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Published: June 10th 2012
Friday, 8 June
We were supposed to go into Dresden again this morning to sightsee further but I wanted to see a national park. We didn’t think we had time for both so we made tracks to the Elbe River valley. The drive was pretty with gently rolling hills, fields and lots of little villages dotting the countryside. This area is part of the Saxony region and is called “Little Switzerland” for its scenery. True to its reputation, the housing and flora did remind us a little of Switzerland without the Alps. Before long, we had reached a town called Rathen, in the shadow of the Bastei formations.
Rathen is wedged in a little valley running down to the Elbe River but is such a sleepy and quaint little place. It felt like a ski town during summer with people using bike paths and hiking trails. There is a passenger ferry that transports people across the river to another town in the wider valley, but I thought Rathen was more picturesque because of its tucked position.
The Bastei Bridge was fantastic. It reminded me of The Grampians in Victoria with that layered, pinnacle look. The formations rose 350m
above sea level like solitary soldiers and a stone arch bridge connects the main pinnacles, with steel walkways connecting the outer bastions. People used to live here several centuries ago with houses carved into the rock, but that is all pretty much gone now. It’s only the stone bridge that remains but it is a breathtaking view.
What I did not like were the hordes of people. Tour bus after tour bus, 2km of road filled with heads from side to side, queuing to look at the view between the pinnacles – it was horrible. It would be such a different place if you were there on your own. One could breathe deeply, feel the mountains come alive and reflect on them as they reflect on you. However, instead of being able to stop and take in the memory, we were trying to avoid breathing for all the B.O that was wafting around from some of the tourists. Eventually we had to leave for the Czech Republic, which was both a blessing and a disappointment.
At 4.30pm we picked up Kat and Ken from Prague airport, checked in to our apartment and caught the metro into the old
town, two stops away. It had started raining when we left the airport but by the time we exited the metro, it had stopped long enough to take dusk photos and get a bit of a feel of the historic downtown area.
Kat’s work colleague had recommended a restaurant so we went there for dinner. We savoured a fancy 2 course Czech Modern meal for CZK 1500 (A$75) for the 4 of us, and retired with delectably thick hot chocolates at a Chocolate Café afterwards.
What I love about seeing Europe between Spring and Autumn is the daylight until 10pm. It allows one to arrive into a city in late afternoon and still have several hours of sightseeing before watching the transition to evening.
Prague is beautiful both in the day and at night. The city do a great job of lighting up Prague Castle and Charles Bridge at night, so we were able to get some night shots and appreciate the Stari Mestro (Old Town) and wander across Charles Bridge in a romantic stroll. Saturday, 9 June
Forecast was for rain at 4pm but we started with sun and were blessed with fine weather
until after we’d gone to bed 16 hours later.
What amazed me upon arriving for dinner last night was how big Prague Castle was. In the daylight, it’s even more imposing. It’s in the Guinness Book of Records as being the largest ancient castle in the world – the size of 7 football fields!! We bought tickets and had a look through the Palace Courts, but I didn’t think it was anything special as far as internal furnishings go, but the outside of each building was incredibly ornate and imposing. I found a toy store that sold wooden toys and that entertained me for quite a while. We wandered for a couple of hours and then made our way down to the lesser town for a traditional Czech lunch (potato soup, beef goulash and apple strudel).
At this point I have to stop and mention the crowds in Prague during the day – MANIC! Worst we’ve encountered yet, even worse than Amsterdam. There were umpteen cruise groups and you couldn’t see any pavement on Charles Bridge, let alone the other side. It was a little like Sydney harbour foreshore after the NYE fireworks. That was the only thing about Prague that I did not like, and I would be interested to visit again during the week in late September/October and see how much it differs, if at all.
After lunch we walked along the river and joined a river cruise for 2 hours. That was relaxing, although not very informative since they didn’t talk and didn’t go more than a couple of km’s in either direction of the locks. I think it was mainly an excuse to try and sell drinks to captive tourists however it was good to just sit, chat and rest the legs.
Upon arrival back at the dock, we made a group decision to spend the rest of the afternoon getting lost in the cobblestoned streets and laneways of the old town, looking at restaurant menus as we went. The main square was packed with people watching the European Cup on the big screen (Denmark beat Netherlands 1-0) so we trundled on to another alley and came across a beautiful, quiet square overlooking a church. Italian was the menu of choice, which was delicious, with gelato to finish. An even cheaper meal.
Prague is awesome and well worth the detour. We’ll be back.
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