Here's what the Internet tells you in English about hiking the Rheinsteig: "The Rheinsteig is a 320 km trail on the right side of the Rhine that links Bonn, Koblenz and Wiesbaden on mainly narrow paths with steep climbs and descents, leading walkers and hikers to forests, vineyards and spectacular views."
Here's what the Internet doesn't tell you in English about hiking the Rheinsteig: everything else.
The fine print -- where the trail starts and ends, and everything in between -- is only available in German. Which is why, when planning to hike a 30-km chunk of the trail last weekend, the only option was to cut and paste the German trail description into Google Translate and hope for the best.
That was the first mistake.
The second mistake was cutting and pasting the trail description into Google Translate, printing the translated version and heading out to start the hike without having actually read the thing. Had I done that, we would not have gotten lost (literally and figuratively) after the hike had barely begun.
We were on top of a hill, overlooking our starting point -- the town of Kaub -- a few hundred metres below. The Internet had gotten us that far. There was no need to pull out the trail description until we found ourselves standing in a spot with a castle on our left and a trail that branched out in three different directions on our right. Unsure which path to take, I pulled out the trail description and skimmed the first couple of paragraphs until I found the part about the castle.
"Here, keep to the right and sharp leaves the castle on the left," it read. "Built in 1220 as a castle, Kaub plant is one of the most important buildings and residential jam fresh military art and now houses a hotel."
Keep to the right and sharp leaves? Residential jam fresh military art? Google Translate had gobbled up the original German text and spat out Google Gibberish.
The rest of the description was no better. It ranged from indecipherable ("We walk through race pus tunnels" and "At the junction after crossing the creek, keep right leg above the creek and marched down trench") to pornographic ("By heat-loving forest with sessile oak, birch, pine and gorse plants first moves our way up to then perform sexy and just along the slope" and "Here, one can choose the right path, the first in Niederwald between boulders and heather descent writhes and sexy moves on the steep slopes along the Bacharach head").
Sexy moves on the steep slopes? This took lost in translation to a whole new level. The only sentence in five pages of text that seemed to have made it through with its original meaning intact was: "According to legend, the devil lived in Kadrichsberg." An interesting fact, to be sure, but one with very little practical value in terms of getting from point A to point B.
Back to the hilltop, the castle and the forked trail. We made an educated guess and took the trail heading to the right. It wasn't long before we found a Rheinsteig trail maker telling us we were on the right path. After that there was a trail marker every 50 metres, making it impossible to get lost and making the trail description (in any language) unnecessary.
It turned out that all we really needed to know was that one little English paragraph on the German website. Just climb and descend the narrow path on the right side of the Rhine leading to forests, vineyards and spectacular views (with a few sexy moves on the steep slopes thrown in for fun).
If you go . . .
Getting there: The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is the most famous section of the Rhine thanks to its rocky cliffs, steep vineyards, hilltop castles and fairy-tale villages. The 65-km long section from Koblenz to Bingen and Rudesheim was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002 due to its natural landscape and cultural heritage. Getting to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley from Bonn is easy. Take the regional train from Bonn to Koblenz (about 45 minutes) and then transfer to the local train heading from Koblenz to Frankfurt. Since the train winds its way down the Rhine, you can get off at any stop along the way and pick up the trail on the east side of the Rhine. We chose to start in the town of Kaub (40 minutes south of Koblenz). Expect to pay about 30 euros for a same-day fare. You can knock about 10 euros off the price if you book in advance.
Staying there: The hike goes from one small town to another. Not all of the towns have hotels so it's good to do a little research in advance on Google Maps if you're planning an overnight hike. We hiked 15 km from Kaub to Lorch and spent the night at a school that had been converted into a hotel in Lorch. The next day we hiked 15 km from Lorch to Assmannshausen and hoped on the train back to Bonn after stopping for dinner in Assmannshausen. Camping is also an option.
Eating there: Lots of decent and not-so-decent places to choose from. Mostly German-style food on the menu (ie. meat, meat and more meat). Pack your own meals if greasy, fatty food isn't your thing. Fun fact: many of the hotels along the Rheinsteig offer a "packed lunch" service for hikers. For $4.50 they'll let you pack up as much food from the breakfast buffet as you want so that you can have a ready-made lunch for the trail.
Hiking there: Detailed information is only available in German but it's easy enough to get the general idea using a combination of Google Maps and Google Translate. We used the German site outdooractive.com to calculate the distance, elevation gain and loss and starting/finishing points. Use the drop-down menu near the top to search for hikes under "wanderung." If anyone knows an easier or more English-friendly way to find hiking information in Germany, please let me know!