Springing up in the mountains on the Polish-Czech border, the Labe river heads south and makes a U-turn north to cut a gorge through the hills of the “Saxon Switzerland” and onto Dresden. By the time we met it at Schirmanitz it was a mature river. At Strehla, from where today’s short ride commenced, it slides a long, a vast slap of water gliding past bluffs it cut many years ago and meandering across the pastures to check on the lower hills of the west-bank. Barges and cruisers ply their trade and numerous small ferries push back and forth. It will not reach the sea until after passing Hamburg. A very German river, now, of course called the Elbe.
The hotel Ambiente, in Strehla, runs a luggage service for cyclists. Deservedly popular the bile shed was full of trekking bikes and electric assisted sit up and begs. This was the touring style here. Only a handful of drop-handlebarred bikes made their way down the Elbe Radweg to Dresden that day .... and the only such tourers were ours. But the ase of riding a long river orute makes it appealing to all.
Swallows plated in the pastures between Meissen and Dresden, just as the storks had kept vigil on the hay bales between Riesa and Meissen. The vast Albrechtsburg, one end covered in scaffolding and netting grabbed the attention at Meissen, though we only visited Lidl. Dresden was the objective. An early arrival and time to look around.
Dresden seems to be another cycling city. Relatively flat and with some great infrastructure, cyclists and trams seem to have priority. As a tourist hotspot, much of the centre beyond the Post Platz (as the manager of the DJH told us wryly, “No post office there since 1945.”) is frequented by cyclists and pedestrians and only a few cars are allowed to infiltrate.Here are the rebuilt and surviving monuments to Dresden's heyday as a centre for art and culture under the patronage of the Electors and Kings of Saxony. The Furstenburg mosaic - which, remarkabley, survived the bombing of 1945, the Rezidenzschloss with its world-renowned art and craft collections, the great Frauenkirche with a glorious interior and a view from the dome along the river that may be all you need to see in Dresden if you are short of time ... and the Zwinger and the Opera House .... and more.
You can even take a tour of the city on a seven-seater conference bike. They can be seen in the main squares, awaiting you. If you have never been on one, just go for the experience; if you have then you’ll just have to put up with looking at the sights whilst spinning along without the novelty factor.
Contrast to the baroque elegance are the building sites and the communist era blocks awaiting demolition just across the way. Strange neighbours.
I will come back to look at Dresden more deeply. As with much of British knowledge of German history, we think of the events of the Second World War, but it has much more to offer in terms of its history and contemporary cycling and cultural scene. There is even the intriguingly named German Hygiene Museum.
Tomorrow we will head into the hills where the Elbe has cut a gorge for cycle-path builders to build a cycle route. By the time we reach the hotel in Teschen, the river will be called the Labe and the town Decin, for we will be in the Czech Republic.
For information, today’s journey was a gentle 42 miles. Most on a very good asphalt surface wide end for four or even six bikes. Occasional stretches of the good old cobbles - alright, setts - often quite short appeared for no apparent reasons and on the side-roads in villages. But overall, a much smoother ride than in some parts of Eastern Germany. That may well be a reflection of the routes popularity and its contribution to rejuvenating commercial activity in the communities along the banks.
A highlight came at lunchtime. We sat on a bench outside a house and ate bread, cheese, tomatoes and Bismarck Herrings. An elderly gentleman came to talk to use. We got a long with gestures and a few shared words. His man concern seemed to be that, as he had taken responsibility for this bit of cycle track, we should leave no litter. He, and I, would have liked to talk more. His final words before saying goodbye may reflect the views of many Germans of his age. i translate, roughly; “At school we had to learn Russian. It was not good.”