Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life."

For my winter vacation I reunited with my mom and we spent the holidays together!  We traveled in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland.  It was so wonderful to see her again,  have a change of scenery as well as a break from the Korean and Asian world.  It was great to back in Europe again too!  Traveling around and exploring together brought back memories of my first time in Europe with mom about 9 years ago, when it all began! Those couple weeks then instilled my love of travel and inescapable wanderlust I still have to this day!

I was alone in Prague my first day until mom arrived that night. I spent my day getting reacquainted with this enchanting city.  I began by watching the morning sun glow over the city from a top the castle hill just a couple minutes walk up from my hostel.

As I strolled through the endless cobble stone streets I had my first hot mulled wine, a typical drink served throughout these countries during the winter, and continued to be mesmerized by this city I first adored over 2 years ago.
It's so strange to come back to a place again. That was only my second time ever returning to a city I'd been to before.  It was interesting to view it in a completely opposite time of year and see how many things are different in this new time.  While I'd been to the other countries before, I hadn't been to the cities we visited, so it was completely new.

Eierpunsch in Dresden
The day before Christmas Eve we were off to Dresden, Germany.  There was a small market nearby to where we departed the bus and we took a quick walk around there sampling some treats.

Next, we boarded a train to Leipzig for the night.  The market there was amazing!! There was a huge bright Christmas tree, a manger, a stage with puppet shows, and rows of lighted wooden stalls.  You could definitely feel Christmas in the air.

The appetizing aromas of sausages and mulled drinks filled the air.  There was an abundant amount of savory bratwursts, potato dishes, hot drinks and sweets! Many of which I had to try!  From the cream filled waffle, to the flat fried potatoes, to gingerbread cookies and fudge! There were just too many delightful treats!

The morning of Christmas eve we took a short train ride back to Dresden to check out their main Christmas market. We explored the surrounding area while we waited for it to open.

It was absolutely adorable, a real life magical Christmas wonderland! All their stalls where topped with various Christmas scenes, from teddy bears, elves, and snowmen, to reindeer, snowflakes and gingerbread men.

 There was a carousel, Ferris wheel, and wooden Christmas decorations.  It was so charming! It felt like we were in Christmas children's story book. Continuing with my tasting, I have to say this market food was just way too good!!

That evening we arrived back to Prague and strolled around the Christmas market in the new town area, Wenceslas Square.  Only a few of the stalls were open, being Christmas Eve, but there was still a glorious bright Christmas tree, and other things to see!  After passing through that area and winding through the maze of streets we ended the night in the Old Town Square with a delicious Christmas eve dessert!

The place we stayed in Prague was the best location possible! Our window overlooked a lovely Christmas scene below.  Rows of market stalls, a Christmas tree, and the hustle and bustle of shoppers roaming about.  It looked like a scene from A Christmas Carol.

On Christmas day we went to the incredibly beautiful main market in the charming Old Town Square.  This square is truly incredible.  The architecture of the buildings and churches surrounding it are so exquisite and just unreal.
That afternoon we climbed the clock tower where the astronomical clock is and at the top had panoramic views of the city! It was quite a spectacular view!  That night we strolled across the Charles Bridge all lit up with lovely views of the sparkling river and glowing castle.  We topped off the night with a delicious apple strudel in an ancient looking but very cute restaurant.  What a splendid Christmas!

The two days following Christmas we spent our time exploring around Prague.  The first day we took a free walking tour for a couple of hours, learning the history and significance of various building, structures, and areas around the city. Literally everywhere you walk in Prague your eyes are just in awe, the buildings are all so gorgeous, you just can't even handle it!

That evening we had a traditional Czech dinner in a medieval looking restaurant.  I had beef goulash, potato dumplings, homemade bread and the best hot spiced wine yet!  Mmm mmm!  That evening we attended a wonderful Christmas concert in one of the grand churches.  The atmosphere of the dimly lit church along with the music of the singer and instruments, especially the extravagant organ, was so captivating.  The next day we took a different walking tour and cruised down the river for a different perspective of the city and also explored the castle grounds.  It was still as magnificent as I remembered and the views overlooking the city were absolutely stunning.

The following morning we boarded the train bright and early and were off to Berlin! It was such a scenic ride as we whizzed pass the Czech countryside with its quaint towns, rolling hills, and winding rivers.

After a somewhat long journey we arrived late in the afternoon, dropped off our bags, and began our search of the several markets to see in this city.

 That night we went to 3 markets, also seeing some sights along the way.  The final market was our favorite with a charming surrounding square, ice skating rink, music, and lots of cute stalls and treats!


 The following morning we took a short train to the small and quaint Potsdam.  We roamed around the city and saw the Sanssouci Palace which was the summer residence of Frederick the Great.  It had massive gardens, fountains, a windmill nearby, and many statues (but they were covered for the winter).

We had a nice time just enjoying the area and taking our time wandering wherever the streets took us.  That evening we had an amazing dinner of schnitzel!! It was beyond delicious!  Following dinner, we passed through their little Christmas market and stopped in yet another beautiful church before calling it a night.

The next morning, New Years Eve, we rode the train back to Berlin for a couple hours of sightseeing before our train departed to Prague that afternoon.  We saw the Reichstag building, the Chancellery building, and the Brandenburg Gate to name a few.

It was fascinating to see the gate and to realize all the events associated with it throughout time.  You could just feel the intense wartime history of the area.  A couple minutes from the gate was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the Holocaust Memorial.

We arrived back to Prague in the early evening.  Before the big night we peaked inside some of the many immaculate churches around the city.
Wow New Years Eve in Prague!! What an unforgettable moment!  The Charles Bridge was the place to be. Hours leading up to midnight people were shooting off small fireworks from the river bank and further off in the distance in the city, there were firecrackers going off all throughout the streets, sparklers, and other various explosive materials shooting on the bridge.  The whole city was booming like thunder!  When the clock struck midnight the whole sky was ablaze! Fireworks literally in every direction, all over the city were going off, the boats that filled the river all blared their horns, and people cheered.  Everywhere you looked there were blasts and celebrations, it was a spectacular way to ring in 2014!!

New Years morning bright and early we began our long journey to Poland.  After 2 trains, and a bus, we finally arrived to Krakow that night.  After an absolutely incredibly delicious dinner (I had been dreaming about my beloved Polish food for months) of pierogies and golumki we headed into the old town square and walked around the Christmas market.  Heavenly scents of kielbasa wafted through the air as we took in the holiday scene.  This was another gorgeous square of buildings with pretty architecture, a grand church and a glowing clock tower above
The following day we had the whole day to explore.  We saw bits of the Old Town, the old Jewish ghetto, and spent a couple hours in the former factory of  Oskar Schindler.   It's now a museum dedicated to the wartime experience of Krakow under the 5 years of Nazi occupation and the experience of the city and the Jews.

 "Roughly a sixth of the museum's permanent exhibition is dedication to them.  The rest shows prewar Krakow, the German invasion in 1939, Krakow as the capital of Poland under the Nazi occupation, the sorrows of everyday living in the occupied city, family life, the wartime history of Krakow Jews, the resistance movement, the underground Polish state, and lastly the Soviet capture of the city.  The centerpiece of the part of the exposition dealing with Oskar Schindler himself is his office fortuitously preserved over the intervening years."

After crossing the river away from the factory and former ghetto, we went back towards Old Town.
We stopped at a couple of tasty bakeries, sampling a couple treats, before having an epic dinner of more pierogies, kapusta (bigos), and a delicious chicken dish.

I couldn't get enough pierogies! I could eat them at every meal, haha which I did besides breakfast!  After a couple of stops in some shops and a church we were back to the main market.  After one last quick around, another plate of pierogies, and a stroll through an indoor market street, we headed to the station for our overnight train to Prague.

We arrived early in the morning for our last day in Prague.  We couldn't believe this amazing trip was coming to an end.  We spent some time savoring our last views of the Christmas market and Old Town Square, doing some souvenir shopping, and went out to a delicious final dinner.  Early the the next morning we were off to the airport.  Before my second flight, from Moscow, my ticket got changed.  I'm thinking it was because the flight was not very full (the seats surrounding me were empty and they put weighted luggage on some chairs).  I got moved up to first/business class.  I felt like a princess! It was so wild!  Nice drinks, a little white cloth on your tray table, real plates and silverware, it felt like I was in a restaurant.  The food was so great and there was even ice cream for dessert! My seat fully reclined and the TV screen was bigger as well.  You know I'd always wondered what it was like to sit up there and now I exciting and comfy!  It made a much more pleasant trip for the long flight back to Seoul.  

No comments:

Post a Comment