Reflections on travelling in Germany

In the Germany we loved –
Dresden, what an amazing skyline and so much to explore.

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The Elbe River valley.
Cycling and walking in the Elbe River valley.

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Saxon Switzerland National Park.

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Quedlinburg – with all those wonderful framework buildings it’s no wonder it has a UNESCO listing.

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Freiburg with its wonderful student atmosphere.
The mountains, valleys and lakes in Bavaria.

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The Bodensee (Lake Constance) area.

Favourite meals –
Kingfish at Café Bar Lounge Sol Y Mar in Leipzig
Schnitzel at Feierling Brewery in Freiburg

Favourite drink –
Beer

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Great places to stay –
The apartments at Haus Königsbrücker in Dresden
Quedlinburg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber or any other small town or village.

Great places to eat or drink –
Café Bar Lounge Sol Y Mar in Leipzig, sit at a table or lounge on a couch and eat and drink from a low table, this place has a wonderful Moorish atmosphere.
Planwirkshaft in Dresden. Décor is reminiscent of the old east Germany but excellent food sourced from local suppliers.
Café Mezzo at Lister Meile 4 in Hanover. One of many excellent cafes in this part of Hanover.
The restaurant at Feierling Brewery in Freiburg, just across the road from the huge beer garden.
Lüdde Brauhaus in Quedlinburg. Excellent beer and a broad menu of traditional and modern meals to choose from.

Unexpected highlights –
Meeting some great people whilst sharing tables at cafes, breweries and restaurants.
The sensational but super expensive porcelain in Meissen.

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The massive Hohentwiel fortress at Singen.

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Saxon Switzerland National Park.
Travelling on the ICE trains with our First Class Eurail Passes.

What you must do when you travel to Germany –
Check out the museums and galleries in Berlin and Dresden.
Get out into the countryside and visit a National Park to walk or cycle.
Visit Cologne or Ulm cathedrals and climb their steeples.

Ulm cathedral (Munster)
Ulm cathedral (Munster)

Visit Berlin – we have twice before so didn’t go there this time.
Travel on a very fast ICE train.
Take a boat trip on the Rhine.
Visit the Zugspitze by cable car.

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Stay with a local – couchsurf, use Airbnb or if you’re lucky enough, stay with a relative to get a better perspective on daily life in Germany.

What you should avoid doing –
Riding over glass on a bike. Really stuffs up your day’s cycling.
Staying in Munich during the Octoberfest.

What you need to be prepared for –
A train to actually run late. It doesn’t happen often but when it does!!!!

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Dresden Doings

Furstenweg tiled mural.
Fürstenzug tiled mural.

Friday 5th September
A lovely sunny day and we spend the morning relaxing. However Karen was again challenged. This time Karen had to make the big decision – which bakery to go to! Within a few minutes walk we have about three bakeries and also a bake house at the nearby Rewe Supermarket. After buying the rolls she heads off to the supermarket and purchases tomatoes, cheese and ham. After a yummy lunch and early afternoon nap we are refreshed enough to make the 30 minute walk into the old town of Dresden via the new town. Lots of people are out walking and bike riding, especially in the area near the river Elbe. First we walk along a long tiled mural, Fürstenzug, which depicts a procession of royalty through the ages. We back track a little and go through the old town gate and past the Residenzschloss and a number of cafés with views to the Frauenkirche spoilt a little by ongoing building works and what appears to be archeological diggings. After a brief visit to a new shopping mall where we each purchase a new top to help us handle the cooler than expected weather we have been experiencing we head to a cafe for our afternoon shot of hot schockolade and a taste of the local delicacy quarkballchen. These are like little fluffy donuts with a slight cheese taste. Our next stop was the tourist information centre. Outside near the Frauenkirche a group of buskers are playing the Hallelujah chorus. Just marvellous!

The magnificent Frauenkirche.
The magnificent Frauenkirche.

We make our way along a street full of what appears to be very touristy restaurants. One is named Ayers Rock and is serving kangaroo steaks with local beer! Back along the river we go taking a few more photos of the impressive skyline. Adding to it are two hot air balloons cruising past. By now we are becoming leg weary and walk back along Königsbrücker to our apartment for a shower. We then take an easy option and eat in the Bit’n Burger restaurant below the apartment. The outside tables are long and seat eight. We end up sharing with a young local couple who are keen travellers and happy to share travel stories. They have just returned from Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. According to them tomorrow’s afternoon tea needs to include eierschecke, a slice in three layers – cake topped by sultana custard topped by a glazed egg custard. Traffic noise again does not stop us from quickly drifting off to sleep.

Saturday 6th September
After a fascinating day in Meißen (see separate post) we returned by train late in the afternoon to the main station, Dresden Hbf, we got off so we could see more of the old part of Dresden. It was busy as we exited the station. In fact it was more than that it was hectic. And why? Well the chanting soon alerted us to why. We were in the middle of a Dresden Dynamo crowd heading off to the soccer all decked out in yellow and black and many carrying crates and bottles of beer to imbibe at the game if it hadn’t already been drunk on the way there. Once clear of the station we stopped to observe the crowd. Near us was an elderly man who had also drawn aside to avoid and observe the crowd. We started chatting. It turned out he was Dutch. Like in Australia you wouldn’t see beer being carried like this to a game in the Netherlands he told us. After awhile we continued to the old town through a large shopping area we hadn’t t seen before.

One eierschecke slice nearly gone!
One eierschecke slice nearly gone!

We returned to the same cafe we had been in yesterday. This time we tried the eierschecke slice. It really was as delicious as the young couple had told us last night! From there we wandered around to the Zwinger and looked around the gardens and fountains and sculptures. Really quite stunning. We crossed the road and continued past a gradually building crowd at Semperoper, the magnificent opera house, to the tram stop waiting for a tram 8. After about 5-6 minutes it came and we were soon back at the corner where our apartment on Königsbrücker is. We dropped off our gear and headed to the Rewe supermarket and purchased chicken fillet, salad, mushrooms and pasta which we turned into a very tasty dinner. A relaxing evening watching the US Open tennis and the World Cup Basketball Championships preceded another good sleep.

Fountain in the Zwinger gardens.
Fountain in the Zwinger gardens.

Sunday 7th September. (Father’s Day)

Brrrr! Karen’s alarm tells us to wake up ready for the first of our Skype calls for the day, Father’s Day. Chela and Scott are calling us as they have been hosting lunch for all the Allison’s. We spend about forty minutes chatting with all the different family members, catching up on their news and telling them ours. It is a fun and different way to start the day. Next we have muesli and toast and tea for breakfast. We lounge about for the morning using the iPad and watching TV. As the two bakeries Karen has been to so far in the area are closed we try a third one. We purchase rolls and apple slice and return to the apartment for lunch. We pack lightly and walk into the old town again along a route which we are well familiar now. A light drizzle starts so out ame the umbrella for the last few minutes of the journey.

Chamber in the Green Vault.
Chamber in the Green Vault.

First stop is the Frauenkirche. It is busy inside and there isn’t a mass happening at the time we arrive so we take a seat and view the inside in all directions but especially up. It is a huge domed cathedral. It is a shame that many of the visitors are disrespectful of the no camera use sign. Yes it would be good to snap away but not good form. As we leave we put the umbrella up again as the rain has intensified a little. We walk over to the Residenzschloss, the inner entry courtyard of which is covered. We decide we will look at the two main collections, the historic green vault and the new green vault with all the armoury as well. The historic green vault is first. Sadly photography is a big no no here too. There are ten chambers. Each with a particular focus, be it amber, ivory, silver, bronze, gilt silver, ruby glass, heraldic shields, mother of pearl etc. the craftsmanship and artistry is amazing. The way it is displayed is as close to the original 1700s way too. August the Strong really planned things well, although we suspect he was keen to flaunt his wealth as much as anything. After considerable time in the historic Green Vault we cross through a courtyard and up the red carpeted stairs to the new Green Vault.

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Here we saw crystal, precious objects, jewellery collections of all the precious stones, sword collections, some jewelled and some not. Upstairs there are displays of armour and weaponry as well as life size models of jousting knights from the 1500s. After a number of hours we are ‘museumed’ out! It has been fascinating but our legs, brains and eyes have had enough. We come out of the old city via the main gate and walk across the August Bridge and into the Neustadt area. There is a pottery market happening here. Lots of practical pieces with interesting glazes and then some quite unique artistic designs. Purchasers will need full wallets as the prices are certainly not cheap however. We take a brief look but continue on back to our apartment. Another home cooked meal followed by a Skype chat with Todd and Lee finishes off Father’s Day.

Wednesday 10th September

After two days of walking in the Elbe River valley we have designated this a rest day in the morning. The laundromat gets another visit and we updated emails and blogs. After a lunch of yet more of the wonderful rolls from one of nearby local bakeries we walked through Neustadt and down to the Elbe River. There are good paths for cyclists and walkers here to share. This afternoon we were looking for the elusive skyline photo of Dresden’s historic old town. The clouds are keeping the sun at bay and we take quite a few photos hoping for the best.

We love this skyline!
We love this skyline!

After walking along in both directions from August Bridge we crossed over to the other side and walked along Brühlsche terrasse to the east. At the end we come to the Neue Meister (New Masters) gallery. Their current exhibition is Architekt/Busdriver/zwei brücken (architect/Busdriver/two bridges) and as it is free we decide to go and look. There is an audio visual show, photos, paintings and a large wooden sculpture. Some of it is very good and some is difficult to connect with visually and aesthetically but overall it was worth a look.

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We continued our walk past the Albertinum gallery and the Frauenkirche to the Fürstenzug mural which we were keen to take in one more time. From there we crossed over the bridge, past the golden statue of August the Strong and along the Hauptstraße of Neustadt. As we are becoming tired a brief cafe stop was in order. Karen enjoyed a dark hot chocolate and I tried a white hot chocolate. Both were very good! A piece of cherry crumble slice completes our order. We returned to our apartment a little saddened with the knowledge that was our last walk around the fascinating and beautiful old part of Dresden.
Dinner was a huge departure from anything else we have eaten here as we ate at the nearby Asian restaurant Baguettes and More. Our meals were both Vietnamese, Karen’s being vegetarian with tofu, mine similar with chicken. The food was excellent and we enjoyed the wide variety of Vietnamese art on the walls. Tomorrow it will be farewell to Dresden for us.

Prague to Dresden – our Czech-German Cycling Challenge

Starting on Sunday 31st August we have had a big adventure! Firstly thanks to Nazar from Praha Bike for guiding us out on the first day. We had hardly started riding when a misty rain began. Nazar led us as we wove our way off the cobblestones of the inner city and onto the first of many cycle paths that linked together to see us move away from the city, through the suburbs and to the edge of Praha. By now wet weather gear had been put on. Sadly we hadn’t brought our wet weather overpants we had purchased

Melnik, our first stop.
Melnik, our first stop.

in Nepal. Nazar chatted with us as we pedalled along. After a couple of hours we left the river and climbed up to a small village. The last part Karen and I pushed our bikes. We had run out of gears and energy. Nazar showed us the next section in our map book and left us to return to Praha. We continued up the hill to a bus stop. We sat there and ate an early lunch of rolls we had prepared. We rode along the paths and then roads from Klecany to Vodochody then back towards the river. Near Dolánky I had a fall on the muddy track trying to avoid the increasingly deeper puddles we were encountering. It is amazing how slow motion works in your mind! Crash! I was okay apart from a cut on my right leg. The drizzly rain continued until about 14:30 that day. We continued to Kralupy and crossed the river on the bridge. Whilst taking a brief rest we see two other cyclists on a disused railway platform eating lunch. We have a brief chat. They are from Berlin. When we reach Hled’sebe we found the bridge washed away from some time ago. So we made a (bad) decision to continue through Podhorany and Nové Ouholice but at Nová Ves had to ask the Police to show us the way. They spoke no English so awful German on both sides of the conversation plus ‘hand and foot’ directions saw us on our way again. We ended up going over a very big hill, dodging cars through to Mlēchvosty then Vranany, Luzec nad Vltava, Zelcin, Vrbno and Horin before finally reaching Mēlnik about 17:40.

The Hotel Jaro was a welcome sight and very nice. The shower and bed were good and they recommended us to a restaurant with very good food. We were sore on the backside but pleased we had made it and slept well. The food was sensational. After an excellent main course we even indulged in dessert of pancakes and cheesecake. The extra carbs would surely help us tomorrow!

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Monday 1st September
The next day the weather started out not so bad, just a bit of drizzle. Initially we descended back down from the hilltop town of Melnik and back over the river. After about an hour we were near Krvenice when Karen had a flat tyre. It appeared to be a slow leak so I pumped it up and we continued several times for a kilometre at a time before it was flat again. I was unable to repair it as there were no tyre levers in the repair kit. A passing group of three German women and a man travelling together stopped and offered to help. They had hard plastic tyre levers but I could barely get them under the rim of the tyre so we thanked them and off they went. I pumped up the tyre again and off we rode furiously. After a few kilometres we came to a small village which clearly had people waiting at the train station. So we checked the timetable and joined them in waiting at the train station at Horni Počaply. We encountered an officious but helpful lady train conductor who helped us with tickets and instructions of where to rest our bikes.We took that train and another train to Litomerice. On the second cute little regional train the conductor was impressed we had come all the way from Australia and chatted away keenly in English to us. In Litomerice we made our way to the main town square and stopped for a light lunch. After the drama of the morning, food and drink came first, the bike would be second! We took the bike to the bike repair shop and got it repaired. The town square was very nice there and the Tourist Information Centre was in a very impressive tower building. After we had a map and directions we set off up a hilly street to our hotel. Our hotel Labe was okay. The room was small and had a decidedly communist 60s era look to it but later on we found the bed was good and so was breakfast the next morning. The great view over the town was an added bonus. After a shower and rest we walked back into the old city and looked around. We found a nice enough restaurant, Restaurace Robo, for dinner. The meals were okay but didn’t come up to the previous night’s standards.

Litomerice
Litomerice

Tuesday 2nd September
The third day we continued to Dečin but again Karen has a flat tyre! This time it was not a slow leak so again we were forced to take a train, this time from Libochovany to Usti nad Labem. We made our way to the Tourist Info office. The very helpful English speaking manager at the tourist information centre, Frankie, took us to a bike repair shop and spoke in Czech to the man there who replaced the tube for a small fee only. He then insisted on showing us the way back to the bike path. That’s customer service for you!

Our Usti lifesaver, Tourist Information Centre manager, Frankie.
Our Usti lifesaver, Tourist Information Centre manager, Frankie.

We rode from Usti to Velke Brezno where we stopped for lunch at a Restaurace Adonis. We ordered a pizza to share. Given we were behind schedule we became a little concerned at the long cooking time. But when it arrived it proved to be worth the wait. We continued on excellent bike paths through Techlovice,squashing many fat slugs as we rode, until we finally came to Dečin. Our hotel Czesko Koruna was very nice, right on the main old town square with a spacious room. It was definitely the best so far and worth far more than the roughly $80 we were paying. We put our bikes into their bike storage room. Clearly many cyclists were staying here. (We later discovered that the two groups of cyclists we kept bumping into were all staying there.) After a shower and a rest we made use of the wifi and checked the TV. We even had BBC news so we could find out what was happening around the world in English. We then headed back to the river to see the illuminated buildings and castles. We walked over to the other side and ate at Restaurace U Mostu, a traditional Czech restaurant that, we discover from looking at the old photos on the wall, had previously been a guesthouse when the town was German. It was a bit smoky inside but the waitress opened up the side door for more air. We enjoyed excellent meals of egg salad and pork steak. Again the beer I drank was cheaper than Karen’s soft drink! After another eventful day we slept soundly.

Dečin
Dečin

Wednesday 4th September
The fourth day we rode towards Bad Schandau. Lots of huge slugs again risking life to cross our paths! We stopped at the Czech/German border at Hrensko for a photo. When we started again Karen has another flat tyre!

Karen at the German border.
Karen at the German border.

 

We cannot believe it! It appears to be a slow leak and each time I pump it up we can ride for a while. Amazingly the couple we had met from Berlin pass us and stop for a chat and try to help to no avail. When we make it to Bad Schandau we go to the bike shop but he is closed for another hour until 15:00 for lunch. There are many cafés around the town square so we choose one and order soup and rolls. Simply delicious. A hot chocolate for Karen and an apple crumble slice for me completes a lovely lunch. The bicycle repairman found glass in the tyre and the tube. So we used the second tube in the repair kit and also bought a new tyre. We found out repair prices are dearer in Germany than the Czech Republic! Our hotel zum Roten Haus is nice. It is a beautifully preserved 1800s building, proud of surviving several floods. The latest in 2002 is marked by a line about 2 metres up from ground level. Our room is on the second floor and is very spacious but the angled ceiling in the bathroom makes it a challenge to not bump your head. After a shower and rest we go for a look around the town on foot. At a cafe and ice creamery we run into the four cyclists we had met way back on the second day. We stop and talk. They had seen us riding along to Dečin from a train they’d had taken when they’d had needed a rest day! Later on we discover the food in our hotel’s restaurant is excellent. Karen has a massive chicken and potato salad. I eat an equally satisfying schnitzel.

Hrensko, at the edge of the Saxon Switzerland National Park.
Hrensko, at the edge of the Saxon Switzerland National Park.

 

Thursday 5th September
A lovely buffet breakfast kicks the day off nicely. However when we collected our bikes from their garage we discovered my bike had a flat tyre!! On close inspection I found a small hole in the tyre so we returned to the bike shop. He found a second, bigger gash in the tyre. It was kaput! So we bought another new tyre and tube. While the bike was being repaired we went for a walk in the local gardens and again we run into the four cyclists. The man comes from Hamburg and his three female companions are from Basel. We exchange stories and wish each other well. They too are going to Dresden but we doubt we will bump into them again in such a big city. We left Bad Schandau later and poorer than we had hoped. Very soon we came to a section of the path that is on the road which has roadworks. We are diverted around to another way. Unfortunately we ended up heading in the wrong direction and lost our way and ended up going up a big hill which ended in Porschdorf. We were clearly not in the right place! So after consulting a local information map we came back down to Prossen and back along the riverside bike path to where we crossed the river to Konigstein. We followed the trail around to Pötzscha opposite Stadt Wehlen. The scenery here is very nice. Lots of interesting rock formations rising up from the river.

The rock formations near Stadt Wehlen.
The rock formations near Stadt Wehlen.

We stopped at a gasthaus/restaurant by the river for lunch. Firstly we relaxed with a drink. A local wheat beer quenches me whilst Karen had a soft drink. Lunch was soup. According to the menu it is ‘grandma’s recipe’. It was very tasty.

 

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From there we rode to Pirna. It was mostly downhill, with the occasional steep rise that we certainly handled better than we did at the start of our trip. At this point it was obvious we would take a lot longer to get to Dresden so we decided to take the train from Pirna to Dresden. The carriage we enter is popular. There are five other cyclists and their bikes to dodge before we settled in for the short journey to Dresden. We got out at Dresden Mitte. It takes us a bit of investigating and asking to find the correct way to where we are staying. There are lots of locals on the bike paths which are right alongside the roads so it is a bit challenging. We cross the river along the way and have a view of the amazing skyline of old buildings, palaces and cathedrals.

Dresden's impressive skyline.
Dresden’s impressive skyline.

 

When we arrive at number 74 Königsbrücker Straße I ring the phone number. The man tells us he will remotely open the main door and we should go up to the fifth floor. We leave our bikes locked up and take our gear up the stair as the lift isn’t working! On the fifth floor none of the apartments has a name on the door so I ring the bell of one where we can hear noise. A lady answers. We are in the wrong place! She shows us back down to the first floor and introduces us to a man in the reception apartment office. He checks our booking and informs us we are a day early! I’ve miscounted the days. Fortunately the apartment we will be staying in is free and also on the first floor. It is very modern and roomy but furnished scarcely. Our luggage has arrived the previous day so we unpack and shower. The wifi is excellent here so we check email before heading out to La Casina Rosa, a delightful but small Italian restaurant, recommended in Lonely Planet. Pizza and pasta recharge us nicely. Back at our apartment we update ourselves on world news and sport. Our TV has over 30 channels, two are in English. There is quite a bit of traffic noise as our apartment is near an intersection and just next to tram tracks but we soon nod off.

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Our cycling trip has been a challenge but we have made it from Prague to Dresden. We were unlucky with the weather except for today which was ideal for cycling. We cannot believe the high number of puncture problems we have had. These extra expenses are annoying. It also meant we have not seen all the places along the way because time was taken up getting repairs done. Perhaps we should have allowed some extra days to rest and make the journey less pressured. We have met a lot of nice people along the way who stopped to offer help or just chat and exchange conversation. The scenery was very nice, especially when the weather was good. A day trip or two back to the Saxon-Switzerland National Park area is definitely on the agenda. Maybe the weather will be kinder when we walk rather ride bikes there. It’s another experience to add to those we’ve had in the last five days.