Although we spent 2 weeks in Germany in December 2013, we didn't visit Dresden ... a city that has one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe. Since Dresden was close to Czech Republic, we thought of spending a few days here.
We took the DB Bahn (train) to reach Dresden and had a stopover at Usti Nad Labem. But the journey was very comfortable.
In Dresden, we chose to stay at Park Inn by Radisson. The good thing about the hotel was that the Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz tram stop was just a minute away. The bad next was that, we realized it a day later! Until then we did quite a bit of walking! We bought a day pass to use the tram.
Our purpose of visiting Dresden was mainly Christmas markets, however, we did manage to sneak in a few interesting sites.
Katholische Hofkirche was one of them. This is a Catholic Church in Dresden with an impressive exterior and an equally impressive interior. The sad part is that it was completely destroyed during WWII, however, they did manage to rebuild it into the beauty that it is today. The white washed walls of the Church certainly stood out and so did the large organ.
This was followed by a larger than life size porcelain work of art called "Procession of Prince". It literally covered an entire wall. I ain't good at history, but they say that this artwork showed the early rulers of Dresden.
We also managed to get a glimpse of Semper Opera House ... just from the outside. None of us are opera fans! And a couple of beautiful baroque style buildings around the same area.
Bruehl's Terrace is another attraction thats close to Semper Opera House and overlooks Augustusbrucke. It offers stunning views of River Elbe. Augustusbrucke is the Dresden's oldest bridge.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS (if you are travelling during the festive season)
We visited various Christmas markets in Dresden and Leipzig ... that was the main purpose for stepping into Germany in the first place. On the day we reached, we checked into our hotel and headed to Leipzig. It was a 2 hour ride from Dresden and had the 2nd oldest Christmas market in Germany. To be honest, the travelling became a bit too much for us and we actually regretted visiting Leipzig. Imagine ... just landing from Czech Republic, checking in and then leaving to another city in Germany. Pheww!!! Moreover, it was raining. Thankfully, all the markets were walk-able from the main train station.
In fact, we should have just stuck to Dresden because there were so many amazing markets here ... and so unique. I've said this before and I'm saying this again - Germany is the king of Christmas market "hands down". The stuff they have at each market in each city are so different. First, we visited the biggest and oldest (581 years) market in Germany - The Striezelmarkt. Each stall was prettier than the other. Our craving for German sausages were fulfilled here !
Mr. D in particular, enjoyed the medieval Christmas market at Stallhof. I don't blame him, it was nothing like we'd ever seen before. It was like stepping back in time. The costumes worn by the exhibitors, the handicrafts .... it spelt "history"!
Another favourite was the Augustusmarkt, which was a a short walk from River Elbe.
Besides these, we did visit a few others.
Karlovy Vary is a spa town in the west Bohemian region of Czech Republic. Many people visit this little town as a day trip from Prague, while others (like us) decide to actually spend an entire day there. Since our intention was to visit Dresden after this, we thought of spending a night here rather than going back to Prague. This way we wouldn't waste time on a bus!
So one fine morning, we hopped onto a "Student Agency" bus from Prague to Karlovy Vary. That's just the name by the way, the bus is for everyone! We purchased our tickets a month in advance from their website. The good thing about the bus is that - its cheap, there's free wifi, you can choose your seats online and you get free hot beverages on-board. The journey took us about 2 hours.
In Karlovy Vary, we stayed at Apartmany Victoria. A fully furnished apartment, pretty close to the bus stop and city centre. Since Karlovy Vary is full of slopes, we found it a bit tough to pull our bags around. However, once we reached the hotel everything went well. The view from our balcony was simply beautiful.
Before exploring, we headed to a nearby shop to try out the Carlsbad Oblaten ... a crunchy, large, round wafer filled with stuff like caramel, chocolate or anything you desire.
Since Karlovy Vary is a spa town, it is filled with a number of hot springs. The water from the springs are said to have healing properties. People actually spend days here. While we were there, we saw people buy mugs from a nearby kiosk and kept filling and drinking the water from the springs as they walked. There are springs all over the place ... each at a different temperature. Our mug ... well (a shot glass to be precise) looked like this. The water tasted like warm sparking water! But if it heals, you gotta drink 'em!
This was the first hot spring that we entered. It was called Vridelni Kolonada and had very intricate architecture.
Followed by a long building known as Mill Kolonada.
Another hot spring that we visited had warm water spurting upto 12 meters.
Basically, we walked along the river stopping at souvernir shops, admiring colourful buildings and drinking spring water.
We tried out this raspberry cake at one of the cafes. It was called Ovocny Rez. OMG !
We walked all the way to the end until we reached Grandhotel Pupp. This is a luxurious 300 year old hotel situated in the heart of Karlovy Vary and has been a major location for many popular movies such as Casino Royale!
Right next to the tower was the funicular to go upto Diana Tower ... a point, where you can see the whole of Karlovy Vary from the top.
We then took a cab and headed to Vanocni Dum (Christmas House). If you are a lover of all things Christmas, this is the place to be! In here, its Christmas 365 days a year and you'll be dumbstruck seeing all the decorations inside. There's a fee to enter and you can buy any decor you like or sip a hot chocolate in their cafe.
The only place we missed that day was Jan Becher Museum. By the time we got back from Christmas House, it was closed. Becherovka is a popular liquor of Czech Republic and this museum is dedicated to it. We only managed to see it from the outside and buy a couple a bottles from the store nearby.
Later that evening, we visited a Christmas Market near our hotel. This market "hands down" had one of the best honey wine that I had tasted in the whole of Czech Republic. They made an amazing gnocchi too besides other delicious food.
Every year, we look forward to December because its that time of the year when Europe is adorned with Christmas markets. Ever since we visited our very first Christmas market in London, they have become an addiction! This time we decided to visit Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Finland. This post is only about Prague - a beautiful city with rich culture and history.
We spent a good four days in Prague ... or should I stay 3 days + 1 night? and not consecutive. Two days in the beginning and two days after we returned from Germany. There was nothing much we could do on the first day as we arrived past midnight. We stayed at two different hotels - Park Inn by Radisson and Double Tree by Hilton. Getting around Prague was very simple. We used public transportation and thankfully both our hotels were very close to metro stations. Check out some of the places we visited (Christmas markets included) and the food we ate.
1) Old Town Square - Filled with a number of shops, restaurants, churches, etc ... this is the heart of Prague. It has some of the popular attractions in Prague like the Astronomical Clock, St. Nicholas Church and some houses that belong to the 12th and 13th century. I had the most amazing hot chocolate from a little shop called "Prague Hot Chocolate". Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes are they're all cobblestone roads!
2) St. Nicholas Church - A relatively smaller church at the corner of Old Town Square with Baroque style architecture. I could sit and admire this place for hours!
3) Klementinum - A vast complex of historic buildings in Old Town that offers a guided tour of three main attractions. And yes, its compulsory to see all the three and to buy tickets. You cannot choose!
a) Prague Astronomical Clock - A 600 year old clock in Old Town Square that makes people's head go up every hour. There are these figurines doing a little drama and its pretty impressive. Not to forget the view from the top!
One level below the Clock is a room filled with astronomical tools including a Meridian Hall. In the past, this was used to tell time.
b) Baroque Library Hall - This Baroque style library is one of the most beautiful libraries I've even seen. It houses books from as old as the 17th century. The art of the ceiling is breathtaking. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside.
c) Mirror Chapel - A Baroque style Chapel with beautiful ceiling art, carvings and mirrors. This was built in the 17th century as well. Now, they use it to host classical musical concerts. Well, atleast we could take pictures here.
4) Spanish Synagogue - Not too far from the Old Town is the Jewish Quarter (Josefov). They have about six synagogues and I was desperate to visit one. Thanks to Google, we landed at the Spanish Synagogue! There's an entry fee of course, but its worth it. It looks simple from the outside but the interior is stunning. It had a large dome in the centre and a very Arabic design.
5) Lennon Wall - A wall dedicated to the memory of popular Beatles singer - John Lennon. You can find Lennon inspired graffiti all over the wall. It was the most colorful thing we'd seen all day! Try going here during the day to really appreciate its beauty. We visited almost after sunset.
6) Kampa Island - Pretty close to Lennon Wall and a must visit during the day too. It has a windmill, canal and colourful buildings. Very picturesque! Its funny that I visited this place and didn't know it was Kampa Island until a few days later.
7) Charles Bridge - One of the oldest and most important bridges in the city. This stunning 14th century bridge links two sides of Prague and is adorned with a number of statues. We visited in the evening and it was swarming with people.
8) Prague Castle - One of the largest castles in the world. Within the castle walls are four mains attractions - St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica and Golden Lane. We visited three of the them. You can purchase a combined ticket for the attractions you'd like to visit at a little office near the castle grounds entrance.
a) St. Vitus Cathedral - One of the best examples of Gothic architecture. It also is the final resting place of St. Wenceslas - the patron saint of Czechs and a couple of Czech leaders. The stained glasses and intricate detailing makes this cathedral one of the most popular attractions in Prague.
b) Golden Lane - A lane containing a number of colorful little houses that belonged to the artisans of the castle. We had a peek into some of them and they were really TINY. One particular house had costumes belonging to the men and women of the castle grounds.
c) St. George's Basilica - Second oldest church within the Prague Castle ground. It is now used for classical concerts.
9) Dancing House - True to its name, its got a shape like its just done a twist! It supposedly represents a couple dancing together. TIP : Stay away and take a picture.
10) Wenceslas Square - An modern shopping area in Prague. Also considered the "New Town" of Prague. A perfect place for some retail therapy and sip a coffee!
This is for you if you intend on travelling during the most wonderful time of the year. With a number of markets - the main one being around Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and a few scattered here and there, its a great place to bring in the holiday season. These markets are draped with lights and filled with a number of little stalls selling Czech festive food, ornaments, decor and other stuff. Many of them open around 10am and close around 9pm. We had most of our meals at the Christmas markets. They're so cheap and the choice is plenty.
The festive atmosphere here is simply wonderful. In the evenings, a school choir performs at the market in Old Town Square and there's a Christmas tree lighting too. The markets are free to enter. Just be sure to manage your time between the attractions and markets effectively. Some of my favourite food at the markets were Medovina (Hot Honey wine), Trdelnik, Palacinky (crepe), Prague Ham and Klobasa (sausage).
PRAGUE ON A PLATE!
If you bored of the food at the Christmas markets ( which is very unlikely ), visit one of the restaurants and try out some traditional Czech cuisine. We tried out a restaurant located near the Astronomical Clock. Some of the popular Czech dishes include - Guláš, knedliky, Smažený Sýr, Pork Knuckle and more. Take your tastebuds on a journey!
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