Day 4 | Dresden – Litomerice (68 miles)

The rain had stopped and it was a bright sunny day. As we wended our way out of Dresden, we had to avoid a big marathon event which was setting off from the city centre.  If you live in Dresden, or in any of the towns along its bank, the quite understandable thing to do on a Sunday is to take a stroll or enjoy a bike ride. So the beautiful path was heaving with life and we had to dodge our way around families with push chairs, kids on bicycles and tourists on bike trips.  The scenery and the houses along the bank were spectacular and despite the many hazards we made great progress stopping at the scenic town of Pirna for a quick snack.

One of the strange things about the Elbe is that there are practically no bridges across it. Another odd thing (or perhaps money making wheeze) is that occasionally the cycle path will simply come to an end…with a signpost saying that it continues on the other side.  Cunningly there are little boat ferries which for 2 euro take bikers across. So we duly made the crossing over and then back as the path jumped from side to side of the river. 

 Once again we struck lucky with lunch at a stylish (but slow) bio restaurant in Schmilka, just on the German border.   We had been looking forward to getting out our passports and being interrogated at the Czech border but in the event it was a massive anti-climax being just an old pole with a sign on it.  Strangely, once into Czech the scenery changed instantly. Gone were the pretty houses and villages which had been lining the river for our last 40 miles. Instead, just the natural beauty of the river itself. Gone also were all the other people. The town of Bad Schandau seems to be the point at which all the German tourists turn back and we were suddenly and spookily alone.

The first town we reached after about 10 miles made us feel no better about Czech. Frankly it would make Slough look like a pretty village. The grim and graffitied buildings had the air of a run down Soviet era industrial zone. We couldn’t get out fast enough.  We realised we still had many miles to our destination and to pass the time we started learning some Czech words starting with ‘hello’ (debreeden – think Deborah Meaden). We tried this out on every one we met along the way usually getting blank and grumpy looks in return. Toby won the game getting 5 positive acknowledgements to my 2.

On and on we pedalled as the river wound and turned. At about 4.30 with 25 miles still to go we realised that we would have to abandon the river and take a much more direct route (just 11 miles) but one which would go over the mountains (well, very big hills) around which the Elbe wound it’s way.  So, at the town of Velke Brezno we left the flat river path for the extraordinarily steep cross country route to Litomerice. The extreme pain of going up and up for what felt like an eternity was only partly relieved by the exhilaration of a high speed descent, peaking at just over 37 miles per hour.  At 6.30pm, after 68 tough miles we finally arrived.

The hotel room felt like a film set from the 1960s with a big lamp (that didn’t work), 3 black plastic armchairs, an old fashioned TV and 3 tiny beds.  The town is very attractive (a big cobbled square, a huge church and a museum) and we were directed to a fabulous cellar restaurant where we ate a delicious meal of slow cooked lamb.  

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Day 3 | Torgau – Dresden (63 miles)

 One of the trade offs we make every day is, do we go for speed and choose a direct but dull route along the road or do we go for beauty and choose a pretty but circuitous route that might add 10 miles or so to our journey? It’s tricky because we want to see the best scenery – but we also want to arrive at our destination still breathing and with time to visit it. Today we were heading for Dresden so we decided to compromise and select a fast, boring road for the first 40 miles to Riesa and then to pick up the river path and follow the Elbe. 

 It was a good choice and the path along the Elbe was stunning. It also made us feel good because we usually get overtaken by faster (and lighter) bikes but we delighted in passing various bike tours of ‘older’ tourists and leaving them in our vanishing wake. It was also fun to be going faster than the big tour boats that plough this route. 
 The only downside of the river path was that whenever we went through a village, the path changes to cobblestones and our bikes shake and rattle so much that it feels like a pneumatic drill going through our body. Our arms feel like jelly and every part of our bikes are thrown wildly around. 

 The day was initially very hot but quickly turned humid. Then to rain and finally to thunder with the most dramatic lightning bolts electrifying the sky on all sides. Are cyclists safe from lightning we wondered – the metal clip shoes probably don’t help?    

Arriving in Dresden in the pouring rain we walked around the spectacular city enjoying the Zwinger, Opera house and the many other imposing buildings. It is a fabulous city – and although we ended up eating in a touristy Italian restaurant and waiting ages for our very average dinner – we thoroughly enjoyed our brief visit. 

 

Day 2 | Beelitz – Torgau (65 miles)

….and didn’t sleep a wink, or so it felt   
Somehow the sleepy town of of Beelitz turns into a super highway after midnight and massive trucks seem to thunder through the quiet streets, their noise magnified by the cobbled paving of the road. Every 15 minutes another one roared past, timed to coincide with the exact moment when I was just about to doze off.
Toby slept equally badly, so we dragged ourselves down to breakfast and then after stocking up on bananas, sweets and chocolate we set off on our 65 mile trip in 29 degree heat to Torgau.

It didn’t take long before Garmi was back to his old tricks getting us to turn right into an asparagus field on a path of sand…yes, sand!

Now we have road bikes..as the name suggests they like the road. They don’t much like cobbles (and we had a fair few of them later in the day), but they really hate sand. Toby fell off almost immediately and it was clear we could not possibly go on.

So we turned back, retraced our steps and found a road going in the right direction.   Back on our bikes, the memories of our French trip flooded back….how sore your backside gets after an hour or so in the saddle; how heavy our bikes are with the panniers on; how boring a long straight road of fields can be ; how slowly the miles tick down ; how sparsely populated so much of Europe is…and how few bakeries (none) or restaurants there are on the quiet roads we take. So on we cycled along the flat roads past pretty (and ugly) tiny villages – with the houses generally built with huge triangular sloping roofs that almost come down to ground level. We had almost despaired of finding anywhere to eat lunch and were merrily stuffing ourselves with Twix and Haribo when miraculously we came across a guest house in the middle of nowhere. We were the only customers but they produced a menu (incomprehensible as usual). We pointed randomly at 2 items and I got a sardine pasta and Toby a steak. Truly welcome.  Feeling revitalised we set off on our final 25 miles finally arriving at Torgau just after 5.30.  Torgau is exactly why we do these trips…a beautiful town on the Elbe with a huge walled castle – a fabulous place to stumble across…and not a town that would ever be on anyone’s travel plans, unless you were cycling from Berlin to Dresden.   A comfortable hotel (misleadingly called the Central although it was somewhat on the outskirts), and.another good meal (chosen in the usual random way). We feel useless with our 3 word German vocabulary…although we did learn a few new ones today including ‘gute fahrt’ (have a good trip) and Rathous (town hall). 

Day 1 | Berlin – Beelitz (33 miles)

It was the day of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic games when Toby and I arrived in Port Grimaud after our epic bike ride from Calais.

Since then, our bikes have gathered dust and we have gathered kilos.

So it is with much excitement that 3 years on, the Chamois has been packed, the bikes serviced and Garmi (our not so trusty sat nav) has awakened from his hibernation.

Getting the bikes packed for their first flight was no mean feat, but all cosy and bubble wrapped we set off at 5.30am to Heathrow.

The fact that we are leaving at all is something of a miracle.

Last Friday Toby returned from Barcelona with horrendous Glandular Fever and a vicious raw rash covering his body from head to toe. Amazingly, after a dose of steroids and an ongoing anti-biotic treatment he has risen from the dead and (for now) is 100% recovered.

So having cancelled everything on Tuesday, we rebooked on Wednesday and left on Thursday .

How we love British Airways. They took our bikes without batting an eyelid and delivered them back to us in Berlin in pristine condition and after a comfortable and on time flight.  We lugged the bike bags onto the Airport bus (a bargain at 2.40 Euro) and then spent an hour or so figuring out how to re-attach the mudguard, saddle, handle bars, and wheels in the right order. Amazingly, we did it and then had to sneakily dispose of a mountain load of bubble wrap in various bins around Alexanderplatz.  A quick trip to the post office to post back our bike travel bags.

   

After a delightful Vietnamese lunch with Toby’s friend Ivo we did a quick cycle tour of Berlin (Brandenburg Gate ; Holocaust memorial and Checkpoint Charlie), before setting off at 4pm for our first destination – some 30 miles south of Berlin.

  

 An easy flat ride -assisted by an ice cream stop – led us to the pretty but deserted town of Beelitz. Not a car nor a pedestrian. Not a dog, not a bird. 

However, to our astonishment the hotel was expecting us and directed us to a little restaurant in a delightful courtyard a few streets away. As we don’t speak German and they didn’t speak a word of English we had no idea what we were going to get. It turned out to be white asparagus (the local delicacies), pork chop followed by strawberries. Simply wonderful.  Totally shattered we lay our heads down and………