Summary: After working really hard to finish my Master, I needed a brake, a complete chillout. So I went and bought an inflatable kayak and jumped on the Elbe river in Dresden. My plan was to completely forget everything, see some amazing landscapes, and have a fun adventure.
I had never slept on a kayak on a fast flowing river, so I decided to give that a try, and it certainly was an experience! From time to time I’d wake up stuck on some rocks in the middle of nowhere, or between forests… I also camped another night for the fun of it, and slept the first part of the night in the kayak to avoid the mass of mosquitoes. For the second part, I did a nice fire. The sunrise was amazing, and it was just like being in a dream, going past all those beaches and nice landscapes. Oh, and I hadn’t packed any food with me so I just picked loads of corn and apples along the way
Long version: The last weeks writing up my master thesis were really hectic. I usually worked the whole night and went to bed at 10 am or later. When I finally handed in everything, I really really needed some time to chill out completely. I went to the hostel and instantly fell asleep. In anticipation to the total relax period that I knew I would need, I had bought an inflatable 2 person’s kayak on Amazon. When I woke up on Saturday, I knew that that was it: I was going to do something I had wanted to do since a looong time: escape Dresden by water. I chose the departure place just upstream the old town. Precisely, it was in front of the Saturday market, about 30 meters before a bridge. By doing this, I would have no possibility of turning back. Funnily enough, I hadn’t even tried out the kayak beforehand. And I was so enthusiastic and willing to float away that I didn’t even take a look at the kayak’s user’s manual or building instructions. I basically just inflated that thing, put my backpack and myself on it, and started paddling away. Seeing the town from the water was something very special, and passing under the bridge where I had had the idea of this adventure just increased this feeling. However, I was so tired that I shortly after fell asleep on-board.
I woke up and fell asleep a few times. For me, at that moment, paddling was out of the question. I just wanted to completely do nothing but passively enjoy the landscapes and water around me. It was a bit like watching a movie, falling asleep in some parts and waking up later on. I remember going past Meissen, an old touristy city with some impressive buildings. There were some kind of concert going on, and I could see it perfectly from the river. I saw a group of thirty-something very drunk guys going into the river with canoes filled up with booze. One canoe capsized, and it was a good laugh watching all the action taking place. I had a quick chat with them, and it turned out that they were celebrating that one of them was getting married. After a while on the water, another canoe turned over, just as they reached the water-side bar.
Further onwards, I woke up and saw 2 girls by the river beach waving at me in a flirty way. I was too tired for anything else than to keep sleeping so that’s what happened By dusk, I was growing quite hungry. I had only packed a water bottle with me and no food whatsoever. I thought that it would be nice having to find my own food. From the distance, I saw an apple tree, completely loaded, and I couldn’t resist the temptation. I halted the kayak and filled up a plastic bag with apples. That was my dinner. Enjoying it while watching a beautiful sunset, I was completely spaced out, in heaven.
I realized that I had never slept on a kayak flowing on the river. And especially not on a fast river such as the one I was on: The Elbe. The mean flow speed was about 4km/h, which is not bad at all! And I just could not resist the temptation of trying out this new experience! Shortly after the sunset, I had a brief conversation with a really positive fisherman who encouraged me to give it a try. I put on all my clothes (as I did not have a sleeping bag with me), and fell asleep. This was one of the weirdest nights I’ve had in my life, with the exception of an even weirder one with a vampire girl. Lol. Anyway, the river went past fields and forests in complete darkness, in the middle of freaking nowhere! There were also hundreds of shooting stars crossing the sky, about one every twenty seconds or so.
Some times I woke up with the kayak lying on the shore, or on some rocks. I did not even have a repair kit, so I’m quite glad that it did not puncture in the middle of nowhere in the night. Some other times, I’d wake up surrounded by mist, somewhere in the middle of the river. There were turns and more turns, and I had to paddle once in a while to keep the kayak on somewhere along the middle of the river.
But the tricky part was dodging the static floating buoys in the darkness. I remember dodging them just by the sound that the stream made when flowing past them. Luckily enough, this noise woke me up a few times a few seconds away from a collision with them. Oh, and I still haven’t mentioned the temperature part: It was fucking freezing. My clothes where not at all enough, and I put some bin bags (that I had packed in case I needed to waterproof my backpack) over my legs. It was really, really cold, and the humidity from the river just made it much worse. Anyhow, the stars looked amazing, far away from any light from civilisation. I did not even have lights on the boat! But they would have been quite useless anyway as there were no big boats sailing at night.
When the morning came, I was the happiest man on earth. I just could not wait any longer feeling that cold. At first, the river was completely covered in mist, which cleared as the sun rose higher. The landscapes and surroundings had entirely changed. There were now mini-beaches everywhere! That night, I had covered about 50km just by sleeping on the kayak. Talking about cheap transport! As the day got warmer and drier, it started feeling like summer once more, and I defrosted again.
It was now Sunday, which meant that all the supermarkets were closed. After a quick stop by a corn field, everything became clear: breakfast and lunch would be corn hobs straight from the crops. It was actually quite good, although this might have been because I was so hungry. I remember doing a few push-ups on the kayak, as I hadn’t trained since a while because of how busy I had been.
The rest of the day I spent it chilling out, getting some sun tan, listening to the water, looking around at the birds and castles, fields and beaches, sleeping some more, thinking about everything. All in all, it was a perfect chillout day. I did not know how long I’d stay on the kayak on the river. Hamburg was about 600-700km away from Dresden by river, and I was on holiday and therefore I could do whatever I felt like.
That night, I decided to camp next to a village. I just would not be able to spend another night freezing my ass off. I stopped by a side of the river, nearby a pile of wood. After collecting some of it, and pulling the kayak on top of a mini hill, I suddenly got attacked by so many mosquitoes. They were biting through my clothes, and I just wanted to sleep. The best solution that I found was using my bag as a mat on the floor (I did not have neither a mat nor a tent/mosquito net), and reversing the kayak over me. Along the remaining gaps I put some bin and plastic bags. It felt quite weird at first. After all, it was like being in a coffin, with a few centimetres separating my face from the kayak’s floor. But I got used to and fell asleep. It’s a pity that I did not get to film that part.
I woke up somewhere in the middle of the night, starting to be slightly cold. The kayak acted as a thermal insulator to keep my heat. But I wanted to ramp up the temperature! I gladly realized that the mosquitoes had retired, so I did a fire, and slept next to it, waking up at intervals throughout the night to re-feed that fire. The floor was quite hard, but I was glad for the new exciting experience. After all, doing all these stuff is fun and just makes us appreciate so much more the daily things that we give for granted.
In the morning, I saw some animals swimming in the water. Some kind of castors. The sunrise was really really nice to see, over the slight river mist. So many colors! And it was now Monday, which meant that I could buy some food and be able to eat something else than corn and apples!
I stopped by a town and bought loads of stuff to eat, and enjoyed them on the boat. Then it was siesta time, then more sun and landscapes, and then I realized that I was completely recovered, and that I wanted some action. I had enjoyed all the time on the boat, passively floating among water, stars and mist, but it was now time to get moving again and getting new stimuli and inputs.
I really felt like going to Poland. It was one of the few countries that I had left to visit in Europe. I had planned to meet up with my good friend Mark a week from then in Budapest, and I decided that the best way to get there would be by bicycle from Germany past Poland, past the Czech Republic, past Slovakia to visit my ex-girlfriend, into Budapest in Hungary. (Post Script: I made it Link to the trip HERE)
So with my new plans, motivation, and desire for active motion, I stepped out of the water in a town after asking if there was a post office. I also had a shower and shaved in the river. It was actually really funny, because I met a grandma that casually proceeded to cross the Elbe swimming. What is funny is that I had met so many young people in Dresden that said that told me that there was no was to cross the Elbe swimming, that it was so dangerous and bla bla bla. And this grandma did it every day.
I deflated and packed up my kayak, and sent it back home to Luxembourg by mail. After that I hitch-hiked to a close-by town, Wittenberg. It was a really pretty old town, very lively and decorated, with many fruit trees to my delight.
I then took the train to Leipzig, not very far away. I only had to pay a very small fee, until the border with Saxony. The reason is that as a student in Saxony, I had the right to free public transport throughout Saxony. I got to Leipzig in the night, and went for a walkabout ending up in a hostel by the train station. In the 10 people dorm I met some interesting characters. Among them, there was this Japanese guy with a peculiar story:
He grew up and got raised in a traditional Japanese family. He told us that his parents (as it commonly happens) wanted to arrange a marriage for him. This is done through CV’s similar to the ones we send in job applications, but in the context of marriage. The family then decides whether the candidate is of a high enough social status, and proceeds to the marriage. The guy told us that not wanting that style of life, he decided to leave to Canada, to proceed with his PhD, and get away from that costume. But because the Canadians did not get his style of humour, he decided to move to the UK and become a lecturer there. He spoke 7 languages and was reading some German poetry from a book. The way he spoke was also very peculiar. It was like a melody. I asked him about it, and he said that he was once trained to become a politician.
Then there was this other girl who was working as a German teacher in China. And then this other Australian guy travelling around Europe. And there was also a guy who had been living in that bed from the hostel since a few months because he said that he had no time to look for rooms since he worked 12h/day, 6days/week as a store “detective” as he called himself, which actually was just a normal security job. But the “detective” term sure did sound cool! What is so great and cool about this is that you get so many inputs and ideas that you would not otherwise get. It opens your mind to new perspectives, and that it definitely worth it.
The day after, I went back to Dresden to sort out some stuff, and to pick up my bicycle to start my next bike-trip: Germany to Hungary