Recommendations and Tips for – A Trip to Rome

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

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Recommendations:

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

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

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

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

Tips:

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

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

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

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019- Ancient Rome

I’ve decided to do another split in the Holiday posts and give Ancient Rome the post that it truly deserves. To be fair, when I planned out the original posts, I didn’t really know how it would shake out at the end. I mean, I should have known because I just tend to overshare the information anyways, but I wanted to try and condense it down as best as I could. Just the portion that covered Ancient Rome was almost 2000 words. Instead of giving you an almost 4000-word blog post, I just decided to do two separate posts.

So, today it’s all about Ancient Rome. Next it’ll be our last couple days in Rome (which was a fairly decent size too). Finally, I’ll have some tips and recommendations coming your way later on (probably in February).

So, on to the good stuff…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - Ancient Rome

We started our 5th day out bright and early in Ancient Rome. So early in fact, we got to see the Sun breaking through the remains of the Colosseum.

What a way to start the day, huh?!

We booked another tour with Through Eternity Tours to see the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and The Colosseum. Once again, as with The Vatican, this was most definitely the right way to go about seeing these spots. Our tour guide was John and he was incredible. He shared information not only about the time, the people, and the places (aka the history of Ancient Rome), but he also clued us in on excavation projects including the first one we walked past, which was the most recent excavation to be done. The tour was the best way to get a somewhat in depth look at the history of Ancient Rome, the history of the location and different landmarks within the Forum and a history of the Colosseum. It was also great because we were able to bypass a lot of the lines that very quickly build up to get into these spots. I would highly recommend doing a tour (especially through this company) as it gives you a good overview of these spots and then once you are finished with the tour, you can then double back to the spots that you want to see more of (we went and walked through some other parts of The Coliseum). You know it’s a good choice if we are recommending it as we are not tour people at all.

IMG_4659.jpgSo, our tour started at the entrance of the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was the heart of Ancient Rome, the heart of the empire, and the starting point of so much of our Western Culture/Civilization. Before I get too much into the history, let me start by saying how absolutely incredible, breathtaking, overwhelming it was to be walking these Ancient Streets. It is an experience that I am never going to forget. My history loving heart was just exploding with happiness, but it was also a bit overwhelming at times to think of just how old, how ancient these places are. It’s hard to wrap your mind around while you are standing there in the moment. To give an idea to this, many historians believe that people first starting meeting in the forum around 500 B.C., even though the “city” wasn’t founded until 753 B.B. (by Romulus and Remus). The Forum has served many uses under many rulers, from a marketplace, to a religious spot full of temples, to a circus/gladiator ring (pre-Colosseum) to a public affairs location where soldiers would march the streets after their victories. In fact, there are a few arches within the forum that were made in honor of the rulers’ military victories. When the Roman Empire started to decline, the Roman Forum went along with it and during the Middle Ages it was completely destroyed to make room for farms and animals to graze. In the very early 1800’s excavations began to uncover the Forum and are even continuing on today (the most recent excavations were “completed” about 5 years ago, I think?). Fun fact/super neat fact: Every time something would get ruined (due to the fact that the Forum was actually located in a swamp/flood area), the Romans would just build over it. So, there are actually several different “eras” to the forum.

A couple of the really cool bits that we got to see (I mean the whole area is incredible) was the old Senate House building. A lot of Roman history focuses on the Senate- it was one of their proudest bits of government, and you are still able to see the exterior of the Senate building. They were in the process of cleaning and restoring when we were there, so we were not able to see the specifics, but still a really awesome site to see. With the restoration in process, we were only able to see bits of the Temple of Saturn, the front columns to be exact. The Temple of Saturn was, what is thought, one of the first temples in the Forum. These specific ruins date back to around 42 B.C. We were also able to glimpse the Arch of Septimus Severus, one of a few arches still surviving, the few columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux dated in the 480’s B.C., AND the Ara di Cesare which is the spot where Caesar was burned after his death (this is one of those things that just still boggles my mind, that we were standing there). We walked past the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, which was probably the most intact and preserved I’ve seen in the Forum, around the Arch of Titus which was dated the 1st century A.D. and built to honor Domitian after successfully winning the Siege of Jerusalem. The level of detail on this arch is incredible (that is THE menorah).

From there we started to walk up towards Palatine Hill and the Palazzo.

Palatine Hill is the center hill of the Seven Hills of Rome and was the actual heart of Rome. It has long been used (dating back to around 10thcentury B.C.) and became a spot for ruler’s palaces and the place to live for the affluent Romans. It overlooks both the Forum and Circus Maximus. Wandering through the rooms you can see just how the wealthy and ruling class of Ancient Rome truly lived. We looked at the “back windows” of the hill towards Circus Maxima and peaked into Palatine Hill’s own Stadium, where the wealthy would work out, have “baths” and various other spa treatments.

From Palatine Hill we walked down the hill, passed some of the last aqueducts
(outside of Aqueduct Park), past the Arch of Constantine and over to The Colosseum.

Commissioned in the 70’s A.D. and later opened 80 A.D.;  the colosseum was originally given the name: Flavian Amphitheater. Since this massive amphitheater (since that was it actually is) was completed under different rulers and there are no documents recording anything that have survived, we don’t know who the architect or builders were. The Colosseum was unique for its time in several ways; first, it was the largest of its time and second it was freestanding, rather than dug in. Each story had a different variety of columns, with seating for 50,000 (seated by class of course). There were also awnings built into the top in case the sun became too bright during the fights. Within the Colosseum there would be gladiator fights against other gladiators or animals. Despite what you see on TV or in movies, these fights would be massive theatrical productions. This was a source of entertainment (in as much as tv and movies are for us today) and so, to keep people interested elaborate storylines would be developed. This lasted 400 years and then the struggling Empire and a decline in attendance caused the fights to come to an end. Not only did the Colosseum struggle against Mother Nature with lightning, earthquakes, and such, but it also struggled from its own people. A large amount of the marble that was used in The Colosseum was “relocated” to St. Peter’s, Palazzo Venezia and other places around Rome. Finally, in the 18th century it has been conserved and listed as a sacred Christian site.

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I was truly amazed at the Colosseum. It’s a place that still very much sticks in my head as I think back to our trip (all of Ancient Rome does). To think about just how big these places and monuments truly are. The amount of work and engineering that went into each of these buildings is just incredible to think of. Then on top of that, the sheer age of the places just completely boggles my mind. In specifics to The Colosseum, aside from the size, the actual logistics of these tournaments, the truly theatrical experience was incredible to hear about it. You can see into the depths, where they would have platforms, levers, pully, whole systems that were so forward thinking for the time. It’s just absolutely incredible to think about and then to be there, standing right in the arena, seeing it all right in front of your face…no words.

Our Ancient Rome tour lasted about 4 ½ hours or so. It finished at The Colosseum and our tour guide finished up the tour with some recommendations on other places to check out. We spent the rest of our afternoon going to two of those spots: The Baths of Caracalla and the Santa Maria Maggiore Church.

Our first stop, The Baths of Caracalla, was not too far from where we were and was a spot that I truly just felt quite…small compared to what was around us. This was kind of a running theme for most of the day, but this just really compounded that in my head.

These baths are the second largest of the public baths (a 62-acre complex with columns reaching close to 40 feet tall) and date back to somewhere in the early 200’s. They were open for about 300 years before falling into ruin. While functioning, these particular baths were listed as one of the wonders of Rome and hosted a number of around 7,000 bathers a day. Something unique to these bath’s was the on-site public library. The library had two rooms, one for Greek texts and one for Latin, and each wall had niches built in to hold books. There was also a “frigidarium” (cold room), caldarium (hot room), a double pool, Olympic size pool, and two gym rooms to wrestle or box. One of the key parts to look at were the mosaics completed in marbled tile. You are able to see quite a bit of the mosaics as you walk along the complex. There were quite a few statues at one point in time, but those were either ruined or have been moved to other museums within Italy.

Our final stop of the day was a church. The Santa Maria Maggiore church is the most important church for the adoration of Mary.

This particular church was granted a Papal Major Basilica status, which is a really big deal (it’s one of four to have this title). Dating back to the early 5th century this church is incredible. Not only are the mosaics amazing, all in tribute to Mary, but it also contains some important things. Under the high alter is the Crypt of the Nativity, or a crypt that is said to contain the wood from Christ’s crib (as in- THE crib). It is also the home to Bernini’s steps AND at the time that we went, had the first nativity set on display. These figures are said to be from the 13th century made for Pope Nicholas IV. The church itself is beautiful, as is the nativity scene. We weren’t able to head up to the alter as a service was beginning.

That was the end of our day heading back farther into time than we could have ever imagined. Ancient Rome is probably one of my top places of our trips and this day was easily one of my favorites of our entire trip. I hope you enjoyed it too and that I did the history, information, and photo’s justice for you.

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!

Christmas Market Breakdown: Rothenburg ob der Tauber 2019

IMG_2766Rothenburg ob der Tauber is easily one of the most popular spots in Germany to visit, to recommend to visit, to fall in love with, to spend a day walking in; It’s just one of those spots. It is a town that is medieval in nature and look and has somehow become devoted to Christmas, with Christmas shops being open year-round and its Christmas Market being one of the most popular ones. I had visited Rothenburg a couple weeks prior (which you can read about HERE) and my expectations were very high…

Rothenburg ob der Tauber Specifics

Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s Christmas Market is within the walls of the medieval town, starting at the main town square and wrapping through the Rathaus and to the smaller side square and churchyard. The market itself is open 11/23/2019-12/23/2019 opening around 11AM daily. I think there are around 70 stalls total in the market (which makes our opinion a little…weird, but more later). This market has been going on for about 500 years and hasn’t changed much over those years.

In my personal opinion, this was a bit of a disappointment in terms of Christmas Markets and I don’t know that I can accurately say why. I think that there was a cumulation of a couple of different factors that honestly made the day a bit of a disappointment. I’ll break it down and then let you decide your own thoughts as to whether you want to visit.

***Clarification—VISIT Rothenburg odT, however decide if you want to visit the Christmas Market or not***

The market itself is a bit smaller and the stalls were…not oddly laid out, but could have been better. I felt like the layout could have been better, mixing up the vendors and displays. It was oddly packed in that there wasn’t a lot of people in the actual market square or along the stalls, but A LOT of people right at the entrance or down the main road. This made it really kind of annoying to navigate into the market and then made the market itself feel a bit…empty (both in people and with the stalls). The actual stalls were full of really cool goodies and they have a whole handcrafted market in the hall of the Rathaus, BUT between the crowd being oddly dispersed, the layout coming off a bit strange, and the crummy weather that we experienced it just wasn’t one that we loved.

All of that combined with my own previous trip to Rothenburg odT, which took place in the only “off” season that they have and was a quiet, calm day (again- read that HERE), just put a bit of a different spin for this market. When you compare it to the others that we’ve already been to, we definitely preferred more.

With our experience being what it was, we didn’t really eat a lot. I snagged some cocoa and Robert had a sausage sandwich and that was it. We did a little bit of shopping, although more so in the store fronts than in the market (which is something that I discourage during Christmas Markets, but it was what it was for this one). I picked up my Glühwein incense smoker and a Rothenburg odT wooden ornament. We also picked up a pickle ornament, which has a little tradition in Germany attached to it (basically it’s hidden and who ever finds it first gets a present and good luck for the upcoming year). Of course, I got the Rothenburg odT mug.

I still think that everyone should visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber, BUT I wouldn’t make the Christmas Market your sole reason and event for your day. I would either skip or combine it with everything I suggested in my previous post. I would be interested to hear from others if they’ve been, their thoughts and opinions. I think for us the weather (cold, windy, and rainy – the most not ideal weather) was the biggest killer of our day so I just wonder if we just had an off experience. I hate that we didn’t love this one :(, so leave your thoughts down below!

Recommendations and Tips for: A Weekend in Prague

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips

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

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

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

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

Prague – A Long Weekend Away

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

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

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

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?

Karlovy Vary – A Day Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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