Christmas Market Breakdown: Prague 2019

Prague is such a beautiful city and the same goes for its Christmas Markets. In case you missed my post all about our weekend in Prague, you can find that HERE. Today I am going to be talking about the various Christmas Markets we went to within the city, the tips that I have for going to the markets, and the things you should buy at Christmas Markets. I’m still finding my way in writing these posts, so bear with me as I figure out how I want to structure them and such.

To Start With…The Basics

IMG_2078Christmas Markets are a great way to get in the Christmas Spirit, to try new foods/pastries, drinks, and other fun items. It’s a good option when shopping for Christmas Gifts and fun little keepsakes of your time in Europe. Each city has its own market and the bigger cities often have several different markets.

Prague holds several Christmas Markets throughout its town, but the two big ones are Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. There are several other notable markets, Republic Square, Havel’s Market, and Prague Castle, most of which you will either walk through our past if you are just attending Old Town Square and Wenceslas.

The Christmas Markets officially open right around the end of November and most will continue through the beginning of January. I’ll touch on the specific 2019 dates when I talk about each market that we attended. They are open all day and into the night, with all the lights really coming on at dusk (around 5pm or so).

Prague Specifics

I am going to touch on just general tips real quick, for parking you’ll want to either use Mr. Parkit (all over Czech Republic) or the Palladium Parking Garage (the big mall). This will give you access to the Republic Square Market and from there you can walk the entire line. You can also purchase a day transport ticket (24 hours) that will cover your bus, street car, and metro trips. It’s reasonably priced and a great option if you are not able to walk the trip.

I have listed out the markets below in the order that we visited them. I will include a final summary at the end of the post of the order I think you should go in (the one that fits best in my opinion). I’ll also include a bit on what we ate, what I bought, as well as what is worth spending money on (again, in my opinion).

Prague Castle Market:

This is a smaller market located within the walls of Prague Castle, this was the only market this year that actually had the nicer mugs. This is a smaller market, with more craftsman makings, but still just as lovely as some of the cities bigger offerings. This year the Prague Castle Market opened up November 23, 2019 and runs until January 6, 2020 and it opens around 9AM everyday (closing at 7PM). I highly recommend just including this as part of your Prague Castle trip as it is a beautiful smaller market. It was one of our top favorite markets from Prague this year.

Republic Square Market:

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This is the first market we went to on our walking Prague/Christmas Market day. This is a smaller, but still just as good, market right outside the Palladium Mall Area. It’s a nice little start and introduction to the Prageu Christmas Markets. It’s a good start as it’s not big or overwhelming. There are plenty of stands to have a browse in before heading to the other markets. This particular market differs in dates as it is only open 11/25/2019-12/24/2019, it also opens at 10AM, but closes early at 7PM.

The Old Town Square Market:

One of the most popular markets within Prague, this is also one of the busiest markets. Nestled right in the heart of Old Town Square, the tree at the center (with the church as a backdrop) this definitely is a beautiful market. I would even go as far to say that this market is the heart of the Prague Christmas Markets. This is the main event and we got to not only check out the market early in the day (therefore beating the bulk of the crowds), but we also go to watch the Official Opening and Lighting of the Christmas Tree. I’ll be honest- it was magical. The Old Town Square Market runs from 11/30/2019-1/6/2020 and opens at 10AM. This is another market that we loved, although I would recommend visiting it earlier in the day as it will get crowded.

Havel’s Market:

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This was probably one of my favorite markets as it is a market set up all year round, with Christmas time leading to more of the Christmas Stalls. It is just a row of shops in the street (that is a walking street), which makes for easy set up and browsing for shoppers. This one has the most artwork and crafts stalls that I saw (with Prague Castle being a close second to that) and we found some really good bits at this market.

 

 

 

 

 

Wenceslas Square:

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This was the final Christmas Market we went to in Prague and it was probably my least favorite of the bunch. I don’t know what it has been like in past years, but this year it was heavily focused on food shops, which was good for us as it was lunchtime, BUT it’s not what I would have wanted at any other time. The booths here that did not offer food or drink were almost nonexistent, shoved to the very end of the row. So, good for a little food break, but definitely missable in the grand scheme. This market is again, open 11/30/2019-1/6/2020 and open at 10AM.

So, my overall thoughts are that Prague at Christmas is magical. Christmas Markets have an air of magic and with the backdrop of Prague it’s amplified. In my opinion, if you are just taking a day to wander the markets, I would start at Prague Castle. This is a market that won’t take you long to walk through and you’ll get to wander the castle. It really sets the magical mood. From there I would hop a bus or street car over to Republic Square. From there you can walk through the Prasna Brana down to Old Town Square and Havel’s Market. You can choose whether or not you would like to go to Wenceslas Square, but I personally wouldn’t.

These markets are definitely doable in one day, especially with a dinner at the end of it if needed.

At the markets we ate Trdelniks, which is the most delicious pastry, a Chocolate Waffle on a Stick, also delicious, but messy so bear that in mind, and chicken shishkibobs. I didn’t end up getting any drinks beyond some tea, but I would always recommend trying out either the glühwein or hot chocolate with rum. Each market has it’s own twist on what they will taste like, so don’t entirely judge the drinks off of just one try. There are also different flavorings for glühwein and the like!

In terms of what we bought this time around, I just picked up a little resin village house for my Christmas Village collection (I am going to collect these as we go along in time here). I also did pick up a mug, but not one from the Christmas Market. It is my plan to collect Christmas Market mugs, but I missed out on getting the mug that I wanted. Lesson learned for future Market trips!

And that is my Christmas Market Breakdown for Prague. I hope that you enjoyed, got some tips, or just followed the Christmas Magic through our eyes. Please let me know if you like this formatting or if there are more things you want to/would rather hear more about.

 

 

Oktoberfest 2019

It’s the event of the year, the event that everyone talks about, the event everyone mentions when talking about Germany. It’s Oktoberfest. This past week we got the chance to go to Oktoberfest and today I am going to share what that experience was like, some tips if you want to attend, as well as a little history of the festival.

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Oktoberfest originated in 1810 as a wedding celebration for Ludwig I (Crown Prince, later King) and Therese (Princess of Saxony- Hildburghausen). The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities of the wedding reception held in front of the city gates. It has since evolved into the festival you see today. From horse racing being the exciting event, to agricultural shows, amusement rides and carnival games. From Beer stands to beer tents. Fun fact: Oktoberfest has only been canceled 24 times in the 209 years it’s been around (these were only due to illness outbreaks and war).

A couple more fun facts about this year’s Oktoberfest (from the Oktoberfest website)…

There was a total of 17 beer tents, the largest tent being Hofbräu at 9,991 seats. The beer that is served comes from the six major breweries in Munich (Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spaten and Staatliches Hofbräuhaus). There are actually three sections to Oktoberfest: The Large Oktoberfest Grounds (Grosse Wiesn), Vintage Oktoberfest (which is actually part of the large Oktoberfest called Oide Wiesn), and the Small Oktoberfest Grounds (Kleine Wiesn). The Vintage Oktoberfest is the only part of the festival that costs money to get into.

Now onto our day at Oktoberfest…

IMG_8972.jpgTo start with, we wore our German best, our Dirndl and Lederhosen. We had gone shopping about a month back to pick out our outfits to wear not only to Oktoberfest, but to any festival that we attend. There is always a chance to wear them at festivals and picking out a good selection that fitted us properly was important. We were fitted and put together in our best by Moser and I would highly recommend them if you are up for paying a little extra to get “the real deal”.

IMG_8979.jpgGetting to Oktoberfest is super easy by train, about a 2-hour ride for us, and the train ride is already full of the brimming excitement. Having a drink or two on the train ride is completely normal during Oktoberfest and most people you see will actually have a beer in their hand while chatting with their friends. We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride over.

The train dropped us right off at the main Munich Station and from there it was about a 20-minute walk to the actual fair grounds. Super easy to navigate as they have dedicated blocks/signs on the sidewalk showing you the way. There are also crowds and crowds of people heading there, so it’s hard to miss.

Once on the actual fairgrounds we headed straight for the beer tent. We were all meeting up at the Hofbrau Tent, which is the biggest, most packed tent. This year we did not have a reservation (more on that later), so we knew that the earlier we got into the tent the better chance we would have to get a seat. Luckily we were able to go right in, be seated at the table, and have our first beers in a matter of minutes.

You have a wide variety of beer (and alcohol) options, but even just the standard beer was delicious. I say this as a non-beer drinker. You are served full liters of beer, so be sure that you know your limits and can pace yourself properly. There is a couple of non-alcoholic beverages as well if you would like those. Now, within the tent you are able to order a variety of German Delicacies to eat, as well as pick up a Pretzel and a wide variety of souvenirs. We ended up not eating in the tent itself, just drinking some beer, and decided to walk the grounds instead, picking up food from one of the many vendors outside.

The atmosphere inside the tent is infectious. The high volume of people all feeling festive, feeling the alcohol, combined with the music and just the noise is incredible. It has a way of making you feel intoxicated when you haven’t even had anything to drink, and you really feel that “let loose” feeling. It’s fun to just sit and watch the people around you and allow yourself to get swept away. But, after some time it’s good to get out, get some air, and maybe take a little walk through the festival grounds.

Outside the beer tents, is a carnival set up. You’ve got carnival games, roller coaster rides, even a Ferris wheel and carousel. There are a lot of food vendors selling anything from chocolate, to candies, to nuts, and traditional German food. Honestly, we just wandered through the various streets, soaking in the atmosphere. Outside the tents is extremely family friendly (more on that later) and we saw plenty of families enjoying the carnival atmosphere.

Overall, we had such a blast and are definitely going to be attending every year that we are here. It is well worth…well everything, and we loved being able to just let loose and really experience the culture.

Some tips for you if you would like to go…

Tip #1: Take public transportation. Here’s the deal, you can drive there. You can park nearby and take a bus to the grounds. It is an option and may be the best option in some cases. HOWEVER, I feel like it is safer, faster, and easier to take the train. Not only are you avoiding the obvious drinking conundrum, you are also avoiding the traffic and parking. When we were leaving (by train), we happened to go right past the Autobahn, and it was completely stopped. No movement in any way. It’s a long day, don’t make it longer (or dangerous).

Tip #2: Reserve a table. You don’t HAVE to do this, however if you want to be guaranteed a table in the tent that you want to be in, reserve a table. You are able to reserve tables anytime from {just about} the conclusion of Oktoberfest up until a month or two before it opens. You may be able to get a seat when you arrive without a reservation or you may not. If you decide to reserve a table (or a seat), your reservation ticket comes with a beer, a meal, and a guaranteed time to have a seat.

Tip #3: Don’t bring a bag. Large bags are not permitted on the fairgrounds, and even small bags can be a bit of a hindrance. I took a small crossbody bag to hold our things (as we didn’t really have any pockets to use) and that was it. Diaper bags are not allowed. You can check the Oktoberfest website for full details on the size limitations if you absolutely need to bring a bag.

Tip #4: All About the Family. My honest opinion on Oktoberfest…don’t bring the kids. This is not to say that you can’t bring kids or that the event isn’t kid friendly. Outside the tents is actually quite family and kid friendly. They also offer family days where it may be a little “tamer”, but honestly, in the tents it gets crowded quite quickly and the spaces are so tight and packed that it may be a better option to not bring the kids. Strollers are allowed outside on the grounds Sunday through Friday till 6PM (not on Saturdays or the Public Holiday), and there are biergartens that you can sit, drink and eat at if you like. They do also do a “child finder” bracelet for young children (I’ve read about this, but did not have the kids with me so I don’t know how that works). It is entirely up to you and your family, but I don’t know that our children will every actually attend Oktoberfest.

Tip #5 Check the Oktoberfest Website. Oktoberfest is run by a great organization and the website is top notch. They have a map of the fairgrounds, including information on where everything is located, AND a really great tool to see what the crowd situation will look like while you are there. They have statistics from previous years, as well as any changes or improvements for the current year. There is also an app that you can download on your phone. It’s a really great option while you are trying to figure out your Oktoberfest experience.

 

And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed learning and experiencing Oktoberfest with us! Honestly, if you are planning a trip and happen to be around on the same dates, make a day to go. It’s not only about drinking, it’s also the festival and just letting loose.

Almabtrieb 2019

There is an annual event here in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (basically in the alps) that came from humble origins and has turned into a large festival. There are several throughout a couple week time period, in different locations, all involving cows.

The Almabtrieb is the cattle drive from the alpine pastures to the valley barns. During the summer months the cattle herd will feed on pastures in the alpine regions of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. When Autumn starts to come around there is one drive for each area of towns to bring the cattle down to the valleys and back to the barns of their farms. Over time, these cattle drives have turned into large festivals, with the cows being “dressed” in wreaths and crowns, and the towns and villages coming out for a grand party. During the festival (which involves a lot of craft booths, drinking, food, and music), the cows are herded right through the center streets for all to see. They typically have large bells to signal their entrance and at the one we went to, they used the fire department bell to signal movement, so there is no chance of missing the cows.

I’m going to breakdown our experience and then I’m going to give a couple of tips that I found helpful when we went in case you get a chance to go…

This year we got to experience an Almabtrieb in a little town called Reith Im Alpbachtal in Austria. It’s about a 3-hour drive for us that is really pretty. Austria itself is a gorgeous country, it’s on my favorite spots we’ve been. In terms of the festival itself, there was a lot! It was much bigger than I was expecting with a lot more people. The streets are blocked off (obviously) and lined on each side with booths full of small businesses, food, and drinks.

The cows themselves are adorned with crowns and bells at the start of the drive and then paraded through the street.

I don’t think that this happens at every Almabtrieb ( I know of one person who has attended one where they didn’t “dress the cow” as they call it), but I think it is at most of them. There isn’t any rope or barrier, so you will actually be right next to the cow as it walks down. The herders walk alongside the cows to make sure nothing happens and to keep the cows moving along.

Once the cattle have been through the streets you may be able to go see them in the pasture. I would encourage you to do this as they are able to rest and the bells no longer sound obnoxious in the close confines of the streets, but rather like beautiful wind chimes in the mountains.

This particular festival had several forms of entertainment between these street performers, a whip performance, and different bands that alternated throughout the festival and throughout the day.

We stopped and bought cowbells, food, and did a little wood project sawing off our own souvenir.

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My tips/things I learned:

  • Staying the night isn’t essential. Obviously this tip really only applies to those who are in our area of Bavaria/Germany or if you are going to be traveling through the area. We are early risers as it is, and I didn’t find getting up a little bit earlier to be that bad. I also didn’t see that it was so bad of a drive for a trip. If you want to stay in the area for longer you certainly can, but I didn’t find it necessary just for the festival.
  • Be prepared for crowds at just about any Almabtrieb you go to. This has turned into quite a tourist spot and a full-on festival, so there will be a crowd. I found it to be fairly manageable, although I felt a little bit better that we went as a group rather than just me with both boys by myself.
  • Bring Euro. Most festivals here in Europe do not take cards, so Euro is essential. How much will depend on what all you want to get, but I would definitely bring more than you would think you would need. The booths are full of local hand-crafted items (my favorite way of shopping) and all of the food and drinks are delicious.
  • Arrive a little early to scope everything out and get into the festival mood. The festival that we went to opened at 10AM, but the cows were not to come through until about 12PM. WE used the couple hours to do a little shopping, let the kids run that pent up car ride energy off, and find the best place to sit once the first alarm sounded. There are actually several groups of cattle that come through, so if you miss the first round it doesn’t mean you won’t see any. We actually ended up seeing two or three herds come through by the time we headed to the pasture ourselves. They come through in bursts throughout the afternoon so you can eat, or shop in between as well or just enjoy the ambiance of the festival.

Overall, we had so much fun and I would honestly recommend that anyone and everyone attend. It is such a cool cultural thing to experience and the kids still haven’t stopped talking about it. So, if you’re visiting around this time of year (any time mid-September to early October) make sure to look up the Almabtrieb schedule.