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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 11.11.14
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL

In Dresden and beyond

The Fontane had docked at night. In the morning we could see that we were right on the edge of the old city of Dresden, within easy walking distance to many attractions. After breakfast we did a coach and walking tour of the city with a local guide. Almost all the damage to the central city from the WWII bombing by the British and Americans had been rebuilt.

Because Dresden was in East Germany, many of the new buildings were in the socialist modern style. The city, now with 530,000 inhabitants, has been restored to its former status as a center of learning and culture. Our coach took us through the Neustadt, which is located on the east bank of the Elbe. This is a very affluent residential area with houses from the baroque to 19th century neo-classical styles. It also has the grand, tree-lined Hauptstrassa, which leads to the golden statue of Augustus the Strong (1670-1733).

The coach let us out in the large park behind the Zwinger, Augustus' huge palace complex. We walked with our guide through the Green Vault of the Dresden Castle, which has over 3,000 masterpieces of jewelry and the goldsmith's art, objects made of amber and ivory, elegant bronze statuettes, and mechanical toys, all collected by Augustus. It is one of the oldest buildings in Dresden and for almost 400 years was the residence of the prince-electors and kings of Saxony.

city

The building was rebuilt after WWII; however, the collection was undamaged because it had been hidden in the walls of an old castle up the Elbe during the war. It is to the right of the Cathedral in the picture.

We then had a walking tour of the old city including the Semper Opera House and the Zwinger Palace, seen in the two pictures below.

people

opera house

The Zwinger consists of four galleries and pavilions surrounding the courtyard with a fountain. We arrived at the pavilion opposite the one in the picture just in time for the playing of the Meissen china bell carillon -- a unique three minutes. The day was cloudy with some drizzle, but the city was spectacular none the less.

After lunch was free time; Boyjan had arranged an impromptu walk around with wurst and beer. Kathy and I elected to read for a while in the lounge, which was very comfortable as can be seen in the first picture. Mary, in the red hat, and Ron, in the black hat, went with Boyjan.

snoozing

eating

Kathy and I did a late afternoon walk through the old town including the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), the New Synagogue, and some neighborhoods. Architecture is very important in Dresden both old and modern. The city lost its World Heritage Site designation when it constructed a modern bridge across the Elbe, the Waldschlöchenbrücke. The bridge was completed in 2013 after a controversy lasting 20 years -- it's a great looking bridge. We got back just in time for the cocktail hour and dinner.

The Fontane got underway during breakfast. One might think that we ate our way across Germany; well, the food was excellent and I did put on a few pounds. The day was grey and we had some sprinkles as we headed for the Czech border through the area known as Saxon Switzerland. The terrain became very hilly and looked a lot like West Virginia. However, the villages on the banks of the Elbe, the castles, the sleek electric trains that ran parallel to the river, cable ferries and the river traffic all said Germany.

cliffs

village

The left picture shows the bluff approaching the village in the right picture with its cable ferry and castle on the bluff. Despite the weather many of us spent the morning on the upper deck admiring the scenery.

After lunch the Fontane docked in Bad Schandau in preparation for our coach tour into the national park and visit to Bastei. Bastei is a rocky ridge and individual rock spires that tower almost 700 feet above the river. Our coach let up out at the parking lot well below Bastei. Some chose to ride the horse cart up to the top where the view points and the restaurant were. The rest of us walked.

Most everyone went to the viewpoint to see down to the Elbe, left picture, and some went, including Dave, on the rocky path and bridge between the spires of the Bastei, right picture. A red umbrella just barely shows between the two spires.

fog

rocks

Afterward we headed to the restaurant, passing a wedding party, all decked out in their finery. They looked happy. We took the chill off with coffee, hot chocolate, and apple strudel at the restaurant. Well refreshed, we walked back down to the coach to go back to the Fontane in Bad Schandau. We arrived back at the Fontane to a grand welcome from the crew. Stepping aboard we each were handed a glass of warm spiced wine. Nice.

The Fontane got underway again late that afternoon as we headed once more for the dining room. The Fontane was headed for Decin in the Czech Republic where we would dock for the night. Bad Schandau was about four miles from the border so it took less than an hour for us to enter the Czech Republic. We just cruised in; no border guards, no customs and no passport check. The total distance from Bad Schandau to Decin was about 10 miles.

Several people went ashore after dinner and found an Irish Pub for beer. Kathy and I stayed for the presentation on the European Union. I was surprised that the emphasis was on the negative; too much bureaucracy, conformity, and cost. This was during the Ukrainian mess and not one comment about military or defense.

We got underway before breakfast and while still overcast, it was not raining. We passed several large concrete blocks that looked like pillboxes, which had fallen into disrepair. The distance numbering system for the river changed at the border starting over from '103' after counting down to '0' and we had about 30 miles to go to Litomerice, where we would stop.

This area is known as the Bohemian Highlands; Usti is its center and a hub for tourism owing to the romantic landscape, national park, and the Strekov castle. The villages along the river looked less well maintained than those in Germany and the signs all changed to Czech. We passed several closed factories and an abandoned ship yard along the river. However, the area is still a manufacturing hub and Usti has a major harbor facility just north of the city at confluence of the Biacute;lina and the Elbe rivers.

After leaving Usti we lined up and entered the locks at Strekof which lifted the Fontane 30 feet. Above the locks is Strekov Castle built in the early 14th century in order to extract fees from the transport of goods along the Elbe. The castle exchanged hands many times until it passed to the Lobkowicz family, who currently own it. We will meet them again in Prague.

church

old town

After lunch -- notice how everything is measured in terms of meals -- the Fontane tied up at Litomerice and we disembarked for a tour. We were offered two options: a tour of the Theresienstadt concentration camp or a walking tour of the town. We chose to tour Litomerice, which is one of the oldest towns in the Czech Republic and was established in the 10th century on the sites of an early medieval Slavic and Roman ruins. The population became mostly German after the Thirty Years' War and the Protestants' defeat and remained so until after WWII when the Sudeten Germans were sent west.

We had a nice guided tour of St. Stephen's Cathedral, the main square, with a Country Music concert ad poster, the old town hall and a house from the medieval period; it was for sale. Our last stop, before returning to the Fontane, was at a local brewery and beer cellar, where we sampled two beers and had a small bite.

This was our last night on board the Fontane, and we were treated to the Captain's Reception and Dinner. All of the 42 crew members were introduced and each said a few words; very nice. After dinner we set sail for our last stop, which was supposed to be Melnik. However, there was an accident at the locks just before Melnik and so sometime that night the Fontane put in at Steti.

We had to have our bags packed and in the corridor before breakfast for the crew to off load them and set them beside the appropriate coach. Our job, after breakfast, of course, was to make sure our bags were beside the right coach. Also, we were encouraged to provide gratuities for the crew, which while optional, Viking had made convenient. Kathy and I felt that the gratuities were well deserved.

Good byes were said all around and we boarded the appropriate coach for the trip to our hotel in Prague, which was about an hour's ride.

Next Episode: Moving on towards the Czech Republic