Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dresden (3rd time!) and the Saechsische Schweiz

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After arriving from Leipzig, we checked in at the same hostel Damon and I stayed in before, Louise 20, which was definitely nice enough to warrant going back. Then we wandered around the Altstadt admiring everything there (in sun, even! It was cloudy on my previous visits!), following it up with pizza and people-watching in Neustadt.

Dresden Aug 08

Wednesday, we rode the S-Bahn down to Rathen, a small town in the Saechsische Schweiz, or "Swiss Saxony", an area south of Dresden near the Czech and Polish borders with interesting rock formations and plateaus. Rathen is a good place to stop off and climb up the Bastei, a rocky cliff overlooking the river. The path up has beautiful views of the surrounding area and includes a very picturesque stone bridge crossing. But, you won't be enjoying it in solitude - the trail was packed, even though it was the middle of the week. It does take a little bit away from the beauty, but it's still very nice. As a special bonus, there's an open-air opera arena at the bottom of the canyon, and we could hear every note!

Saechsische Schweiz / Hrensko Aug 08

Afterward we thought we'd try crossing the Czech border for a little country-collecting for my friend. And hey, I'm always game for this sort of thing! (Although I had already been to Prague so I wasn't really collecting it for the first time.) We rode the S-Bahn down to Schoena, the last stop. From the map, it appeared we were a very short distance from the border if we just walked down a bike path along the river. There was a ferry that crossed directly to the other side, but we wanted to try it without crossing the river first. We walked about 4km and there was still no sign we had crossed, other than my cell phone alerting me that I could call Germany from the Czech Republic for 58 cents per minute. So, we walked back and took the ferry across to Hrensko. When we got there we saw a map that showed we'd walked less than a kilometer from the border! Oh well.

Hrensko was sort of depressing. It was in a beautiful setting with high rock cliffs and a small river coming out to meet the bigger one, and some pretty old buildings. But the whole town was primarily made up of shops selling knock-off clothing, purses, underwear, hubcaps, lawn ornaments, beach towels, and everything else imaginable. Interestingly, all the sellers appeared to be Vietnamese! But, there was nothing for us there since we weren't looking for any cheap stuff, so we took the ferry back to Germany. There, we rode up to Koenigstein, the site of a large castle complex on top of a plateau. We discovered when we arrived that we had little chance of seeing the castle before it closed, so we just peeked around the town, then returned to Dresden and had dinner at the old standby, Plan Wirtschaft.

Wednesday we hit the New Green Vault, a museum in the Residenz showcasing all kinds of things from the treasury of Sachsen (Saxony). There is also an Historical Green Vault, but tickets to this are very limited and we would have had to wait several hours to get in. The vault we saw was filled with amazingly intricate carved objects, miniatures of this and that, and jewelry. Getting in was a bit painful, as the woman at the desk made every effort to be completely unhelpful when I was confused regarding the different types of tickets to the different museums. I actually found most of the interactions in Dresden that I had this time around to be much less friendly than on previous visits. I don't know if it's because my German isn't as good as Damon's or because it's summer and they're tiring of tourists or what.

On the way back to Heidelberg, our train was put out of service in Leipzig because the air conditioning didn't work!! At least they did something about it instead of just letting everyone melt. Smaller trains often don't have AC at all. My friend returned to Heidelberg with me, as we had plans to visit Freiburg and Strasbourg over the weekend! Coming soon....

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