Christmas Market Breakdown: Prague

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.

 

 

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…

Afternoon Day 1

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?

Thankful – 2019

Ah, Thanksgiving. A day to celebrate family and friends, parades with massive floats and balloons, food, and various sports (read American Football- that’s the only sport on that exists on Thanksgiving). While I’m thankful all year long, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is celebrating all that we are thankful for and doing that with family and friends.

This year Thanksgiving looks a little bit different for us. Not only are we in Germany, who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving like we do (or when we do), but we are actually in the car on our way to visit our ninth country since moving here. We are taking a long weekend away to Czechia, specifically Karlovy Vary and Prague. We are going to be experiencing their history as well as visiting a couple of Christmas Markets (trying to contain that excitement). While Thanksgiving looks different for us, I still wanted to take a minute and just jot down (rather type up) a couple of the things that I am thankful for.

I mean to start with the obvious I am thankful for my little family, for my husband and children, and for the joy that they bring me. I’m thankful for our continued good health and that we’ve weathered all the challenges of this past year so far.

I am thankful for our friends, old and new, who we try to keep up with at all hours. We’ve made some really good friends in our move here, friends who I know will continue to be friends long after we leave here. With an international move to a foreign country, friends become your surrogate family. They become the people that you bond with and rely on when you are in need and we’ve been very blessed in that respect.

I am thankful for the home and life we’ve created over the past 5 months in our home. We had quite the journey to get to this house, and we’ve really made a home in it and in our neighborhood. We are finally in the country and it’s been the biggest blessing.

Finally, another obvious one, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here in Germany. Some of it is just us being blessed with the opportunity, but a lot of hard work went into this as well. My husband worked incredibly hard to get to this point in his career where he could choose the job that he has here. So, I am thankful for this opportunity that was given to us and again thankful to my husband for the incredible work that he has done to allow this opportunity.

How are you spending your Thanksgiving? What are you thankful for this year?