We are on our way back to the lovely Czechlands (as I think of it – really called the Czech Republic or Czechia), currently in a train going through the wooded and hilly Sächsische Schweiz area, where I’ve been on two great weekend hiking trips before and also tried the Via Ferrata. When I come to this region I always think of Skaapie, a South African friend who introduced me to this area. We made two weekend trips here to escape the city, one with our other South African friend Vaalie (it was on this first weekend trip together that Vaalie came up with these nicknames for the three of us). Both times we stayed in a cosy place a couple of kilometres from Bad Schandau, which has rooms with bunk beds, a shared kitchen with cute wooden chairs straight out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and clean shared bath rooms. It also has a campsite, but both trips were in the colder months, so we haven’t tried that yet.
The main thing that lured us to Sächsische Schweiz was the hills. Brandenburg has lots of forests, but it’s flat as a pancake. For people who love hiking, we certainly moved to one of the flattest areas on earth. The highest hill in Berlin is just over 100m, and the Berlin marathon is supposed to be the flattest in the world, with runners often getting their best times there.
Sächsische Schweiz on the other hand is more hilly countryside and has tall, strangely shaped limestone rock formations, created by the water that flowed here long, long ago. Through it and into Czech flows the river Elbe.
We did some walks through the forests, once in February and once in November, both times with rustling brown leaves underfoot, the February walk accompanied by light snowfall. We visited the tops of some of the limestone formations, frozen drizzle pouring down on us, and admired the views over the surrounding forest, the Elbe and the colourful little houses.
In the evenings, we ate picnics of hiker’s food: cheese, salami, bread and chocolate, and drank tea and wine and some German herbal concoction called Wurzel Peter. Once we took a ride on a little boat on the Elbe (in summer the boat rides further) and we also rode a lift from the valley up to the top of one of the hills, where we found a quiet suburb and some fields of crops. The Elbe floods fairly regularly, and on our first trip the waters were fairly high. In Bad Schandau they have drawn a flood marker, where you can see how high the waters were in various flood years.
On both of our visits we ended our trip by walking across the border to Hřensko, a small Czech border town surrounded by rock and bisected by a river, and ate dinner of schnitzel or duck with gravy and bread dumplings called knedlíky. Little did I know when I made those short visits that I would one day return to the Czech Republic many more times after meeting a certain handsome Czech man.
On another occasion, J and I went to Sächsische Schweiz on a day trip with some others for Via Ferrata. In South Africa I’d never even heard of Via Ferrata, which is basically iron bolts, chains, ladders and bridges that take you over rocks, similar to rock climbing except you’re clipped onto the ferrata with carabinas attached to your harness. In South Africa I’d done some scrambling over vertical pitches of rock and in Namibia we used chains to get up and down rocks too on the Naukluft hike, but for some reason I found the Via Ferrata terrifying. Maybe it had just been too long since I’d been on the mountain or maybe it was just too difficult for my level of scrambling. I don’t mind heights if I’m standing firmly on my two feet, even if it’s on a little ledge over a big drop, but clinging on for dear life with my weak arms while twisted into some weird position where I can’t see where to go next somehow freaks me out if the drop is too far. Anyway, the other more experienced people in our group seemed to enjoy the ferrata, so if climbing is your thing then it’s probably a great place to go! When it came to the second (wetter and slipperier) Via Ferrata I let the others get on with it while I happily wandered through the forest, looking for mushrooms and scrambling up a few easier limestone rocks for some nice views that didn’t involve as much stress.
The hilly landscape of Sächsische Schweiz continues on into the Czechlands, until eventually it levels out into the farmlands and villages that we will return to for Christmas.
Below are some more photos from our walks in the Sächisches Schweiz.