meet.  It was also full of sitting. Additionally, the fact that hiking up to it was perfect training for my upcoming Olympic National Park hike was not lost on me.  Therefore on that first night, I made it my goal to walk up to the castle every day of the conference. 

Perhaps the best things about my daily castle hike were the friends I made.  Every day, I invited other conference attendees who happened to be near me when I decided to walk, and a few of them accepted my invitation.  R was so into walking that we walked extra distances and discovered a free zoo and a hiking trail into the forest.  F joined us on another day and delighted me with plans for her upcoming Irish cycling vacation.  It was a delightful break from the conference, and hopefully decent training for my upcoming walk in the woods. 

Photos from my trip (I apologize for not taking the time to paste them in here, but doing it this way saved me an extra download-upload step):