Thursday, August 21, 2008

Elbe Sandstone Mountains

We spent several days following the Germany-Czech border along the Germany side. Most of the time we simply had to look across a road, to the other side of a stream, or to the top of a ridge, to see land within the Czech Republic. We crossed through sub-regions with names like Vogtland and Erzgebirge, all with their own distinctive character. This is country with high relief, where winter sports are popular, and we climbed some of the steepest grades of our journey so far. One night was in the town of Oberwiezenthal, the highest city in Germany. After a day of over six hours of uphill, we rewarded ourselves with a night in a lovely old hotel, with a nice dinner, local brew, and the standard substantial German breakfast buffet.

One night was spent outside the town of Seiffen. This town is a tourist destination, primarily for the woodcraft and painted Christmas figures. John in his orange bike jersey fits in nicely with some of the local color, don´t you think?

This is our first trip to Europe. I came to Germany, the birthplace of my parents, with few pre-conceived expectations of what I would discover. But I was surprised to find things that have made me understand my parents so much more. Why they love wurst and potatoes - they are eaten at least once a day by most Germans, and admittedly the potatoes here taste so good. Especially the small new potatoes that my aunt purchased from a local farmer, so fresh and still covered with soil from the field. And why my mother loves to swim. Community swimming pools are in many German towns, and some are huge with green space all around. People come from all over on a hot day to swim and enjoy the sun (sometimes too much so they resemble the roasted sausages that they so love to eat). And many a German will wake up early in the morning to take a healthy dip in a natural lake if on is nearby. My mother did the same thing on many of our camping trips, even if it was an icy Sierra lake. And as our route took us closer to Dresden, my mother's birthplace, reminders from the German culture of my childhood pop up. One is the local style of woodcraft that we saw in Seiffen - the small Christmas figures were the same my mother set out during the holidays that I played with for hours as a young child. It made me miss my mother just a bit...

To the east of the city of Dresden is a landscape called the Elbsandsteingebirge -- the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. It is a mountain range dominated by distinctive weathering of horizontal sandstone layers. In this land of dense vegetation that obscures any indication of the underlying geology, we found that the Germans are quite proud of any rock outcrop. But this area is quite distinctive, popular among local rock climbers, and deserving of the attention it receives.

The mountain range can be experienced from roads that bisect the range, like the one we followed along the tracks of the tourist train to the town of Hinterhermsdorf.

From there we climbed high onto the plateau to a viewpoint known as the Bastei. From there the Elbe River could be seen far below.
The Bastei once housed a fortress, and a bridge was built connecting it to various strategic viewpoints. Now the bridge is choked with tourists that arrive by the busload.

A thrilling downhill ride dropped us to river level, where we once again viewed the celebrated rocks from below. We were now on the bike route known as the Elberadweg. Starting on the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, it goes along the Elbe River all the way to Hamburg in Northern Germany. It is probably one of the most popular cycling touring routes in Germany, and that means a lot in a country where bike touring is a celebrated sport. The route is downhill all the way as it travels to the river´s outlet at the North Sea, but spread out over hundreds of kilometers it is essentially flat. Which makes it accessible to all kinds of bike tourists. The most common variety of bike tourist are retiree-age folks, traveling in groups on upright bicycles with really comfy seats. They usually carry minimal baggage packed in rear panniers. Some have a special suitcase that straps right on the rack on the back -- just seconds from biking to hotel check-in. They often stay in rooms or pensions that advertise on signs prominently displayed along the route, enjoying culinary pleasures each night as a reward for pedaling most of the day. By this point on our trip we look a bit different, with our laundry hanging off our packs and an odd tan that stops mid-thigh and is more dark on the front of the leg than on the back. But what we share with our fellow tourists is the constantly changing landscape, which has become much easier for us here in the valley of the Elbe.

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Anonymous said...

Hallo Doris und John Reilly
Wir finden, es war eine großartige Leistung was Ihr beide gemacht habt.Sind durch den Artikel in der Springe-Bad Münder erschienen Sontags Zeitung auf eure Home Page gekommen.Viel Glück auf eure Fahrt nach Frankfurt und zurück in die USA.Good Luck Reyna und Klaus.

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