Postcard from the Edge of Mordor

So when the idea of spending a holiday in Dresden and the Czech Republic was first floated my immediate reaction was that of trepidation – I automatically assumed they had running water (the word Dresden means people of the riverside forest and it is situated directly on the Elbe), but did they have hot water? What about electricity? Phone? Internet?

And come that what about the inhabitants? Still, on the bright side, I have never met and orc, and I am sure the trolls are nice bunch if you treat them well.

The first surprise was that Dresden is not really all that far away. It took just over 4 hours to get there and the roads were really excellent – I mean it is 18 years since the Berlin Wall came a tumbling and so I would hope they have something to show for it. The main trunk roads leading to Dresden are all excellent, the roads inside the city though still need some work.

Dresden is home to about half a million, most of whom had turned out for the annual Dresden Festival that was being held. Stalls and music crowded the narrow streets between magnificent buildings such as the Frauenkirche, the Opera house and the State Art Collection.

Situated in the latter are the new and historical Green Vaults – holding probably some of the most spectacular treasures in the world. What is left is only a remnant of its former glory, but it is still amazing enough. The vaults were founded by Augustus the Strong in 1723, for whom the words “hoarded treasure” could have been made. Luckily he was very good friends with the Mogul Aurangzeb of India, who, at that time, had the only diamond mine known to man. This proved to be a very fruitful friendship judging from the famous 41 carat green diamond, whose colour was caused by natural radiation, to the 648 (sic) carat sapphire the hermetically sealed rooms twinkled brilliantly.

The other note worthy attraction in Dresden is the Volkswagen Factory of Glass where the Phaeton car is “assembled”. VW got huge tax breaks to build the factory in the middle of the city, which opened in 2002. The building itself is spectacular – the only multi-story car production unit in the world. The cars are just glued together here, the parts are manufactured, trucked and finally trammed in from the rest of Germany. The big issue is that the Phaeton just doesn’t sell well – it is trying to compete in the “D” class with Lexus, Mercedes, BMW etc and in that segment who would go for a VW? As a result the factory is a huge white elephant producing mini white elephants, but the tour was fun and you get to drive in a simulator, where we screamed loudly and crashed spectacularly. Emerging from the simulator complaining the car was “uncontrollable”, the nice VW mans comment was “naturally the car is difficult to handle if you approach the roundabout at 150 km/h”. Red faces all-round, especially as our screams had broadcast all round the visitor center.

From there Dresden we moved on via the interesting rock formations called the “Switzerland of Saxony” to the Saschenbaude wellness hotel in Oberwiesental on the boarder to the Czech Republic. The hotel had been a skin clinic in DDR times, but now converted to a hotel a huge “wellness” area, consisting of pools, fitness equipment and massage studio. The 2 hour hot stone massage was sublime – simply put, it consisted on boiling up a bucket of oil with some stones in it and then rubbing the stones all over your body.

From there we did several day trips in to the Czech Republic to visit the spa towns of Carlsbad and Marienbad. These were well established in Roman times, and were very popular in the 19th century. The towns are full of beautiful ornamental wrought ironwork, painted frescos and huge fountains where the spar water gushes up. The towns have enjoyed a revival recently after appearing in a number of films such as Casino Royal and strolling along the promenade the elegance and friendliness of the people makes me think this was not Mordor – more like Rivendell. Yes, they had hot and cold running water, telephones – even a Tescos – but still all I am saying is the this entire area, like Rivendell, does not have single decent Internet connection.

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