Confessions of a Railway Addict – The Saxon Swiss National Park, Germany

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“Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!” – we were 100 million years too late!

We had been saying that we would like to get back beside the sea. Well, now we have, albeit around 100 million years too late!

The Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Swiss) National Park is a Cretaceous sea bed, now turned into a magnificent landscape of sandstone stacks, tors and canyons, punctuated by basalt cones and towers. And, being Germany, just the odd castle. Here and there!

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My Thueringer Knackers – special delivery from Mark!

I had been complaining about a lack of German sausage. Never one to have a wife short on sausage, Mark nipped to Netto in Colditz and I received a special delivery of Thueringer Knackers. Made by Frau Beuchler, no less!

We drove from Colditz though Waldheim and I found Eppendorf on the map. That is a special place to a Biochemist – or anyone who has cause to use plastic test tubes and tips for automatic pipettes!

We dropped down to Dresden, capital of the UK’s homeland, Saxony. Dresden always reminds me a former boss of mine, Klaus. You could gauge when he was drunk, because at a certain point of inebriation, he always mentioned the war. All conversational roads would eventually lead to the accusation “YOU BOMBED DRESDEN!”

It was easy to see from the extent of the modern buildings on the outskirts just how much of the historic city had been lost in the carpet bombing. Then you can say the same thing about London, Coventry, Southampton, Plymouth and so many other British cities, whose architectural history was levelled during the war. Klaus’ beef with Dresden was that it was a beautiful city; that it wasn’t a centre of industry; the purpose of the bombing was largely to devastate morale.

I did a few career-limiting things* during my time with Klaus’ company, although I never did challenge Klaus with “When YOU bombed Coventry, you invented a whole new German and English verb to describe annihilation; ‘to Coventrate‘!” And although Coventry WAS an industrial centre, the devastation was also designed to shatter morale.

*Jackie’s Guide to Career Limitation: Unless you are planning to leave your job to travel around the world, I suggest not getting 200 delegates in an International Meeting to rise to a toast that you propose to the success of a newly-promoted senior manager from Wales. At least not when the toast you propose is “A***holes to Welshmen!”  – in Welsh. 

Two people in the room understood the toast. One was utterly delighted. One was beside himself with FURY! Guess which one thought; education at a Welsh University can really pay dividends. Cheers!

Confessions of a Railway Addict

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I LOVE the romance of steam!

Casey Jones; Steamin’ and a Rollin’; Casey Jones; you never have to guess; When you hear the tootin’ of his whistle; It’s Casey at the throttle of the Canonball Express.”

It was my favourite program when I was three. I know that I was three, because this was my song of choice in my pushchair, although I sang it only to please myself and reverted to staring ahead muttering a monotonous “Uhhhhhhhhh” sound at the approach of any stranger. My trilling tended along the lines of “Casey Jones, Steamin’ and a…Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Casey…Uhhhhhhhhhh etc” depending frequency of passers-by.

Then, if they stopped to peer at me, my gran would say “She’s just turned three!” Maybe as an explanation for my moronic staring into the distance and inability to embrace coherent speech. This is my earliest memory and my grandmother’s words are how I am sure that I was three.

I don’t know where this fascination for steam-train based tales of heroism and derring do came from. Perhaps the relief of Casey stopping the runaway train in every episode or an early affection for those little machines that two people have to pump along the tracks.

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LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard – designed by Nigel Gresley. The fastest steam train in the world.

But I love trains. I grew up in an era when the career of choice for most little boys (and a consideration for this strange little girl – if Welsh toastmaster was out of the question) was to be a train driver. Railways were still romantic. I was taken to see The Flying Scotsman fly through Preston Station; marvelled at the Sir Nigel Gresley steaming up the Settle to Carlisle line and at home, I always favoured drinking tea from a mug picturing Nige’s sister train, Mallard; holder of the 126mph steam speed record. An overwhelming memory of my skydive is that clouds have the same gorgeous smell and taste of the steam from a train. (See ‘The Two Mile High Club’ for details of that little escapade!)

There is plenty in the Saxon Swiss National Park to entertain a train addict. There is a light railway museum; a model railway museum in Sebnitz; the Saxon Semmeringbahn – a 30min trip on a 100 year old track through 7 tunnels and over 27 bridges; a narrow gauge railway; several model railways and my favourite, the Gartenbahnstubl in Stolpen. Each table has a replica station where a model train stops to take your order then a couple of laps later, delivers your drink! When it comes to settling up, the Conductor comes with his bag and money changer.

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Our pitch at Camping Am Treidlerweg – with a train in the background!

I s’pose I should have been happy, then, at the Camping Am Treidlerweg, to be a matter of feet from the main railway line along the river Elbe…

We sat in the caravan, nearly bounced out of our seats by freight trains thundering by. “I’m sure there will be fewer trains overnight…”I optimised. (That is my new word for being foolishly optimistic!) We giggled as we paused ‘The Vikings’ DVD each time the sound of rape and pillage was drowned out by the seismic shudder of heavy rolling stock. It was similar to living under the flight path of Concorde, albeit a little more prolonged. When I lived in Twickenham, phone calls, TV viewing and all conversations had to cease at 11am and 6pm every day as the twice-daily Concorde passed over. Here, it was like living with a whole Flight of Concordes!

At 04:00 we were wide awake. We had got used to the protocol; ‘beep, beep, beep’ as the level crossing gates closed, then either the brief ‘swoooosh – clickety click, clichety click’ of a passenger train or the lengthy, earth-moving rumble of a freighter. We removed 2 ticks from Ruby and 1 from Rosie between 04:00 and 04.30 “It’s not too bad if they’re only every half hour…it gives you a chance to get to sleep before you get woken up again…” but after 4.30, a train came every 5 minutes.

We know. We timed it!

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Looking back at the River Elbe with a freight train thundering past our campsite!

Join us next time as we sort out our priorities; which of the sights to see; which of the railway attractions to see; which of the stunning views… Never mind all that. “Let’s Find Another Campsite!”

3 thoughts on “Confessions of a Railway Addict – The Saxon Swiss National Park, Germany

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