Since we walked from the train station to our Airbnb in Dresden, both situated a short distance away from the city centre, we didn’t quite know what the city looked like or what we were to look forward to. We did not spend too much time researching the city simply because the recurring sentiment was that the city was small enough explore in a couple of days. We’d heard some wonderful things about the largely reconstructed Dresden, but, walking under the spitting grey of the German sky, main road to our right and large dreary apartment blocks to our left, our first impressions of the place were not too encouraging.
Having Rita as our host in Berlin, someone as warm and welcoming as she was, it was difficult not to expect our host in Dresden to be anything but similarly disposed; especially since I had not previously stayed in an Airbnb before. But, as tends to be the case with expectations, the guy offering us a room fell way below (way, way below) them.
He did not even greet us at the door. We received a text with the door code, were told to climb two flights of stairs and just enter the door on the right. Tentatively, climbed the stairs and entered into a tiny flat, dimly lit, and stood there not knowing what to do with our selves of about 30 seconds.
‘Hello?’, I called out, positivity draining away and slowly but surely turning into irritation. After a moment or two, a guy slithers into the waiting area from what looked like the kitchen, in a bathrobe I might add, and literally points at the door of our room. He looked nothing like the picture. The person who we thought we were dealing with was Caucasian, mid-twenties and whose name was Jack. The guy who met us was Asian, and who, when asked his name, looked at us suspiciously and then had to think for a couple of seconds before answering, ‘umm…Jack, yes, Jack’. Talk about dodgy.
The room looked like the pictures except for the glaring fact that the bed looked slept in, the walls cracked and pocked with age, and the floor stained dirty with god knows what. ‘Jack’ walked in after us, apologised perfunctorily for the state of the room and assured us that it would be clean by the time we got back. He handed us the key to the front door and our room, the wifi password and then walked back through the hall and into the kitchen. That was that.
As a precautionary measure, we packed all our valuables into our backpacks and left our large rucksacks behind with just our clothes in them. Worst case scenario we come back and we don’t have extra clothes; I wasn’t about to let it ruin our day. What did mess with it however, was the Dresden weather. As we walked into town, the sky got progressively darker and the sporadic spit more frequent, forcing us to find refuge in a small coffee shop by the main shopping mall. We ordered some pretzels and coffee, and waited for the rain to subside.
When we finally did leave, we got to talking with a tour guide across the road named Alex, who we saw from the safety of the shop, was championing his booth stolidly in the rain. He was a charming fellow who offered us some great advice on what to do and how to get around before even starting to sell his service. After some consideration, we decided that we liked the guy enough to sign up with his company, Stadtrundfahrt Dresden, for the bus and walking tour package he recommended – which was not too expensive, and practical if the weather was to remain as bad as it had been.
The most important thing, however, that Alex did for us was point us in the direction of Frühjahrsmarkt in case we were hungry and wanted ‘a quick bite of Dresden to warm your stomachs’.
Turns out there was nothing quick about our visits to that particular German market. Four of our meals in Dresden were had at the Frühjahrsmarkt simply because every time we went we kept finding new things we wanted to try. The food too, at such markets, were a lot cheaper than what we would have had to pay at a restaurant, so we were happy to eat more and spend less. Even though we had a daily budget of 30€ each and were managing well under, we didn’t really feel like the budget was something we had to get to just because we could.
In paying less though, I do think we sacrificed quality for the overall satisfaction that a full belly brought. Despite the comfort of the rip and tear of well-seared wurst and the zing of the traditional mustard squirted over, we didn’t have our best sausage experiences in Dresden. We had some decent ones, don’t get me wrong, but there was nothing much to remark about in terms of the flavour. This did not stop me from picking them up whenever we needed a quick bite to eat; Maddy got fed up of them by the second day.
What we turned to next were the garlic champignons. Both Maddy and I love mushrooms so it was only natural that we went all wide-eyed when we saw person after person with bowls of them covered in a distinctly garlicky white sauce. Our first experience tasting such a dish was at the German market we visited in Birmingham a few months prior. We had some crispy potatoes, fried mushrooms and the same white sauce. I’d actually liked the plateful so much then that I found a recipe for it but never actually got down to making it. These were slightly different. They came in these flatbread bowls that reminded me of taco shells though they tasted nothing like them. The mushrooms, like the ones we tried before, were buttons fried whole in a massive wok with some seasoned onions and coriander. Biting into them was like popping an moreishly appetizing bubble, out of which my mouth became indulgently saturated with the primordial draws of fast food: saltiness and butteriness.
The way in which the sauce complimented the mushrooms was particularly special in that not only did it provide for the heavenly reunion of garlic and mushroom that is pervasively known, but it also provides a slight acidic kick from the creme fraiche coupled with the velvet smoothness of the cream. Frankly, I could have eaten it every day but there is not much you can stomach after.
It was a good thing we walked around most of the city. We only made use of the shuttle buses when we need to go to inconveniently located castles or to visit certain areas too time consuming to reach on foot. The city of Dresden, despite the tragedy of its near complete destruction during the bombings of World War 2, is probably one of the most beautiful we’ve seen. You have to remind yourself to breath several times, especially when looking on from bridges or across the river, or when first setting eyes on the main square, with its gorgeous architectural renovations. Maddy and I spent our second afternoon in Dresden simply sat on a bench, framed on both sides by the cathedral and the opera house overlooking the river, people watching and relaxing to some buskers down the road. We talked a little, in subtle replicated dialogues from the film Before Sunset, read our books and ate a few blasphemously indulgent chocolate truffles that we bought from a chocolatier we found on our way back from lunch.
When we returned to the flat after our first night, reminded on the way back of what we were returning to, our room was neat but neither of us slept a wink because of the noise in the rest of the flat and the disgustingly putrid smell of bad packet ramen.