Friday, August 4, 2017 Listerfehrada to Torgau
After a good German breakfast that came with the lodging, we hit the road, but not before we saw Chris and George from our hotel window riding past our hotel and called out good morning to them. It was warm, but not hot today, but he wind in our faces was fairly strong. We had another non-motorized ferry ride just before coffee in the courtyard of a castle and the view of the landscape then on to Torgau. Torgau, the second most important city for Martin Luther (ML). After ML posted his 95 Theses on the church door he was on the pope’s bad boy list. He fled to Torgau where he was hidden and protected by the King, who, by the way was Catholic. It was in Torgau that he consecrated the King’s palace chapel as the first Protestant church. It was also where the first Protestant church was built and also consecrated by ML
Miraculously although the Germans destroyed the bridge over the Elbe at Torgau most of the city was untouched and has retained its pre-war appearance. It’s a really pretty place with a big, beautiful palace dating to the early 16th century, a very pretty and religiously significant church where ML’s wife is buried. It has a large and colorful city square capped off by the city hall also dating to the 16th century. Torgau seems to us, despite its religious significance, far less a tourist attraction than Wittenberge as there were few tourists around. Their loss.
Saturday, August 5, 2017 Torgau to Riesa
During breakfast a women (65yrs) from Holland struck up a conversation with Maggie. She is cycle touring by her lonesome along the Elbe. We enjoyed a friendly chat and compared observations before going our separate ways. It was already hot and sunny when we left the hotel at 0915 as were the last 4 days. We had a little trouble finding our way out of town and on course due to many street closures because of construction. When we finally did find our way we crossed the river over a really nice pedestrian and bicycle bridge one of many we’ve come across. It seems summer has come to Europe. Harvest for some grains, hay and the remains (straw.)
Our morning coffee was in the square of the old village of Belgern. We thought we’d ride around and see the sites, but the coble drove us back to the path. The route is getting a little less flat and much more treed. It’s still mostly farmland with a few very large gravel operations along the river.
When our stomachs said it was lunch time, we crossed the river into Muhlberg. The guide said it was supposed to be an interesting old town with a restaurant and grocery. We and four other couldn’t find either. After about 20 minutes we found the grocery and bought bread. We ate our PB & J just outside while sitting on a windowsill. The village is closed up tight on Saturdays except one cafe and the grocery store.
As we rode to the ferry for another river crossing, this time to the village of Stehla, We stumbled upon upon a summer carnival. It was very large with many locals enjoying the nice day and feasting on the food while the children enjoyed the rides. We walked around, and did a little window shopping at the many repetitive booths before getting back on the road, crossing the river by ferry and getting our afternoon cup of coffee. Many of Germany’s towns are having their annual summer festivals. They are colorful.
We’re staying in Riesa tonight and can hear the fireworks out our window in the old town.
Sunday August 6, 2017 Riesa to Dresden
At the suggestion of our hotel host we crossed to the east side of the Elbe by ferry about 3 blocks from our hotel. It was a sleepy Sunday morning and we were the ferry’s first customers for the day. The ferry was ours. We rode along through small villages until around 1100 when we again crossed the river into Miessen. It is a very old and beautiful town with many wonderful buildings, plazas, and a Castle with it’s own Cathedral on the hill. We had coffee then walked the windy streets to see the buildings and the view and peaked in the Cathedral. While up there, we ran into our Holland friends, Janneke and Matthijs. We agreed to catch up with coffee while in Dresden tomorrow.
After the church we had lunch in the main plaza and rode off toward Dresden. It was really a nice day and the sun just kept on shining. Just outside Dresden we stopped at an old windmill at which we had had our PB & J’s and coffee (Ed had a beer.) the last time we were in Dresden.
Our WS hosts live right in the middle of the old city in a 2 bedroom apartment on the 5th floor of a newer building with an elevator overlooking the Old Markt Square. They have, between them 11 bicycles hanging on their walls.
Needless to say, they’re avid cyclists. They invited 3 of their friends over to have coffee and sweets with us.
Monday, August 7, 2017 Dresden
Just another beautiful, cloudless day…..a very lazy day for us. We visited the Frauenkirche(Lutheran) in the center of the old city. which was destroyed during the war and rebuilt in the 1990’s. The inside looks more like a theater than a church, except for the religious trappings and the burning candles. Nevertheless it is quite pretty with balcony seating all around.
We had our morning coffee in a café across from the church and discovered on the way to the WC that the café is decorated with original Dresden trolley memorabilia from the early part of the 20th century. They included an ongoing video of the same era and a trolley car parked inside the garden area as well as benches, hanging straps and other objects from bygone days. Very cool idea to have the museum like café.
At 3pm we walked to the opera house and had a tour in English. The tour was a bit disappointing since it didn’t include any views or discussion of the behind the scenes parts of the theater. What we did see was very impressive and beautiful reconstruction after the bombing.
We had coffee with Janneke and Matthijs and spent about 1 hour 45 minutes with them before returning to the WS lodging and joining our hosts for a walk and meal at a favorite “pub. From there we walked to the other side of the River Elbe to see the sun set , hear a 9 p.m. ceramic bell carillon, and see the partial eclipse of the moon. On our walk back across the Ellbe we ran into Janneke and Matthijs again. We stood there talking for 20 minutes or so. There was English, Dutch, German, and Russian being spoken amongst the 6 of us. Once again we said our goodbyes to the dutch couple and hoped we’d meet again sometime. We all feel we’ve made new and lasting friendships and will continue to stay in touch. All of the ice cream spots were closed so off to bed for us.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017 Dresden to Bad Schandau
We were up early today excited to be entering into the “Saxon Switzerland” area of Germany. It’s the mountain region just outside of Dresden to and beyond the Czech border. It’s more hills and small then increasingly larger river valleys than mountains, but quite different from what we’ve been riding through. It is a big rock climbing and hiking destination. The area is really beautiful and reminds us more of the terrain of Austria and Bavaria. The small villages along the river in Germany as we approach the Czech Republic border are quaint with lovely plazas, castles, and churches. We stopped for coffee and a look around in Pirna which was a delightful surprise. with an outstanding church. then again for lunch in Konigstein.
When in the bathroom after our lunch, Ed dropped the camera in the toilet…not a good thing. It won’t open or start up after this drowning, and is now drying in a bag of rice. Fingers are crossed and we’ll let you know how it turns out.
We arrived in Bad Schandau about 3:30, checked in and had our afternoon cappuccino among cute shops and cafes. We thought we were staying in Bad Schandau and were surprised to discover that although the address said Bad Schandau, our hotel was actually across the Elba in a small town with few services. We had been looking forward to using the thermal baths as we had done a few years ago in the Black Forest spa of Baden Baden, bur this was not to be. We had a very nice meal at the only restaurant in town and settled for a walk and beautiful sunset instead of a bath.
Wednesday, August 9, 2017 Bad Schandau- Utsi
We had a fine hotel breakfast before hitting the road on this humid, warm, sunny, windless day. We got to the Czech Republic border after about 10 kms. The scenery and villages change dramatically along this route, although for the most part the cycle paths are in good condition in both Germany and the Czech Republic. The ride was mostly flat as you would expect along the river, however, there were definitely fewer places to get services, including water and things to eat and drink. We had made our sandwiches before leaving the hotel this morning so just stopped along the way and enjoyed our picnic although the spot caused us to have some misgivings.
There was a marker at this spot showing the high water mark of a few floods. The biggest one, in 2002, was about 35 feet above the normal river level and reached the house further away from the river than we were eating. The pictures do not give it justice. The next picture is of the house behind the small structure that shows the High Water mark. To give some idea of the magnitude of this flood, the next picture is taken from the spot facing the river. One can see how much water it must have taken to reach the farm house.
The river valley widened and the hills got higher as we got closer to our destination, Usti. There are 2 castles on the hills overlooking the town of Utsi. They make a good impression as you enter the town especially after seeing a string of German pill boxes that face the river along the way. However, once you have entered the town, it is obvious that this town has not rebounded very well from the effects of WW II or the freedom that came in 1989. There is a lot of potential, but a lot of work to be done, The town has a gray look to it with many buildings in need of occupants and sprucing up, if not more. They do have a beautiful, big, modern shopping mall in the heart of the old town that attracts a lot of people. After walking down to the main square and not finding much open, we decided to have dinner in our room. We have a very nice market only a few paces from our hotel.
Thursday August 10 Usti to Melnik
It was a hot, humid, and sunny day. The route was beautiful and mostly went through small villages without any services or signs of life. The terrain left the steep river canyon and gradually got more into wide farm valleys again with the mountains more in the distance. We stopped in towns along the river with steep cobbled streets leading to the main square for coffee and again for lunch. When we took the bridge over to Melnik at the end of the day to climb the steep hill to our hotel, Maggie’s left shifter and brake were not working. A small plastic part attached to something had come loose and had lodged in the shifter. It was terrifying when going down the steep hills as there was no breaking ability. We checked with the tourist office in the square and found out the only bike shops were back down the hill toward the river. They kept our panniers so we could be faster (it was after 4pm) and we took off. The friendly lady in the TI said if we didn’t make it back before they closed they would take everything to our hotel.
The first bike shop guy didn’t know anything about these shifters, but knew the other shop and said they’d be able to help. Indeed they could. The mechanic there was able to get the piece figured out, to put it back in place, and then used electrical tape to hold things together. It now works well. Big sigh of relief and off we went to ride back up the hill. Riding with naked bikes is a dream!
Friday August 11, 2017 Melnik to Prague, Czech Republic
It rained during the night and although it wasn’t raining when we had breakfast, it started again before we left Melnik. Early on, we had to cross the Elbe by ferry. The cobbled path that led down to the ferry landing was treacherous as was the steel “gangway” that led to the ferry itself. On the other side there was another steel “gangway” going up and another wet cobbled path to get to the bike route. It kept raining. Much of the route was gravel and/or dirt that got messier and messier as the day wore on and the rain, quite heavy most of the time, continued. We stopped for our coffee break and peeled our soaking wet “rain gear” from our bodies and tried to dry off a bit. The rain continued. We put our heads down and kept going. We had lunch in a small village where we bought cokes and stood in the entry of the store to get out of the rain and eat. Still raining hard when we took off for the final push into Prague, with muddier and sloppier paths. We got to Prague around 3:30 and followed the GPS route to Chili hostel, our abode for the next 2 days. . Unfortunately the GPS route was not accurate and led us on a not so merry odyssey which was supposed to be a short cut. Darn those one way streets and construction zones. On our way we stopped at 2 bike shops to look for a left shifter that would fit Maggie’s configuration and be a back up. No such luck.
It took us in the vicinity of two hours to get across Prague and finally to our hostel. We stopped along the way to dry off a bit, get warm, and have coffee with a snack. We reached our hostel about 6 PM.
We put the bikes away and traipsed up 68 steps with our panniers to our room. We unpacked, especially the wet stuff, and spread just about everything all over our bedroom to dry. After changing and relaxing a bit we went across the street for dinner.
We took no pictures today as it was so wet and muddy that we did not dare risk getting our phones wet. Just imagine wet muddy cyclists.
Saturday August 12, 2017 Prague
It’s hard for us to believe we’ve already completed the entire Elbe River Route. We’ve ridden the whole way from the North Sea at Cuxhaven, Germany to Prague in the Czech Republic, more than 1100 km. What a great trip and so many interesting people along the way. Now on to the 4th phase of this adventure! We plan to ride from here to Cesky Krumlov in the southwest corner of the Czech Republic then cross the border into Austria. But first we have a couple of days to sightsee in Prague.
When we got up this morning we found out the “Chili Hostel” and all the places on our street had no water. After a couple of hours in a coffee shop closer to the center of town for breakfast and planning our route and making reservations at places to stay, we started out to see the sites and look for maps. Today is Prague’s Gay Pride festival and the main squares were full of people with colorful attire. On our walk we came upon the Municipal House near the old city Powder Gate, circa 1400 and signed on for a tour in English at 2pm. It’s a beautiful building attached to the Powder Gate and has 7 different venues for opera, ballet, symphony, etc. and houses the mayor’s old office. It was completed in 1912. The wood work, marble, glass, and fixings were quite wonderful and our guide gave a lot of the history of the place. In the basement is the oldest bar in Prague named the American Bar due to the influence America had on Czech society and government. As we were leaving the building we were stopped by a couple of Korean kids and invited back to the basement where they were doing an introduction to Korean life with tables of food, drink and childhood activities which we were encouraged to try. Ed made a small wood painted hanging and Maggie made a braided wrist band. We also tasted several sweets and rice goodies. The rest of the afternoon we walked around the wonderful old buildings, visited the famous Tyn Church and watched as Europe’s most famous Astrological clock dinged the time and the 12 Apostles meandered around the open doors as the devil rang the bell and watched the hourglass tick off the time left for us all. The church had loads of gold leaf statues and other religious decorations, but no pictures were allowed. Now how did that get in here.
Dinner was at the food court of a huge (4 stories, 200 store) mall across from the Municipal House and then back to the hostel.
Sunday August 13, 2017 Prague
The Chili Hostel wasn’t the cleanest or most hospitable place to be so we made arrangements to stay our 3rd night at an efficiency apartment a few blocks closer to the old town, much cleaner. We rode over with our things after breakfast. The staff there was most helpful and friendly. They let us check in early and kept our bikes, etc. while we played tourist all day.
It was only a 5 minute walk from the new hotel to the old city main square so we were off sightseeing in no time. We had downloaded Rick Steve’s walking tour of Prague and spent most of the day following it through our smart phones. The tour was really great, relaxing, easy to follow & filled with the history of Prague and the Czech people. The country was bounced around like a ping pong ball between sovereignties for most of the last 3 centuries which finally led to democracy after 1989 and separation from Slovakia in the 1990’s. Prague is truly a beautiful city marred only by the hoard of tourists that crowd the streets (including us). It was not bombed in WWII. The following are some of the buildings we saw on this beautiful day.
We interrupted the tour for coffee breaks both morning and afternoon, and had lunch around 1:30 near the astrological clock. The main square has a huge statue of Jan Hus who preached a century before Martin Luther and questioned the practices of the Catholic church of which he was a member, but not as fortunate as ML as his life ended warmly at the stake. There was a lot of music being played in the streets and squares which made for a very festive atmosphere. The walk ended for us at the famous St. Charles’ bridge looking up at the castle across the Vltava river.
On our way back to the center of the “new old city “ (only the 14th century) we walked through the Jewish quarter then stopped back at the giant mall which sports an old building facade to buy another camera. Despite our TLC and being in rice for 4 days, the camera won’t open. Oh well, time to move on from that calamity. We went to the Municipal House for a concert at 8 p.m. featuring selections of Mozart, Strauss and the home town favorite, Anton Dvorak, with a soprano opera singer and some dancers. The concert was held in the main auditorium that we had first seen yesterday on our tour. The music was light and very enjoyable as were the performers.
Monday, August 14, 2017 Prague to Tynec nad Sazavou
We rode for close to two hours without getting lost before we were out of the penumbra of Prague. It is such a huge sprawl, but traffic was not bad and the drivers fairly courteous. Before leaving Prague, we stopped at a bike shop and Maggie had new brakes installed. Her’s were worn down to the metal and had no braking power left. Although there were no steep climbs today, there were many ups and downs that kept us puffing as we haven’t ridden much uphill along the Elbe. The landscape changed a couple of times from mostly plains and river valley to very hilly and forested then back to a river valley and little hills. There were a number of quite pretty lakes as we neared Tynec.
Tynec is a tiny town with only 2 “restaurants,” one of which was closed. The pizzeria however was quite good.
There is an old castle(?) in this old city, but no information available in English. It looks old and the Czech information board has the number 700 in it which we interperit to mean that there was a castle on this site since somewhere in the 8th century. The church is nowhere near that old nor is the other attractive building near the church (circa 1900).