Berlin Hauptbahnhof (photo source: Wikipedia)
We’d enjoyed our time in Berlin and, in some ways, were reluctant to leave. There was lots more to see and do. But we were also looking forward to seeing Prague. We’d booked rail tickets in advance so made our way from our hotel to the main railway station by S-Bahn arriving with plenty of time to spare. We’d booked first class tickets as they weren’t that much more expensive than second class, so that allowed us to use the first class lounge in the station, with free drinks and croissants, while we waited for the time our train was due.
(photo source: Wikipedia)
A short while before our train was scheduled to arrive, we made our way to the platform, which was very busy, so it looked like the train would be packed. But we had our seat reservations so that shouldn’t have been a problem. When the train arrived chaos ensued. One of the two first class carriages that should have been on the train was missing – ours! As we boarded the train we were told that seats have been re-allocated and we were verbally told our new seat numbers. Of course somebody was sitting in one of our seats. He moved, reluctantly. The train set off and it was obviously pretty much full. In the sole first class carriage confusion reigned with people sitting in the wrong seats and others without reservations sitting where they shouldn’t have been. Our experience with Virgin trains in the UK is that they would have washed there hands of it all, cancel seat reservations and let everyone fight it out between themselves. But all credit to the German guard. She listened patiently and sorted it all out, quietly insisting people move if necessary. I wasn’t impressed by the chaos but was by the way she sorted out the mess.
After everything settled down we were able to relax and enjoy the journey. The train itself wasn’t as nice as I’d expected. The service ran from Hamburg to Budapest via Berlin, Dresden and Prague and the carriages were Hungarian and a little worse for wear. But the seats were fairly comfortable and we had plenty of leg room so I was able to relax, watch the world go by through the window and read. The toilets were a little rough – they reminded me of those we used to have on the old Inter-City trains in the UK.
The route took us through some pleasant, flat countryside down as far as Dresden. But after that the route went along the River Elbe valley, the first part through the stunning scenery of “Saxon Switzerland” with it’s rugged, wooded hills.
(Image source here)
As the train was moving fairly slowly through the valley, I managed to take a few photographs with my phone. They are a little blurry but give an impression of the fantastic scenery.
The sandstone cliffs have been weathered and worn into a series of fantastic sculptured pillars, towers and arches and we could see buildings and bridges crossing over from one peak to another
Here’s a close up from the previous picture.
The river itself looked very pleasant and inviting.
There was a cycle path running along the bank, canoeists and pleasure boats on the river and we could see people perched precariously on top of some of the rocky cliff tops.
The scenery continued after we crossed the Czech border (we knew this had happened after the last stop in Germany when the crew changed and we started getting announcements in Czech over the tannoy and a Czech guard came along to check our tickets).
At one point we passed a castle built on top of a the cliffs. I wasn’t quick enough and missed taking it’s picture, but a little research on the web revealed that it was Strekov castle.
(picture source from Regional government website)
Wikipedia tells us that the castle
was built at the beginning of the 14th century on a basalt rock above the river Labe* protect the important waterway and to collect duties. Střekov castle enchanted many world known artists notably Richard Wagner who was inspired to write a poem that served as basis for the libretto to the opera Tannhäuser.
(*The Labe is the Czech name for the Elbe)
As we travelled further into the Czech Republic there was more evidence of industrial activity and eventually we reached a wider, flatter valley with less interesting scenery.
The journey took about 4 1/2 hours. It ran a little late and we arrived in Prague about half an hour behind schedule. But still with plenty of time to make our way to our hotel, settle in and explore the old town during the late afternoon before we got something to eat.
Saxon Switzerland looked like a really good place for an active holiday – canoeing, walking and climbing. A little research revealed that a number of companies organise bike trips along the river from Prague (which is on one of the Elbe’s tributaries) to Dresden. Given that there’s a cycle path all along the route, it shouldn’t be too difficult and is something to consider for the future (but there’s too many things to see and do and too little time)