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I’m an expert at making mistakes on the road.
“You missed your appointed time,” the guard told me, pursing her lips.
“I did? I didn’t see this door…” I glanced at the solid metal door behind her. Knots formed in my stomach.
“I’m sorry. I thought the vault’s entrance was there,” I said when she didn’t respond to me.
Then I waved my hand toward another door in the exhibit’s left hand corner, a small entrance where a different guard quickly glanced at incoming tickets. I thought I’d already made my appointed time thirty minutes ago.
Sighing, the guard shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. “Fine,” she replied. “I guess you can come in.”
The Grünes Gewölbe (or “Green Vault”) is Dresden’s most popular tourist attraction.
The reconstructed treasury is a collection of gold and gem masterpieces owned by August the Strong. Understandably, conservation measures are strictly in place to protect the precious art. As a result, no photography is permitted, and timed tickets are issued to keep crowds under control.
I shuffled through the door, muttering a “danke” under my breath as I took one of the English-speaking headsets, and wondered for the millionth time if I’d ever settle in the routine of solo travel again.
Dresden isn’t necessarily high on Germany’s typical tourist trail. It’s not completely unknown, but it’s not spoken in the same breath as Berlin, Munich, and The Mad King’s Castles.
Apparently Dresden – Saxony’s capital city on the River Elbe – doesn’t make a blip on most backpackers’ radars either. Earlier in the morning, as the Busabout bus parked, only four people disembarked at Dresden, while the remaining thirty or so directly headed to Prague.
So much for making immediate friends. Normally solitude doesn’t bother me, but after a quiet day melting away in Berlin, I wanted social interaction again. When you’re a solo traveler, you need to embrace the quiet periods that inevitably settle in your lap.
After I dropped my bags off at Lollis Homestay, I hopped on a sleek yellow tram to see the city’s old town – especially eager for The Green Vault.
Now I didn’t know where to look. Gold. Ivory. Mother-of-pearl. Ostrich eggs. All as far as the eye could see. Each room was a jewel-box, sparkling and impeccable, and upon stepping into Dresden’s streets again, the sun shone less brightly.
After the Green Vault, I aimlessly wandered through Dresden’s Old Town.
The Old Town was meticulously reconstructed after the Second World War. Yes, all those lovely buildings aren’t original. The Bombing of Dresden destroyed most of the city and killed approximately 25,000 people. To this day, I’m unable to grasp the carnage.
First was a leisurely walk through Zwinger, a Rococo palace that dominates the center of Dresden. Not only were the palace grounds free (yay!), but the shade gave me reprieve from the scorching and bright afternoon sun. I wore a cute white hat to shield my forehead, but the random wind didn’t like it too much.
Fountains on the grounds reminded me of Versailles. I found it impossible to believe this beautiful palace was completely burnt out in 1945, not to be restored until decades later.
Next was Dresden Frauenkirche or the main Lutheran Church, located mere blocks away. I stared at church’s shiny, clean, slick walls, and my brain immediately knew this particular place of worship wasn’t a relic from the Reformation Period. It was rebuilt and recently. Not until after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
When I entered Dresden Frauenkirche, also free to the public, white walls – accented with gold and pastel colors – greeted me along with children’s soothing, angelic hymns. A visiting choir was in town.
Finally, like any European city, I absolutely loved spending time in the massive squares, people watching. By this point, heat bloomed under my skin, and sweat beaded on my forehead and arms. Yuck. Time for a needed break.
I sat on a bench, hiding underneath the cool shade, and watched laughing groups and couples. Briefly, a pang of loneliness settled in my chest. Then giggling rang in my ears. A group of teenagers, the same age as the students I’ve just left, played in a row of fountains.
One of the teens – a bright eyed girl with long curly brown hair – kicked a stream of water up her friend’s legs, soaking her sun dress. Shrieking, the victim smacked her friend’s shoulder and faux scolded her in German. A smile spread across my lips.
Later, upon returning to my hostel dorm room, afternoon darkness greeted me. As I dragged my backpack to my bed, a nearby mattress squeaked, and a sleepy woman rubbed her eyes. I bit my lip, ready to be chewed out for disrupting her nap.
“Hey, wanna check out the barbecue tonight?” she asked instead. “I’m headed to the grocery store in five minutes.”
I nodded, smiling.
Solo travel – even on a hot soaking summer’s day in an unfamiliar city – never stays lonely forever.
Have you ever visited Dresden? Unrelated, what are some of your favorite places to “people watch” and “think” on your travels? Do you think it’s important to spend some time, alone in thought, on the road, or should you stay as busy as possible (you’re spending a lot, after all!)?
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