Tag Archives: Christmas

Prague: Defenestrations and Lots of Meat

This past weekend I jumped on a plane and travelled to Prague with a couple other students from my program. During the month of December, Prague has their celebrated Christmas markets and I was lucky enough to find a hostel just off of Old Town Square. We arrived at night time, checked into our hostel, and then headed out to find dinner.

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But not before stopping for a few pictures in Old Town Square. On the left is the Astronomical Clock and on the right is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.

 

We stumbled upon a cute little restaurant off of the square and once we had sat down and ordered drinks, the question of the evening became “Are these things edible?”

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They were pretzels… I think, but no one else at the other tables touched them. Also we weren’t entirely sure how long they’d been there.

 

They had a list of Czech specialties on the menu so I decided to try goulash with bread dumplings.

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It was really good, but I have to admit the “dumplings” were a little odd. Czech dumplings are like extremely dense and chewy pieces of bread. Ideal for soaking up goulash soup, but very heavy.

 

Unfortunately Czechs don’t label their menus very well and I was too stupid to ask if the apple strudel we had for dessert contained nuts so I spent the night throwing up.

The next morning was beautiful though and we planned to meet up with our other friends in front of the Astronomical Clock and then take the free tour that our hostel offered.

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Me in front of the Christmas Markets and Our Lady Before Tyn.

 

However, it turned out that the friends I had come with had no interest in history, or actually seeing anything in Prague besides the castle so I was like:

Yeah I'm going on the tour. Bye!
Yeah I’m going on the tour. Bye!

So I went on the free tour all by myself which started off at the Astronomical Clock:

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And then we walked through the Jewish Quarter and everything on that side of the river. I was unfortunately too distracted by my guide’s excellent storytelling (and his attractive face) to take many pictures. Defenestration is now my favorite word in the English dictionary. It means to throw someone out of a window and apparently the act is quite addictive for the Czechs and Bohemians.

Part of the reason I’m so interested in the history of Prague is due to A Discovery of Witches and the series by Deborah Harkness. It’s quite possibly my favorite series ever. In the second book the main character travels back in time to Elizabethan England and she ends up spending quite a bit of time in the court of Rudolf II in Prague. Basically, he was the slightly crazy Holy Roman Emperor with a penchant for collecting oddities, especially one related to the occult. His lifelong quest was apparently to find the Philosopher’s Stone and thus caused the science of alchemy to flourish in the city.

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Old Town Square and the Christmas Markets again

So I was understandably quite upset to learn that the Swedes sacked Prague in 1648, stealing all of Rudolf II’s collections where they remain to this day in Stockholm. I guess I’ll just have to plan a trip to Stockholm now because the Codex Gigas (Devil Bible) is just too creepy to miss!

The Jewish Quarter itself was spectacular even though the reasons behind its excellent preservation are rather sinister. Hitler had planned for Prague’s Jewish Quarter to be a tourist attraction and museum for the “extinct civilization”…

After the tour was over I went to lunch with two friends I had met on the tour and by this point I was definitely thinking that solo travel might not be so bad. Free tours and hostels really give you the opportunity to meet like minded people and since you’re travelling on your own, you can do whatever you want to!

For lunch I ended up having another Czech specialty: roast duck, with more bread dumplings and a side of cabbage… possibly. I wasn’t quite sure.

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The duck and cabbage were fantastic, but I think I was only able to eat one of the dumplings because they were so heavy!

 

Then I headed over to the other side of the river with my new friends…

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It was kind of nasty weather all day, but that just meant that the city looked even more mysterious!

 

And we stopped to see the John Lennon wall, which was quite recently painted over all in white by some students in order to allow “new messages” from this generation to be painted.

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It was still stunning.

 

Then we headed back across the river in the direction of our hostel and we stumbled across a building in Old Town Square with the name DALI written in big letters. Turns out it was a museum dedicated to Salvador Dali, Alphonse Mucha, and Andy Warhol!

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Melting clocks! (Dali)
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Just me and some Warhol’s

 

The next day I decided to go off with my new friends (instead of the friends I came with) and I went on another guided tour by the same group, but this one was dedicated to the castle and the other side of the river.

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View over Prague.

 

Lots of interesting stories followed as we meandered through the castle, a monastery, and the remnants of communist authority in Prague.

Then I went to lunch and had another Czech specialty: Chicken Schnitzel!

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It was fantastic. The Czechs really love meat.

 

Then I saw potato dumplings on the menu and decided that I had to try them in place of the bread dumplings. I shouldn’t have done it.

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I think I was only able to eat one. They tasted just like the bread dumplings: heavy, chewy, and dense, but they were made out of potatoes this time.

 

Then I spent the rest of my time in Prague just wandering around the Christmas Markets and the area around Old Town Square.

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Here’s a close up of the Christmas tree!

 

And then grabbed a latte, because I’m a coffee addict, before heading back to the airport.

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This is the definition of beauty.

 

All in all Prague was amazing and I wish that I’d had more time to go inside each and every synagogue and church. I’m so thankful that I had the courage to break off from the group and go on that tour by myself, because I was able to make two new friends and generally have a much better experience than if I had stayed with the group whose interests differed so much from my own!

Now I just have a week left in Paris before I visit a friend in Spain and then head home for Christmas break!

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Old Town France, the Middle Ages, and Food

This past weekend Sweet Briar (the program I’m studying abroad with) organized a trip to Strasbourg, a city to the west in the country’s famed region of Alsace. I say famed because said territory was a point of deep seated contention between Germany and France, as it continually switched back and forth between the two countries over the last few centuries. One day you were German, the next day you were French, then a few years later you were German again! So it would make sense that such a region (15 minutes away from the border to Germany) would have a blended culture. The buildings look like they belong in a small German town and the German language is heavily present alongside the French.

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That was some delicious ice cream

Strasbourg is also called the capital of Christmas as their December Christmas markets are world renowned. Since it’s only October, I had to settle for buying their famous pain d’épices and visiting the one Christmas shop in Old Town Strasbourg.

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Christmas cookies and pain d’epices

Pain d’épices translated loosely is gingerbread, but gingerbread with a whole lot more flavor containing a wide variety of spices including honey, anise, cinnamon, and even orange.

Upon arriving in Strasbourg, we took a guided tour of Notre Dame de Strasbourg, the striking Gothic cathedral that towers over the town.

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It has to be one of the oldest looking cathedrals I have ever seen.

Next year they will be celebrating 1000 years since the foundation of the cathedral was laid. The cathedral was completed in 1439 and is the highest structure built entirely in the middle ages.

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On the inside, aside from the many glittering stained glass windows, there is an astronomical clock that calculates not only time, but also equinoxes, the lunar calendar, and other astronomical information. Every 15 minutes the clock comes to life and a figure representing a stage of life moves in front of death, a scary skeleton figure, and baby cherubs strike bells.

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Despite all of the cool astronomical references and the general ancient feeling of the town,  my favorite part of the whole trip was definitely the food. Sweet Briar took us to a restaurant that specialized in Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian tradition. Baeckeoffe is essentially a giant, slow cooked hot pot comprised of potatoes, vegetables, and meat marinated in wine.

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The outside.
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The inside.

It was delicious and I don’t think I have ever left a restaurant feeling so stuffed. My table couldn’t even finish the pot, but I still made sure to eat all of my dessert!

Then the next day for lunch I tried another Alsatian specialty called Flammekueche or Tarte flambée depending on your languageIt’s basically a pizza with an extremely thin crust. I had the original which contains fromage blanc, onions and bacon.

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I ate the whole thing. Good thing I had my yoga class the following day.

Then Sunday we took a day trip to Colmar, another city in Alsace.

We took a guided tour of the Unterlinden Museum to see the Isenheim altarpiece, a series of painted panels from the Middle Ages. The symbology and detail of each panel is absolutely stunning.

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They display everything from the crucifixion and resurrection to fantastical scenes of good versus evil. The tour guide actually compared the monsters on this panel to Pokemon!

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Pikachu doesn't see it either
Pikachu doesn’t see it either

Then we returned to Strasbourg for a few hours of free time and I decided to stick to the spirit of old town France and sat at a cafe, milking a glass of raspberry Sirop à l’eau for 2 hours in good French fashion.

Basically Italian soda with flat water, but it tastes so much better than that description.
Basically Italian soda with flat water, but it tastes so much better than that description.

That concludes my weekend in Strasbourg! What’s next on the list? Athens, Rome, Florence, and Venice! Fall break is just around the corner and I’ll be indulging in as much gelato as possible!

Don’t miss a single blog post of my entire adventure! Please subscribe (click Follow blog via email in the column on the right!) to receive this blog’s updates via email! Also, I love getting feedback so please comment!