Elbe Bicycle Tour from Mouth to Source
August-September 2006


 


This summer took us to the river Elbe, one of the longest rivers in Europe and a major waterway. The Elbe springs in the Krkonoše mountains in The Czech Republic. It is hard to imagine that this small trickle ends up being the giant waterway. It winds its way through the Northeast part of The CR and Germany and joins the North Sea in Cuxhaven. We cycled 1280km to the town of Špindlerŭv Mlýn and hiked another 6km to the source of the Elbe, known as Pramen Labe in Czech. We tried to travel as close to the Elbe as possible.

The packing list did not change much from our other tours. We added more hardware to the tool kit, such as cables for breaks and gears. The Bikeline books by the Esterbauer company covered about two thirds of our route. In The CR we were able to buy some very good cycling maps, they were especially handy navigating in and out of cities and large towns.

In Germany, we were on dedicated bike paths for much of the trip. We encountered many stretches of cobblestone streets which were not the best for bicycles. We had our share of flat tires and actually ended up buying two tires. When we did have to cycle on roads, German drivers were very considerate. Czech drivers were very good also, just a touch impatient in busy city traffic. Many times, as we were hovering over maps, Czechs would take the time to walk up to us and help.


Cuxhaven, Germany - Starting point

Cuxhaven – Stade, 104km

The first day's ride was spectacular, excellent bike paths, good weather and awesome scenery. It was a Saturday and there were many cyclists on the road, touring as well as making day trips. It rained a little just before lunch and stopped as we were done eating, very considerate. Our first overnight was in Stade. We found a motel just outside the old city and walked into town for dinner.

Stade – Geesthact, 80km

It was a day of mixed weather, sun, rain and thunderstorms. We were standing on the Hamburg waterfront mid-morning, admiring the port when the heavens opened up. We took shelter under a café umbrella, crammed in with people trying to stay dry. When the rain let up, we moved on. Hamburg is a very bike-friendly city.

We got our first flat tire on this day. Fixing it took some time but Jerry got really fast on subsequent ones. The hotel in Geesthact was warm and friendly and dinner was great. Everything we needed after riding in rain most of the day.

Geesthact – Dömitz, 94km

>We stopped in the morning at a bike shop in Geesthact to have them check out the bikes. After riding in muddy fields the previous day, we wanted to make sure things still worked well. But there was no guarantee the mechanic would have time so we moved on. Not far, there was a car wash and we hosed the bikes down and oiled the chains. It was quite late by the time we finally got going.

As for accommodation, some days we would call in the afternoon for a hotel in a town that seemed like a good stop for the day. Other days, we just went till we were ready to stop. Today was a day we had called ahead and it was worth it.

Dömitz is a sleepy town except for one thing, the Hoffman Pension(B&B). Mr. Hoffman is a very friendly and colorful character. It felt very festive in the café behind the hotel. During dinner, he regaled us with many anecdotes and some history lessons. Ms. Vojé cooked dinners for the restaurant's guests(mostly cyclists staying at the B&B). She then entertained us with songs, accompanied by Mr. Hoffman. We, soaked up the atmosphere, along with a few beers and wines.


Dömitz – Wittenberge, 58km

This was a day that was meant to be short. Rain, cold, wind, you name it. The bike paths were for most part not usable because of construction. We cycled mostly on roads. We quit early afternoon, it felt great to dry off in the hotel room. The hotel was gracious enough to let us use their dryer. It turns out, the dryer was very popular on this day.

Wittenberge – Tangermünde, 84km

After a little sprinkle early on, it turned out to be a great day. The bicycle paths took us through varying landscape. We kept trying to stay close to the Elbe and follow the path right on the dike. The bike signs were good but got very confusing at one point. We found ourselves cycling on partly finished bike paths and ended up on the bridge at a lock system. Suddenly, the loudspeakers boomed, “Please get off the property”, slightly reminiscent of the police state. Luckily, at this point, we were riding with Henny and Reimar, a German couple we had met just a little earlier. Reimar explained our confusion to the woman guarding the locks. She pointed our way out of the locks and to Havelberg.

After a second flat in the morning, we had decided I needed a new tire. When we got to a bicycle shop in Havelberg, it was a little after noon, they were closed for lunch till about 2pm. “Hubeny” was the only bicycle repair shop in town. We stayed for a few minutes trying to figure out how best to optimize our time. Suddenly the door opened, the owner popped out and asked, “Do you guys need something in a hurry?” That was nice. The owner Dirk put on the new tire and replaced a fraying cable. He also gave us recommendations on where to stay in Špindlerŭv Mlýn.


Tangermünde turned out to be a lovely town. It came highly recommended and we decided to make it an overnight stop. It was especially nice to see Henny and Reimar walking down the street, they had decided to overnight in the town also. It was only natural that we would all get together for dinner that evening.


Tangermünde – Magdeburg, 81km

The bike paths were getting better and better. It was sunny but quite windy at times. The day was to bring many highlights.


First one was the water bridge which was so impressive, we spent an hour and a half just hanging around, taking pictures and watching traffic go by. It is a canal and a bridge over the Elbe. It circumvents many locks the barges and boats had to traverse. Look at Wikepedia for more.
The second was a hotel in Magdeburg recommended by the tourist office. We showed up at the hotel and thought, this? As we have since learned, this hotel is one of the many buildings designed by the famous Austrian artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He defied straight lines, this hotel left no doubts about that. Read more about Hundertwasser.


Magdeburg – Wörlitz, 103km

Another good day. At lunch we met a German family who had been touring for ten days. We were impressed that the daughters 10 and 12 were to cycle 100km that day and they were carrying their own luggage! Later in the day, when I had to push myself, I thought of the girls for inspiration. As we cycled through some farms, we were delighted at how patient the German drivers were on the narrow country lanes, pulling over and completely stopping so we could have a wide berth.

Wörlitz is noted for its English gardens built by King Leopold III. After his trip to Italy, the king also built a scaled down version of Mount Vesuvius. I guess these kings had too much time on their hands. The remnants of the volcano can still be seen, it is called the “Stein” or the rock.

Wörlitz – Torgau, 101km


Torgau monument


Torgau was a real surprise, a beautiful town complete with a castle and an elegant town centre. More interestingly, there is a monument marking the post-war meeting between Americans and Russians, on April 25, 1945. Understandably, Germans we spoke to said that the monument was an unpleasant reminder and would like to be rid of it.

Here we made small talk with two tourists Hans and Jürgen. As it turned out, they were also bicycle-touring, we would run into them several times over the next few days.

Torgau – Radebeul-Altkötzschenbroda, 94km

It was a nice day but windy! The trails were fine except when interrupted by cobblestone. There were some steps to go up and down. We took the recommendation by Hans and Jürgen and stayed in Radebeul and even in the same hotel they were in.

Radebeul – Bad Schandau, 65km

It was not a long day but we stopped close to the Czech border. We did not want to tackle a new country and unfamiliar things late in the day. Along the way, we spent some time in Dresden. It was a city devastated during the war but much of its former glory has been restored. Here we ran into Hans and Jürgen again and decided to celebrate, right in front of the famous Frauenkirche. Hans treated us to Sekt, German sparkling wine. Jürgen gave us interesting background on the restoration of Dresden. We joined them at lunch in Pirna, yet another lovely town. The scenery got more and more rugged as we approached the sandstone mountains, known as Die Sächsische Alpen.


Fürstenzug, Dresden – mural depicting succession of princes



Celebrating with Hans and Jürgen



Die Sächsische Alpen


Bad Schandau – Litoměřice, 75km

The Czech border was only about 10km from Bad Schandau, we crossed with no ceremony. Not even passport checks! The path seemed to get more hilly in the Czech Republic. Trails along the river were good at first but became unusable, either because of overgrowth or too much gravel. After trying a number of times, we gave up on being close to the river began cycling on roads. This would be the case for most of the cycling in The CR. We chose small roads and there was very little traffic. In Litoměřice, we got Jerry a new tire and bought a bicycle map for the area. Later on in other towns, we were able to buy other bike maps, usually in book stores.


German-Czech Border


Litoměřice – Mělník, 58km

It was a short day, we stopped in Mělník for lunch and decided to stay. We got accommodation in a quiet pension(B&B) with a very talkative host. He was born close to the Czech border and spoke fluent German. He said he loved it when he could chat with his guests.

Mělník – Poděbrady, 77km

Just as we left Mělník, we completed 1000km, a major milestone. We had one unfortunate incident on this day. There was a stretch of the road being tarred, traffic was directed to the part of the road not yet tarred. A lot of the tar seemed to have spilled on to this part of the road and gummed up the tires big time. We spent over an hour to scraping the tar off the tires. There was still a drag on the tires and it was slow going. At some point, Jerry bought a putty knife and we were able to clean the tires some more before getting into Poděbrady. The approach to Poděbrady was right along the river, on tree lined bike paths. Poděbrady is a spa town but did not impress us in any other way.

Poděbrady – Hradec Králové, 108km

There were a couple of overnight options and we chose Hradec Králové. What a good choice it was. It is one of the prettiest towns in The Czech Republic. We lucked out with the hotel right at the center. The hotel “Nové Adalbertinum” is a converted monastery and one of the most unique places we've stayed in. We both had the Czech specialty Svíčková for dinner.


Hradec Králové



Hradec Králové



Hotel Nové Adalbertinum


Hradec Králové – Vrchlabi, 80km

The ride was now a series of hills and getting more wooded. We thought we would stay in a town called Hostinne. It is a very pretty town but run down. The “hotel” marked on the map turned out to be a residence for seniors. Anyway, 10km later was Vrchlabi which caters mostly to skiers in the winter. Next day would be a very short ride to our last town, Špindlerŭv Mlýn.

Vrchlabi - Špindlerŭv Mlýn – Pramen Labe, 19km + 6km hiking

From this town we would walk 6km to the Elbe source. There were some bicycle paths part of the way but were a bit rugged for our touring bikes. By the time we figured out where to go etc, it was late in the day. We decided to do it the next morning, after all we still had an entire week left. We rode up a chairlift to the start of the hiking trail. The walk was really nice, blue skies helped of course. The source is nicely marked but low key and tasteful. A wall has shields of cities which the Elbe touches. This spot is only a few minutes' walk from the Polish border. We stayed for a while, enjoying the fine weather and the fine feeling. We then walked back, took the chairlift down and cycled to Vrchlabi from where we would take the first train out the next morning.



Return journey

We had information on train connections, printed at the tourist office in Špindlerŭv Mlýn. The ticket office in Vrchlabi could only sell tickets up to Prague. We would have to buy the tickets to Cuxhaven in Prague. We did not think it was unreasonable and were prepared for different scenarios.

Three trains later we arrived in Prague. The ticketing and information in the Prague train station seemed very chaotic. We had to go to different windows for different bits of information, and stand in line each time. Sometimes we got a “not possible” without any explanation. After persevering, we discovered that all the bicycle compartments in Intercity trains from Prague to anywhere in Germany were fully booked for at least two days.

Prague is nice but we did not want to be forced to stay there. So we thought we would take a local train to the border town and just cycle the 25km to Bad Schandau in Germany. Once we got to Germany we would be on familiar territory. After going to 3 windows we found out it was possible but we could buy the tickets only in the next train station. We cycled over to the next station, just a few minutes away. We got tickets for train to the border town of Děčín. Prague had tried to keep us but we had slipped through its fingers! The Czech have excellent trains but their systems need to be networked.

When we got to Děčín, a train bound for Bad Schandau was at the platform! We had twenty minutes. The woman at the ticket counter was annoyed at being “rushed”, all because she had to enter some passport information in the database. That was because the train would be going across the Czech-German border. In contrast to crossing the border on bicycles, there were elaborate passport checks on the train. When I commented to the German guard about the total lack of checks on the bike path, he replied that it was impossible to check every bike path and every trail in the woods. We arrived in Bad Schandau, that was our fifth train for the day. There at the train station, we bought tickets for the next day, all the way to Cuxhaven where our car was parked. The night in Bad Schandau was at the Elbhotel where we had stayed before. Three trains later we were at the car. Train travel is fun but eight trains with bicycles was a bit stressful.

It was a great trip, all but two days of good weather, stunning scenery and meeting many nice people.


Go DB! Germany knows how to do trains.