It started out the worst of days. Drizzle became rain not long after we started our walk beside the Elbe River in Germany, heading for the Czech Republic border at Schmilka. Rosemarie's non-waterproof coat was slowly becoming saturated below the umbrella line. At one point thoughts of turning around and returning to the spa town of Bad Schandau were seriously contemplated, but we reversed that decision and pushed on. It was a fortuitous choice. Not long after the rain eased, then stopped.
We pushed on for six kilometres, almost keeping pace with three walkers on the other side of the river, and warmth slowly returned to our freezing faces. We were glad to see Schmilka, to have a drink and a toilet stop.
Rosemarie had had enough and I helped her get on the ferry to go across and catch the train and another ferry home. I walked down and did a ritual crossing of the border that has only been open since January 1 this year. It's wonderful to walk into another country and not have your passport checked. Though I've done it before, it hasn't lost its magic.
I waved goodbye to Rosemarie's train and then turned and started the ascent to a trail called the Elbleitenweg (weg just means 'way'). It was steep, mainly up stairs which in places were obscured by fallen leaves. When I reached the first lookout the three guys from the other side of the river were there. They had crossed while we had our pit stop. One was from Ecuador, the other two from India. Sadly, someone mentioned cricket and so the next half hour was swallowed up. They really are crazy about it, it's not just a myth.
Finally I reached the plateau. Five minutes later my jaw dropped – and stayed in that position for the next hour.
Under a sullen sky, strange shapes rose beyond the stark trees which stood like sentinels before the exotic sandstone shapes that rose skywards into the mist. This was the Bastei, a rock formation towering almost 200 metres above the Elbe River. Beyond the leaf litter, shining from the recent precipitation, the lichen and moss were like frescoes on an ancient landscape; the brooding massive rock domes rent here and there by deep fissures exposing their weak points. Birds twittered, shrieked and sang their spring songs, cutting the air seemingly unimpeded. It was, and is, a magical place, this Saxon Switzerland.
There is a trail called Malerweg that would take about a fortnight to walk which slices through this magical land. I have been on bits of it here and there, but for those who have completed it, it must be an unforgettable experience.
When I returned to Bad Schandau after six hours on the trails, poor Rosemarie was in bed with a touch of the flu, but she seemed to recover a little on my return.
So we went down to dinner and found a smorgasbord laid out. Needless to say, we had our share as well as someone else's! The unforgettable highlight was something I had seen once in a movie and once in a chocolate factory. To my eternal disgrace, Rosemarie saw it before I did: a chocolate fountain. Heaven beckoned.
So, you get a wooden skewer, stick it in a chopped-up piece of fruit and roll it around in the fountain. I only went back three times and Rosemarie twice.
I had seen the light – hallelujah!