Posted by: francescacoviello | December 18, 2010

‘Tis the Season..

Since Europeans don’t believe in Thanksgiving, the holiday season arrives mid-November with the cold winter air. I traveled to Prague and Vienna during the weekend when everyone at home was stuffing their faces with turkey and pumpkin pie. It wasn’t my first time not being home for Thanksgiving, but it was my first time not celebrating. I was perfectly find with visiting Prague instead, a city that I had been so eager to see. Rather than staying in a hotel or a hostel, Lauren and I rented an apartment, which was right next to the cathedral. It was inexpensive, cozy, and felt like our own little place for 3 nights. I highly recommend this option for anyone traveling to the Czech capital (stayinprague.net). When we arrived, the infamous Christmas markets were being set up, and the mulled wine could be smelled from every direction. Prague is much colder than Italy, even the leather gloves I bought at the mercato weren’t enough to keep my hands warm. We had to take breaks every half an hour because our feet were numb from walking on the cold cobblestone. After wandering around the Christmas market, we got our fix of Starbucks and headed to the Charles Bridge. The John Lennon wall was just around the corner, where we took pictures until we were frozen from the cold, especially when the sun had set and it was time to find warm shelter. We ordered some hot wine, then entered the Beatlemania music exhibit on the same side of the river. For dinner, it was decided that a traditional Czech meal would be in order, which we found near our apartment. I had dumplings (mushy bread), with beef and gravy – interesting to say the least. Prague is known for it’s nightlife, but we were more interested in seeing the sights of the enchanted architecture, and experiencing the main Czech attractions.

Prague Christmas Market, Old Town Square

Our first full day in Prague was bitter cold, and as the evening approached the thick, maroon sky gave sign to a change in weather. Suddenly, snowflakes began to fall in every direction. Prague is a mystical, bohemian city, but the addition of snow made it that much more magical. When we woke up, we walked into the crowded, snow-filled streets. The Markets offered a variety of souvenirs, decorations and authentic food. The most attractive tent was the Trdlo, sweet dough rolled around a metal spindle then heated over a flame and covered in sugar or nuts. It was the perfect match for our morning coffee, with its super crispy crust to compliment the soft  dough inside.

After we enjoyed our last Trdlo roll, we rushed to the train station just in time to catch a 3 hour train to Vienna, Austria. It was a snowy ride, which I slept through most of but every time I looked out the window the white scenery took my breath away. We arrived without any hotel reservations, and were ready to stay anywhere after carrying our bags around. As soon as we found a nice hotel, we committed and then ventured out to the streets, which were full of bright Christmas lights.

Vienna – Town Hall

The Viennese Christmas markets were much more impressive than the one in Prague. They are somewhat scattered around the city, like little villages in different corners of Vienna. We drank hot cider, ate strudel and tried to stay warm. The snow was beautiful, as it came down in thick sheets – but prevented us from staying outside long enough to experience the festivities. After craving Thai food, my father texted me: “Take your roommate out to dinner, it’s on me” (hi dad). I’m convinced that his offer was a result of true Christmas spirit. When I told him that we wanted Thai, he though that would be a silly thing to have in Vienna. So in his honor, we trekked in the snow to one of the most authentic Viennese restaurants. It was literally in a basement, and the food was very hearty – smoked pork, cabbage, dumplings and roasted potatoes – perfect for a winter day.

The next morning we went out to climb the St. Stephen’s cathedral, which was exhausting but so worth it. The views of Vienna, covered in snow. We descended from the tower to grab a cup of Starbucks coffee – grande caramel macchiato, please and thank you. I had to catch a flight back to Florence that night so I could make it to class on time, and my friend planned an extra night in Vienna. Lauren went to the Opera box office and got a ticket for 10 Euro for the Italian Opera that evening. Unfortunately, I would be in the airport then and wouldn’t be able to join her for the show. When I got to the airport I saw that my flight was on-time, until I went through security and it was delayed 2 hours. And then… cancelled. My connecting flight to Frankfurt was cancelled due to the weather, causing a huge back-up for people traveling to Germany. I spent the night waiting on long lines to be re-booked, and to receive a voucher for a hotel. The most frustrating part was the fact that I could have been at the Opera and I would be staying in a hotel alone, away from my friend. I was scheduled to leave the next morning at 6:00 am to Munich, and managed to standyby on the earlier flight to Florence, which got me home at 12:00 in the afternoon. I made it back for my 3:00 photography class, and was happy to be in a much milder climate.

Walking through Florence’s European Christmas Market – Santa Croce

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