And it's raining even harder in Bad Schandau. That's where I am right
now (in Germany) as I write this. The waitress just brought me 'ein
kannchen kaffee.' There are two cyclists drying off in the bathroom.

I learned today that my new puffy jacket is not waterproof. It's not
even water resistant. It's soaked, and so am I. I almost didn't make
it to the cafe where I'm sitting now. The train from Dresden only
stopped for 30 seconds, and I made a split-second decision to hop off
despite the gloomy weather. Unfortunately, the bahnhol is on the wrong
side of the river from town, and the bridge was 3km in the wrong
direction. So I stood in the rain, debating what to do, and nearly
returned to the deserted train station to wait two hours for the next
train back to Prague. But I persevered, and at the last second, as I
was walking towards the station entrance, I noticed a boat coming down
the river...salvation! For a mere 1.50 Euro, I was whisked upstream
right into the quaint heart of the tiny German 'dorf', and managed to
stay sort of dry in the process.

Being that it's my last full weekend in central Europe, I wanted to
take advantage, so set off yet again. (Can you tell that I'm not
completely enamored with Prague?) This time it was just me and Sara,
and we were bound for Dresden, an easy two-hour train ride away.
(Traveling by train in Europe is a must-experience event by the way. I
thought to myself yesterday that i could sit on that train all day
long, drinking coffee, writing and watching the scenery glide by. What
a cool - and practical - way to travel). We made no plans, arrived in
Dresden at 12:30pm, and just walked towards the old center of town.
Dresden is unique in that the 'Alt Stadt - Old City' is really very
new - it was bombed flat in WWII and the city is still rebuilding.
They've done a remarkable job, however, and the city is super-clean
with a modern, well-designed, friendly and decidedly untouristy feel.
I was pleasantly surprised.

Sara and I wandered through the ancient-feeling yet shining new Alt
Stadt, winding up at the Frauenkirche ('Church of the Mother'),
magnificently rebuilt in the center of a large square. We ambled into
the Frauenkirche Cafe, up the steps to a comfy table replete with two
couches and overlooking the church and the square, and we sat there,
for 4 straight hours. The goal of the weekend was to complete the
enormous writing project for TEFL, and I was determined not to leave
that cafe without doing just that. Upon completion of my 14-page
(handwritten!) masterpiece, I had a beer.

At that moment, when i was browsing the bier menu, I realized that I'd
been waiting nearly 8 years for this opportunity. I was about to enjoy
a true German Hefeweizen, in Germany, and I knew how to order it,
speaking Deutsch. I sat for a moment, reflecting on how much I
romanticized Germany through my 4 years of language study with Herr
K...I was finally there. I stared at my bier for a minute, marveling
at the situation, and thoroughly enjoyed every last drop of that bier
more than any other in my life.

By 7pm, both Sara and I were getting hungry, but we still hadn't yet
found a place to sleep. The waiter was tremendously helpful, brought
us a map of the city and drew directions for us of how to get to the
'Jungensgasthaus - Youth Hostel.' It turned out to be only a 10 minute
walk away, so we sauntered down Freiberger Strasse and found it quite
easily. For 18 Euros a piece, we had a double room with two beds and
breakfast in the morning...not too bad.

That night, we ended up at an Irish pub of all places. (The phenomenon
of the irish pub is really incredible. Here is a bar, based on the
theme of a country the size of New Jersey, which you can find with
striking consistency all over the world. And they are usually the most
fun and atmospheric places to go!). This place was obviously a local
hangout, kind of out of the way down a side street, and we felt lucky
to stumble into a little Dresden secret, despite the irish theme. A
band was setting up, so we settled in, to hang there all evening, soak
up the ambience (which was still decidedly German despite the decor)
and get drunk on German 'bier.' (Yes, they had Guiness, but the German
bier was the highlight, by far).

It is worth making the pilgrimage to the motherland solely to
experience what the Germans do best - make (and drink) bier. We
ordered two Kostrizter Schwarzbiers, which looked like motor oil
coming out of the tap. They were served in .5L glass steins, with a
big handle on the side and a two-inch, snow-white foamy head. A real
beer indeed. Before the night was over I'd sampled two hefeweizens
('helles' and 'dunkel' - light and dark) - the two best I'd ever
tasted - and the aforementioned schwarzbier, guzzling 3.5 litres in
all. I slept like a rock.

And now I find myself in Bad Schandau, about 50km outside of Dresen,
nestled into the Elbe River valley, which rises dramatically on each
side of the river, sandstone cliffs towering above the pine forests in
shapes and colors you'd never expect to find in Germany (or at least I
didn't). If not for the weather I'd be exploring today, as the area is
apparently home to the spectacular Saxony-Switzerland National Park,
with endless hiking and climbing in the dramatic sandstone
surroundings. (In fact, the Frauenkirche in Dresden, as well as the
other historical buildings, is built entirely of sandstone. Originally
designed in the Baroque style, which calls for marble as the building
material, Dresden's buildings were made instead from the local and
abundant sandstone. It's the only place in the world where you'll find
Baroque architecture made from sandstone.)

My jeans are damp, and it will be hours before they dry. The rain is
the kind that you can't really feel falling from the sky, but in no
time you find yourself dripping wet. It's like a giant fog. And the
wind is howling, blowing the rain sideways and ensuring that your
clothes become saturated.

I wish I had more time to spend in Germany. I've spent a long time
romanticizing the country, especially in high school German class, and
it hasn't disappointed. I'm remembering how to speak the language, and
surprisingly have been able to understand most everything I see and
hear. I have a theory that the language-barrier is a deciding factor
in how you perceive a place, once you actually get to visit it.
Australia and New Zealand, and now Germany, are romanticized in my
head because I'm comfortable in those places, can understand the
language and enjoy them.

Prague is the opposite. I'm turned off to the city in part because the
language is so foreign to me and I don't have any desire to learn it.
Without that desire to at least attempt to assimilate, even as a
tourist, I'll never enjoy a place to the fullest extent.

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