Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 4

Posted by admin on July 4th, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel

Sunday, June 30th, 2013
Sonntag, 30. Juni 2013

We awoke early and dressed, excited about our free hotel breakfast. They served meats and cheeses, yogurt, grains, boiled eggs, coffee and juice, fruit, jams and breads. I stuck with the yogurt, cheese, eggs, fruit and coffee, but enjoyed it a lot! Knowing our rental car pickup time wouldn’t allow us to return before checkout time, we packed our bags and left them with the hotel staff, promising to return by noon.

We rode the U-bahn back toward the zoo station, found the rental car office and were told we could come in about half an hour early for the car. To kill time, we walked toward the Tiergarten, enjoying the beautiful morning, the uncrowded Sunday-morning sidewalks, and the comedy inevitable in each others’ company. We caught Mom up on some pop culture references and explained the concept of “That’s what she said”, which she started utilizing pretty quickly. (Yay Mom!)

We stopped for coffee and a bathroom break in a bar that smelled like it had yet to close from Saturday evening, and while moving to our table, saw a Boxer (dog) sleeping hidden away in a window sill. For those of you who know us, you’ll recognize that this pretty much made our day. =)

We continued on to pick up the rental car, inspect it and double check that it included all the safety equipment required in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria (emergency triangle, reflective vest, first aid kit, etc.). Finally we all got in and buckled up; I turned the key and we pulled out of the driveway, starting our adventure!

Then the car stalled.

Most of the European rentals are manual transmission and due to a convergence of multiple criteria, cost and convenience, I became the designated driver for the trip. Though I’ve had several years of experience driving stick shifts, I bought an automatic recently and am out of practice. It took me a few mid-road stalls to get the hang of a clutch again, but with relatively minimal cursing and no bodily or chassis damage, I drove back to our hotel on the other side of downtown Berlin.

Thankfully we have Laura to navigate. She’s got a knack for the job and she’s already visited most of the places we want to travel. With multiple maps, her largely infallible sense of direction and her own familiarity with our destinations, we have yet to get lost.

We did take an impromptu side trip though.

Along the highway, nearby cities each get a big brown sign with their name and a simplistic illustration of their attractions. Most look uninteresting. One had a small sail boat, one had a factory and a rose, several have outlines of steeples. We were looking for a place to take a break and, based on an interesting looking sign, Laura picked a town none of us had heard or read about.

We exited and followed the roundabout road signs that guided us the long way around to Meissen. Approaching the town, a castle and church are immediately visible, rising out of a hill in downtown.  We parked in the city center, put an hour’s worth in the parking meter, and hiked up the hill:

The castle and cathedral are above the rest of the city, and after winding around a number of zigzagged roads, we ended up in the castle square. Apparently, if you know the way, you can just drive up there:

But the walk was fun and well worth it. The view is beautiful and bucolic and the castle and cathedral are impressive:

The castle size is deceptive. We went in the lobby and didn’t expect that paying the entrance fee for the castle would be worthwhile. I think it was maybe 12 euro per person. But they offer a 10-day pass for free or discounted entry to many of the Saxony castles for 20 euro per person, and offered a spontaneous additional 10 euro off and three free audio guides if we bought three passes, so we figured “what the hell” and bought in, still not expecting much.  We had less than 45 min left on our parking meter, so we planned to rush through. It didn’t look that big anyway.

The front desk clerks set up our audio guides and directed us to the door for entry to the castle.

Two or three steps in, we were hooked.  The staircase is a spiral one, which was one-of-a-kind for it’s time (and today!).

I took a couple pictures (including the ones above) but they didn’t really come out and after-the-fact I found out you’re supposed to pay extra for picture-taking privileges. We should have done so – it would have been MORE than worth the cost (3 euros?) – but I’m glad we didn’t because I’d never be able to upload them all. But there are several websites with much better pictures of the castle than I could ever take:

Google images search “Albrechtsburg castle”:  https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-a&hs=b2B&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&q=albrechtsburg+castle&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.48705608,d.Yms&biw=1366&bih=596&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=de&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=KtfVUenDCYjOtAbOhYCgBw

Some other pictures and info: http://www.sights-and-culture.com/Germany/meissen.html

Article on new exhibits there: https://archrecord.construction.com/projects/recordinteriors/2011/albrechtsburg-meissen.asp
with short, but colorful slide show: https://archrecord.construction.com/projects/recordinteriors/2011/Albrechtsburg-Meissen-slideshow.asp

The slideshow in the link immediately above includes drawings of the floor plan of the castle, which may or may not help explain why the castle is such a maze.  We had access to four floors (I think), but the layout is not intuitive and several changes during the castle’s existence led to multiple paths throughout and between each floor. Felt like a castle that a kid would dream up. Very fantastic! =D

I hope to write more about it later, but besides the BEAUTIFUL and innovative architectural craftsmanship, impressive parquet work, lovely paintings, and majestic windows, the castle also served as a porcelain-making factory to match the porcelain craze of the time. Almost every castle we’ve seen since has an extensive porcelain collection (with some pretty absurd and gaudy pieces) and each collection has works from the Meissen factory. While in Dresden, we passed a shop with the name Meissen that sells jewelry and porcelain pieces, so I guess they’re still at it to some extent. The top floor of the castle, I think, was dedicated to exhibits about the porcelain making years in the castle and had several interactive exhibits for kids and well as amazing displays for kids and adults.

One other interesting thing is that many of the rooms in the Meissen and other Saxony castles were heated by large porcelain tile stoves (if you search Google Images for “German tile stove”, several examples come up). They vary in size from the size of a person to gigantic heaters. Have never seen anything like them before. Here is an informative link: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2008/12/tile-stoves.html

Anyway, after one and a half floors, our paid parking interval was due to run out, so we walked back down to the car to feed meter. Here are some pictures of the town during our descent:

…and our return to the castle after feeding the meter (I wasn’t confident we could survive the drive up to the castle, so we left the car downtown):

We picked up where we left off in the castle and spent almost another two hours roaming around, reading the informative plaques (available in German & English) and listening to the audio guide. Laura got separated from us and Mom and I kept an eye out for her, but began to worry when we didn’t run across her on the second floor or the next. We checked the third floor together, then split up to check the second and first separately. With two separate staircases servicing each floor and multiple entrances/exits to each room, it’s nearly impossible to “sweep” the castle. You’d need a lot more people for that task. So Mom and I went out to check the cathedral grounds, then waited outside, around the exit almost until closing, figuring she’d have to come out eventually.

Eventually she did and we continued on to the cathedral. You’re supposed to pay a separate fee for entrance there (the castles pass doesn’t cover it), but since it was nearly closing time, the cashier let us in for a few minutes to look around and take some hasty pictures.

After the cathedral closed, we returned to the car, stopped to for a coffee-and-bathroom break at the local McDonald’s, then continued our journey to Dresden (which was very difficult on a Sunday evening, with most stores closed and no good map of Dresden). We eventually stopped at a gas station and bought a Dresden to get us the last few miles to the hostel Mom had booked.

We arrived at City Herbage in Dresden – a very soviet-looking building that is completely modernized inside – and settled into our beautiful room. The price included breakfast (which turned out to be delicious), but didn’t include a private bath. The shared bathrooms are also newly renovated, clean, relatively large and quite comfortable.

We freshened up then walked downtown for dinner, passed up a lively Mexican restaurant (that got several great European reviews and one very bad review from someone who sounds like they know what TexMex really tastes like) and settled on a large Indian restaurant with alluring smells and delicious dishes (but only one waitress working, poor girl). The meal was tasty end to a long, wonderful day.

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