Way back in August when I was browsing websites, blogs and travel guides I stumbled across the small(er) town of Dresden and decided it seemed like a good place to stop. Then I let some friends get into my mind and wanderlust get the best of me; I threw out those plans and instead thought I'd venture into Poland for a few days. Funny how things tend to work themselves out though, after a few days in Berlin I was canceling my bus and CS host in Poland while scrambling to put together plans for Dresden. Things worked out surprisingly well for me; I booked a cheap bus and arranged not one but two possible Couchsurfing hosts, only a day before my departure, more proof that you don't have to plan everything ahead in Europe.
To continue with my interesting mix of Couchsurfing hosts (Egyptian and Iranian thus far) my host in Dresden was originally from Indonesia, a place near and dear to my heart. The first night was spent sharing travel stories, Reychan couldn't believe I have been to Klaten, and a delicious homemade pasta bake. I spent my first day exploring the city, originally planning to walk but eventually giving in and buying the day transportation pass, allowing me to see more in less time. A brief walk through Grobrer (Big) Garden led me to the Volkswagen Glaserne Manufaktur (Transparent Factory). From here it was just a short walk to the historic center.
I'm not a big fan of museums, especially ones you have to pay an arm and a leg for but I can appreciate beautiful architecture. The historic center is full of impressive buildings, beginning with Bruehl's Terrace I walked slowly through the center, taking in both the buildings and people (tourists are an interesting breed of people to observe). I made a stop at Frauenkirche, the original Church of Our Lady, but didn't bother paying to climb the tower, you can only have so many "city views from the tower" photo's in your travel album. Before crossing the river I also stopped by the Zwinger Palace and SemperOper, both impressive buildings.
Catching a tram across the river led me into Neustadt which is a more lively and less touristy area of the city. I grabbed some snacks and relaxed on a park bench for more people watching and planning the rest of my afternoon. After this break I ventured deeper into Neustadt, checking out the Kunsthofpassage, known for a building that 'plays music' when it rains, along with various shops, cafes and restaurants. Just as I was contemplating what to do next, Reychan contacted me and said he'd be happy to meet up.
We traveled further east to visit some castles (converted to hotels and restaurants) as well as the stretch of the Elbe River Valley which has been un-UNESCO'd. Apparently, there are only two such sights in the world, this one loosing it's recognition after a large four lane highway (Waldschlosscen) bridge was built across the river, which UNESCO was apparently not a fan of. We finished the afternoon with a bus ride down the 'steepest street in Dresden', another walk across the river and finally a chicken dinner near Reychan's apartment.
The next day I had plans to meet another Couchsurfing host for a day of hiking in Saxony, "the only reason to visit Dresden" according to my last host in Berlin. I was prepared to catch the train and explore myself but Christian was more than happy to meet up for the day and also willing to drive, Couchsurfing for the win again! Although I'm sure I could have navigated the route myself as there were plenty of other tourists around, it was nice having a local guide to show me the way and share some information. It turns out Christian is an avid rock climber and has visited this area numerous times for thus reason; he even brought his gear along should I decide I wanted to give it a try.
Our hike must have followed the path least visited by tourists as we didn't encounter many until we neared the top. It was at that point that I realized we weren't so much on a nature hike as we were on a path to new development. Our destination was the Bastei bridge, an impressive rock formation at the top of the mountain, but what I didn't realize is the local tourism industry has capitalized on this and placed a restaurant and hotel just down the road. As we emerged from the woods we fell onto a paved road, now having to dodge cars and tourists buses as we finished our journey. There's nothing more annoying than enjoying a day in nature, feeling like you've really earned a reward for your journey than being met by hoards of heel wearing, camera toting, follow-the-flag tourists. Despite the crowds however the views were gorgeous, but we didn't stay long before continuing on down a less populated path back to town.
After our day in wilderness Christian offered for me to join him and his Couchsurfing guests for dinner and drinks in Neustadt. Frankly, I was growing sick of my company, or I may have just been "hangry" as I soon noticed my stomach churning with hunger pangs. I decided the addition of a few more travelers might lighten the mood, and a burger sounded delicious, so I decided to go along. A delicious meal, good company (two more Germans and a solo traveler from Spain), and a few beers rounded out a final evening in Dresden. It was a short visit, but one well worth the change in directions. I was shown a different side of Germany, a place in great contrast to the liveliness of Berlin, made a few new friends, and also benefited from a day in nature. Not only that, but my re-routing allowed me to squeeze Switzerland into the mix and drop-in on another travel friend, a girl I hadn't seen since the sun, sand and our crazy horse days in the Philippines.