After our 5 nights in Berlin, our next big stop was Prague, in the Czech Republic. Prague is about 4.5 hours by train from Berlin. Conveniently about halfway, is the city of Dresden, which is part of the free state of Saxony in Germany, and near the Czech border. Most people are aware of Dresden because of the controversial bombing of the city by British and American forces during World War II. The bombing killed thousands, mostly civilians, and much of the inner city was destroyed. I’ve wanted to visit Dresden, to see some of its unique architecture, the rebuilding of the city and the beautiful river and buildings.
Since we are highly adverse to moving bags around more than necessary, and to one night stays in cities, it made sense to visit Dresden on our way through to Prague, as a day trip. Conveniently, pretty much all the trains go through Dresden, and it’s a very common stop for those travelling between Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest.
We were all up at 7am to be out by 8am for our trip to central station (Berlin Hauptbahnhof). There was still no breakfast supplies as we hadn’t found a supermarket that was open. They were due to reopen that day, but not before we had to depart. Luckily we were used to train station pastries and coffee for breaky (in fact the kids now demand them!).
In order to minimise walking with bags (we are all about not walking far with the bags……… unfortunately not something we managed later in the the day) w get to central via a 350m walk and tram. All very efficient and easy! There may have even been smugness at how easy it was…..
We did our usual dump of the bags at the correct platform, with Alan, the kids and myself, while Mikl and Anto went off to procure breakfast pastries and coffee. Our train was bound for Budapest (although we were stopping in Dresden, well short of there) and was fairly full of weary looking travelers.
We’d booked a first class cabin for this leg. Mostly because it was cheap! Our cabin was one of the annoying glass cabins with 6 seats in them, which require luggage to be stacked above the seats. We hadn’t had this style of cabin before on this trip and had the luggage stacked somewhat precariously above our heads for 2 hours. It was also a little squishy with 6 of us in there! At least we had various apple and custard pastries and coffees to help pass the time. This train did not have wi-fi or power, making our usual entertainment options more limited……
To pass some of the time the kids, Anto and Mikl go to visit the restaurant car. Mikl got some ham/bacon and eggs and Anto got a cold meat breakfast platter and hot choc that the kids shared.
We arrived in Dresden just before 11am and managed to get all our bags into only 3 lockers, which was a fair effort. The Dresden station is relatively new and quite big and nice. From there we head through the newer bit of town and took the 1.5km walk past lots of large shopping centres and shiny buildings. Naturally we went past a Christmas market or two as well!
We then started our wander through the old town. There are lots of baroque buildings, which are quite beautiful. Many have been restored after the bombings and most of the original buildings are black from are black from the fire bombing of the city during the war. In a small area we wandered past the Dresden castle (much less castle like than many we have seen on our travels), the opera house (Semper Oper) and Zwinger (a large museum). There was also the usual collection of impressive statues for Astrid and Soren to pose with!
The old town is set against the River Elbe which was looking very pretty in the sunny and relatively warm (for Winter) day. The Augustus bridge certainly stood out as been from a different era than the more modern bridges on either side of it.
We then walked back past into the old town and past one of the most famous restored buildings in Dresden, the Dresden cathedral (Katholische Hofkirche) which was restored in the 1980’s after being badly damaged during the war.
We then checked out the Furstenzug (porcelain murals of a mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony) that run along Augustusstrasse in old town. They are enormous and photos don’t do them justice! Astrid was quite impressed with the use of the name ‘Augustus’ throughout Dresden as it’s Soren’s middle name. Apparently the murals were put there just for him….. quite a while before he was born it would seem, as they were created between 1871 and 1876!
Dresden has quite a large Altmarkt (old city square), as our visit to Dresden was on a Sunday and between Christmas and New Year, there were a lot of people milling around and a host of street performers. These kept the kids amused…… until they spotted the horses. Then the horses were the hit attraction!
We had a good wander through the Altmarkt and Christmas markets but decided we wanted to sit down and relax for lunch. We decided on a German pub for lunch that was busy, not too expensive and as a bonus all the staff were in traditional outfits. I had a baked walnut, apple and camembert sandwhich. Anto and Mikl have the house specialties – sausages, bacon, pork medallion, smoked pork, cottage potatoes, beans, onion rings – the plate was bigger than their head! Alan has steak and baked potato and vegies. The pub had a really good kids menu, so we ordered the kid’s meal of crusted baked salmon, mash and carrots, which both of them wolfed down. Of course the drinks of choice were beer and gluhwein, and we had to try the apple strudel with vanilla sauce for dessert. We had a relaxing lunch and no one left hungry!
After lunch we wandered through the bustling Christmas markets briefly and then headed to Bruhl’s Terrace, which is nicknamed ‘the balcony of Europe’ as it stretches high above the River Elbe and is an excellent place for viewing the surrounding buildings, river, and people watching. There are quite a number of modern art pieces, which Astrid had to check out!
Hidden underneath part of Bruhl’s terrace are the remnants of a fortress (Festung Dresden). It is now open to the public, as a museum. We decided to have a look through the fortress. It was built in the 17th century and used for several Saxon campaigns and the Seven years war. It was also where porcelain was invented. The really cool thing about the fortress is that you can see out over the river and around the terrace, and people don’t even know you are there! We had been walking over the area, half an hour earlier, and despite knowing there was a fortress nearby, we couldn’t see it. Even though Astrid is getting very sick of castles and museums she enjoyed the fortress, mainly because we gave her an audio guide and trying to listen to the commentary and push the buttons in each section kept her amused!
The fortress didn’t take us very long to walk around and it was only a 5 Euro admission, so it’s worth seeing while in Dresden. The last photo above shows where the entrance to the fortress is, near some of the steps to the terrace. It’s pretty well hidden, as is the museum!
We’d sentenced Soren to the ergo after lunch, in the hope he’d sleep, he finally conked out after we left the fortress. As we wandered back towards the old town, we checked out the Dresden Frauenkirche, a Lutheran church that was destroyed during the bombings and left as a war memorial for 50 years, until being reconstructed after the reunification of Germany.
With a sleeping Soren, we did some window shopping in the Altmarkt and happened across yet more horses and some very large and friendly dogs. Soren would have been bitter, had he of been awake, as they are 2 of his very favourite things.
The Altmarkt also seemed to be a hot spot for entertainment. With large crowds milling around we heard some great music and wandered over to find someone playing a piano in the middle of the square. The sounds of classical music filling the very large square was drawing a pretty big crowd. We stood around watching for quite some time. The pianist was very good, then his trumpet playing friend joined in for a rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. It was very impressive and we got some video of it (which one day I’ll get around to uploading). Quite an unexpected treat for a Sunday afternoon in old town Dresden! These buskers were doing quite a bit better than the one about 50 metres away who was doing some half-hearted guitar playing.
Heading out of the square we decided to climb to the terrace of the Zwinger, mostly for some views. The Zwinger is a palace that was built in the Rococo style and served as an orangery, festival arena and exhibition gallery of the Dresden Court. It was a bit of a hidden gem. The building doesn’t look all that large from the front but once we were on the terrace it was clear how big it was, enclosing some amazing gardens. It also gave great views of the Dresden castle and had its own moat! There were lots of statues adorning the terrace, mostly of cherubs and angels. Astrid was quite a fan. The Zwinger houses several museums, including a porcelain museum, but they weren’t really our thing. It was worth checking out the building though for the views from the terrace and the gardens (this was free).
It was time to walk back through the new town and to train station. All the lights were coming on as it was now after 4pm. We arrived back at the train station just before sunset, a good 5.5 hours after first leaving it, and lots of walking later.
Back at the station, we found a supermarket to pick up some dinner supplies. It was going to be a train dinner tonight, with a fairly late arrival into Prague. With groceries procured, and now even more stuff to carry, we collected our luggage out of the lockers and headed up to our platform to await our train.
Our train to Prague was scheduled to leave Dresden at 5pm and was running on schedule. Unlike our morning train, we were in second class this time. Again in a 6 person glass cabin, but now having had practice we got the luggage all stored quickly and without too much danger of it falling on our heads! Also unlike our morning train experience, this train at least had power (still no wi-fi though).
For our train dinner, we make the kids sandwiches from meat procured at the supermarket and brie wheel that was still going from Copenhagen! I had some nice salads I got at the station and the boys make do with beer, brie and pastries from the supermarket (that weren’t that good but were cheap). The kids were very over-tired and of course refused to rest during the 2.5 hour trip. Not unexpected, but highly irritating! At least we didn’t drive anyone else in the train up the wall as we were in our own little glass box.
The train pulled into Prague central station (Praha Hlvani Nadrazi) at 7.30pm and we were already exhausted after a long day. It was now immediately obvious that we’d entered Eastern Europe and well and truly left Germany. My German might not be great but I can understand very little Czech!
Our carefully laid plan was to walk about 350m out of the train station and onto a tram and head towards our accommodation. Of course by the time we found our way out of the train station and located the correct tram stop (a fair way out of the station) we’d already walked a reasonable distance. According to our research we should have been able to buy tickets at the tram stop (no, we couldn’t) on the tram (and again, no). Once on the extremely packed tram, we just decided we’d have to play dumb tourist if we were pulled up. After a mere half an hour in Prague, we were already fare-evading. We later figured out that about 90% of locals do anyway……
The tram was supposed to take us about 12 stops, then it was a short walk to our Airbnb apartment. It’s always hard when you arrive into a city when it’s already dark and you are tired. We had no clue about any of the tram stops and were following a google map and the stop names on the tram sign. Our Czech was non-existant and we had no bearings for where we were going. All was going well though, and we were following the stops on our map……. until about 10 stops in and then the tram seemed to go off to totally different stops to what our map told us. We were split up throughout the tram, all holding bags. Astrid had a seat and had managed to fall asleep, and I had Soren in the ergo and a pile of bags. All a bit confused we decided to get off and figure out what to do. This involved waking Miss A up, and moving the mountain of luggage. Once off the tram it appeared we were only 1.5km away from where we wanted to be. With no idea why the tram had gone off-course and not really knowing whether to trust the google maps info any more, we decided to walk it, since we were tired and cold.
The 1.5km was mostly around the outside of a train station. Anto headed off to check if there was a way through the map wasn’t showing. He thought there was and it would cut 1km off the trip so off we set, dragging the bags. All was good until after a walk through the station and down a tunnel we hit tracks we couldn’t get across safely. So, we turned around and went all the way back and then still had to do the original 1.5km …….. which seemed to involve a very large uphill. When it’s dark and you don’t know where you are, everything seems further, the bags (and kids) are heavy and the walking stretches on forever. It felt like the walk was never going to end. I was plodding along carrying Soren, dragging Astrid and 2 heavy backpacks, camera bags and laptops. The poor boys had all the suitcases though…
While walking through the dark streets we saw a copious amount of police, all carrying weapons and going in groups into premises looking like they weren’t in a good mood. There was a bit of ‘uh-oh, why have we come here’. Turns out that Prague is just covered in police day and night, but it was a bit disconcerting on that first night.
We eventually made it to our apartment at about 9pm, and were faced with 5 flights of stairs. Once in the apartment though all was good. The hosts were there to meet us and give us information. They seemed as confused about the tram re-routing as we were. We were on the correct tram number and it should have dumped us a couple of hundred metres from the apartment. We had ongoing problems with google maps in Prague and there were several route and schedule changes over the Christmas and New Year period so this may have had something to do with it. On the upside our Airbnb hosts had left us a lovely plate of Czech biscuits that were very welcome after a long day.
Statistics for the 27th of December 2015 in Dresden, Germany: the minimum temperature was 8 degrees with a maximum of 13, and a mean of 10 degrees. We had been expecting near zero (or below) temperatures and likely snow, so it ended up being a fairly pleasant day weather wise. It was a long day with lots of walking, 15.5km all up, over 5km of it with luggage. Astrid walked all of it bar 1.5km in the morning where she got a lift in the ergo through Dresden. A 14km day was a good effort for a 4 year old!