One such happenstance occurred as we were making our way east from Weimar and felt the need to stop for lunch. A winding road labeled the Saxon Wine Street caught my eye in our six euro map book, so we exited just before Dresden and headed north to the street that we almost missed at first glance. It ended up being a narrow road that followed the Elbe's valley, stacked on the opposite side with red granite cliffs. Behind nearly every house on the street was a tiny cluster of grape vines, and the few restaurants along the way promised river trout and local wines.
S soon spotted a sign for Schloss Proschwitz's winery, and since the combination of castles plus wine was irresistable, we followed the arrow up a steep road that ended at the top of the red granite cliff. There, we missed the unlabeled winery building altogether and ended up in the church yard at our first attempt, but soon had righted things and were in the sunny stone courtyard, surrounded by freshly painted yellow walls. Inside the wine shop, we learned that they didn't serve lunch at the restaurant there but the proprietor happily pointed us back down the hill to where a former ferry-landinghouse served up a good meal.
Back down the hill we found a grand old building with a sunny terrace looking over the Elbe and a pasture full of cows. We lunched there, accompanied by frosty glasses of local riesling (not normally my favorite but this was dry and delightful) while a paddleboat flapped by, and a majestically furry cat sought shade in the cool soil of a potted tree. Then, since it's a shame to go anywhere called a wine road without actually purchasing some wine, back up to the winery on the hill. There we were shown the paces of the locale, and when it turned out they had a guesthouse with a free room we decided that reaching the Polish border that day was really not all so pressing. Why not stay here in a room named after one of the grape varieties grown there, a princess fairy-tale of a room, complete with half-timbered ceilings, curly iron bedstead, a wall of windows overlooking the courtyard, and cheerful striped curtains?
After a pause that refreshed, we climbed back into our American rental hampstermobile and descended to the river valley again, where we found a tiny ferry chuffing cars across, and buildings marked with the high water levels from the flooding some years ago. Then, on to Meissen, with its tempting medieval skyline. We climbed up the hill to the castle, a white flourish of fantasy with a walkway encircling the base, then snuck up a staircase to admire the soot-stained twin towers of the cathedral inside. A winding road descended from the castle into the old town below, past crenellated brick house-tops as well as forlorn forgotten remainders of the GDR era.
We stopped to try the Meissner fummel, famous more for the story than the flavor, I'd venture. History goes that this yeast-bubble of a pastry was invented due to an 18th century messenger that was rather too fond of the local booze and kept tipping off his horse and failing to deliver things on time. So an inventive baker came up with this fragile pastry, which the messenger was required to deliver intact along with the messages, a feat that was only possible if he remained sober enough to cling to his horse. Nice story but as a flavor it was like eating sourdough bread crust without all the chewy yum inside.
We returned to the car along the riverbank, and back at the winery we tried out the restaurant on the first floor of the building. I'd already been told that Germany specialised more in the white wines, but the dornfelder that we sampled there that night was unforgettable. Of course it could have been the pinkly descending dusk, the unexpected delights of finding such a charming (and inexpensive!) guesthouse, the perfect scale of Meissen, or the foamy cucumber soup with smoked trout we had as an appetizer. Whatever it was, the evening was divine, made even more delightful by the short "commute" back to the fluffy crispness of bed upstairs.
The next morning we went down to the cheerful breakfast room where our shy hostess had set our table with crested china and a heavy silver coffee service. A basket of fresh rolls stood at one side of the table, curls of local ham and a variety of cheese at the other side, along with grown-up grape juice (this was not Welch's by any means) and a locally produced wine jelly. We ate ourselves silly before getting directions to the Schloss itself, a frilly yellow marvel set among manicured grounds and surrounded by grapes.
That day's delights continued on, with more unexpected finds as we explored other small roads. We fell upon the hunt castle at Moritzburg, complete with a chinoiserie mini-castle surrounded by peacock breeding grounds, and punctuated by a lighthouse folly (and strangely, protected the the same huntsman statues as we'd found in a secluded corner of the Schloss Proschwitz grounds), and then as we penetrated further into the former GDR territories, the abandoned leftovers of decades of brown coal mining and neglected buildings. We visited a town now in two different countries, separated by a river that had been bridgeless during the GDR times, and ended the day in another confection of an overnight, the Cloister Marienthal.
This is but a sample of the awesome, leaving me resolved that next time the trip should be even longer, leaving more time to explore these eastern parts. It's not the easy-to-love charm of Bavaria, but the contrast between the abandoned remnants of the GDR, the incredible Baroque castles that survived all the impossibility, the lack of tourist gloss, and the interesting flavors of Silesian cuisine and Proschwitz wines have me definitely ready to go again.