There was a rail strike across Germany and I was stuck in Dresden until after the weekend. It is a lovely city, despite the things it has been in the news for of late; but I thought I had seen as much as I wanted to see.
I borrowed a bike from the hostel and cycled downtown as the lights were flickering on in the stores in the mall which shadows St Petersburger Strasse. Burger King, McDonalds, Ibis, Starbucks, TK Maxx and Fitness First, then across the road an apartment block from another age, another country. Just under the roofline, there is still a trace of the words which used to be there: der socializmus siegt, socialism is winning.
I cycled over the c-c-c-c-c-cobbles in the A-a-a-a-a-lstdat, between the grimly beautiful buildings – towers, spires, domes, statues, blackened sandstone, opaque glass – then crossed the Augustus Bridge and rattled down a flight of steps to the path along the bank of the Elbe, which I followed to see where it went.
Away from the city, it meandered inland and brought me out in the middle of a suburb and ushered me over a bridge and back onto the opposite bank, where I picked up the path and followed it again.
The autumn sun brought out the crowds and I dodged strolling couples and scooting children and overtook giggly teenagers cycling at walking speed. But I was overtaken in turn by serious men on serious bikes with sprayed-on lycra, and others with panniers and maps and more fluorescence than a motorway maintenance team. There were castles high in the hills on the opposite bank. A steamboat chuffed sedately down the river. Here and there were clusters of half-timbered houses, and once a middle-aged couple ballroom dancing alone in an empty car park.
The path undulated through the countryside, past old industrial buildings and through a park, and ended up in Pirna. A Sunday lunch crowd sat outside restaurants with hefty lager glasses; an old man stood on a corner by a bierhaus grilling bratwursts and stuffing them into buns. I cycled up and down the narrow lanes, between pastel-painted buildings with Gothic arches and Baroque spires, in the shadow of the castle at the top of the town. It seemed that neither guidebooks nor town planners had heard of the place.
These are the best days, sometimes: the days which should not have happened, the days when nothing has gone to plan and you are still somewhere you should have left, or are somewhere you should never have been; the days when you have already seen the sights and eaten at the restaurants and done the activities and are just wandering aimlessly to fill the time.
© Richard Senior 2015