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Thursday, August 3, 2017

A village with charming ambiance, excursions to Bad Shandau, the rock formations at Bastei, an impressive castle, and an unexpected Canaletto encounter!

We've been here in the small village of Stadt Wehlen for the past four days. Tonite is our last night. It’s an idyllic little place. One of the houses directly across the river is, in fact. Called Elbe Idyll.  The Elbe is the river  on  which we are situated directly.  The town has a few restaurants and cafes, a shop that makes candies by hand, and another that makes soaps. We are just a five minute walk from the little main plaza. There’s a couple of hotels, and tons of places with signs saying “ferianhaus”  or holiday house.  We’ve eaten breakfast here every morning, usually had some kind of snack instead of lunch, pastry or ice cream, cooked dinner here a couple of times, eaten out the others. It’s a nice balance.  

We’ll head out shortly for dinner, for our last night. The town is fairly busy during the day, with people coming through on bicycles, hiking, by the boats that ply the river, by ferry from across the river, and on tourist busses. But it’s pretty quiet at night. 

We’ve driven to several of the towns and sites nearby. Most impressive was Bastei, an area of spectacular sandstone rock formations, a scenic stone bridge, and the remains of a medieval fortress built into the rocks. Loring hiked up there a couple of days ago from the village of Rathen, while I strolled around the town taking photos and looking at tacky souvenirs.  At the top, about a 40 minute hike, he encountered hordes of tourists who had come in by car and bus from the other side. It was so crowded he had to elbow his way through to see anything. But the hike itself had been enjoyable.
 Today we approached it from the road, a few hours earlier in the day, and missed most of the crowds.  The formations are massive and impressive, and the views of the Elbe and the surrounding towns are too. We could easily see our own village just around a bend in the river. It was a photo online of the formations and bridge that had first drawn my attention when researching the trip.

One day, we went to Bad Shandau, named for the mineral waters that were discovered there some centuries ago.   I’d seen ads for a place called Toscana, with sauna, massage, health services, and a mineral swimming pool with underwater music and, I think, some kind of light show. If Loring had been inclined to go on another hike, I would have considered spending a couple of hours there, but may not have liked it much anyway. And if there is anything remaining of the old baths, I couldn’t find any reference to it.

On our way back from Bad Shandau, we stopped and spent several hours at Castle Konigsberg, perched high on top of more rock formations, and huge. It is supposedly the largest fortress castle in Europe. It was certainly huge,  with ramparts surrounded some 50 buildings. It’s been used on and off through the centuries as a castle, a hunting retreat for the king, a prison for world war I prisoners of war, a hospital, a facility for disturbed juveniles during the cold war (ie: to retrain them to espouse the politics of the regime) and, since 1955, as a museum.  It is so large you can easily get lost within the compound. And I did. 

Our arrangement was to meet at the elevator that brings you up to the top ( big enough to fit a small truck in, and it did.) I wandered around the ramparts and compound for what seemed like at least a half hour before finally finding the place. In the meantime, I’d come across a museum on the grounds, about the history of the fortress., with explanations in English, which we’d been hard put to find through our wanderings around the compound. So, we went back, toured through the museum, and learned some more about the castle’s history.  In the entry hall, they had an area with period dress ups for kids.  Throughout the museum, we kept encountering children in costumes. One was being pushed, all dressed up, in a wheel chair. It added a nice touch.

I’d mentioned Canelletto, the artist,  before. We’d fortuitously discovered, through a book in our house, that he’d painted many scenes of Pirna, a a town near here, in the  1770’s. At the castle, we also discovered that one of the Kings, a George I believe, had also commissioned Canelletto to paint scenes of the castle.  Today we visited Pirna, and walked around the old marketplace, where some of the buildings are still recognizable from the Canelletto paintings. The woman at the tourist office told us that he painted twelve scenes of Pirna. None of the originals are there, but some are in Dresden, so we may see them there if we have the time. They did have photos of all of them, and a meticulously painted copy of one by a well -known Pirna artist. I know that one is at the National Gallery in DC, which means we probably saw it when we visited the Canelletto show there a few years ago, and probably some of the others, too. But of course the name Pirna didn’t mean anything to me at that time.

 This place has been just right, a charming house with wonderful views and sounds from the river. A paddle boat is passing even as I write. There have been kayaks and rafters periodically, and the frequent sight and sound of the trains passing by on the other side of the Elbe. We are just at the edge of the town, an easy five or ten minute walk. People walk or bicycle by fairly frequently, which just adds to the charm. Cars drive through once in a while. We were, in fact, unsure when we first arrived if our street was actually drivable. 

We saw the two other places I’d considered once I'd chosen this area, and we picked right. Rathen is too honky -tonk and touristed. Bad Rathen is too big, although the place I’d considered was actually outside of town in a little hamlet of its own. So I think we picked just right. Like Goldlocks.

One thing we haven’t had for the last four days is wifi. So we don’t know if anything of significance has transpired, in the world, or in our personal spheres.   Tomorrow, at our Dresden hotel, I am sure we will, and so will catch up with anything we’ve missed in recent days. Hopefully no political or other world crises, or any in our own worlds. Loring is relieved now that it is the weekend, and therefore nothing he has to worry about at work that hasn’t already happened. I will be glad to be able to post these last blog entries, and also photos on facebook, and catch up with anything we may have missed.

 We leave tomorrow for Dresden, a 45 minute drive from here. We’ll spend our last night there, then drive back to Berlin the next morning, then fly home.

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