To Litomerice from Decin

Before breakfast today – at Decin, I walked to a small grassy, isolated square and sat on an ancient, low sandstone wall, to practice the Recorder. It was about 6.30 am, I was all alone… Not for long!

After a few minutes a rather unkempt woman appeared, rather Dickensian in appearance, and sat beside me. I had a brief sense of Brazilian deja-vue and automatically went for the crutch – where my iPhone was secreted.

She nodded along as I tongued and fingered my way through “Deck the Halls”… A welsh tune and to some a recognizable Christmas carol. When I had finished with a flourish, she gave a big grin and clapped!!!!

Lest you assume that she then tossed coins, the reverse was true – she asked me for money….. I said of course – if you will listen to another piece? She shook her head violently and scurried off – obviously no appreciation of the finer things in life.

Thoughts on automatic movement or heat sensing lights. Most of us (other than Tony Abbott who still can’t fathom it out) appreciate that these timed lights save power, reduce energy needs. It has dawned upon me that there is a direct relationship between the cost of a hotel room and the duration these lights stay on. Hence in hostel accommodation, a simple fumble with the key and darkness descends. One rapidly learns to have the key out of one’s handbag and orientated the right way pointing to the keyhole.

Any transgression from this path then, as sure as the Liberals will win, the lights go out.

I have found a sort of answer to the problem, I approach the door, key out and orientated and then begin a sort of pirouette routine, delicately jumping up and down to maintain the light. The down side is that whilst the lights stay on, manipulating the key into the keyhole as I pas de deux at the door, seriously impairs my ability to coordinate the bloody key into the keyhole!

The pathway along the Elbe in the Czech Republic is not quite as well maintained as in Germany. To be fair there are occasional dead ends which I suspect are the consequence of floods washing the path away!





And so to the Czech Republic

Other than a coat of arms on a pole beside the path, I pedaled blissfully ignorant, as always, across an an international border. The town of Decin is more obviously the poor cousin of the German villages. The Czech Republic is apparently in the EU but I guess like the UK, still uses its own monetary system. There is almost no English spoken, by any generation; the local currency has a value that places it somewhere between Monopoly and the defunct Italian lira.

However I did manage to negotiate a local SIM card with Vodafone that, according to the young man, promised me 1.2 GB of data over the next 3 weeks! Time will tell.

It’s 19.30 and Decin is dead! There are a few pubs open and people seem to be drinking and not eating? I negotiated a salad, a beer and god knows why I do this, but a coffee! I keep on saying to myself never again, but I do! Crossing the border has signaled a return to cigarette culture. There are lots of what are advertised as electric cigarette holders. If only it would shock them out of the filthy habit.

The former Decin Palace is quite something and tonight there is a production of Romeo and Juliet on the parapets.

The majority German population of Decin were summarily moved on and out, after the war, all twenty odd thousand of them. Sadly it shows in the dilapidated infrastructure.






Bad Schandau

The difference between my first day on the Camino last year and today, is stark. In Spain I felt like I had been run over by a steam roller, in Germany, tickled by a feather.

The local tourist office booked me into a Pensione – the Villa Anna. The more astute reader will recall that the night before in Dresden I was at the Terese Malten Villa. Other than the names of both establishments containing the word “Villa” , there the similarity ends.

Whereas Teresa Malten was a world famous opera singer whose forte was Wagner, Anna would have been in the back line of the chorus of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical – not that he actually wrote music.

But being objective, the latter was on par with the average accommodation on the Camino. It was basic – clean linen and lots of hot water. What led to an initial bad reaction was lack of Internet access and no soap or shampoo provided. To both I have grown accustomed. Granted we could have a philosophical discussion about the soap issue.

A delightful German woman explained that often soap is not part of the deal. I thought that they had forgotten my room! As to the Internet, this little village is nestled between the river gorge and there is no service.

My fellow German traveller was a grandmother visiting her daughter and grandchildren. She was a retired teacher. I had slept like a log for more than 10 hours, she had had a disrupted night due to traffic noise. I expressed my sympathy. I wondered if I was partly to blame, as I had arisen to practice the Recorder on the outside verandah at about 6.30. Goodness gracious she exclaimed so that was you playing? “You were very good…… I teach the Recorder”! For one semi quaver of a crochet, the thought crossed my mind to nonchalantly admit I had only been learning for 2 months. She offered me a quick lesson! Truely!

I declined. We chatted – she had been a school teacher- biology, mathematics, religion and music, specifically the Recorder. I am not making this up! What an amazing chance meeting that I befriend a German woman who seems to be Vivienne and Caryl rolled into ONE!

Bad Schandau reached its pinnacle as a health resort and retreat in the 1930, with its cool climate and thermal pools and spas. It has in the 21 st century taken medicine and retreats to a new level combining both into salubrious post orthopedic surgery rehabilitation. I think both Dr Kiley and Dr Henningsen could visit these German villages along the Elbe on a fully funded tax deductible junket.

I asked of the Matron, the cost of and the commonest indication for, such orthopaedic rehabilitation. “hips” she said. I asked specifically about pelvic fractures and they are the second most common. She gave a disdainful germanic sniff, explaining that the incidence was increasing. Why I asked? Cyclists falling off their bikes apparently and the cause of her angst was that the vast majority were middle aged overseas tourists.

I tried again on costs and fees especially for pelvic fractures. She refused. I pressed on : is there a special deal on simple undisplaced pelvic crack, as compared to the genuine fracture? She was becoming irritated and fobbed me off, as she got into her BMW coupe saying that she had to rush off to the monthly meeting of Orthopaedic Matrons in the Maldives… As she sped away she cried out, “we do a special deal on double pelvic fractures.”

Little ferries criss cross the Elbe every few km carrying passengers and cycles, it’s all very quaint





Walking shoes

Despite my best intentions to travel light – as I have in the past with one pair of excellent quality walking shoes, for this trip I was forced to buy a second cheap pair. I have SPD shoes and the cleats are recessed. It has not worked! Walking along the cobbled streets, I clang loudly, even those who are profoundly deaf, turn around as I approach ! I sound like Fred Astaire dancing a tap routine – on approach. They are also not stable for inclines and stairs. Hence these – at a cost of 14 Euro in Czech Republic


Pirna to Bad Schandau

Day one of the trip, having warmed up with 50 km into Dresden and back yesterday. The devastation from the floods in June just 3 months ago is ubiquitous. 90 % of all shops at ground level in Pirna are gutted and being dried out prior to a complete refurbishment! It seems to me that the flood waters must have risen more than an extra 30 metres. Seems impossible!

All the towns along the Elbe are undergoing an amazing redevelopment. Most of the businesses are continuing in caravans and demountables even shipping containers. This must be providing an enormous stimulus to the German economy. To paraphrase the recent global upheavals this is a rerun of the GFC … The German Flood Crisis.

There is one immutable fact that guides me like the great Redeemer to Prague – the Elbe river and as long as I cycle in a direction against the current, I will inevitably reach my destination. It’s even better in terms of navigation – vital as you are all aware for my sanity let alone survival. For it is impossible to stray. Should I turn right, I end up in the river, whilst a left turn may land me in the living room of a riverside German house. So I have no alternative other than to “go straight”.

There are a few issues with the bike and panniers, specifically how one mounts and dismounts with a modicum of decorum. It requires a deft swinging of a leg over the saddle with a wide throw to clear the bags and yet maintain balance. This is a rather masculine manouvre, akin to a male dog cocking a leg. It’s all rather foreign to me, I am more of a squatting person. The reverse, dismounting is even more problematic indeed difficult.the back wheel has an extra 15 kg and if one does not pack the panniers fairly equally, an ignominious fall is inevitable, this is definitely the advantage of being able to swing both ways – but surprisingly I know of few men in my circle who do.

This bike even with panniers is so
much more zippy and dare I say it lighter than the Spanish trail bike with the front wheel on backwards!






I am as relaxed as I ever will be!

Flight over relatively painless with
intermittent naps and a good sleep on my first night in Dresden. The bike is here and I am pulling at the bit or itching on the derailleur, whatever is the best metaphor?

It’s a great cycle. I feel like Mulga Bill! I had not been on any bike for a month in Adelaide.

One of the reasons I am not so anxious is the fact that I don’t feel the pressure of needing to be at a certain village on a specific date! In fact as long as I am in Vienna around 21 st September, I can do what I want and if I fall behind, take the train! Some of you may remember it’s what the English Couple on the Camino did last year. He a publisher, she a paediatric ophthalmologist. Want I want to know is “did they see eye to eye”?

I rode into Dresden and back today, 50 km all up. I have had a couple of pub meals – bread roll, bratwurst , mustard and a beer. In fact I have had TWO beers and the German wench at the next table is starting to look somewhat attractive to me. Well it was a very large bratwurst!

Across the Elbe river from where I am staying at the Therese Malten Villa- is the Pillnitz Palace, the stunning summer residence of the saxony kings from 1720. I think the best analogy is that it is in concept similar to the French Palace of Versailles and whilst the gardens are not so formal, they are spectacularly natural yet with a pleasing symmetrical structure. The garden has the oldest living camellia bush in Europe – more than 300 years. Tea anyone?

I had an Alice in Wonderland happening at this Pillnitz Palace,

An original sandstone guard house had been converted to the ticket office. She sat at a window – in fact a beautifully crafted heavy wood double casement window one of which was wide open. I offered my 10 Euro bill to pay the 8 Euro admission price to her. She gave a rather brusque start and indicated to me, what I had not noticed till then: the bottom few centimeters of the casement had been replaced with one of those gleaming stainless steel trays that bank tellers use for their security and transactions. The rather efficacious woman pushed it out, I placed my 10 euro on the tray, she pulled it back, placed change and ticket in the tray and pushed it out again!

Now let me hold your hand and walk you through this interaction in case you missed the nuances here!

The ticket person is in a small office with one shutter window wide open and sitting less than an arm’s length away. It is surely a natural and human instinct to interact with one’s fellow man at a personal level? So my attempt to simply hand her ” in person” through the wide open window, my money was intuitive, all the more so that I did not see the security tray anyway. I was incredulous! I felt like Alice in Wonderland, having a nonsensical argument with the Queen of Hearts – or if you feel it more appropriate – I felt like the Queen having an altercation with Alice. Indeed the analogy with me as the Queen of Hearts is better, as I had a definite urge to screech “off with her head” to Alice the ticket lady.






One can read all about Dresden so I won’t boringly repeat it. I will say it is one of the most delightful, serene relaxed cities I have visited. My impressions are that it is at least in the city centre almost car free! Pedestrians and bare-headed cyclists of all ages meander and wobble along wide cobble-stoned streets. Of course there are vehicles – modern trams and buses but even these seen to travel slowly and carefully.

Dresden was decimated in two shattering nights during the last months of the Second World War, more than 1200 allied planes dropped almost 4000 tons of bombs, killing upwards of 25000. Today one would never know this, for as in Berlin, the city has been lovingly and painstakingly restored. Huge sandstone palaces, civic structures and churches that look 800 years old were all but rubble 80 years ago.

There is an inverse relationship between awareness of the whereabouts of a city’s tourist attractions and the age of the person one politely accosts in the village square. Or to put it another way, the location of any edifice constructed more than 25 years ago , will not be known to any local conceived less than 25 years ago.

Regular readers of my adventures last year will recognise instantly that I am navigatingly challenged. I stood in a beautiful square filled with chic coffee shops and al fresco dining. I approached a young waitress, iPhone opened to the stunning website of the Royal Palace (Residenzschloss) – complete with its name in both German and English. She looked at it, did a double indeed triple take, then slowly shook her head. Now just to clarify we are talking here about the TOP attraction as listed by 12 million local tourists on Trip Advisor… Stunned, I did a 180 degree turn to walk away and there it was in front of me! I had been standing with my back to the bloody place all the time. You may think me stupid BUT don’t forget the waitress was facing the structure, slowly shaking her head whilst observing a high resolution picture of the edifice on my phone.

Sadly, Germans don’t know about great coffee! Most of the cafes have those dreadful automatic machines which abound in the Qantas club and other less salubrious venues.

There are other things they do well. They are obsessively organised. A visit to the Dresden transport information office to ask the best way to my bike shop to pick up my hybrid was efficiently concluded with a printed page listing the tram line, as well as the start and finish stops and a google-esque map showing the walking route to the bike shop from the tram stop. If I could only discover a real barista I would gladly settle in Dresden.

On the great steps leading to the Promenade, a woman sat playing a piano accordion – The anniversary waltz! My father had a recording of Al Jolson singing this very song! I was mesmerized. Upon my return 60 minutes later, she was still playing the Anniversary Waltz! Practice makes perfect, for piano accordion as well as Recorder players it seems?






The saga of a famous singer and her sweets

You could have knocked me over with a feather!

Most of my friends know of my love of classical music and opera. I had booked by internet, a tour of the Dresden State Opera during my stay- the opera summer season having just finished, otherwise I would have attended. But imagine my surprise when serendipity led to my choice of Dresden accommodation – The Villa Therese-Malten. This can only be described as a palatial villa built a century ago for one of Germany’s most famous mezzo soprano, Madame Therese Malten. It has a musty, dark and dank atmosphere with original flooring and ceilings, sweeping staircases, acres of wooden panelling, heavy wooden doors etc – you get the picture!

Beautiful lithographs of Madame Malten in costume adorn the walls. Her forte was Wagner and specifically Brunnehilde. On many levels, Germany’s Madame Malten has remarkable similarities to Australia’s own Dame Nellie Melba. Both lived at about the same time, were of remarkably similar robust build, range of voice and fame in the interpretation of Wagner! Both had palatial residences with acres of grounds , Melba in Melbourne and Madame Malten in Dresden. But what the vast majority of people don’t realise is BOTH had famous food named after them.

Australians are great innovators and indeed more than 100 years ago, stunned the world with the tinned pineapple ring. Queensland was “canning sunshine”. Given that Australians, by nature, will can anything or everybody, it was a logical step from pineapples to peaches. Nellie Melba developed a penchant for the peach and travelled the world stage with cartons of these syrupy plump yellow-fleshed cling peaches which she devoured at breakfast with a goodly dollop of fresh cream before her cereal and toast.

Legend has it that a nervous waiter at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, spilt Kellogs cornflakes on the peaches. Despite her Prima Donna reputation, she consumed this culinary catastrophe and fell in love with the taste, the colour and texture and thus was clumsily created that iconic desert – Peach Melba.

As to the Dresden story it has some charming similarities. Madem Malten was addicted to sweets. According to her leading man and tenor, she “always had something in her mouth”. Her particular penchant was honeycomb. Louis Vuitton had designed a unique leather clutch purse in the shape of a honey bee for Mdme Malten to carry her secret stash of little balls of honeycomb. On an operatic day off she visited the world famous chocolate factory at Linz Austria. On opening her purse several honeycomb balls fell out and into a vat of melted chocolate. The embarrassed factory manager scooped them out and before he could drop them in the rubbish bin, Mdme Malten had opened her famous pharynx and consumed them quicker than one could say “high C” and as they say “the rest is history”. The Linz chocolate company went on to market little chocolate covered balls of honeycomb, which they called “Theresamalts” in recognition of how, again, an accident led to the creation of a unique sweet.

Of course in Australia, we wrestled with the name and after some back to front fiddling, came up with “Malt Theresa” initially , then finally to settle of course on the iconic beloved “Maltesers”. …. So there you have it!

Next time you go to the opera and you are silently sucking a Malteser, give thanks to Dresden’s Madame Therese Malten.



It only seems like yesterday

A year to the day, the 24th August 2012, I was in Spain, riding the Camino , and had reached the town of Sarria, more of a dirty modern city really. It was the only disappointing destination of the Camino.

My accommodation, allegedly 3 star, the Hotel Alfonso IX was at once forgettable yet memorable – it was a depressing, dark and dingy multi-storey “box” that had seen in the past 4 or even 5 stars. Secondly it was obviously THE place to stay in Sarria. Around 6 pm a white stretched limousine pulled up and out stepped a stylish middle aged woman, predictably with cigarette in mouth, and a male companion looking like a disheveled Luciano Pavarotti also smoking, but a cigar. Lest you jump to the wrong conclusion, remember that the real Pavarotti had died from pancreatic carcinoma a few years previously!

Imagine my surprise when, about 30 minutes later, drifting through what were very thin walls, came the sound of a voice, singing. A tenor, then in answer, the soprano! For the next 45 minutes I was treated to the equivalent of high quality “Muzak”… As they trilled and tra-la-la-ed up and down their scales. Of course it was possible that they were in reality having mad passionate sex with the sound system on high. But the next morning I did verify their singing as there was a flyer advertising a concert of operatic bel canto delights in the Sarria town hall the previous evening. Moreover both singers were in the foyer, each smoking and autographing a photo of themselves, for the impressed bellboy! Bellboys in Spain and especially in Sarria, were obviously classically educated.

As I am now learning the Recorder, I wonder, if I returned to the Alfonso IX, would I stand a chance with the bellboy? I would even tolerate a cigarette in my mouth if that would add to the attraction! However smoking a cigarette and playing the Recorder at the same time would require sucking and blowing simultaneously, a feat I suspect even my teacher could not manage, despite her years of practice and on the double reed what’s more.

If, in my wildest dreams, the bellboy was swept off his feet, by this smoking Recorder player, we would settle down in Spain together and open a pub, named obviously “The Weed and Whistle”.

But the name of the hotel provoked my curiosity. Who was this effeminate sounding Alfonso, of which there had been at least 9? Well he was the King of Leon born in 1171 died 1230, and certainly not a fairy, for he fathered 21 children by 5 wives and in addition sired some 15 “bastards”. By my reckoning, his wives and offspring would have occupied every single room of the modern Hotel Alfonso IX, especially the Bridal Suite. Imagine the noise through those thin walls!

One of his daughters married into the Ponce de Leon family, but they were “without issue”- An utterly predictable outcome , when the groom has the family name of “ponce”.

Finally, Alfonso is said to have been called the “Baboso” or “Slobberer” because he was subject to fits of rage during which he foamed at the mouth.

So here I sit in flight on an Emirates Boeing 777 to Frankfurt on the 24th August 2013. A new bike awaits me in Dresden. My Recorder in my luggage, practicing sucking and blowing as I listen to a concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, (in deference to my music teacher).

Addendum: after an hour of experimentation (seated in 11F Business Class) and thanks in part to my anatomical training, I think I have the answer – gentle blowing through the mouth, tonguing the Recorder at the same time, whilst just as gently, drawing in through the nose. The down side is that this manouvre can only be successful if I draw gently on the cigarette inserted up one nostril and block the other with a cotton ball, simultaneously with the Recorder in my mouth. There is a niggling doubt that unless the Bellboy is visually impaired, it may not achieve the desired outcome…..The woman in seat 11E has just activated the call button and requested she change seats.