A wedding, a christening and two reunions

My 9 day break from cycling proved fruitful for catching up with former classmates (20y reunion!), family at my cousin’s wedding along with a new godson, team Nepal over a raclette evening and Alex who represented his school at a cross-country event. I feel like I should get a special discount for any travel from/to Berlin Schönefeld with three flights in a week by now. Back to Serbia to continue my cycle trip…

20y school reunion

20 years ago I finished off my A-levels before heading to the army for my basic military service. Thankfully we have a group of people who keep the anniversaries in mind and organise a get together every 5 years. We had a school tour with a rather hilarious former teacher and i learned that we had prison cells somewhere in the basement… Different ones for different problems (such as STDs!?!). Many things have changed now that the school has been renamed, extended and hosts a Czech focused class and teachers. But there was still plenty of memories berried those old walls of the former Rainer-Fetscher gym.

The dinner and party in Pirna’s city center was nothing short of amazing. Really good to catch up with old friends until the early hours. Gossip central!

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Denise / Mitko wedding & Anton’s baptism

My cousin finally got married to her Mitko after living together what seems forever to me. Crisp church service including the christening of my new godson Anton and then it was party time in the village of Weissig with wonderful views of the surrounding Saxon Switzerland countryside.

The party was good and many made an effort to surprise the newly weds. Good moments to chat with people who i don’t get to see often. Thanks. I had a good time.

Team Nepal in da house

Jon, one of the Everest climbers, just commenced his time off from service on his ship and stopped over in london before heading to africa to climb Kilimanjaro. Good time to catch up and retell Nepal stories. Rory and Zena came along too for what turned out a fantastic evening over a raclette – my preferred choice to socialize over dinner. Looking forward to the next catch up. And good luck to Rory for his Nepal cycle trip.

Not quite Usain Bolt, but good effort nonetheless

Alex already told me over the phone that there will be a cross-country event with 120 kids from different schools. He was excited to have been picked amongst a handful others in his class to represent St saviours.

He was busy thinking how fast he could be. I was busy managing expectations. His run turned into a series of sprints with some walking in between. Pacing is something he will need to improve. In the end it was just place 94 this time. Room to improve for the next run.

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A few days in Saxony

After my canoe paddle adventure had ended, it was time for a bit of family action back in Königstein. First and foremost the 50th birthday of Bodo, but also some downtime with Alex, sightseeing with Laura and catching up with the grandpa’s. A really great time, though I was also happy to get back on the road. Off to London briefly while Alex flies to St Petersburg to spend the second half of his summer holidays with babushka 👵 and dedushka 👴 in Russia.

Bodo turning 50

Great evening to honor the 50th of Bodo with loads of guests and a program boasting everything from magic to songs and dancing. We also put a revised version of we will rock you together while Laura impressed with her very colombian dress. Fun indeed though never enough time to catch up with everyone. Well, there are plenty more occasions this year.

Visit to Königstein fortress (on 2nd attempt) & Klettergarten

A visit to the largest fortress in Europe is almost mandatory for anyone that visits the town first time. Our first attempt was sadly thwarted by a massive rain shower with hail, lightning and thunder. So strong that even the fire alarms went off and a dozen of fire engines turned up (the fortress has a long history with lightnings).

On the 2nd attempt it worked out fine and Frances was helpful throwing in the remaining pieces of info from her time as a guide here (lets call it … patchy 🤣). For me the views remain some of the best in the region. See here for more on the history.

A new activity for me was the high ropes course near the fortress. Alex had been there with grandad before and wanted to try the higher levels now with me. Frances and Laura joined as well. It is tough once you get past the first 4 initial stages and pretty tiring (esprcially if you clear obstacles without cheating). Nice workout.

Dresden… Always a beauty

We didnt have much time to see Dresden, but surely I didn’t want to leave it out completely. So a quick round through the now reborn old town of Dresden. The amount of work put in to restore this beautiful place impresses me time and time again.

Wer das Weinen verlernt hat, der lernt es wieder beim Untergang Dresdens.

– Gerhart Hauptmann

Elbe paddle: Finishing off in Hamburg

‘Endstation Hamburg’ would be the German way to describe it. Against the original plan of paddling all the way to Cuxhaven we decided to stop in Hamburg. 650km, 17 days, two countries and 6 federal states is enough for now and having taken the boat out of the river, i was a bit lazy to put it back together for another day or two. There was also sad news of two canoers bodies recovered half way to Cuxhaven. So that was the Elbe paddle – a test run for my bigger plan of paddling the Yukon in Canada/Alaska (~5x the distance at ~3,000km) and a bit of seen in my home country. Loved every moment of this river adventure even though that is hard to believe for some 😉 💪 🛶

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Two days in Hamburg

We spent only so much time sightseeing. Mainly the Landungsbrücken, Hafencity and the city hall. All pretty nice. The busy port with loads of waves reminded us as to why we took the boat out early. We didn’t see a single paddler in the harbour area though they are more likely to use the less busy Suederelbe anyway. We did spot the vessel though that passed the lock in Geesthacht with us.

For dinner we were invited at Thomas’ and Hanna’s brand new house in the West of Hamburg. I had never actually met any of the three boys. Another very important reason for the extra time in Hamburg. Afterwards we hit the Kietz with its iconic Reeperbahn. It was pretty empty, but we found still some iconic bars to have a good night out after all the sporty days behind us. The sun greeted us on the way home ☀ ☺ 🏩

So how was it after almost 3w on the river?

I have to say that I am well impressed with what the journey has to offer. It is true that it is not a matter of floating down the river, but in fact hard work. In particular at low water levels. On the flip side there are plenty of pretty towns on the way, amazing outdoor (really loved the camping by the river with good swimming and little insect issues) and so many animals. Really good to see the beavers back, lots of seafood about (crabs et al) and endless numbers of birds. I hope the infrastructure improves even further, as some places between Meissen & Hamburg feel dead.

What to learn for the next trip?

Here is a short list of improvements for the next trip.

  • Seat padding & backrest
  • Folding chairs
  • More gas, less liquid fuel (used spirit and managed to melt the MSR stove) ⛽ 🛢️
  • Waterfilter (well, if it ever gets delivered)
  • Larger tent (for Yukon) 🏕️
  • Much less clothing for change (quick wash is enough)
  • Better shoes (flip flops are pretty unstable) 👟
  • Consider canoe/double paddles
  • Need to accept that a cold beer or meat just won’t be readily available 🍻 🥩
  • An umbrella instead of drag sail

Summary of all posts

Elbe paddle (day 1): Usti n. L. to Decin

Elbe paddle (day 2): Decin to Stadt Wehlen

Elbe paddle (day 3): Stadt Wehlen to Coswig

Elbe paddle (day 4): Coswig to Riesa / Strehla

Elbe paddle (day 5): Riesa / Strehla to Torgau via Mühlberg

Elbe paddle (day 6): Torgau to Wittenberg

Elbe paddle (day 7): Wittenberg to Coswig (Anhalt)

Elbe paddle (day 8): Coswig (Anhalt) – Dessau – Barby

Elbe paddle (day 9): Barby – Schönebeck – Magdeburg

Elbe paddle (day 10): Magdeburg – Niegripp

Elbe paddle (day 11 & 12): Niegripp – Tangermünde – (somehwhere near) Räbel

Elbe paddle (day 13): Räbel to Wahrenberg

Elbe paddle (day 14 & 15): Wahrenberg – Schnackenburg – Dömitz

Elbe paddle (day 16): Dömitz – Hitzacker – Bleckede

Elbe paddle (day 17): Bleckede – Geesthacht lock – Drage/Hamburg

Elbe paddle (day 17): Bleckede – Geesthacht lock – Drage/Hamburg

Today: 42km |Total: 651km

Long day today in brutal heat yet again (one bottle of sunblock… gone). We left Bleckede pretty early to get to a key point on the trip – the lock in Geesthacht passing Lauenburg on the way. While the wind was favorable, the onsetting traffic on the Elbe made for a new experience. Many waves to maneuvre. After 35km we reached the lock by 3.30pm. And after another 7km we reached the bootclub in Drage – a Hamburg suburb. We took the boat out here and enjoyed the pick-up by Thomas in an air conditioned car. Different. Tomorrow we explore Hamburg a bit.

Geesthacht: The lock is situtated on a side arm of the river and is preceeded by pumped storage power plant. The lock manages the tides on the river. The approach is challenging to the extent that the current on the river slows as you get closer (means more paddling, less floating). Just before the lock there is a canal that is not as affected by the heat and hence still frequented by large vessels. So a lot of traffic after days of peace and quiet on the Elbe. Once in the lock – you feel pretty small in a canoe. Huge dimensions of what we referred to as the gates of mordor 🤣⚓. Once through the gates, a paddler needs to know the tidal tables. Basically you paddle as the high water flows back to the North sea until it reaches its lowest level and the flow direction flips (no chance) . Today the window was from 1pm to 7pm ish.

Drage: We had stopped earlier at a camp ground by the river for dearly needed refreshments. I managed to convince Laura to get into the boat once more to find a better place to take the canoe out of the water. She was very tired and sick of the permanent sun exposure ☀ 🇨🇴 😂. Once at the Drage boat club we dismantled the canoe and soon after Thomas arrived to give us a lift.

Hamburg: We will definately have a rest day here and check out town. A night in a bed is also very appealing after 2,5w camping. The dinner & beer were a good reward for getting here too!

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Elbe paddle (day 16): Dömitz – Hitzacker – Bleckede

Today: 46km |Total: 601km

Hamburg we are on our way! The 600km mark has fallen and the last days of this great journey are upon us. Today was the longest day Laura and I have paddled together and made up for some lost ground yesterday. We visited the pretty town of Hitzacker (with indeed some hills) and put up camp in the boat club Bleckede. First warm showers since Magdeburg. Amazing. Tomorrow off to Geesthacht with its huge lock, a first taste of paddling with tides and a scheduled reunion with my childhood friend Thomas.

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Solution found for Hamburg: The general feedback i picked up on the way is that its dangerous to paddle through the busy Hamburg harbour. Waves, open canoe, limited experience… All voted for avoiding this part of the journey. So we will take the boat out before the harbour and resume the journey after. Better safe than sorry.