Thursday, May 26, through Sunday, May 29, 2011, Dresden
The time I spent in Dresden was an unexpected pleasure. I knew it would be interesting, and fun to see my friends for a long weekend in the middle of my research trip, but I had no idea how it would affect me personally. (Editor's note: See my previous blog entry, "Half Destroyed and Living History.") This blog entry is devoted to the pleasures of my visit there.
I had been haunted the entire train trip by the story my friends told of a visitor who missed the Dresden stop, wound up 20 km away, and had to get a new ticket and re-board to get back to Dresden. But I successfully got off at the proper stop, arriving just as my friend Dave was there to greet me. He took me to the apartment he shared with his wife Lisa and where I unpacked before we set out for beer and dinner.
My friends, knowing I was an avid cyclist, handed me a bicycle. I jumped on the bike before checking it over, and while trying to ride over the cobbled street, I biffed and scraped up my knee a little. Turns out, the tires were a bit under inflated. After helping me clean up my knee and then pumping up my tires, my friends led me on a ride along a bike path that parallels the Elbe River. We arrived at a biergarten about 15 minutes from their apartment. The food was great, and the views lovely. We hadn't seen each other in a while, and there was much to talk about.
The next day, Friday, I hung out in Altstadt while my friends worked. Neustadt, or “new town,” is where Dave and Lisa live. The buildings in Neustadt only go back to the 18th century. (Yeah. I said “only.”) Altdstadt is “old town,” where all the 16th and 17th century palaces and churches are. The Zwinger Palace of Augustus the Strong is enormous. It was partially under repair while I was there, and it was weird to see this 17th century edifice with paint cans and barriers up around areas that were being restored. The Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady, was austere and weathered. (Editor's note: See previous blog entry.) I was able to see a panorama from the top of one of the towers: New and old and ancient all nestled together along the river.
After exploring the Zwinger palace and its museum, then the cathedral, I strolled along Brühl's Terrace, a river side walkway known as “the Balcony of Europe”, and settled on the patio of Bruhlsche Garten, a restaurant in a magnificent old building overlooking the Elbe River. I ordered lunch in German without too much confusion, then I ate a scrumptious meal. After I had finished, the server arrived with a digital pad with my receipt on it. I looked it over and nodded, then he took my credit card and ran it through the little machine, I signed, and I was done. Wow. Leagues ahead of any of the restaurants in the U.S. (Editor's note: the smart phone/pad use for restaurants is much more common now than in 2011 when I visited Germany.)
That night, Dave and Lisa met me for tapas at a restaurant right on the Neumarkt square in Altstadt, within view of the cathedral. I was still feeling overwhelmed from my explorations of the old city and having to speak--albeit very little--German to order food and ask questions, but I had fun telling them how strange I found Dresden to be. Afterward we headed to an Irish pub in Neustadt where we me two of Dave's and Lisa's friends, drank Guinness, and listened to a Neil Young cover band. The band was fabulous, and, with no disrespect to the great man, the lead singer was just a touch more listenable.
The next day was Saturday, so Lisa was free to go exploring with me. We spent the day traveling along the Elbe, wandering through hamlets in the region known as Saxon Switzerland, south of Dresden. We climbed up the hills to the beirgartens and wine gardens along the banks of the river. We took the train out, and planned to take the river boat back. It was a gorgeous day. And we took our time.
We landed at one hamlet too late to take the bus up to a fortress we wanted to explore. Too bad, but we filled our time until the train returned by exploring. It was a tidy little town called Konigstein with bridges and stairs that led across creeks and up hillsides. Saxon Switzerland has survived many floods, including one in 2004 which only made it to the third highest level marked on a building in the square.
When we returned to an area where there were several choices of uphill hikes that ended at biergartens, we chose the one at Rathen. It wasn't the highest, but it was the most picturesque. We could see it from the opposite side of the river: a large building with walls and towers of pale stone sitting above the ridge, surrounded by bushes and small trees. To get there, we had to take the ferry across the river.
And guess what? The ferry was actually a floating biergarten! You just can't away from beer and gardens! Of course, we each had to have a tankard full.
After we crossed the river, we climbed up to the biergarten. The climb was steep in places, but there was so much air available compared to the Rocky Mountains that it was just invigorating.
What incredible views and rock formations! I had never seen anything like it. I was most fascinated with what looked like a hand or fist coming out of the rock outcropping. We also saw rock climbers repelling off the cliff faces below us from the biergarten balcony. Such a lively place! I had another beer at the biergarten and we relaxed for a bit before heading back down.
When we arrived back at the dock, Lisa negotiated for tickets on the steamboat. Something was complicated. I don't know what the issue was. She spoke in German to the woman at the ticket window at length. This was Lisa's third or fourth language, and she was very patient as she carefully constructed the proper questions and answers in German. The woman at the window was likewise patient. The transaction took a little longer than average, but we got our tickets and all was well. We sat on the grassy bank to wait for the steamboat back to Dresden central. People were hanging around and lounging in the sun. It was such a beautiful day. We took the steamboat when it arrived and had a lovely chug back up the river.
The next day, Sunday, we biked along the river just south of Dresden and visited all the pleasure palaces, most of them built by Augustus the Strong. These structures are huge, and I still can't believe they survived the bombing of Dresden in 1945. So much statuary and art in and among the gardens. Also ponds with lily pads and fountains. Like a German fairy tale.
After exploring and riding around a bit. We stopped at a wine garden and sipped white wine and ate thin-crust pizza with salmon and white dill sauce. We watched the boats along the river and just vacated for a while.
When we got back from our bike ride to the pleasure palaces, we hung out with Lisa and Dave's friends again, this time at a place called City Beach. It sits on a built-up area with a boardwalk that parallels the river. Sand was brought in to fill enough area to create a couple of sand pit volleyball courts. The bar is open to the air. Seating includes deck chairs along the boardwalk leading up to regular seating around the bar. There are tiki statues, surfboards on the walls, and lots of bamboo decor. It reminded me of the idea of a surf shop on Waikiki beach.
The next day, I was left to my own devices. I could have taking a train 150km north to Prague (2 hour trip) and hung out, but I was exhausted, and elected to hang out in Dresden and rest and prepare for my train journey back to Paris the next day. I had a lovely brunch at the Rose Garden Cafe (Editor's note: See previous blog entry), reviewed my train journeys for the rest of my trip, and checked what tickets I would reserve with my EurRail pass and which ones I had to purchase separately. (When I got on the train from Paris to Frankfurt, the conductor yelled at me for buying a another ticket despite the fact that I had a EurRail pass. I didn't try to explain, but I was getting a bit pissed at the EurRail program in general. The rules were not clear to anyone, it seemed.)
The trip back to Paris was uneventful (no yelling by conductors, at least). I returned to the hotel I had stayed in previously, La Quartier Latin. I also returned to the Shepherd's Star restaurant and had the fondue, as I had promised myself I would. I ate heartily because I knew the next day was going to be grueling: I was headed to the old Cluny Abbey, now a Museum, to immerse myself in the middle ages. I swear, there will be fewer pictures of me and food for a while.