Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Germany Day Six

Day Six -- Auf Wiedersehn Berlin, Guten Tag Dresden!

One more time with the standard breakfast. It really is good and I guess I am a creature of habit. Christian was very sweet when I left and wanted to make sure I’d had a good time as I’d asked for very little help from him, so he wasn’t sure if I did.

I will highly recommend Christian at Pension Bregrenz, on Bregrenzer Strasse, off Ku’dam. Five nights with en suite bath and breakfast was 300 euro, so that’s about $80 a night. Quiet, clean, efficient, what more could you ask for?

Today was the day I moved on to Dresden. I was ready for a bit of a change, I think if I did it again, I would stay one less day in Berlin before moving on. But I’ve done well so far and looking forward to seeing Dresden. I remember years ago Conde Nast Traveler did a feature on Dresden and the photos of the Frauenkirk after it being rebuilt are ingrained in my memory. I just want to see it!

Every time I think about train travel on vacation, I immediately cringe, I think because I am a jaded commuter at home. I always forget how easy it is. Having pre-paid and pre-booked online, my printed ticket already had which platform, which car, and which seat I’d be in on both journey to and from. (In Europe on longer journeys it is advisable to reserve a seat, not just pay the fare; they are two separate charges). So I waited exactly in the spot on the platform where the sign behind me said my carriage would stop and it did. The hardest part of it was getting my suitcase on, not because it was heavy but because it was just hard getting it up the two very narrow steps. But I dropped it in the luggage rack inside the door and took my seat. Watched a movie on my iPod and before I knew it, I was in Dresden.

It was a very quick, cheap taxi ride to my hotel, which is the brand new (opened in April) Swissotel. I booked it a few weeks before it even opened, and got a very good special rate (let’s not kid ourselves here, I would not be in Swissotel on their regular rates!). The location is spectacular. Out the front door and 15 paces across the little road is the entrance to the castle complex, where I’ll be going tomorrow morning for the Green Vault. As the taxi drove into the road, I saw Frauenkirk first, right behind the hotel! Amazing. I was here!

Check-in was quick and efficient and very, very friendly. I got an involuntary upgrade, so I am on the top floor in a grand room. King bed, living room with sofa and chair, bathroom with waterfall shower. There could be no more reason to be happy except, oh, I dunno, a pillow menu! Yes, I ordered up two extra firm to make up for the soft fluffy ones I’d slept on the last 5 nights. And the mini bar is empty, because I’m supposed to call and tell them how to stock it. I could just stay here for two days and be very happy.

Except that it’s gorgeous out and warm and sunny and I need to see Dresden. So I grabbed my Rick Steves guide and headed out to do his Baroque walk around my new neighborhood. At the top of the road is the Catholic Church and clock tower. Around the corner is the Opera House and the back side of the Zwinger. The walking tour heads up over the Zwinger courtyard and then down a grand set of steps into the courtyard where the four sides of the Zwinger surround me. Finally I get to the steps of Frauenkirke and it dawns on me that I’m really here!

This is all Baroque architecture, but what is notable is that Dresden was leveled in WWII (1943, I believe) and all of this has been rebuilt. Everything. Except in the case of the truly historic buildings, they weren’t rebuilt in modern style (like I saw in Berlin) but rather in their original forms. They say Dresden was rebuilding for 50 years. And then the flood of 2002 hit, just as it did in Prague, and restoration on a lot had to begin again.

Speaking of Prague, that is really what Dresden feels like to me, in a way. A lot of what I’m seeing reminds me of it, with the spires of the churches and the squares where the focal point is a church or churches. I like how compact the old town is and how easy it is to meander and wind up right back where I started. There’s not a lot of navigation and it’s hard to get lost. It’s a great mental break from the big city feel of Berlin. But Dresden is nothing to sneeze at size-wise at 530,000 or so. It’s no small town.

Somewhere in my wandering I had lunch of a piece of thick toasted pita with melted sour cream cheese and ham on it. It hit the spot. After lunch I started to meander a street market in the square up the street. It reminded me a lot of the stalls in the Christmas market in Paris, which is to say lots to look at, not a lot I would buy. The food looked good but I’d already eaten. As much as I felt I should keep exploring, going to the Dresden Zoo with the hopes of seeing their 8 week old lion cubs was nagging at me. Finally I figured if what I wanted to do was be at the zoo, at the zoo I would go.

I hopped on the tram #9 which had a “Zoo” stop on it and four stops later (less than 10 minutes) I was at Dresden Zoo. Map in hand, I headed straight for the lion enclosure. At first I saw just a male and a female, but rounded the corner and found an enclosure with two little lion cubs in it, a male and a female. I stood there longer than I care to admit and took way too many photos, but got to see them sleep, play, eat meat (or play with it, I doubt they’re on meat yet) and interact with their parents. When Dad came in, you could tell he rules the roost and that they bow down to him. It was really impressive. I am glad I went, just for the cubs, but the zoo itself is nice, compact and well kept. They have a nice collection of animals, but if you weren’t standing there watching cubs for over an hour, you could probably see the whole thing in about 45 minutes.

I headed back to my hotel to get ready for dinner. I’d reserved restaurants for both nights I was here, because I was attracted to two menus in particular. Tonight I ate at PulverTurm. This was a sort of “theme” restaurant in a cellar. The staff wear period costumes and there are roving musicians playing German folk songs and at one point, the Irish drinking song Wild Rover. Tonight I had the potato soup with sausage, veal medallions with tomato and goat cheese over herbed baby potatoes and a cherry parfait with what the menu said was avocado and cherry ice cream, but I can’t be convinced that was avocado, I just can’t tell what it was. Overall the appetizer and entrĂ©e were excellent. I’d pick something else for the dessert next time. I had a glass of goldenriesling with the meal which was tasty. Again, I’m in love with the whites here!

I spent some time after dinner retracing the walking tour route to take night photos. It really is a pretty area all flood lit.

Just as I got near my hotel, in the tunnel under the castle were two young opera singers singing there on the street. I love really good street music and these two were really good, and singing in the tunnel made them sound incredible. I stood there for about a half hour taking it in before I decided to call it a night.

Arriving back at my room, I found the turndown service had been in. They had gathered my paperback off the night table and arranged it on a tv tray with a sudoku puzzle, the tv remote and a Toblerone. They better stop or I could get used to this!

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