For me, the Elbe was not a familiar river, so my cruise from Prague to Berlin would truly be an adventure of discovery.
My journey was aboard the riverboat, Viking Fontane of Viking River Cruises, an elegant small ship with all the modern conveniences, including Wi-Fi and in-room refrigerators. As with most river boats, cabins are a good deal smaller than on a cruise ship, but the glory of a river cruise is that it affords you so much time in your destinations that any hint of claustrophobia can be quickly swept away. Cabins are for sleeping. Go out into the public areas and socialize with your fellow passengers.
From Prague we journeyed to Bad Schandau, a spa town, where tour busses awaited to take us into an area known as Saxsonian Switzerland. This region of misted forests and sandstone outcroppings had been popularized in romantic painting by eighteenth century artists. This area was once the hunting ground of Saxon kings and is now one of Germany’s thirteen national parks. The mist-filled valleys simply ooze an aura of mystery. This first destination was a great delight to me and I looked forward with even greater anticipation at our next stops as this area was terra incognita to me.
Our lazy drifting along the river was enhanced by the sunshine, by woolly steamer rugs provided for passengers to enwrap themselves in against any chill on the upper deck and by a small booklet provided to everyone that marked the journey with kilometer markers onshore. This little guide provided all kinds of interesting tid bits of information, as castles, rock formations, and tiny villages were all satisfyingly identified.
Dresden was our next stop, sometimes known as “Florence on the Elbe,” because of its wealth of outstanding architecture. We docked in the early evening just a few minutes’ walk from the city’s historic center and would have the entire next day to explore this beautiful city. Dresden is a marvel of restoration. Nearly 8 ˝ sq. miles of its glories had been obliterated by bombings during World War II. To see the city restored to an elegant metropolis says much about how hard the citizens worked to make it appear seemingly untouched by history.
But first, there was dinner. The meals aboard the Fontane were, in a word, exemplary. Very European with a range of delicacies from both land and water, including local meats and fish. Each evening meal culminated in not only dessert, but a wide variety of cheeses.
And so to sleep, rocked gently by the river tides.
That is another feature of river cruising, not to be overlooked; you almost never encounter turbulent, mal-de-mer inducing conditions on the river. Next, it will be onto Meissen.