A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Vatican City

It’s the smallest country in the world. It’s among one of the holiest spots (save for Mecca/Jerusalem/and the like) in the world. It has quite the history in both good terms and bad terms. And we spent the better part of the day walking its paths, looking at its artwork, learning its history. Vatican City.

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Where to even start? Our route was simple, we started in the Vatican Museum, then the Sistine Chapel, and finally to St. Peter’s Basilica. Before we even go much further I want to talk about how we saw Vatican City. We booked our tour through Through Eternity Tours (website HERE). They have a couple different options when it comes to Vatican Tours, but we decided to go with the Early Morning Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel. It’s slighter more expensive (though still incredibly reasonable) and the timeline is specifically set up to get you the best time in the Sistine Chapel. I cannot recommend them enough. We had Federica as our tour guide, and she was great. She had not only great art knowledge and Vatican knowledge, but she also has a personal connection in that her husband works there, her son was baptized there (by the Pope himself!) and she shared not only the important stuff, but also little anecdotes. It may have been a very early morning, but it was very early. Honestly- if you are planning a trip and looking at different tour groups, this is the one that I would go with. They have their meeting place, their headset and ticket gathering down so that when you line up with the rest of the tour groups, you are already ready to go and one of the first groups in. (You’ll hear about them again in the next Rome post as well as we did a separate tour with them elsewhere)

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Our tour started off with meeting Federica and picking up our headsets at 7AM. From there we headed to the entrance spot (one entrance!) and waited in line. We were up towards the front with only a couple groups in front of us. While we were waiting, Federica made use of the time giving us a quick rundown on the history of Vatican City and specifically the artwork and artists displayed within the walls.

The history of the Vatican dates back to the 4th century when the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica began over the grave of St. Peter (issued by Emperor Constantine I). As the chapel and location grew in popularity, so did the development of the city. The walls were originally commissioned in the 9th century (after an attack) and were expanded through to the 17th century. The Pope’s have not always lived in the Vatican; however, a residence was built in the 6th century with a tunnel connecting the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo ( from our first days in Rome HERE) added in the 13th century. The Catholic Church briefly left Vatican City to relocate to France, but returned relatively quickly and worked to restore and rebuild most of the country.

Much of the Vatican City that you see today was due to Pope Julius II (with a bit of Sixtus IV and his commissioning bits of the Sistine Chapel). Julius II not only commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, he also commissioned a new church (St. Peter’s Basilica), and a new courtyard.

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Now, a quick foray into the Politics of Vatican City being its own country, separate from Italy and some information about the country itself. The Pope originally held power over its regional territories, but in 1870 a unified Italian government decided to take back the land located outside the walls of the Vatican which caused some…issues. In the 1930’s Mussolini signed an agreement that allowed Vatican City to become a separate, sovereign entity and had them receive compensation for the loss of territories. The Pope now only had power over his country, which is 109 acres and has a 2-mile border. The smallest country in existence. As many of you have probably heard, the Vatican does have its own post office, banking system, and you can potentially (depending on who is working) get a Vatican City passport stamp.

Our tour started in The Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum actually takes you through the residence rooms of various Pope’s that contain artwork or statues that were either commissioned or used during their time as Pope. However, before you can get through to the artwork and rooms you go through the courtyard, statue, tapestry, and maps rooms. Each of these rooms featuring exactly what they are named for and each being almost more incredible than the last. Each room (or museum) has its own unique story and informational background. I’m going to link the official site of the museum and its history HERE as this blog post would get even longer than the last (and potentially more boring) if I went into elaborate detail about each spot. Instead of doing that, I’ll take a little bit to talk about each of my favorite one’s.

The map room in particular was incredible as the walls are lined with maps of Italy (and the islands) as it was seen at that time. It’s a much much different look at the world as this Gallery was opened in 1581. So much was still relatively “undiscovered” by Romans and their view of the world was much different. The walls of this room are lined with these maps and you can really see how they saw their “world” in a sense.

I also absolutely loved Raphael’s Rooms which, similar to the Sistine Chapel, were commissioned by Julius II and feature some absolutely incredible artwork. Raphael was given free reign over the design and depictions in the fresco’s and they are just an incredible sight to see.

A final cool spot (mostly because of the Pope) was Pope Alexander VI (Borgia)’s rooms. This particular pope is a very well known (some might say infamous) Pope and his rooms are exactly as you would expect. They are located in one of the most exclusive wings of the Apostolic Palace and were not inhabited by any other Pope’s. The ceiling of one of the rooms was decorated with pinecones, a symbol of fertility (yep you read that one right) and remained vacant after his death.

Something to note about the entire indoor areas of Vatican City is the floors. The floors are these absolutely incredible mosaic tiles, each individually laid and placed with care. These are the same floors that have been in existence since it’s origin. So, while you are walking through these various rooms, walking through the paths of artwork and statues, you are walking the same floors that many, many, great’s have walked before you. You are walking the same path that Michelangelo would have walked while he was working, the same path Raphael walked to get to this commissioned rooms. Just incredible to think about.

Once we finished with the museum portion (the Borgia apartment is the last to see), we headed straight into the Sistine Chapel. IMG_4474.jpgI have no pictures of the Sistine Chapel. First off, you are not allowed to take pictures in the chapel. Second, I don’t know that I would have wanted to take pictures even if you could. The Sistine Chapel is something that simply needs to be experienced, something that should just be taken in, without prior knowledge or warning. It is a spot to sit in silence and just revel at the beauty that is around you. It is truly incredible the amount of work, the paintings, the level of detail. Our tour guide, Federica, did a great job at pointing out a couple of spots for us to pay attention to when we did walk through. A couple of spots of note were the spots where Michelangelo inserted his…”opinion” on the commission. It is well known that Michelangelo had no interest in painting the fresco’s, he worked with marble, created statues- he hadn’t painted fresco’s in many many years. This “petty attitude” towards the Pope that he developed came through in some areas of the large painting (specifically where a little child is “flipping the pope off”). He also managed to apply this attitude to those who had…less than desirable opinions on the artwork (there is a Cardinal that is in a…precarious position in The Last Judgement).

We were able to spend 20 minutes in the Sistine Chapel before moving on to St. Peter’s Basilica.

I’ve already briefly touched on St. Peter’s, but I’ll continue it here (very briefly to spare you). It took a little over 100 years to complete (after being commissioned in 1506) and the alter sits directly atop the shrine of St. Peter. It is truly a masterpiece just in terms of a church not even considering the incredible art inside the church. One of the major pieces that you can see within the church is the Pieta by Michelangelo. You are also able to see two pope’s that are “on display” within the church.

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When they were ready to be entombed in the Grottoes, they actually were found to be in perfectly preserved condition. Instead of being placed down in the Grottoes, they were placed at two different spots within the church for all to see. That’s not to say you can’t see the other Pope’s, simply head down the stairs to the Grottoes and you can learn about the histories of each of the Pope’s. It’s a pretty incredible site to see.

Our final stop within Vatican City was not as part of the tour, but something we decided to do ourselves, and that was to climb to the top of the dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. We’ve always been “those travelers” who like to get above a city and get a sort of “eagle eye view” of the city. This was the perfect chance to get as high as we could and take a look.

I will say this, despite my incredible fear of heights/falling from said heights, this view did not disappoint. It wasn’t my favorite of our entire trip (Alter of the Fatherland was as a side note), but this one was so special both for views and location. It is quite the climb up (500 something steps to the top), but you are able to take an elevator for about 200 of those steps. The elevator stops you at a higher point within the church, so you are able to see the interior of the dome a bit better and see down into the church from a higher viewpoint. Also, the steps aren’t really that bad as you are going up, you are able to tell each part of the dome that you are in.

IMG_4323 2.JPGThe Vatican was one of the most incredible parts of our visit and something that I am going to remember for the rest of my life. To stand in this most sacred spot for so many is something that words cannot describe and then you bring it’s long (and rich) history…it’s a lot. A lot of feelings. It is definitely a spot that you HAVE to go to if you are in Rome and a spot that I think is best done as part of a tour group (the line to get in without a pre-planned tour ticket was INSANE…heck the line to simply get into St. Peter’s Basilica without the tour was INSANE too). Through Eternity exceeded all of our expectations and we will definitely use them in the future if we are ever in need.

And that wraps up Day 4/Vatican City. I hope that you enjoyed!

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.

 

A Bavarian Culture Evening – December 2019

Imagine…

A cold blustery evening, the sun has set. All bundled up with your friends and family by your side, in the town square you eagerly wait for the show to begin. Everyone told you that this you had to see, for not only was the show exciting, the culture couldn’t be beat. The square gets darker and soon a low rumble begins. An announcer’s voice starts to tell the story of Krampus and St. Nick. Slowly terrifying horned creatures fill the square carrying switches and sticks, bells clanging.

This begins the Krampus show that we went to this past month.

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Krampus has been set deep in the culture here and is known just as widely as St. Nick and Santa Claus. There is a troupe of performances who dress up in costume and put on a great fire show to tell the story and activities of Krampus during the Christmas Season. Before we chat on the performance I’ll share a bit of the history of Krampus that we know.

Krampus dates back to when pre-Germanic tribes practiced paganism and originally had no relation to Christmas. Krampus is described in folklore as a half goat half demon creature and beyond dating him to pre-Germanic origins, there really isn’t much more history on Krampus. Saint Nicholas became popular around the 11-12th century, with Krampus following suit in the 16th century. During the 16th century masked devils would run around acting as nuisances opposite of the St. Nicholas displays. In modern times Krampus “flies” with St. Nicholas on December 5 punishing all the bad little boys and girls (while St. Nicholas awards the good children). Krampus has horns on the top of his head, a long tongue, a face that seems to be in a perpetual howl or evil expression, chains (as an attempt to bind him), and hooves. He typically carries a birch switch and has bells somewhere on his person.

A much darker version has Krampus kidnapping and torturing those who are bad (which is what has been picked up in America/Hollywood/Movie Producers).

There are a couple different ways to see Krampus, one is a performance (which is what we did), the second is a Krampus Run (which is something the bigger cities will hold), and the third is to run into him at a Christmas Market. The one thing they all have in common is that Krampus has no boundaries. His job is to cause havoc and mischief and he definitely succeeds at that.

When I originally heard about Krampus, I knew I wanted to go to one of the fire shows. It seemed the best way to experience the entire “effect” of Krampus. You see him both causing mischief (as the no boundaries includes the shows), but also how they work with the fire.

I’ll let the pictures from the show do most of the talking for this post, but let me just say this, if you EVER have a chance to go to a Krampus fire performance…go. It was so cool to not only see Krampus, but also see the work that they did with the fire, see the performers in their element, and feel the culture of Krampus and the Christmas Season.

He is terrifying (especially if you go up and ask for a picture- if you have any boundary issues DO NOT do this), but at the same time, there is something inherently awesome about the whole show. The troupe that we saw was Oberpfalzer Schlossteufeln e.V. and they were fantastic. They truly put on a show and they lived up to the Krampus legend.

And that was our Bavarian Cultural Evening for the Christmas season. We did combine it with attending the Christmas Market at Amberg, but the market itself was quite small so I didn’t have enough to really make a good market post on it.

2020 Goals, Intentions, and Word of the Year

It’s the 1st of January of 2020. A New Year. A New Decade. Talk about a completely fresh start to make changes, accomplish goals, reach dreams.

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I’m not going to lie; I’m oddly struggling with writing this post. There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which being that there is just so much that I want to accomplish this year, so much I want to do and see, that it feels difficult to mark that down in just a few sentences or words. Another reason is that I’ve changed my approach to the new year this year. In years past I haven’t done resolutions (for several reasons, last year’s post described it best which you can read HERE) and while I am not doing them this year, I do have several goals that I want to reach/go beyond this year.

And with making goals comes the possibility of not achieving them. Of failing. And therein lies my other reason I am struggling.

I’ve talked about my fear of failure before and also about how I am trying to push past that and recognize that failure isn’t a BAD thing. I’m also trying to continue to recognize and remind myself that what I consider “failure” isn’t always actually failing. Since I have things that I want to accomplish this year, I want to hold myself accountable to actually doing them, rather than allowing my fear of not accomplishing it all get in my way. Thus, setting goals for the year.

Now, after all that build up, I am only going to give a broad outline to my goals. I like to play things a bit close to my chest and so I’m going to give you my little outline for the year, when I am going to be focusing on things and then keep you posted as to how they are going.

For the first half of the year I really want to focus on my website and my SEO. A Cuppa Cosy has become such a big part of my life over the past couple years (specifically the past year) and I have been mostly focused on content, developing my voice, deciding where I want to “fit”, what I want my posts to look like. I haven’t really been focusing (beyond key words and hashtags) on pushing the posts and website out far to the public. I want to settle on a good theme for the sight, optimize my posts on SEO, and get myself settled on Pinterest.

The second half of the year I want to focus on publications and putting more of my writing out in the world. I’ve been looking at maybe freelancing or submitting articles to various blogs and magazines. I want to put some of my travel photography out into the world a little bit more as well. Ultimately I would like to start looking at monetizing some of my work. Putting my thoughts and pictures out maybe beyond just my little corner of the internet. And I think that this is the goal that I am keeping the closest to my chest and the one that terrifies me the most (in terms of failing).

In other goals, I want to switch my focus to quality over quantity when it comes to content. I don’t want to put posts out just because I feel like I need to have content up and I don’t want to have blog posts that I don’t fully like to be put up simply because they need to go up. I want to make sure that everything I am posting is 100% my standards. I also want to take a little more time “away” at times. When we went away on our Summer Holiday I didn’t have any blog posts go up and I posted on Social Media intermittently and to be honest, when we came back I was so refreshed. I had a clear mind and a much better outset for the rest of the year. I want to do that a little bit more. I am not able to do that during our Winter Holiday (which we are currently on) just due to the amount of posts I have and want to share, but maybe come our Spring Holiday and Summer Holiday I might do that again. I want to have a few weeks a year that are just a breather.

On the personal side of things, I would like to focus on reading a wider variety of books this year, as well as some of the longer books that I’ve put off for a while now. I want to bring some of my reading content to this blog rather than just keeping it separate. I want to continue to cherish a love of reading with my boys as I find that is such an important part of children’s lives. I want to focus on them as much as I can because we don’t have too much longer that we are all together at home like this. I’ve been very recently introduced (or reminded) that the school years are coming and that’s a bittersweet change. I want to remind myself that it’s ok to feel happy and sad, blessed and frustrated. We are human and we don’t only feel one thing at one time.

Obviously, I want to travel more. We’ve seen so much just in the short amount of time we’ve been in Europe and I can’t wait to see more of this side of the world. I’ve got some big plans to go to some new places, places we never would have thought about, places that are completely “foreign” to us. We’ve definitely got a few big trips in the works for this year, but I also want us to make use of long weekends and even overnights here and there.

Finally, I want to make sure that I am getting more quality one on one time with my husband. Our boys are getting older, I’m a little less paranoid about leaving them with other people (not that I was ever crazy paranoid about it, but it did make me a little anxious as they are a handful) and as much as we’ve really transitioned well to parenting and our family life, I think we could use a little bit more of that carefree date night feeling. It’s so important, and while we are definitely homebodies and love our at home on the couch date nights (that will never change and still happen every week), we are in Germany! We have gotten out just the two of us and done quite a few things that wouldn’t have been possible with the kids (or would have been much more difficult) and I want to do more of that in 2020.

A final note to touch on, my word and intention for 2020. I am keeping the same word and intention from last year going into this year. I really resonated with “Be Open” and “Adventure” last year and I feel like they still fit with how I want to live my life this year as well. I want to continue to be open to new opportunities, to say yes to more experiences and chances that I may not get again (this also plays into my goals for 2020). I also want to approach life with an “adventuring” outlook. We are living our biggest life adventure right now here in Germany and I want to just keep living that.

And that’s that for 2020! Do you have goals for this year? What are they? How about your word and/or intention?

 

2019 – A Year in Review

How have we already reached the 30th of December? It seems like the year was just starting yesterday. And we aren’t even going to get into the fact that this is the end of a decade…what?! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

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2019 was quite the year over here at A Cuppa Cosy. We did an international move, lived out of a hotel and 6 suitcases for 5 ½ months, visited (as of the date of this post) 10 new to us countries, and experienced new highs and lows with two very rambunctious and active {not so} little boys. Looking back on our year for this post it’s hard to believe that this is our life now (we are going to be visiting The Vatican…what?!), but here we are.

In terms of highs, our move tops the list. In February we moved to a little spot in the German state of Bavaria. We left behind hectic, heavily populated D.C. for the rural countryside life. It was an absolute dream come true and we have well and truly made a home here. The people have been incredibly welcoming as we struggle to learn the language (German is no joke) and I feel like we have overall adjusted really well. For all the good that moving to Germany has done, living in a hotel for 5 ½ months was really hard at times. It’s tough not having your own belongings, having two boys who are used to a certain amount of space and who have a never-ending amount of energy, as well as not being able to have things as we like them.

Another high point of 2019 is the sheer amount of traveling that we have done. As I said, we visited 10 new countries and have really learned the art of short weekend trips (but we’ve also mastered long term travel too). My top place that we’ve visited is Scotland (is anyone surprised? Blog posts are HERE and HERE), followed very closely by Austria, which I’ve now visited twice (HERE and HERE). London was a dream come true (blog post HERE) as was seeing the Tulip Fields at Keukenhof (HERE). So far we haven’t been anywhere that we’ve not liked, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Amsterdam (still enjoyed my time, just not the top of the list, blog post HERE). I’m definitely looking forward to more travel over the next two years.

We have experienced countless cultural events here in Germany including both Oktoberfest (HERE) and a Krampus show (blog post to come), but also the little festivals in between for random celebrations and Christmas Markets (you’ve seen all of these, but my top two are Gutenek and Dresden).

The boys grew…A LOT over the past year. Colton has really come into his own with his words, his likes/dislikes, and his energy level. He went to his first couple days of preschool (getting evaluated to determine if he needs/could use preschool due to speech) and he loved them. He handled drop off’s like a champ and looks forward to going every time we go. He has really started speaking properly and we are loving seeing his little personality shine (although sometimes he is a LITTLE too much like his father haha). Andrew has really started to come into his own too. He has a voice and definitely knows how to use it, as well as learning how to wrestle with big brother (and win). He has been loving going to our local playgroup and has become such a chatty social little boy. He still has a really sweet and soft side that comes out every time he comes up to give hugs or tries to help with everything. The time is passing all too quickly.

We had one really low point in the year, that I have kind of talked about, but also kind of haven’t. I had one month that I just struggled, that I just broke down. We were still adjusting to the schedule, had just come off of our long Summer Holiday, and I just really struggled the entire month. I had a couple of low days where I was incredibly low energy, crying, and in a dark place for a bit. Thankfully things balanced out and the rest of the year has been great. I say this to show that while our life is incredible here and we are so grateful, it hasn’t been a year of sunshine and daisies.

One of my intentions for 2019 was to be open. Be open to new opportunities, new adventures and to say yes more. I think that I’ve actually really accomplished that. I’ve tried to be more spontaneous this year, and just go with whatever happens as it happens. My word was Adventure and we have most definitely had some of those. Overall, I think this was one of our best years and I know that we are in store for so many more.

So, that was basically our 2019 in a nutshell. A move, lots of traveling, a very happy couple and two wild boys. Our not-so-perfect perfect life.

Christmas Market Breakdown – Dresden 2019

Untitled Design 22Dresden was one of those somewhat last-minute decisions that was a surprise for me. It’s no secret that my husband isn’t the biggest Christmas Fan (I regularly adoringly refer to him as The Grinch), but he’s been surprising me this year with the Christmas Market fun. He has happily gone to several of them, enjoying and ranking his time at each one, and then by surprising me with a weekend in Dresden. I figured Dresden would be another year, but after our not super great time at Rothenburg ob der Tauber (HERE), I think he felt like we really need to end on a good note.  Oh boy, did we end on a good note…

Dresden Specifics

Where do I even begin? Dresden is the home to 12 (yes 12!) Christmas Markets throughout its city and we went to a total of 6 (we did wander through 1 partially open one as well, but not counting that). I am going to break each market down in sections to make it easier to navigate this post. A couple of things to note before we really break everything down though. Most of the markets this year opened the last weekend of November and closed the 23 of December. The Stallhof is open until New Years. Due to the dates passing, I am not going to put the specific dates and times for each market, just the general dates in the previous sentence. Since Dresden is one of the more popular and well-known markets it will be crowded. Finally, some of the things that Dresden markets are known for (and that are typically sourced directly from a business in the area, rather than mass produced) are Christmas Pyramids, Smoking Figures, Pottery and Glassware, and of course, the Christstollen (the desert that the main market is known for). There are various Parking Lots throughout the city and parking, while a tiny bit difficult to find on the first day, wasn’t overall a huge problem for us.

The Striezelmarkt

The biggest Christmas Market (and oldest) is The Striezelmarkt. This is the oldest Christmas Market in Germany, dating back to the early 1400’s. The name is unique (normally Christmas Markets are Christkindlmarkt or Weinnachtmarkt) and it comes from the name of the German Christmas Cake, Hefestriezel. This market is in the center of the historical portion of Dresden and overtakes the entire square. The entrance of the market is also a stand that you can walk to the top of to take in the entire market scene. If you look off to the left you will see the world’s tallest Christmas Pyramid (14 meters tall). This is easily the biggest Christmas Market I’ve ever been too and contained such a variety of goodies from food and drink to Christmas pyramids, nutcrackers, and jewelry. There was also quite a few rides for the kids, with a Ferris wheel (which I highly recommend- such a fun way to see above the market and it was fast), two level carousel and train ride (there was more than that, but those are the one’s our boys rode). It was…incredible. The Christmas Market of all Christmas Markets and definitely earned it’s “largest and most popular” title.

Christmas Market on the Neumarkt

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This was the second market we stopped at and it’s actually an Advent Market. It is located at the base of the Church of Our Lady and is a fairly spread out market (it’s not like the typical rows, rather a wider pattern). It seems a bit small (especially after going to The Striezelmarkt), but it has a unique little market charm. It has a quaint older carousel and quite a few of the handcrafted booths. One of the things that I loved about the smaller markets is the more handcrafted booths. With the rest of the markets (exception being Augustusmarkt), there are a lot more of the smaller businesses with homemade items and less of the big business stalls.

Weinnachtsmarkt at the Frauenkirche

This was a hectic market. This particular market takes place on the street following from the Neumarkt square. It’s a somewhat narrower street, and definitely more crowded with people. It begins just below the Frauenkirche and ends at the terrace overlooking the river and bridge (it stretches along Bruhlsche Gasse). It features around 45 stalls selling pottery, glassware, food and drink, and other regional specialties. This is a nice compact spot to wander through on your way through the various markets.

Stallhof Advent Festival (Medieval Market)

This was one of my favorites within Dresden. This is a medieval market and truly lives up to that name from everything from your entrance tickets (cut to two by a costumed character with a spike or executioners’ blade), to the stalls, to the performers on the stage- it all is straight out of the medieval times. The culinary treats are not only German, but from various parts of Europe (including Russia!) and the wares up for sale are all handcrafted and relating to the time period. Handmade mugs, iron pieces, jewelry, leather bags, you name it, they probably made it. It also features a tub that you and some of your friends can enjoy a little wash in if you so desire, performances throughout the day, and an arrow contest for the little ones. There is a cost to this market, but I found it to be a reasonable price and it was a market I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Augustusmarkt

This is a newer, modern market that is located in the “New Town” of Dresden. Each stall is adorned with white tents and golden tinsel, with various decorations in the middle of each section of stalls. I will say- it seemed like this market was heavily food and drink featured, with other stalls containing mostly mass-market items. There were a few unique stalls, but I wasn’t super impressed with this market. It does have a historic Ferris wheel and a carousel at the outset (on the Horsemen side), but otherwise this market was a hectic collection of food and drink with a few stalls in between.

Two Smaller One’s

While walking we wandered through several other smaller markets that I didn’t fully catch the names of (sorry!), but just added to the magical air. That is the beauty of going to a city like Dresden, a city that goes all out for Christmas, you can just wander around and you’ll find little markets here and there. There is something very special about seeing a city pull out all the stops during this festive season. Even if there wasn’t a market, there seemed to be Christmas Tree’s, Holiday Decorations, and a certain cheer everywhere we looked.

We didn’t actually really buy much of anything this past weekend of markets (surprise!). I picked up one present for a friend and then just the mugs for the drinks, of which I got 4 total. HOWEVER, we did eat…and we ate well. We picked up bratwurst sandwiches, donuts, hot cocoa with rum, Verpoorten, and glühwein. Everywhere we looked there was something new and delicious to try and it was all somewhat different. This was one of the few cities where the markets offered more than just the sandwiches, crepes and trdelniks- we saw people eating soups, salads, and other full meals.

Honestly, I loved Dresden. It’s my second favorite set of markets that we attended this year (the blog post on my top is coming!) and I just felt like everything was incredible. I mean it helped that I loved the city of Dresden too, but the markets were well worth the hype. They are definitely bigger and busier (so plan accordingly), but highly worth it. You can easily do several in a day, although I would definitely recommend two days if you are wanting to hit more than two or three of them. In one day, you can definitely hit Striezelmarkt, Neumarkt, Frauenkirche, and Stallhof. The only market that we didn’t make it to, but debated on quite a bit, was the Winter Lights Market on Prager Strasse.

Have you been to Dresden’s Christmas Markets? What were your thoughts?