[Do me a favor and pretend I posted this three weeks ago].
Esme and I were on our way to our final European Christmas Market weekend of 2016. Spain doesn’t exactly do Christmas very well (sorry, Spain). Don’t get me wrong, the people are filled to the brim with Christmas spirit, but the city just doesn’t have the same luster. Instead of a classic evergreens covered in lights, garland, and ornaments, the plazas in Madrid feature a cone shaped LED Christmas “tree” in various colors. I’m not too keen.
Due to the above mentioned Christmas misfortunes, my friend and I travel in order to catch Christmas fever. And catch it we do. The markets with the soft white lights, festive music playing, and the smells wafting from stalls filled with sugary treats are the ingredients needed for the perfect Christmas Market. But Prague went above and beyond all of our expectations. It was by far the best market we traveled to.
A few of the highlights include a Christmas tree light show that took place in the main plaza. We just stood there for 5 minutes while the Christmas tree did its thing. Additionally, there was an almost constant stream of free, live music. They had a rotation of various (and diverse) groups performing on a main stage in the largest market. But I think I speak for Esme and myself when I say that our favourite performance was at the tiny market at Prague Castle. We had just purchased a Trdelník (baked and rolled bread covered in cinnamon, sugar, caramel, and shaved almonds) when we turned around to a quintet playing trumpets and a french horn. They played traditional Christmas carols for almost an hour outside of the Prague Castle Cathedral while we enjoyed our sugary treat.
Aside from soaking up Christmas in all its glory, we did get a chance to actually explore the city. Prague’s city centre is actually pretty small, so we walked everywhere. We saw the main plaza, the infamous astronomical clock, cathedral, opera house, and much more. It turned out to be one of my favourite cities that I’ve traveled to in Europe, currently ranking within my top three.
On our second day, we decided to start by watching the astronomical clock “show” and climbing the tower in order to avoid the crowds. It was timed perfectly because while we were waiting for the clock to do begin its performance, it snowed ever so slightly. It was only enough to see it falling for a few minutes, but I felt like Lorelei Gilmore witnessing my first snow of the season and feeling the magic. After the clock tower and walking to the Charles bridge, we wanted to grab a coffee and something for breakfast before we left for our day trip to a town called Kutnà Hora. We arrived at Original Coffee just as they were opening, and had enough time to sit down to eat and afterwards walk to our meeting point for the tour.
By general rule, I don’t enjoy organised tour companies. Usually, it implies that you’ll be joining a group of 40 people and obnoxiously parading around in a large coach bus. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the tour. We were a small group of 10-15 people, we took a public train together to our destination, and at one point (when the walk was farther because we were in the middle of nowhere) we took a small van to our next destination. The city of Kutnà Hora is known for their silver mines that fuelled Prague’s economy and for the bone church. The bone church, Sedlec Ossuary, uses bones to decorate and there’s even a chandelier that is composed of at least one of every bone in the human body. The bones are in no way contrary to the wishes of the Catholic church as a very devote family commissioned the work to be done. The bones came from the cemetery surrounding the church when the grounds became full (due to the Black Plague, silver mining accidents, civil battles, etc.). They exhumed the bodies and an artist worked for 3 years to clean and then place the bones in the church. Weirdest tourist attraction ever.
The absolute cherry-on-top of the tour was the restaurant where we stopped for a late lunch. It was a local joint that served traditional Czech food (including a few vegetarian options). But since it was cold outside walking around, the best part was the blazing fire emitting heat from the wood-burning stoves and the large, communal wooden tables and benches. It was so cozy and I could have stayed there instead of continuing the tour.
On our third and final day, we bought a transit pass because the castle is pretty far away and it lightly rained on a few occasions. We started the day at a Cat Cafe. It was my first experience in a Cat Cafe and it was fun. I made a few friends and even more indifferent acquaintances (cats man, they can be temperamental). After warming up in a cafe full of cats, we walked in the chilly weather to the Charles Bridge and to an adorable gingerbread cookie store. We stopped in to buy homemade cookies for our walk.
The castle was huge. According to Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is “the largest ancient castle” in the world. There were so many buildings within the castle walls and a large cathedral in the center of one of the courtyards. I was surprised at first to see a small outdoor Christmas market taking place on the castle grounds, but quickly understood the need to have Christmas everywhere in the city. You won’t hear me complain.
Until next time, Prague!