Thursday, August 6th, 2020 – Prague to Leipzig to Magdeburg
Distance travelled 470 km
On March 14th, 2020, the whole of the Czech Republic had to put on masks (or whatever was at hand) and practically everything closed except food shops, pharmacies and drugstores. Movement was limited to travel to work, to go shopping, to go to the doctor and for healthy walks. The streets were depopulated, but it was still a long way from the so-called “total lockdown” which some countries had introduced. As early as Easter, in mid-April, institutions and shops began to gradually re-open and, thanks to sensible behaviour by the bulk of the population, the effects of Covid became more of a minor irritation than a national disaster. Masks were deemed sensible in certain situations, such as metro travel and shopping in pharmacies and it was everyone’s habit to carry one for those occasions. Written in two sentences, it may sound simple, but the truth was that in most cases, no one really knew what the current requirement was. Worse still, it was difficult to discover what measures were in place elsewhere. Requirements seemed to alter almost by the minute.
So it was that, as we packed our Heritage first thing in the morning and stood in our biking clothes waiting to leave, I said to Lucie “Do you have a mask with you?“. She realised, of course, that the answer was “It is in my handbag” and her handbag lay on a chair in our kitchen. After a short debate over whether Germany had mandatory mask requirements then or not, she opted for safety and ran back upstairs to get it. In the end, we put them on twice, but at least we had them.
So, after that short delay, we set off in the direction of Karlovy Vary at about 07.15. The way is quite pleasant but the trip was not exactly stimulating because, although our recent activities had been limited, that was the fourth time we had been down that same stretch of road in about a month and a half. Even one of our resumed HOG events had taken us that way only ten days before. A better, read “less interesting”, highway is under construction for large parts of the route and we were able to confirm that no visible progress had occurred in over six weeks.
Thanks to our completely new SatNav, we easily found our first destination which was the well reviewed Bagel Lounge in Karlovy Vary (T. G. Masaryka 825/45, Karlovy Vary). The breakfast was tasty and the service was good and helpful. Ironically, the bagels, which are reputedly made by a Michelin chef, were not great bagels. We have certainly eaten better ones elsewhere !
Back on the bike, we headed for Leipzig. I was still learning to use our new SatNav and was trying to do so intuitively. That is a way of saying “I had not read the manual” (which I would have had to download from the internet). As a consequence, the first thing I did as we left Karlovy Vary was to mistake what it was telling me, take the wrong exit and begin heading back towards Prague on the highway. The SatNav spotted this at once and led me through a strange series of what seemed to be concentric circles before finally spitting me out onto the correct road to Boží Dar.
A lot of the Czech Republic is very picturesque, but around Karlovy Vary the landscape does seem to be particularly beautiful and the climb up the well surfaced road into the Krušné hory (Ore Mountains) presented a few breathtaking vistas.
We drove through Jáchymov, where there was an unbelievable amount of roadworks and we spent almost as long there as it had taken to eat our breakfast. The proximity of Jáchymov to the border had obviously done wonders for its economy. Lucie said that it had improved beyond all recognition from the drab place it had been on her previous visit about twenty-five years ago. It certainly did look considerably “spruced up”, which, due to the slowness of our transit, we certainly had plenty of time to assess.
We came to the border, at Boží Dar, where we expected some form of “control” but any form of checking was as non-existent as the border seemed to be.
We knew we had crossed because the signage became German and the general aspect of the scenery somehow became tidier, but that was it. We continued through the German mountain resort of Oberwiesenthal, from where we again had some stunning vistas.
The SatNav led us onwards through the picturesque landscape and the orderly little villages and, only as we approached Chemnitz did we connect to the motorway in the direction of Leipzig. The surroundings changed dramatically at that point. The landscape became very industrial in an archetypal “East German” way. Originally dotted with mines, it is slowly changing into an area of lakes, but unfortunately most of the lakes are not visible from the highway. The sad, decaying remnants of the manufacturing industry that fringe the road can be seen but are not much to look at.
Any shortcomings in the beauty of the landscape were only exacerbated by the massive and totally chaotic reconstruction of the motorway network between Chemnitz and Leipzig. The SatNav, as they tend to be, was totally single minded and led us directly to the same concrete barriers about three times, Oddly, it seemed incapable of working out, or finding a “legal” alternative. In the end, I preferred to follow my sense of direction and the position of the sun. I took an “illegal” turn which put us, at least theoretically, back on track at least until the next series of indecipherable diversions. The signage was so confusing that, at one point, even the Germans in the next car asked us at the intersection if we knew where the road was leading. I did not so I just shrugged.
Our new Heritage certainly seemed to have a very frugal thirst and it was some time after we passed Chemnitz that I felt we needed to replenish the tank. It needed a pleasingly small amount of petrol, but for some reason, the fuel cap refused to seat properly ! This problem persisted throughout the trip and we now have a new one.
It always seems that our travel tales are not complete unless we have some kind of incident with our payment cards and this now happened. When I went to pay, I searched in vain for my card, rummaging fruitlessly in the only two places it could possibly have been whilst under the bemused gaze of the cashier. I was certain that I had it, but I simply could not find it ! Luckily, Lucie returned from her smoking-break and saved my blushes with her card. I supposed I must have somehow left my card at home, it looked like I was in for a cheap holiday !
Finally, after an age of diversions, we came to Leipzig where we made the first Hundertwasser stop. The building was stated to be the HuWa restaurant (Barfußgäßchen 15, Leipzig) and we were going to eat our lunch there.
Somewhat to my continuing embarrassment (Lucie is still teasing me about it), I had made the assumption that HuWa implied the restaurant’s cuisine would be Chinese. That is not a real favourite of Lucie’s and, for the previous week, I had been assuring her that a little Mono Sodium Glutamate would not do her any harm. As a consequence, she was quite relieved when we arrived at the place and HuWa turned out to be a pleasant, slightly hipster style, café. The interior was dotted with typical Hundertwasser design elements, but otherwise it was distressingly normal.
Lucie asked how I had found out it was a Chinese restaurant and I replied that HuWa sounded Chinese, although it should probably be written Hu-Wa. With a smile she told me that HuWa also sounded a bit like HUndertWAsser. I will probably never live that one down !
The food was simply superb. At an outside table, we ate two ample and inventive salads that were certainly 100% free of MSG and drank some cold, refreshing alcohol-free beers from a local brewery.
It would have been easy to linger there in the sun, but more of Friedensreich’s handiwork awaited us at our next stop in Magdeburg, so we had to move on.
Apart from relatively pleasant countryside, there was very little of note about the rest of that day’s journey. The temperature had been slowly increasing all day and, at one of our regular short stops, Lucie abandoned her inner layers of warm clothing and I removed my jacket to ride in my HOG vest and shirtsleeves. We also helped ourselves to some juicy blackberries, that were gleaming darkly on a briar right beside where we had stopped.
The artHotel Magdeburg (Breiter Weg 9, Magdeburg), alias Hundertwasser Hotel, alias the “Green Citadel” could probably be found sooner or later without SatNav. The golden balls on the turrets can be seen from afar.
It is actually a multifunctional complex and the hotel is only one of its parts. There are residential areas, cafés, art shops, children’s corners and gardens.
It is a total Hundertwasser madhouse. The corridors curved unexpectedly, our room was slightly asymmetrical, the bathroom was surreal and when we stepped out of the room window, there was a garden with an iconically styled patio. From the garden, we could have, if we had wanted to, walked a few metres through a gate to the main street. Oddly, from the main street, our room and patio were all but invisible. We took pictures of it from all sides because, by design, each and every piece is different. It really was totally mind blowing.
Then we went to dinner. The fact is that Magdeburg is not a big city, but there are quite a lot of good restaurants in the centre. We wandered around for a while before we finally decided on a Spanish restaurant, La Bodega Magdeburg (Domplatz 10-11, Magdeburg), which was very near our hotel and where we could eat outside as it was still very warm. It was a great meal, the staff were friendly, and effortlessly switched into English when they talked to us. My lamb chops were tasty, nicely cooked and beautifully complemented by the accompanying vegetables. Lucie had sea bream, which she loves and which did not disappoint. I finished with creme Catalan, purely because I had seen it on an advert for a language app and wondered what it was ! Short answer, the Spanish equivalent of creme brûlée (and just as nice). As I was done with driving, I treated myself to a “real” beer, but Lucie’s alcohol-free version of the same one was just as long, cold and satisfying !
Remember what I said about our card incidents ? Well, then we had another one which greatly amused all the surrounding diners . When Lucie went to pay (I had no card, remember?) the payment machine twice refused her card for the wrong PIN. There was what Lucie considered an embarrassing situation when I “reminded” her of the number in what she considered an overly loud voice. My assertion that, if it did not work, there was no harm in people knowing her PIN cut no ice ! The waiter suggested, with a nice smile, that we might try another card and appeared concerned to be told we did not have another one. To allay his fears, Lucie reassured him that, fortunately, we also had cash. She took out our plastic bag with a pack of euro banknotes, which, in retrospect, probably looked a little strange. While this was happening, I looked at Lucie’s card – and found out it was in fact mine ….. Sadly, in my excitement, I announced, again to the whole restaurant, “this is my card!“. Somehow, I managed to blab out the whole story, to the visible amusement of other diners nearby. To prove she did know her PIN, Lucie then located HER card (in fairness, they are actually identical apart from the embossing) and paid the bill. The relieved waiter then offered us each a shot of liquor which we naturally refused and, as we left, two other guests offered us glasses of wine (also refused), no doubt as payment for the floor show !
We went back to our asymmetrical room where I quickly fell into a very symmetrical sleep.