15, 16, 19, 21, 22 November 1999
We got up at 4:45 and drove over 2 hours to get into Dresden where Annet had class and we were going to be tourists, but Annett insisted that we could not walk around in the cold (despite the heavy coats we had bought in Budapest) so she put us in a study room at the University and told us to stay there for 3 hours.
Of course we went walking... it was a glorious day. We explored the old palaces of Dresden and saw a fabulous mural called the Procession of the Dukes which is a ceramic mosaic with all of the Dukes of Dresden from 1000 to 1871 on horseback. It's an amazing work, each Duke is dressed in the style of the day and you can see the slow changes from armor to the fancy medieval gowns back to modern military uniforms. For each Duke there is the motto, the years reigned, and symbols. It is really cool! My favorite was Albrect II, he looked very Pagan. The view of the city along the river was beautiful! We found a really nice veggie restaurant (called Mr. Clou, which is a strange name because that sounds like the slang name for bathroom in German!) and even found a place to do email!
We spent the whole day (from 7 am to 3) exploring Dresden... it was really cool. It's an amazing city, also kind of scary. There are all these giant West German department stores that have sprung up along the pedestrianized main shopping street -- alongside the 4 identical, privitized former communist hotels! There is one department store which was built in the middle of the old town market square!! Everything is new and modern and slick -- and there is nary a mention of the horrible unnecessary fire bombing raid by the US Air Force Feb 13 1945 which killed 30,000 people and destroyed the entire city. Every history of the city we saw the entire time we were there skips the period from February 12 1945 to November 4 1989... there is NOTHING mentioned! It is very eerie! It DIDN'T EXIST!
We also got information on the train to Bärenstein... it takes 55 minutes and is very cheap, 9 bucks would get a ticket for two people good for 24 hours for unlimited rides on the train, AND on the Dresden trams and buses!
Annett met us in the afternoon she was APPALLED that we actually WALKED around the city. She insisted that we go to the museum with the crown jewels in it! She even paid our way in. We are not much for museums, but it was ok, lots of diamonds and shiny things; we tried to be polite to our hosts. The centerpiece was an amazingly gaudy diarama. The whole museum was centered around August the Strong, the king of Saxony who tried to mimic Louis XIV. Annett was very bored while we were in there.
The next day when we took the train in we tried to get away from the mall-like pedestrian district and finally found an interesting district and even a neat looking Umweltzentrum (Environmental center...) After sitting in the lobby for almost an hour we discovered to our extreme joy, a natural foods co-op and and a natural fiber clothing store! ORGANIC MILK!!!! I bought socks. We were much happier! We wandered a bit more and then headed for the train station for another GORGEOUS ride back to Bärenstein... we thought about going the 3 more stops to the top of the mountain to see the sunset, but the mother was at the station to meet us. (They always referred to the family members other than Annett as The mother The father The grandmother or Our Father...)
The next time we went to the city was 3 days later and it was another another beautiful train ride into Dresden, this time a bit more crowded. Once in town we went to a cool neighborhood that Annett's friend Claudia had told us about. It is called the Neustadt, but it is several hundred years old. It is kind of the trendy neighborhood, like Capitol Hill in Seattle. But it was the first place we saw that looked REAL. It was clearly a place where real people lived and worked and played. It was the only place in Dresden that wasn't horribly tacky and strange because of the West conquers East architecture. It was a neighborhood which had GROWN and changed instead of being plopped down in the middle of something else. We had a good time running around there and were sorry that we only had an hour or two. I would've liked to spend a lot more time there. But sill, eastern Germany is weird. People were happy that we spoke a little German, but when they heard our English and saw we were American, they were extremely excited, often giving us free things and such!
Back in downtown we went through the old market square where they were setting up a huge xmas market -- it looked very nice, with a giant 'piramid' in the center. The piramids are the traditional Christmas decoration of the area (and one of the primary products of the town of Seiffen that we went to!). They are these conical (christmas tree) shaped wooden pieces with a big fan blade on top attached to several wooden disks with scenes of animals or trees or what have you on them. There are candleholders around the edges and when the candles are lit, the heat turns the fanblade, causing the scenes to rotate. They're really neat and you see them in a variety of shapes from less than one inch high to person sized and the one in the square was about three stories high!! Unfortunately the market was smaller than in previous years because a western German department store had built a huge new modern building taking up about one third of market square!!! YUK!
And of course we went back to the food co-op! On the way to the food co-op I saw a bank called the Hansiatic bank -- isn't that just the perfect name for a bank! I was surprised I had not seen it before! At 3pm we met Annett and went to the department store to do email. Annett had never used email, and we had promised her we would get her set up, so Cheryln patiently taught her how to Then we piled into the car for the long drive back to her parents' house.
We really enjoyed meeting the family and the house was wonderfully comfortable, the village was gorgous -- a very nice place to be, and the family went way out of their way to be helpful to us. But the whole dynamic was bizarre and stressful. We did not want to get up at 4am to catch our train and we really wanted a couple of days to relax and see Dresden. AND we didn't not want to over stay our welcome (not like that seemed possible). So we decided that we would spend a night (or two) at a hostel in town. The family was a little uncomfortable with this...
The hostel was very nice, but way way too expensive. It is amazing, many of these Hostelling International hostels we have stayed at are more like hotels: double rooms, private bathrooms etc etc, but they also COST like hotels! Ug. They seem to have forgotten the budget traveller and only cater to school groups, rich kids travelling on daddy's money and, yes, business travellers! It is a little frustrating! We much prefer the small cheap bunk room with a kitchen where we can cook our meals and a common room where we can visit with other travellers.
We got groceries at the Austrian based grocery store next door and sat in the room to do some travel planning. We have spent most of this trip with very vague plans, but there were certain people, places and events that we needed to work around. The Leonids was one of these. Now we had to decide where we would be for the holidays and what we would do after that. All we knew was that we were going to Prague next. We really wanted to spend Xmas in Muslim southern Spain, but it just was too far away with too little time. We were trying to decide whether we should go north or south after Prague. We had people who had invited us to visit in southern France and in Sicily and we REALLY wanted to see Poland and Dalmatia. We spent A LOT of time slogging through it and finally decided that we would go to Siciliy for the holidays and visit Giselle in France in January. So I took our phone card downstairs and made some phone calls that I needed to make and made arrangements. We also decided we would spend one more day in Dresden. But we still didn't know if we would go north or south after Prague!
The following day we DID go to the World Trade Center mall, where we found a very very nice outdoor store gear store. I finally got a wallet (a waterproof box) and we bought some buckles and straps that we needed. We tried to explain to them that their clock labeled SAN FRANSISCO had the wrong time, but they didn't really care. We also found the main location of the city library where we were able to use the Internet for a while. We found out, a bit too late, that there was a 30 minute limit, but since there were many free terminals and no line they only glared at us until we logged off. Nevertheless it was fun and interesting and we got to check our email! We even sent Annet email thanking her and telling her about the place!
Then we went and hopped on a tram -- we actually got on it going the wrong way, but that was ok, because we had a daypass and because taking a tram out to the end of the line is one of the best ways to see a city. My grandfather went to Europe in 1930 and his travel advice to me was always, "First thing you do when you get to a city is take the tram to the end of the line." It's a cool thing to do.
We wandered up into town and ate at Mr. Clou for a third (or was it fourth time) time, before we went out to the Technical University and spent some time walking around campus. It was cool -- there is a feeling to a college campus that doesn't change where ever you are. That is another thing that I think is a wonderful way to travel. Find the university, find the student union, the mensa, the library. You can probably talk to people, maybe eat cheap and certainly relax and learn a lot about a place! It was snowing lightly as we walked around the area -- we found another hostel, which appeared to be cheaper, but it was closed! Finally we found the library, and once in the library it took us almost an hour of investigation to find the computers, but we did and we spent an hour or more doing email.
On the way out I went to the bathroom and I had something terribly embarassing happen to me. As in most of Germany there were three bathrooms, Men, Women and Handicaped. Since the other two were full, I followed the example of the people around me and used the Handicapped. Now I will talk more later about the toilets, but suffice it to say that unlike in the US, every toilet is different and it always takes a second to figure out exactly how to flush the thing. I looked around and I found a cord hanging next to it -- seemed right so I confidently pulled it. Turned out it was the alarm for when someone in a wheelchair needs help. Lights flashed and all. I cleared out fast but was VERY embarassed.
It was snowing pretty hard as we walked to the tram and headed to the train station. We had a wonderful time with a very friendly woman, who spoke no English, at a ticket counter asking about dozens of prices of different ticket prices for trains around Germany! (This was before we knew about the WONDERFULLY useful Deutschebahn website at http://bahn.hafas.de/)
We were, at this point, extremely hungry and getting pretty frustrated and
useless until Cheryln had a brilliant idea. At the Umweltzentrum there was a
wonderful looking natural foods resturant called
Brennessle (Stinging Nettle). The food was good and so was the atmosphere.
We were very happy about it. On the way home we picked up another bottle of
organic milk -- we were, after all, leaving Germany tomorrow.
© Copyright Mark Canizaro 2000
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