Recommendations and Tips for – A Trip to Rome

We spent a magical week in Rome over the Winter Holidays and today I am going to share some of the spots I think you HAVE to go to, some of the spots that may not be as incredible as you think, and some tips for navigating your time in Rome. All of these kind of wrap together, so this Recommendations and Tips post might weave in and out between tips and recommendations. If you are interested in finding out exactly what we did you can find the following posts on that subject: The First Few Days, Vatican City, Ancient Rome, The Final Days.

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Recommendations:

My first recommendation is to take at least 5 days to visit Rome. It IS doable in a 4-day weekend, but you will get no rest and feel like you are just shuffling from place to place and not getting a chance to soak everything in. I feel like 5 days is the perfect amount of time to hit each spot without being rushed. I would say you don’t need any more than 7 days (if you really want to go longer) as at that point you’ve started to exhaust some of the area. Ultimately, it’ll be more focused on what you want to do and see than anything else.

In terms of the sights you have to see, you can “knock out” most of the tourist spots in one day. Starting at the Spanish Steps, then to Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and The Pantheon (or you can do that backwards if you would like to see sunset on the Spanish Steps- which I would recommend). I would save Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo for a day together (as they are right next to each other). You’ll spend over half a day at The Vatican, so make sure you plan accordingly. I would also devote the Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Alter of the Fatherland to its own day (I would end the day at the monument as watching the sunset on the Forum is just incredible).

Honestly, I can’t recommend walking around Rome enough (fun fact- I said the same thing about London). There is just so much to see and the history of the city is so rich, that you can just turn a corner and there are the columns of an Ancient Rome building or see the culture up close and personal with people chatting about life in Rome. It’s just incredible. Everyone is incredibly hospitable as well and are happy to help in stores, restaurants, hotels.

In terms of eating- there is very little that you can do wrong in Rome. Thing is, a lot of the blogs that I read before going there said that the best restaurants are the ones off the beaten path, that don’t have the waiters waiting outside to lure you in, and I don’t know if I agree with that necessarily. Rome is a tourist spot and so, yes the restaurants are going to do whatever they can to get folks seated in their restaurant. I can tell you this, hole in the wall or on the tourist pathway, we did not have one bad meal. For specific recommendations: we loved The Loft for breakfast/brunch and Il Miraggio for lunch (and dinner), as well as Don Chisciotte. Those are the three that really stood out, but you can look back through my posts to see where else we ate.

Tips:

As always, I highly recommend using public transportation. Driving in Rome is not dissimilar to driving in New York City. The underground metro system is great and easy to navigate and, while the bus system isn’t the greatest, it will get you from place A to place B easier than if you tried to drive it yourself. You can buy a 7-day pass for the transport system and it is reasonably priced and well worth it.

Something you already probably know is that Rome is a tourist destination. There is no doubt that it is packed with people and the tourist spots (like Trevi Fountain) are going to be incredibly crowded. Be aware of yourself, your belongings, and your children (as you would any other time of traveling). But also, if you are wanting to get “the picture”, don’t be afraid to go to a different spot. You don’t need to queue in line with a bunch of other people, walk to another corner or spot and you’ll not only get a unique shot, but it’ll also be much easier to see things a little differently. You don’t always have to fight the crowds to see the scene.

I think that that is all I’ve got for tips and recommendations. Honestly, there is very little that you can really go wrong with in Rome! I LOVED everything we did and saw while there. Everything is just such a dream and so surreal and the people were so welcoming. However, I know that this post was vague at times, so if you have more specific questions, please feel free to send me a message or email and I can go into more specifics!

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Rome The First Days

For our winter holiday this past year we decided (somewhat last minute- have to get a bit better about that) to start knocking some of our Italy spots off our bucket list. We started with the big one, Rome.

We did things a little bit differently with this holiday, deciding to devote our entire week to only Rome, to an overnight train as our form of travel, staying in a Bed & Breakfast style hotel, and doing a couple guided tours during our holiday. Honestly, our holiday couldn’t have been more perfect in any other way.

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This morning starts the full holiday blog posts except rather than breaking them down by location (as I did for our Summer Holiday), I’ll be breaking them down in chunks of time. Today’s post will cover our first few days, then we will talk about our day at The Vatican in another post, then conclude things with our last few days. As always, I will also have a separate post detailing out my recommendations and tips at the end of the “series”.

***I want to make a note that I am not going to be detailing every single place we ate/drank/food related. You may think that that is crazy- oh but it’s Italy how can you not talk about the food?. I’ll be talking about the food, but honestly we ate at so many spots that I don’t remember every single one, AND there are very few spots that you can really go wrong food wise in Italy. It’s delicious just about anywhere. I’ll name the spots that stuck out to me that I remember and were above delicious, but overall you can’t go wrong with food in Italy.***

So, as I’ve already mentioned we decided to train over to Rome for this trip. There were several reasons behind this decision, BUT ultimately it came down to price and ease.Let’s be honest, as much as we like driving, it’s not always the easiest or fastest option. Driving would have allowed us to maybe make a stop or two on the way there/the way back, BUT driving IN Italy is a bit tricky (and there are tolls) and we definitely didn’t want to drive in the city. This meant that we would have to find parking for the car, and figure out what tolls we would hit on the way down. It also just meant a long drive (13 or so hrs.) and when the train option presented itself, we figured we might as well give it a shot.

We picked an overnight train which was about 13-14 hours long, leaving around dinner time/late evening and arriving the next morning. Overnight meant that most of our travel the boys were sleeping (and we could try and catch some z’s too), so less of an issue of keeping them occupied. We booked a standard (nonsleeping) compartment that came with six seats, so two additional passengers could be in our compartment, but a sliding door to shut and the seats themselves folded down for comfort during the trip. It was a super easy trip (once the boys calmed down from the train excitement) and definitely an option that we will keep in mind for future travels.

Rome Day 1:

When we arrived in Rome we basically hit the ground running. After a stop to drop our luggage off at our Bed & Breakfast (I’ll touch on this in a bit), we headed straight out for food, coffee, and a wander. We started our tourist exploring at Castel Sant’Angelo (actually called Mausoleum of Hadrian) right on the Tiber River. There was a small line to get in, but it moved quickly and the castle itself wasn’t crowded once you got in. This particular castle is actually a mausoleum (now) and has previously been used as a fortress for both Emperors and Popes alike.

Construction on the castle started in 135, finished 4 years later, became a military fortress in the 5th century, and then around the 13th century, a corridor was added connecting it to Vatican City in case of danger to the Pope (this corridor did end up getting used in the 16th century!). While walking through the castle you are able to see exactly how and what the castle was used for. Both the military fortress aspects and mausoleum parts have been very well preserved AND you get an excellent view of this side of the city from above (including a clear shot towards Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica).

It was probably one of the best clearest viewpoints we got, aside from Alter of the Fatherland. We spent a good hour or so here wandering the corridors, ramparts, and park.

Once done there, we were able to go back to our Bed & Breakfast and properly check in. We stayed at Tibullo Guesthouse Rome and it was a great spot for us. We chose a larger room that contained one double bed and two singles as well as a separate, but private, bathroom. It was reasonably priced and is not 10 minutes away from the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo. The hosts were incredible, so incredibly warm and welcoming, and made sure that we had everything that we needed (and then some!). The actual guesthouse is quite small, and breakfast is offered and is served in the comfort of your own room should you choose to do that.

After settling into our rooms and freshening up, we decided to head out again. This time heading into the heart of Rome and the most touristy/heavily populated spots. We hopped the metro and headed into the heart of the city. We started at the Piazza di Spagna, home of the Spanish Steps.

Dating back to the 18th century, The Spanish Steps are one of the most famous spots (although could be arguable). They’ve been home to poets, authors, painters, a very special tearoom and, most importantly, connect the church at the top of the hill to the square at the bottom. These famous steps are quite incredible to look at and we definitely had a lovely time climbing them, stopping for a little Audrey Hepburn moment, and then watching a Roman Sunset to end our first day. I think this might have been one of the most surreal moments (up until going to Ancient Rome and the Vatican).

After the sun set we got to see the city come alive (all over again) and headed over to Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain. Where are the words? The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque Fountain within Rome and easily one of the most talked about in the world. Built in the 18th Century and centered at the cross of three roads, which also marks three points of aqueducts. It is absolutely incredible, a true feat of architecture, and at night it is completely lit up. Absolutely gorgeous. A fun thing to do (if you want to fight the crowds), is to actually toss a coin in the fountain. You are allowed to do this, and by tossing it behind your back it is said that you will return to Rome. The city actually collects the coins and donates them to a charity so your money will not be wasted if you choose to do this. We had a quick stop at the fountain as it was packed to the brim and we had a sleepy toddler (napping on my hip), but it was truly incredible to see.

We did quickly stop in Oratorio di Santa Maria in Trivio, a church across from the fountain before heading away to dinner and then the Bed & Breakfast for sleep.

Rome Day 2:

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For our second day in Rome we had a bit of a sleep in. After being exhausted from all our travels the day before and hitting the ground running, we took it easy first thing in the morning. When we finally emerged from our room, it was to head out for brunch and then exploring. We stopped at The Loft for brunch and this was a great stop (we liked it so much we actually came back a second time and probably would have more if we had the time). After a breakfast of waffles and cappuccino’s and fresh squeezed orange juice, we hit the metro to head to our first stop.

 

 

We started our day at Piazza Navona.

This is a public square that was originally intended as a stadium which dates back to the 1st century. This was changed around the 15th century when it was turned in the city marketplace, Piazza Navona is now a square that holds markets, fountains, and a slew of restaurants and stores. There is also a very small Gladiator Museum on one entrance side to the square, which we did visit. If you are interested in Gladiators and replica’s then it is a neat visit. If it isn’t something that you are interested in, or you want something much more in depth, then give it a miss. There are a couple other stores of note, a toy store in one of the main entryways provides a bit of delight for adults and children and there are two “Made in Italy” shops that have some of my favorite leather-bound journals that I’ve ever seen. When we visited the Piazza, they had a little Christmas Market going on. Christmas is a bit different in Italy, celebrated on January 6 (Three Kings Day/Epiphany- long story which I can talk about on a different post), so they still had this little market going. It’s geared mostly towards children with games and such, only a couple booths have items to purchase or food.

From there we headed over to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon was originally used as a temple dating back to around the 2nd century (it might even be a little older than that as the current Pantheon was built on the remains of another temple). It’s most striking feature (because 12 columns and sheer size isn’t enough) is the opening in the ceiling that looks out to the sky above. There is what we would call a hole in the ceiling, not only that but the dome is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. This is also known for being one of the best preserved Ancient Roman Buildings. After being used as a temple, it was transformed into a church and is still in use today. It was absolutely incredible to walk through and in this building.

From the Pantheon we just headed out to walk the streets. Honestly, that was a lot of our following days, just walking the streets of Rome.

No matter when or where, you can always find anything just by walking the streets. We wandered the streets finding hidden columns, little squares, and paths upwards. Our general goal was to make it over to Villa de Medici, but when we arrived our boys were in no mood to join in on a guided tour. We cut our losses on that, rather walking the gardens right next to the villa (somewhat near Borghese) and seeing the start of the sunset at the top of Piazza del Popolo.

This was one of the coolest squares that we saw, at one end was the Porto del Popolo, a massive arched entryway to the square. At the opposite end are two churches. Right in the center of the square is the Fontana dell’Obelisco; a massive fountain with lions on each corner and an obelisk rising from the center.

We ended up having dinner at a restaurant called Don Chisciotte and feasted on delicious homemade pasta & sauce, wines, tiramisu and cheesecake.

The perfect end to our day!

Rome Day 3:

We started our 3rd day with breakfast at a little café, Café MeMe. After a delicious heaping of eggs, bagels, pancakes, cappuccino’s, and smoothies (I promise you- this was spread across the 4 of us), we decided to hit one of the biggest monuments that we were seeing from every vantage point of the city…The Alter of the Fatherland. Before actually going to the monument we stopped at the church right behind it, Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

I don’t have any pictures to post from the inside, but I promise you- you MUST go to this church. It is absolutely incredible, just achingly beautiful. This may have been one of our favorite churches EVER and we’ve been to a lot so far. It is literally right next to the monument and so easy to just stop in to. And now, The Alter of the Fatherland.

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That name is actually not the correct name, although it is referred by that name regularly. This monument is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument and it is a masterpiece. Before we get into the history, let me just say that this structure with all its steps, individual monuments and sections, the museum within, and the view from the top is absolutely incredible. It sits in between Ancient Rome (right next to the Forum and atop Capitoline Hill- the center of Ancient Rome) and the more modern city of Rome via the Piazza Venezia. Work started in the late 19th century being completed in the very early 20th century and since then, this building more than anything else is seen as the “symbol of Italy”.

Not only do you have the steps leading up to the first landing, at that first landing is their Italian Unknown Soldier tomb (which is guarded), then there is a second landing which is the Portico, and then a third landing which you can walk around towards the back for the elevator to the top. Honestly, this is a most stop spot. Climb the steps, pay homage, and see the view of the city from above. I think this might have been my favorite “view from above” of Rome as you can see EVERYTHING.

It’s a great overlook of Ancient Rome, a great look of the modern city, and you see the domes of the churches and basilicas stacked up.

From there we stopped for a late lunch at Ristorante Il Miraggio which was a restaurant that we found randomly, looking for bathrooms, but it was one of the best random finds we had. It was down a side street and we had the best waiter I think we’ve ever had. It was so much fun to just watch him work, greet and entertain everyone from the paying diners to the random people walking down the street.

The food was delicious (as I said earlier- you can’t really go wrong wherever you go), and I had one of the best cups of standard black tea that I’ve had in a long time. It was the perfect stop and felt like such a good little spot.

After feeling refreshed from lunch, we started walking down the road once again. We headed up to Quirinale Palace.

This was a last minute, half hazard decision, and one of the few that worked out for us, but also didn’t work out. We headed up to the palace to go see it, but it was starting to get a bit later in the day and on the way up I ended up pinching a nerve in my back. So, we pretty much got to the actual palace (which wasn’t too bad) and then turned around to head back to the Tiber River. This was kind of a bummer as I would have liked to actually go in and experience it, but it wasn’t in the cards. This is the reality of traveling sometimes.

After a little rest, and some medication for my back, we just wandered along the Tiber River, crossing over at the pedestrian bridge and just wandering the neighborhoods. Which is such a nice perfect way to end this first post about our Winter Holiday. It was a long one and if you made it to the end…thank you. What was your favorite spot that we went to in these first couple days?

Dresden – An Overnight Trip

The weekend before Christmas we spent a very magical 24 hours in Dresden exploring Christmas Markets and landmarks alike. You can see my post on the Christmas Markets HERE, but today I am going to talk about some of the sights and my favorites about Dresden.

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Dresden is the state capital of Saxony and it is the 12th most populated city in Germany, the second largest city on the River Elbe. The city itself is relatively “recent” in comparison to the history of Germany, dating to around the 12th century. It has served as the seat of the state since it’s settlement and has also always been a center of culture, education, and politics in Germany. The most incredible thing about Dresden is that the entire city center was destroyed, along with 25,000 people killed, during the bombing of the city by Americans and British towards the end of World War 2. Certain parts of the inner city were completely reconstructed after the war including the Zwinger (the royal castle/palace).

I will be completely honest- a lot of my time in Dresden was taken up by either Christmas Markets or in awe of the architecture and landscape of the city itself. I’m looking back through my pictures and thinking “oh I loved that spot” and “that was pretty cool”, but not remember a lot of the details about the trip itself. Partially my fault for waiting this long to actually write this post (it’s now after New Year’s), but also Dresden was the second city that I really just let my “amateur photographer” heart fly free. I just took pictures (so many pictures) and wandered around. There wasn’t a lot of “specifics” to our trip. So, forgive me if this post is a little vague or different from previous posts. I’m still figuring out how to merge a couple different passions to put together the best posts that I can for you.

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So, since this post has already derailed into something very different than I anticipated, I’m just going to continue that trend…

While in Dresden we went square hopping pretty much. Each square has a “focal point” of sorts, whether it’s a palace, a statue, or a church. Each square also had a Christmas market, so we would start at the Christmas Market and then walk in to whatever the nearby attractions are. In our minds we had two or three “must see’s” on our list, but otherwise we just wandered around.

IMG_3137The first square is the main square and right off the main square is the Church of the Cross. This is actually the main church and the seat of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Saxony. It is also the largest church building in the state. The church itself has been through quite the history, but its current state retains the look of the church post Dresden bombing. It was decided to keep it in that state, rather than refurbish it to prewar designs.

 

 

Speaking of churches, we also went to The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony (also known as Dresden Cathedral/Katholische Hofkirche) and the Church of Our Lady (also known as Frauenkirche).

These were both absolutely incredible churches in full painted and designed glory. An interesting fact about Dresden (back in the day)- at the time the rulers were Catholic, BUT most of the residents were actually protestant. The Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony is one of the foremost landmarks of Dresden. In fact, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen a picture of it, it’s incredible. The original church actually had a private high-level walkway from the Dresden Castle to the church for the rulers and other high-ranking officials to use. Of course, like much of Dresden, the bombing heavily damaged the church and it was fully restored following the reunification (including the private walkway between the castle and the church). The church does not only hold mass and services, but also (like many of the churches in Dresden) concerts throughout the year. In a slightly different tone, the Church of Our Lady was left in ruins after the bombing of Dresden to serve as a war memorial (for 50 years!). Originally built as a way for Dresden citizens to assert their will (by remaining protestant in the 18th century), the church was not rebuilt until the 1990’s-the early 2000’s.

Something that we had on our list and did see was the Procession of Princes or Furstenzung.

This is a 101-meter-long mural that shows the ruling family as a procession of various riders. It shows the Wettins’ family lineage through the years. Originally painted in the 19th century, it was replaced by porcelain tiles in the early (early- very early) 20th century due to the elements fading the paint. It is now known as the largest porcelain artwork in the world and is absolutely incredible to stand in front of. The members of the family are accompanied by various other “common folk”, scientists, children, and such.

We also managed to make a stop at The Zwinger, which was on our list.

The Zwinger has a long history, but I’ll be completely honest- I don’t quite understand it. So, I’m not going to try and talk about the things that I don’t know about it (as that would be wrong), but my basic understanding was that Augustus the Strong (who was recently made King of Poland and Elector of Saxony) wanted to have something similar to Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. It ended up getting changed around several times, halted, and finally completed at a much smaller scale. It was destroyed during the bombing, but was fairly quickly rebuilt (in the grand scheme of the other buildings listing within this post). You can walk the main garden levels, and then up higher in the ramparts. Within the buildings are museums containing artwork, porcelain, and jewelry.

Recommendations:

Honestly I would recommend just walking around Dresden.

Obviously going to the Zwinger, the museums, the Procession of Princes are all great places to start, but really I would recommend just walking around the city. The city (as many in Europe) is divided between “Old Town” and “New Town” by the river and it’s really neat to see both sides. By walking around you’ll see most of everything the city has to offer and then some. I would recommend separating your time by Old Town and New Town (whether you’re doing an overnight or day trip). If you are only going for a single day, I would stay with Old Town.

As for Parking, there are several parking lots within the city, both indoor and outdoor, with reasonable pricing. I would honestly go a bit further to go to one of the outdoor lots as people often times won’t go a little bit further, so there is a higher chance of them having open spots. Once you find a spot, I would just stick with it (some lots have the 24hr tickets) unless where you are staying is across town or you have a large amount of luggage. There is a large Galleria/Mall parking garage, however this is one of the first places that will fill up during the busy/Christmas season, so keep that in mind.

Depending on your travel plans (where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you want to do), I don’t think that you realistically need more than the 24 hours to really get a good idea of the city. I felt like we got to see everything we wanted to and then some during our time there. You can definitely make it a longer trip, but I didn’t feel like it was super necessary to do so.

Overall we had a lot of fun on our little overnight get away and I really loved Dresden. It has elements similar to Prague, so if you loved Prague, you will probably love Dresden.

 

Recommendations and Tips for: A Weekend in Prague

Untitled Design 19We recently spent a couple days wandering the streets in Prague and I fully fell in love with the city. It has the perfect balance of history, culture, art, and music. It is a city that is full of life and love (seriously- my husband got all sorts of romantic during our short time there). It also happens to be a city that we fully plan on re visiting as there is so much to do and see. Today I am going to share some of the things that I think you should definitely see along with some tips about navigating the city. If you’d like a catch up on what we did you can see my post HERE. If you’d like tips specific to Christmas Markets in Prague, click HERE.

Recommendations

Prague Castle- It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am recommending a trip to the castle. I love visiting castles as they usually are not only the focal point of a city/town, but also have such a rich, often turbulent history. Prague Castle is no different, plus it has the added bonus of being currently in use and it’s cathedral having been recently finished. I would head up towards the afternoon/evening so you can watch the sun set on the city. Then, for an added bonus, walk across Charles Bridge and see how the castle lights up across the water.

Old Town Square- I would recommend a morning wandering around Old Town Square. At the heart of Prague, this square offers churches, history, and shopping nearby (if that’s your thing). Make sure you pay attention to the ground as there are a couple special tiles on the ground in the square marking spots. There are two churches right around this square to go in as well and they both should be visited.

Charles Bridge – This is the pedestrian Bridge that connects Old Town Square to Lesser Town and Prague Castle and is a fun walking path to go between. There are quite a few monuments and statues on the bridge, as well as a couple to touch for good luck. If they are open, you are able to climb up into the towers and see a “birds eye” view. As I stated earlier, I would recommend walking the bridge in the evening so you can see the city light up and the castle across the river.

Jewish Quarter—This is a must see and is quite easy to navigate through. The important thing to know is that the entire Quarter is closed on Saturday and you will not be able to visit anything during that time. Otherwise, the synagogues typically open around 9AM for visitors and you need tickets to get into both the synagogue, the museum, and the old cemetery. You can stop at any of the souvenir or gift shops that are labeled to purchase tickets for the entire quarter. There are a couple different ticket options and I believe Audio Guides are included in most of them. I would definitely recommend stopping into as many of the synagogues as you can during your visit, as well as the Old Cemetery.

Prague Astronomical Clock – This one, quite honestly, is a miss. I wouldn’t go out of your way to watch the glockenspiel as it really isn’t worth fighting the crowds. If you happen to already be there, then go ahead and watch, but don’t make a special trip.

Honorable mention to Lesser Quarter if you have the time as well as Wenceslas Square. There are a couple of spots that I wish we would have gone and look forward to going back to see those spots (up in the all the towers and churches and some other food spots). When we go back, I’ll do another couple of posts giving more details.

Tips

Tip #1: Crowds. Prague is a very popular tourist destination and that leads to crowds. Honestly, I knew there would be crowds, but I didn’t feel like it was overwhelming (like Amsterdam was). To me, the crowds were just…the crowds. I would recommend to just keep moving with the crowd.

Tip #2: Use public transportation! I’m a huge proponent of using the local methods of transportation and Prague has a really great system. It is really easy to navigate, relatively inexpensive, with great options for ticket timelines (i.e 90 minute, 24 hr, 72 hr, etc.). I was very impressed with it while we were there.

Tip #3: Parking. Since you’ll be walking or using public transport during your time in Prague, you’ll need to find parking for your car. Parking in Prague is definitely a struggle. So many spots are reserved or not able to have parking, or are just too compact to comfortably park in. There are a couple spots to park in that you can pay for, The Palladium (which has convenience for Old Town Square), the main Train Station, OR you can use an app called Mr. Parkit which has spots that you can reserve all over town. They have both indoor and outdoor options and they all come with reviews and information. The benefit to using Mr. Parkit is that you reserve a spot, so you can come and go as needed (if you are staying to night or a couple nights this is helpful). The app itself is easy to use and once you’ve reserved a spot it’s easy to get in and out.

And that wraps up my recommendations and tips for Prague! I know I’ve said it a million times, but I loved Prague and I cannot wait to go back! Have you been to Prague? Any additional tips or spots to go?

Prague – A Long Weekend Away

IMG_1891Our final stop on our Thanksgiving Weekend Away was in Prague for ~2 days. This post is going to only focus on what we did in Prague and the history of those spots. I will be doing separate posts on the Christmas Markets and my Recommendations and Tips. I’m going to break this post down day by day as I think that is probably the best way to handle the information in a concise way. And, one final thing before we get into the post, we fully plan on going back to Prague to do a little bit more exploring. I fell in love with the city and I feel like there is so much more to see. It’s only a couple hour drive (or train ride) so it’s totally feasible for us to go back.

Prague itself dates back to around the 2nd century, but it wasn’t until Charles IV came into power that it really started to find a place on the map. Prague has been through its fair share of ups and downs, crusaders, religious upheaval, and foreign occupations. It’s seen war, nonviolent revolutions, and a modern turn towards capitalism (and a big shift in consumerism). The city itself shows all the different stages of its history and I think that makes it so interesting and easy to explore. Every corner holds a different era.

Now, onto what we did in our short amount of time in Prague…

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We arrived about midday in Prague and decided to start our time off at Prague Castle. This was the highest and furthest point that we wanted to go on this particular trip, so it seemed like a good place to start and work our way back from. We used the public transportation system (buses, street cars, and an underground metro) to get as close as we could and then walked the final hill to the castle entrance.

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Prague Castle dates it’s foundation laying to the 9th Century, with the Cathedral not being completed until the 20th Century. The castle itself is the largest castle complex in the world. The castle itself is made up of three large courtyards with the cathedral being the most prominent. It dominates any view of Prague and for quite a while was the seat of various rulers. In modern day, it happens to be the seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Before you even head into the castle, the views overlooking Prague are incredible. Within the castle walls, you walk up the street and see St. George’s Basilica. This is the oldest preserved church. Originally built in the 10thcentury, it was rebuilt in the 12th and then “updated” in the 17th century. It is very impressive and certainly dominates the main first courtyard.

Going around the lane a bit further and you come to the incredible Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert.  This is the spiritual symbol of the state, building began in the 14th century, but took almost 600 years to complete (with the final touches being completed in 1929). The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive and contains the crypt where the kings were buried, and the crown jewels are housed. It was absolutely gorgeous on the inside (although we didn’t make our way through the entire cathedral). You are able to walk through the rest of the complex and the buildings throughout the complex. We headed out right around sunset and got to watch the sun set on the city, and then see the city start to come to life in the evening.

We checked into our Airbnb (which was a fun exercise) and then headed out to dinner at Restaurace U Houdků. This was a lovely local pub type restaurant and we had a lovely meal of various Czech delicacies. We made it an early night in preparation for the long day ahead.

Day 2:

Saturday was our walking day. I love to walk a city (especially one that is so easily walkable to see so much) and Prague was perfect for that. We woke early, stopped for a quick coffee, and then headed out to be tourists for the day. We started our stroll at the IMG_1969.jpgPrašná brána (Powder Tower). Dating back to the 15th century, this was the entrance that all the kings would use to enter The Old Town. It was a gunpowder store in the 18th century, today it serves as not only a viewing gallery to see over the city, but still is the entrance for a royal route to Prague Castle. It certainly was an impressive sight to see and is a good start to your morning/day out in Prague Old Town.

 

 

 

From there it is a quick stroll down the streets to reach Old Town Square. This main square holds not only the markets, but has been restored throughout the years. The Old Town square is circled by several prominent buildings, the first of which being the Church of Our Lady before Týn. This is easily one of the most impressive buildings you will see during your visit to Prague, aside from the Cathedral at the Castle. This particular church also contains the oldest organ in Prague, dating to the 17th century. The church itself dates back to the 14thcentury.

In the square itself there are several things to see before moving on in another direction. There are various steps on the ground itself marking where executions would take place and other little tidbits of what life was like. There is the Jan Hus Memorial in the central. You can walk off to the side a little bit and go to the St. Nicholas Church. This church was completed in the early 18th century and is absolutely incredible. When we went in they had the organ music playing and the grand chandelier was a sight to see. It not only serves as a church, but is also a classical music concert hall. Before leaving the square, do a quick look see at The Prague Astronomical Clock. It isn’t necessary to stick around for the performance (it’s really not anything to write home about0, but it’s definitely something to peak at before leaving the square.

From the square we walked the side streets up to Wenceslas square. It’s not a far walk and by walking we not only got to see a couple more markets, we also got to see a wide variety of the architecture of the city.

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Wenceslas square is at the heart of “New Town” and is full of shopping and commercial life. New Town was commissioned by Charles IV in the 14th century. New Town was intended to be the center of Prague and with this new square under construction Prague became the third largest city in Europe (at that time). While New Town may not be very new by age standards, it certainly is the heart of the modern shopping era. Wenceslas Square is set up as a boulevard or (as its original layout and time period would entail) a horse market. Wenceslas Square has served as a parade ground of sorts, seeing everything from celebrations to uprisings. The square backs up into the National Museum and the Opera House, as well as a statue of St. Wenceslas riding his horse.

From Wenceslas Square we decided to hop on the metro and head over to the Charles Bridge Area.

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Charles Bridge is the main pedestrian bridge used to cross from one side of the Vitava River to the other. Charles IV commissioned the bridge and even laid the first foundation stone of the bridge in 1357 (there is a marking for it). This was originally intended for tournaments, but has since evolved into the bridge it is now. It is adorned with a total of 75 statues throughout the bridge and is a great option to walk from Old Town to Lesser Town.

On the Old Town side of Charles Bridge, you enter under the Old Town Bridge Tower. This is an incredible tower that continued the path of royalty through the Old Town and up to The Castle. You can climb inside the tower and see opposite the tower and bridge. On the Lesser Town side there is the Lesser Town Bridge Tower. This was built in the 15th century and was modeled off of the Old Town Bridge Tower. The smaller tower that is connected is Judith’s Tower; the only remaining part of the original bridge crossing. You are also able to climb up inside the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and see opposite.

Once in Lesser Town we did a couple of stops, the first of which being a bookstore. Massive thanks to my friend Hannah (who happened to be in Prague at the same time we were), who enlightened me to the existence of Shakespeare and Sons. IMG_2288Shakespeare and Sons is a {big} little almost hole in the wall bookstore in a corner of Lesser Town. Situated near Kafka’s house and museum it is the perfect little stop. It has the used and new book atmosphere that I love, with book stacked high along the walls, piled on the floor and behind the cash register. I didn’t have nearly all the time I wanted to browse (thanks to two very active toddlers and one husband who couldn’t believe we were at a bookstore in a foreign country…again), but I did manage to snag a couple books. I got each book stamped with the bookseller’s mark, a reusable book bag, and a bookmark. Such a perfect little stop!

 

After our stop, we knew we needed a little breather from walking and exploring and a little chance to just relax and take it easy. We were right near the sight-seeing boat docks, so we decided to take a little boat tour of the river. Stay tuned for my full thoughts on this in my tips/recommendations, BUT it did what it intended- gave our boys a chance to rest and eat and us a chance to sit for a bit.

IMG_2407.jpgWe headed back to Old Town Square for the Christmas Tree Lighting and the official opening of the Prague Christmas Markets. More on this in the Prague Christmas Market post.

 

 

 

 

Morning Day 3

On our last morning in Prague we spent a little time in the Jewish Quarter (Josefov). The Jewish Quarter (originally the Jewish Ghetto) originates from around the 10th century, however it’s history really begins around the 13th century when the Jews were ordered to leave their homes behind wherever they were, and were banished to this Quarter. The first pogrom occurred Easter of 1389 and it has had a turbulent history since then. The quarter has gone through radical changes, with its people living at the whim of whomever was in charge at the time and at one point was overcrowded. There is a total of six synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, a Ceremonial Hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Ironically enough, the Jewish Quarter was one of the few Jewish spots that survived World War 2 in the area as Hitler decided it could be a “Museum of an Extinct Race”. There is so much history to the Jewish Quarter, that I know I’ll be learning about everything for a long time to come.

We started with breakfast at this cute little café called Mansson The Danish Bakery. We munched on coffee’s, pastries, and meats before heading into the proper quarter.

We didn’t have a long time in the morning to see all of the synagogues and sights, but we tried to make the most of our time to see the absolute must see. We wandered the streets and admired the architecture of the Jewish Quarter before stopping into our first synagogue, Maisel Synagogue.

The Maisel Synagogue was originally built in the late 16th century and founded by its namesake, Mordechai Maisel. After a fire destroyed the original synagogue, the current synagogue dates back to the 19/20th century. This is an incredible synagogue to stop in and details out what life was like in the Jewish Quarter and a bit of the history around the early years of the Quarter. My personal favorite was hearing details about the book and scholarly life.

The second synagogue that we stopped in was the Pinkas Synagogue.

This was built, again, in the 16thcentury. It originally served as a private family oratory by the wealthy family that commissioned it, but later was adapted to add a women’s gallery and new décor for the Torah Ark. This synagogue was reconstructed and turned into a Memorial. The names of the victims of the Shoah are painted on the walls, arranged alphabetically by residence. It’s the oldest monument of its kind and bares 80,000 names on its walls. This was an incredibly moving memorial and absolutely heartbreaking to see. To have all these names laid out in front of you, all around you on the walls, it’s breathtaking.

Our final stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery, which can be accessed through either the Pinkas Synagogue or next to the Klausen Synagogue. The Old Jewish Cemetery is one of the oldest in the world, having been founded early in the 15th century. The Cemetery contains burials from before 1440 until 1787, when a decree came down prohibiting active burial grounds within inhabited areas of the city. There are around 12,000 tombstones, but even more graves as some of collapsed into the ground and others have been destroyed by the elements. Now, if you’re wondering how the dead are actually buried in this manner (with the tombstones being the way they are), don’t worry, we were too. The community actually would add new soil to the ground when they needed more room, so there are several layers of graves in the cemetery, one above the other. The gravestones became crowded as each site holds multiple graves. Both Rabbi Low and Mordecai Meisel, two big names who helped build the Quarter up, are buried here.

Words can’t even begin to describe this sight. It was incredible not only with the overcrowding of the tombstones and the idea of how old the graves were and how many people were actually there, but just the sheer size. At some points it seemed never ending. The amount of history in this relatively small area of Prague is incredible to think of.

We wanted to see both the Old-New Synagogue (the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe) and the Spanish Synagogue (the most beautiful in Europe), but both were not open when we were there.

And that ended our short little weekend in Prague! We are definitely making plans to go back and see more of the city, and have already added a couple of spots to our must-see list. Have you been to Prague? What was your favorite spot? If you haven’t, what would you like to go see the most?

Lidice – An Important {1/2} Day Trip

On our way from the beautiful, quaint, relaxing Karlovy Vary to the full of life, architecture, and history Prague, we made a very important stop. We stopped at a little town called Lidice. Never heard of it? You probably haven’t as it was completely wiped out, silently, during World War 2. The survivors of the town and their families, along with others, have worked hard to create a memorial and share the story of this unjust act. There isn’t much to see, as everything was wiped out, BUT it is an important stop, the memorials are incredible, and the history is so important.

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To know the town of Lidice, you need to know a little bit about Operation Anthropoid as everything stems from this operation. I am going to make the information about the Operation as brief as possible, but just know that I am summarizing A LOT. As with any war, battle, or really any major history, there is A LOT more that is going on. If there is anything I have learned about this particular spot is just how interconnected everything can really be.

So, Operation Anthropoid was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Reinhard Heydrich was an incredibly high-ranking Nazi Official, instrumental in Hitler’s rise, was in charge of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”, and was given the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. At the time of his assassination he was living just outside of central Prague. The Czechoslovakians took charge of the operation with the approval of their own government. This assassination is the only government approved high ranking Nazi assassination in World War 2. The assassination occurred on May 27, 1942 in Prague, with Reinhard Heydrich dying from his injuries in early June.

So, how does the above lead to an entire village being wiped away? Well, after Reinhard Heydrich died there were reprisals. False Intelligence linked the two assassins to hiding out in Lidice as well as the town hiding resistance officers in general. Hitler and Heimler met and determined the way forward to make those who may have helped Reinhard Heydrich’s killers pay: The men would be executed immediately, the women would be sent away immediately to a concentration camp, the children would be divided up into those who could pass as German and those who could not (with those who could not being sent away- the words used are “bring the rest of the children up in other ways”), and the village would be burned to the ground, completely leveled.

The Nazi’s surrounded the village so no one could escape, and the massacre began. As in the proclamation, the men were rounded up and shot early in the morning at one of the barns. The Nazi’s had collected mattresses from the houses near the barn to place against the barn to prevent ricochets.

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The barn where the men were executed

173 men dead. The 11 men who were not in the village at that time were sought out, arrested and executed. Only 3 men survived and of the 3, only 1 was actually in Czechoslovakia at the time of the massacre. He was in prison at the time of the massacre for something completely unrelated and didn’t hear about it until after he had been released (after hearing about it, he tried to turn himself in out of sheer heartbreak, but the SS did nothing and he survived the rest of the war).

The women, 203, and children, 105, were held in the village school and then to another nearby school for 3 days. The pregnant women were taken to hospital and forced to have abortions and then went on to concentration camps. 184 women were loaded on to trucks to go to Ravensbruck. Some of the women survived the war (I am not sure the exact number). 88 children were sent to a former textile factory where they received minimal care and were looked over to determine which would pass for German. 7 children were chosen to be fostered into German SS families. The rest were sent to Chelmno extermination camp. Out of the 105 children, 17 returned home.

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Any animals in the village were killed prior to the destruction of the village itself. Before setting the village on fire and using explosives to further destroy any buildings, the Germans looted everything. They went through the houses and dug up the dead to search for anything of value. After the village was destroyed, the Germans sent in workers to do a final removal of any signs that the village was in fact there, which included re-routing the stream and roads and planting crops.

This was not the only village, another nearby village, Ležáky, was given the same treatment after a radio transmitter was found there.

While the Nazi’s extolled the great destruction, the rest of the world started raising funds to rebuild the village and some cities renamed to include Lidice in their names. Movies, books, poems, and artwork were all created out of the response to the massacre and a new village was created overlooking the destroyed one. The two villages are connected by a street lined with trees. There have been various memorials added throughout the years, including the incredible children’s sculpture.

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Up until this point I have tried to give just the facts and the photo’s (similar to my post on Dachau Concentration Camp) as I believe those two items speak for themselves. But, the more I’ve been visiting these spots, the more I’ve been doing research into these spots, the more I’ve been learning, the more I’ve realized just HOW MUCH there was to World War 2 that we just don’t know or talk about, the more I don’t think I can keep my opinions out of these posts. My mind just goes racing with all these random thoughts, my heart breaks for the heaviness, the loss of life, and that’s not even mentioning what it feels like to walk through these spaces. Dachau Concentration Camp was incredibly difficult, Nuremberg Courthouse was incredibly difficult, Lidice was incredibly difficult. These are important, heartbreaking, impactful spots and I can’t even begin to articulate what visiting them feels like. Those are big feelings that don’t really have words.

What I will share are some of the things that just stick in my mind. That flabbergast me. That break my heart. That make me just stop. That make me go “WTF”. If you want to stick with the facts and such, I completely understand. If I ever insert these bits into a post, they will always be at the end, with some sort of warning ahead of time. Feel free to stop reading at that point, BUT please read up until that point. These are important places and important moments for all of us to learn about.

So…

The first bit I want to touch on is the wording that was used in the proclamation about making all those who were guilty pay in regard to the children. Here’s the specific wording:

Gather the children suitable for Germanisation, then place them in SS families in the Reich and bring the rest of the children up in other ways

“Bring the rest of the children up in other ways” is a very coded way of saying- execute them. This wording that is used just sticks in my mind. What a pretty way of conveying something so beyond horrific. I cannot get passed it. And that’s not even getting into the whole concept of them picking and choosing children who would live and die. I cannot even fathom, let alone discuss.

The second bit that I want to touch on is the lengths that they want to to ensure that everything and everyone was dead or gone. No survivors. To seek out those who weren’t even in the village at the time, who were away for whatever reason and kill them too…again, my mind can’t process that. All, except the one survivor who was in prison on something unrelated. They went to such lengths to prove some point? Again, not even getting into the fact that this was unverified intelligence. It’s just…

There is so much more I could touch on, the abortions, the separating moms and children, the murdering of the children, the digging up of bodies to loot, the killing of the animals, THE IDEA THAT AFTER EVERYTHING, THEY NEEDED TO JUST TRIPLE MAKE SURE IT WAS GONE SO THEY PLANTED CROPS OVER EVERYTHING AND RE ROUTED ROADS AND STREAMS. I mean, I keep saying my mind cannot process this, but it’s true…I cannot wrap my mind around this.

That was our stop in Lidice. Lidice was a place that I didn’t know much about going into World War 2 and it has definitely taught me a couple lessons.

Karlovy Vary – A Day Trip

IMG_1651This year we decided to go away for our Thanksgiving Weekend and do a trip to the Czech Republic. We stopped at a total of three locations and I’ll be doing a blog post on each location and a Recommendations/Tips post for Prague. With that little tidbit of business out of the way, let’s get into our first stop!

We spent Thanksgiving Day in a small little town called Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary is the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic containing 13 main springs and 300 smaller springs coming from the Teplá River. Charles IV founded the city in the late 1300’s and quickly shared high praises to the “healing powers” of the hot springs. This led to Karlovy Vary becoming incredibly popular and growing in size.

There isn’t a lot to the history of Karlovy Vary as it seems to have stayed out of all the major conflicts and just been a little escape area, so I’ll share some fun facts that I’ve learned…

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Karlovy Vary is home to two funiculars; the Imperial Funicular which is the oldest in Europe and one of the steepest in the Czech Republic and the funicular to Diana’s Tower.

Karlovy Vary is also quite popular in the film industry with several movies having been filmed there OR being the inspiration for backdrops/sets. They also host the Karlovy Vary Film Festival which is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and one of the more popular ones in Europe.

Karlovy Vary also boasts of some famous residents and visitors over the years. Apparently both Beethoven and Goethe visited frequently and would take walks along the colonnades and rivers. Fryderyk Chopin vacationed with his parents in Karlovy Vary (then Karlsbad). Princess Michael of Kent lived there for a time, as well as various sports and fashion persons.

Finally, Karlovy Vary was actually a mostly German Speaking, German populated city UNTIL 1945 when they expelled all the German Residents.

So, with the history bits out of the way, let’s talk about our visit and any tips that I have for YOUR visit.

To start with, we spent about 24 hours or so in Karlovy Vary and I think that that is probably about the perfect amount of time. You can “add it on” to a trip that you are already planning to the Czech Republic (granted it isn’t too far out of your way) and just spend a day or so wandering the streets and seeing the sights. We stayed the night at the Krasna Kralovna Hotel (Hotel Renaissance Krasna Kralovna), which is a very nice hotel right on Stará Louka. I would definitely recommend checking the hotels out on this street as you are right in the main town area and within walking distance to most of the sites.

After checking in, we started off just walking down the streets. The sites that you’ll want to see, including the various bath buildings, the river, and then the churches and statues, will be found just by walking around. We didn’t really have a plan of anything that we HAD TO see (save for one church and a memorial), but more just decided to walk around and see whatever came across our path. I honestly think this is the best approach to a town like Karlovy Vary. In Karlovy Vary specifically there are hiking/walking trails and the funicular, but again, you’ll find those by walking around the town.

The first “site we saw” was the famous Hot Spring. IMG_1674The Hot Spring was the first hot spring to be discovered around the 16th Century. The geyser of the Hot Spring is a natural phenomenon gushing to ~12 meters high and giving ~2,000 liters of mineral water in a minute. It was absolutely incredible to see, and it is almost completely continuous day and night.

We also got to see two churches while we were in Karlovy Vary, the first being the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. This is a catholic church originally dating back to the 14th Century. The current church on sight dates back to the 1730’s. The second church we got to see was the Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Paul. This is an incredible Russian Orthodox church (modeled after a church near Moscow- very obviously) that dates back to the very {very} late 1800’s. This particular church was paid for by money contributed from the wealthy and aristocratic Serbian and Russian patrons.

We were able to stop at both the Mill and Market Colonnade’s. The Market Colonnade was originally a wooden colonnade and is in the location of the oldest baths in Karlovy Vary. The present-day Colonnade dates back to the late 1800’s and is the largest colonnade in the city. It seeps five of the mineral springs and is where we decided to test out the waters healing powers.

IMG_1728We purchased a little souvenir cup and decided to go for a cup from the Libuse Spring. This spring was discovered while they were rebuilding the colonnade in the 1800’s. I will say, I don’t know that the water is healing, but it pretty much just tastes like mineral water. It was a fun little bit and the souvenir cup leads to a good memory.

We took a little mid-day break for tea/coffee and cakes at Café Franz Joseph and enjoyed a little rest with some delicious treats.

We walked along the main streets a little more before heading up the hill a little way. We made an end of the day stop at the Jean De Carro Park. This spot gave a beautiful overlook of the city (although there are several spots to do this!). IMG_1773This park was founded in the late 1850’s and contains a little fun legend. There is a sculpture of a cat sitting atop a column in the lower portion of the park. Baron Lutzow used this cat sculpture to protest the location of another statue in a neighboring park. The cat is facing away from the town hall as a way of highlighting the “good for nothing” nature of the councilors work.

We stopped for dinner at a charming little restaurant called Restaurace U KŘÍŽOVNÍKŮ near the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The food was delicious, and they had a good variety of Czech options to choose from.

And that was our day in Karlovy Vary! I think if I had to do ONE more thing, I would have done the funicular up to Diana’s Tower. This was one of the things that was on my maybe list, but I kind of figured we wouldn’t be able to get to it due to other circumstances. So, if I had to share something that I wanted to do and think you should do, it would be that. I would also recommend doing the hike on the far side of town as there are quite a bit of rotunda look out points to see the sheer beauty of the area.

We had a lot of fun on our little day trip to Karlovy Vary and I would say that if it fits into your itinerary, you should totally go! It’s a great little town to just wander through and take in the sights (and waters ha-ha)!