The next day was a 96km bash to reach the Elba. However, we got sidetracked by Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam – a vast confection of really burlesque architecture which those with money must have considered the height of good taste at the time. No wonder they all got their heads chopped off. Oh – didn’t they? Too bad. Anyway, we stuck the video camera on a tripod and spent some time filming ourselves riding past it on the Green Machine. We were admiring the results when an identity card was thrust under our noses and a very stern man in a grey uniform told us that cycling here was strictly VERBOTEN. We pointed out that we’d only been following other cyclists in and he told us that cycling is ok over THERE but STRICTLY VERBOTEN over HERE. Then he gave us a very stern look that he’d been practicing in a mirror and stood there until we went away. I think he enjoyed himself.
The day’s other highlight was a pumpkin festival. Now, I’m no connoisseur of pumpkin sculpture but I’ll stick my neck out on this occasion and say that the Noah’s Ark with Noah and his sons and lots of animals made entirely from curcubits must have been at the pinnacle of the Art’s achievement.
We reached the Elba at Wittenburg which is famous as the place where Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door. The church itself burnt down in a war so what stands there now is a 19th century rebuild but still very interesting. The old Town Square is about as perfect as anywhere you’ll find in Germany with a huge white Rathaus and the twin towers of its Catholic church looming over the tall, narrow buildings.
From here the riding has been almost embarrassingly easy, keeping close to the river over a flat flood plain. The river is very much alive, bursting its banks spectacularly in August 2002 with massive damage to property and some loss of life. There are reminders everywhere – water level markers on the sides of buildings and bridges. In fact, the only hills we had to climb were to cross the new flood defences being built along the river. Now and again we had to cross the river- usually on litle boats powered only by the current of the river and cunningly-employed cables. Head winds have been a problem over the flat land though – our average speed on one particularly windy day was slower than through the hilliest stretches of Sweden! When the wind dropped it rained all day so I suppose you can’t have it all.
Meissen is for our money, the finest little town in Germany. From its neo-gothic church spires and impressive Schloss on a high rock, to its beautiful squares and excellent cake shops, there really is perfection at every turn. Definitely one we will have to come back for. We enjoyed Dresden too – not just the Old Town, superbly rebuilt after the devastation of the War, but the Neustadt on the opposite bank, which we thought showed exactly how a new city could be. Its wide Hauptsrasse still follows the line of the grand street that was destroyed, but the low-rise flats above the prosperous shops and the fine avenue of old trees and the trams rumbling over the bridge to the old city were very appealing in a trust-the-Germans-to-make-it-work kind of way.
We spent our evening in Dresden at the fabulously restored Frauenkirke where we heard the Dresden Philharmonic performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. It was very moving, of course.
Then it was on into the Sachsische Schweiz – the hilly landscape between Dresden and Decin in the Czech Republic, through which we rode for two days. The weather was lovely if very cold and the riding remained easy as the path squeezed between the hills alongside the river. The change once at the border is immediate and very striking. Whilst in eastern Germany it was hard to imagine most of the time that it has a Communist past. But in the Czech Republic it is hard to appreciate that it doesn’t have a Communist present. There’s been no economic miracle here and the food is frankly terrible – two nights in a row we were served frozen meals. Last night we stayed in the world’s worst hotel (The Hotel Sport in Kralupy – or possibly Crapuly). To make matters worse a thick drizzle has set in and plagued us for three days now to Prague. We’ve spent the afternoon fighting our way through what is easily the least bike-friendly city we have visited to get to our hostel and so we write to you tonight in a rather dim frame of mind. However, we have already glimpsed some of what Prague is famed for and we remain hopeful that tomorrow we shall see its better face.
Finally folks, a few more photos: http://photosbyneil.fotoblog.co.uk/c1603086.html
Bye for now!