Mobile phones
Getting around

25.5: Munich -> Dresden
26.5: Dresden
27.5: Dresden, Pillnitz castle

Overview and overall impression
The historic core of Dresden is - simply put - impressive. An impressive collection of richly decorated, beautiful buildings, mostly in baroque or rococo styles. Most of these buildings have been reconstructed after the WW II distruction and in some parts of Dresden the reconstruction effort is still going on. This reconstruction effort has been limited to the historic core area. In fact you can notice an abrupt change between old and new in Dresden: outside the historic core most buildings are either communist era buildings or modern buildings.
Everything is a bit slower and less commercialised in Dresden, if compared to cities in the west of Germany. This is positive because it for instance means that it is relatively easy to find a free parking for the car not far from the city centre.

Costs in Dresden are moderate if compared to other European cities. We paid for instance only 67 Euro for a hotel room for the four of us - compare that to the 110 Euro we paid in Florence for a hotel room in 2005 for a smaller room.

Nothing special to note here. We ate in a mix of restaurants and cafes, sometimes eating food from street vendors.

It was easy to find quite affordable and good accomodation (67 Euro for a quadruple room, in a hotel only a few km from the city centre).

Money  / Exchange rate (June 2012)
1 Euro = 1.25 USD
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. You won't need traveller cheques.

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
Like everywhere else it is possible to buy prepaid SIM cards to avoid roaming surcharges. Germany has four operators of nationwide networks and several discounters reselling airtime.


Internet access
Since the hotel had no WLAN in the room I used the 3G phone as a mobile hotspot to download my emails and surf the Internet. I can't remember having seen many Internet cafes in Dresden, in fact I didn't notice any.


Mostly sunny, some clouds, no rain, max. temperatures around 23-24C.

Health / Vaccinations
None required for Germany.

VISA / Entry requirements
Visitors from developed countries can enter Germany without a visa or get a visa on arrival. Visitors of other countries need to get a Schengen visa.

No issues here. Dresden is a very safe place.

Getting around
We drove to  Dresden by car and used mostly the car to get around. Public transportation is good. Some streets in Dresden are in a pretty bad shape.

25.5: Munich -> Dresden
Hotel Andor Europa, Dresden. 67 Euro for a triple room (third bed is a sofa which can be converted to a bed), suitable for two adults and two kids (kids sleep in the sofa-bed). Big enough room, with bathroom (shower) and a pre-room (double-door system to protect against noise from corridor). Room is decently furnished and has phone, TV, fridge (minibar), table+chairs. Good shower in the toilet. The only big problem is the lack of A/C: we have 26C in the room, quite hot to sleep. The room is facing west, so in the late afternoon the sun shines in. The hotel is conveniently located in a quiet area, 1km east of the train station. 9 Euro/person for the breakfast (good buffet breakfast, no fresh fruit however), kids don't pay.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds, some very light rain, fresh

We manage to leave home at 4:20pm and drive to the A9 motorway. The traffic jam starts shortly after we exit Munich and reach the motorway. It is caused by the huge number of people who are leaving Munich for the Whitsun holidays or the long weekend.

It's stop-and-go until we complete the first 30km, then suddenly it becomes smooth and we proceed quickly until we hit the next traffic jam. Shortly before Regensburg there is a new traffic jam, this time caused by a car accident. While we pass the scene of the accident we have a quick look. A policeman is recording what happened.

A few seconds later we hear a crash-bang noise. Another accident just happened, two, or perhaps even three cars involved. Most likely these people were observing the accident scene and didn't break when the car in front had to break or somebody tried to change lanes without checking.

At 6:20pm we stop for the first time in a motorway station near Regensburg. 70 cents for using the toilet, of which you get 50 back if you buy something in the shop or restaurant. Small picnic on a bench near the car, then we get back into the traffic jam. After a while the traffic jam dissolves and we pick up speed.

At 9pm we stop for the second time, this time in a motorway station in Saxony. Half an hour spent there, then we continue driving, this time quickly at normal motorway speeds. Finally at 11pm we reach the hotel.

26.5: Dresden
Hotel Andor Europa, Dresden
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day until the evening, when some clouds build up. Around 21C, some light wind.

Surprise, surprise in the morning, when we discover that one suitcase is missing. It's the small one of Alissia, with all her clothes, which we left in Munich. Small attempt of Shirley to blame me for this. My line of defense is not bad however, as I point out that how I should have known that one suitcase had to be loaded into the car if the suitcase was hidden somewhere.

I tell Shirley not to dramatise and that we'll buy some cheap clothes for Alissia, so that she'll have something to wear. We decide to have a breakfast in the hotel, also because since the kids don't pay, 18 Euro for the breakfast for all of us is not too bad. Also, a buffet breakfast allows you to eat a lot and almost skip lunch.

After breakfast, with the smartphone we locate the nearest Kik retail outlet. Kik is a chain of retail outlets specialising on cheap clothes for children and other cheap stuff. We drive there. Shirley spends the next 40 minutes there buying clothes for Alissia and Natasha. Forgot to mention, we easily find a free parking space for the car. Quite surprising, because we are quite close to the train station. In Munich such a parking space would not be free.

At 12 something pm we drive to the first touristic highlight of Dresden, the Zwinger. This is a beautiful palace in baroque/rokoko style in the historic centre of Dresden, located near the Semper opera and the other touristic highlights, south of the Elbe river.

We drive for a while by car around it, to get an idea where the best spot to leave the car would be. Most parking areas are not free, but almost by coincidence we find a free parking place not far away from the Zwinger.

I get the impression that people in Dresden are not as money-oriented as people in Munich and Paris for instance, because in Munich it would be impossible to find a free parking space near a touristic highlight. I'm also surprised by the lack of traffic and activity in Dresden. In Munich on a shopping Saturday there are large numbers of people everywhere, huge traffic on the streets, but here in Dresden everything is so quiet today. Compared to Munich, Dresden is almost a ghost town.

Everywhere you can see the remnants of the communist era. You would think that 20 years after the reunification and huge yearly funds transfers from western to eastern Germany, the east would have top-notch infrastructure everywhere, modern buildings, streets etc. But no, the infrastructure improvement has happened only in certain spots, not in the whole of Dresden.

I remember when I travelled to Dresden and eastern Germany at the beginning of the 1990s, a year or two after the wall fell, I found roads and motorways which hadn't been fixed since World War II. The cool thing now is that some of these pre-WW II roads still exist in Dresden, really interesting.

Part of the Zwinger is undergoing renovation when we visit it, but otherwise the Zwinger is really stunning, one of the gems of Dresden. Inside the Zwinger there is a porcelain museum with beautiful exhibits, but we don't visit it because Shirley is not interested.

Instead at 12:30pm we walk out of the Zwinger to the next place which must be the castle or royal palace. Again, beautiful and stunning 18th century architecture, tourists everywhere, souvenir shops, restaurants etc. Dresden is really a gem.

However almost everything we are seeing was destroyed by British and US bombs during WW II and was reconstructed after the war. It's a pity the original buildings were lost.

10 Euro/person to get inside the castle. We skip that, since Shirley is not too interested and it would probably be 30-40 Euro for the four of us, and I guess that photography inside is not allowed anyway.

However it has to be noted that if you visit Dresden and decide to visit the interior of the buildings (and there are lots of interesting museums in Dresden), the 1-2 days which would otherwise suffice to see the highlights of Dresden would quickly become 3-4 days.

Lots of street artists on the street. Alissia and Natasha gladly will give some money to these people and pose for photos.

The historic area of Dresden around the Elbe river is mostly a pedestrian area, although it's criss-crossed by several streets where cars, taxis and public transportation circulates.

I'm busy trying out the new camera and have to say it's a cool piece of equipment. Almost all shots are sharp, very few shots are blurred. The AF excels and identifying the subject and getting it precisely into focus. Loads of detail in the photos.

Shortly before 3pm we make a stop in a roadside cafe near the Frauenkirche for some small lunch (a sandwich, some brezel and some drinks).

Finally, at 3:30pm we reach the Frauenkirche. The Frauenkirche is a famous church with a pretty special shape with a circular base, resembling sort of a wine bottle. This church was destroyed during WW II and was a pile of rubble until the 1990s, when it was decided to rebuild it. The reconstruction was completed in 2006 and all original stones were reused in the process. However they did not only reconstruct the Frauenkirche, they also rebuilt the buildings around it, and these buildings all look a bit fake. Stylish and nice, but fake. These buildings host a number of luxury hotels and shops and shop galleries.

By now Shirley and especially the kids are really tired. Lots of walking and sightseeing after a tiring drive yesterday. They rest a bit inside the Frauenkirche (entry is free), then shortly after 4pm we start walking back to the car. It takes a while to reach the car, especially if you are walking with a tired 4 year old kid and after some time I tell Shirley to wait in a place while I walk to the car and come and pick her up.

When I'm finally there with the car, Natasha is already sleeping in the arms of Shirley. The idea would be to drive to a grocery store and buy some drinks and food. We drive towards the train station and at one point spot a REAL (German supermarket chain) sign stating "REAL in 7km". We continue driving on the road, trying to find the REAL, but end up instead on the motorway towards Prague. It takes a while to get out of the motorway and U-turn.

Anyway, we drive back towards the centre of Dresden, stopping at a beautiful Russian orthodox church on the way. Then we continue to a shopping mall (well, sort of) near the train station. After buying the groceries in the Rewe supermarket, we have a not so impressive dinner in the March restaurant in the train station.

It's 6:40pm when I bring back Shirley and the kids to the hotel. Then I drive back into town for some evening photos of the old town of Dresden.

At 7:30pm I get up on the tower of the Frauenkirche. The ticket costs 8 Euro, you take an elevator, then walk up for quite a while. They could charge less considering that you have to walk so much. On top I notice that the sun is in the wrong position - in the west, where the things I wanted to photograph are located. Should have gone up in the morning, not in the evening.

After 10 minutes on the top I walk down again (to get down you take the stairs, not the elevator). then walk briefly on the other side of the river. After 10pm I get back to the hotel.

27.5: Dresden, Pillnitz castle
Hotel Andor Europa, Dresden
Weather: a mix of sunny and cloudy. Mostly overcast in the afternoon, no rain, temperatures around 22C, some light wind.

We get up late and have breakfast after 10am. Shortly before 12pm noon we are at the Frauenkirche square. To minimise the walking distance we are now parking the car in the car park right below the Frauenkirche square, 2.40 Euro/hour.

The idea is to climb up again the Frauenkirche tower to capture some shots with the sun in a different position. Turns out that today it's only possible to get on top after 12:30pm - still more than half an hour to wait.

So, to kill the time, I walk with Alissia to the nearby market square facing the Kulturpalast, the Striezelmarkt.

Dresden is a strange mix of old and new. In the city centre you'll find reconstructed old buildings and communist era buildings which were built on the site of older buildings. A strange mix of zones. A bit artificial, as if somebody rebuilt the entire town from scratch and decided where to put old buildings and where new ones.

Turns out that this market square is quite interesting, so I ask Shirley to come here. At 12:30pm I then walk back to the Frauenkirche, only to discover that now there is a very long queue who all want to get on top of the tower.

So I just walk back to the market square. There I notice a church with a tower overlooking the market square, the Kreuzkirche. I manage to get on top of this tower (3 Euro fee, no elevator, you have to walk all the way up the stairs).

Nice views of Dresden. I spend some time on the top of the tower, then shortly after 1pm I walk down again. I meet again Shirley and we have lunch in the nearby Mandarin Chinese restaurant, found with the help of the smartphone.

After lunch we drive to the Pillnitz castle. The smartphone navigation system chooses a route south of the Elbe river which uses a car ferry (4.70 Euro) to cross the Elbe in the last section. We reach the destination quickly without problems.

Technological progress. Previously you had to struggle with maps, ask people etc., now you just key in a destination and arrive without effort.

The roads by the way are in some sections in a pretty poor state. Cobble stone streets, flagstone streets, holes everywhere. No fun driving on these streets.

Castle Pillnitz is, well, nothing so special if compared to Dresden. Quite unimpressive, although the setting on the Elbe river is very nice. Nice park around the castle, suitable for relaxing with kids. The castle itself probably has some museum or some exposition and is perhaps not that uninteresting, it's just that we are spoiled by having seen so many great places in the last days and couple of weeks.

It's a pity we can't stay longer, but all of a sudden Shirley has some stomach ache, so we drive back to the hotel. This time we drive north of the Elbe and understand why the car navigation system chose the southern route. Basically we are stuck for a while in a traffic jam, while driving through narrow roads and small towns. Finally after crossing the next bridge over the Elbe the situation improves.

We are back by 5 something pm, then take a rest. In the evening we go out again for some dinner in town. In the process we "discover" Prager Strasse, which seems to be the main shopping street of Dresden. Broad pedestrian area with fountains, greenery, lots of shops, restaurants etc.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon