Rome: the Highlights

We spent a week in Rome – our final destination of our 3-month journey which started this blog. I have not had the time to write about Rome until now that I have arrived back into Australia. I hope to enrich this blog with more tales of Rome and of Europe as I have time to reflect on it all. However, today I will just do a recap of our favourite things about Rome.

1) Cemetery of Non-Catholic Foreigners, Piramide.
We stayed near Piramide during our stay and on our first day, we discovered this gem. Housing an enormous piramid structure, this cemetery is honestly the most beautiful I have ever seen. You are greeted with beautiful well-maintained gardens, an inclusivity of diverse backgrounds and religions, and a calm, loving atmosphere. It is the final resting place of one of my favourite poets, John Keats. Oh, and did I mention it houses a cat sanctuary? Yes, while roaming through the old cemetery, be on the look-out for rescued cats, safe and well-fed by the good staff. You can even visit the cat residency in the afternoon if you so desire!

2) Capuchin Crypt.
Some of you may have read my blog on Kutná Hora, Czech Republic and its amazing bone chapel. Well, if you are interested in that, you’ll love this. The Capuchin Crypt houses an informative museum on the Capuchin friars around Europe and the world, from the beginning to modern times. At the end, marvel at the crypt, a decorative laying of various friars’ bones…

3) Vatican City.
What’s a trip to Rome without going to the Vatican City? It is always busy there but we were lucky – travelling in winter does have the advantage of fewer crowds and shorter lines. One can easily access the Vatican City by bus or metro for €1.50.
St Peter’s Basilica is a definite must-see. I’ve never felt so small and so in awe as I was in this basilica. Vast, immense, intense, passionate, wonderful, and just out of this world. Step into this intricate piece of art and be astonished.

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St Peter's Basilica

The Vatican Museums is the other major attraction there. It’s suggested you book online well in advance, however, again, we were lucky. We showed up early in the morning when the doors opened and only had to wait in line for 15 minutes. Enjoy a vast and quite frankly obscene amount of objects and artwork on display here. We particularly enjoyed the large ancient Eygptian exhibition, the galleries of scuplture, the modern religious paintings (including some by Dali), and of course the Sistine Chapel.

4) The Colosseum and the Roman Ruins.
Heading into the Forum area, pick up a combination ticket for €12 for access to the Colosseum, Palatine hill, and the Forum. Dedicate a day to the ruins of ancient Rome!
The Colosseum is a must-see, of course. You can pick up an audio guide and map for €5 (it gives a good introductory history), but there are also information panels throughout the structure.

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Inside the Colosseum

Afterwards, wander through Palatine hill and the Forum (one entry). Be sure to bring a good travel guide that maps out the area so as to give you some context. Included on the entry ticket is an odd little museum in the middle of the site.

5) The city centre of Rome.
Leave aside a day to wander Rome’s centre. Find the Trevi Fountain and toss a coin over your shoulder. Seek out the various ruins that remain throughout the city. Visit the multiple historical churches and chapels. Step into Piazza Navona for a lively atmosphere and great gelato. There are lots of things to see and do in the city centre – just have fun with a map and discover the treasured delights of Rome!

From Florence to Pisa

Florence is a great city to visit. Not only for the beautiful sights and extensive history, but also as a central hub for day trips. During our week in Florence, we have ventured out to both Siena (see previous post) and now Pisa.

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The piazza of miracles... the Duomo

Pisa is of course famous for its Leaning Tower, the bell tower of the Duomo. Its construction began in 1173 Due to unstable soil beneath one side of the tower, the tower started to sink into the ground. Many attempts were made to straighten the building but it was not until 1990 that consolidation was successful.

It is quite a sight to see. The first glimpse I had of the tower, I could not believe my eyes. The stark contrast against the military-like symmetry of the cathedral next to it emphasises its lean even more so. Taking out its obvious flaw in design, it is a beautiful building in itself, its artistic exterior quite unique to maritime Pisa.

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The Duomo area houses the tower, the cathedral, a baptistery, a cemetery, and a museum. It is very well maintained with a perfectly cut green lawn. The buildings were built prior to the 13th century. They are still so clean and white, they stick out like a sore thumb against the red-brown colour scheme of the rest of the city.

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The lawn, and the Baptistery in the distance

Heading into one of the two ticket offices of the piazza, you can choose between a number of bulk tickets. You have to pay to walk up the tower or to enter the baptistery or museum. The cathedral is free but visits are time-scheduled and you must have a pass. This is easy enough to obtain at the ticket office.

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The cathedral

Once you have explored the piazza (probably an estimated 1-2 hour visit), there are many great cafes, restaurants, and patisseries to window shop or dine in. We tried some of the best gelato we have had this trip near the river Arno. Like Siena, cakes, pastries, and chocolates are huge in Pisa so your sweet tooth will not be disappointed! Wander the old streets, marvel at the ruins, or stroll along the river (definitely recommended in the evening!). Beware that the area surrounding the Duomo is a huge tourist district so maybe try some quieter streets to find better and cheaper food and goods.

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The river in the evening

Day Trip to Siena, Tuscany

About an hour and a half train ride from Florence (S. M. Novella station) lies in a hilly town with some of the most picturesque views of Tuscany.

Arriving into the train station is not as straightforward as one might like. You arrive at the bottom of a tall hill so you can either take a bus into the city centre or simply walk across the street into the shopping plaza. Turn left and find the escalators heading upward. Take the next several escalators up until you reach the very top. Turn left again and walk straight, heading through the coty gate and following the signs to the Piazzale il Campo.

Here, you will find a vast space surrounded by many restaurants, cafes, and shops. Just by the church, you’ll find the Civic Museum. This space is converted twice a year into a racing festival, and is considered the hub of Siena. The surrounding narrow alleyways are fun to explore and offer many lovely scenic walks.

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Going a little further uphill, you can follow the signs to the Duomo. We opted to buy the Opa All Inclusive pass for €12 (discounted for off-season) which gives you access to the cathedral and its library, the baptistery, the bell-tower, and the museum of the church.

The latter (the museum) provides an insight into the symbolic objects and imagery that have been associated with the cathedral from centuries ago up until now. It is not a huge museum, but it does house some impressive embroidery work, gilded cases with human skulls encased within (presumably of some significance), and religious paintings. My criticism of the museum is that it does not provide very much information, and the scarce information it does have is only in Italian.

It is within the museum that you will find access to the bell-tower. Beware of the many steps, and the narrow spiral staircase. The view is definitely worth the climb; a beautiful 360° view of Siena and the tuscan hills in the distance. It is postcard-perfect: the red and yellow colour scheme of the town, the greenery contrasting the industrial, the winding walkways and roads, and just the sheer vibe of the city jumps out at you.

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The cathedral is a neo-Gothic building of intricate artistic detail outside and in. Presented as “heaven on earth”, the interior is meant to be a depiction of heaven with its beauty, the symbolic art and scuplture on the walls and floor, and the stars upon the ceiling. It is a very colourful cathedral inside; it is almost as if you are stepping inside someone’s painting.

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It gets even better when you head into the library of the church. Though it contains a number of ancient religious books, it wasn’t the books people were interested in. As you step inside, the walls and ceiling are so vibrant, so hypnotising, it really is as if you are within a painting, within the frame. The art encases you, and you can’t help but want the room all to yourself. Pictures do not do it justice.

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The ceiling of the library.

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The baptistery is larger and less humble in Siena than in Florence. I did not feel the same meditative calmness as I did in Florence however it is still worth a look for its enhancement of art and sculpture. Siena’s baptistery feels more grand and rich in many ways.

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Inside the Baptistery

Finally, the crypt. It has amazing ancient frescoes upon its interior walls which retell the Passion. It also has great concise descriptions accompanying each fresco, for those of us who are not very familiar with the story of Christ. Definitely worth a look.

Apart from exploring the main piazzas and the Duomo, I recommend exploring the bacn alleyways of Siena. There are many lovely shops and restaurants along the way, and many fantastic look-outs on this remarkable city. Research some good walk routes to do or just lose yourself in the streets. The higher you go, the better the view of course!

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This was a very easy day trip to do from Florence. The trains leave twice an hour and you just buy return tickets from the ticket office and validate each ticket before you get on the train. I imagine that a visit during winter is easier and less busy than in other times of the year.

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Our first few days in Florence, Italy

We knew that booking a bus from Venice to Florence was going to be easy and inexpensive. What we didn’t expect was the incredible view during the journey: winding roads, misty forests, beautiful bridges, and tuscan hills greeted us on our way. It definitely made up for the little leg room a bus offers!

We have so far been in Florence for a couple of days, and have gotten some nice weather, albeit humid and occasionally rainy. Certainly a contrast from Germany and, at times, Venice (the water gives rise to some cold winds).

Yesterday, we had the perfect introduction to Florence, and I really recommend you to do the same. Going into the main Duomo square, head to the ticket office to the right of the Baptistery’s golden doors (Michelangelo referred to them as the “Gates of Paradise”). For €15, you can get a 24-hour ticket for entry to the five main attractions in the square: the Baptistery, Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum, Santa Reparata, Giotto’s Bell Tower, and the Cupola (the dome atop the cathedral).

Going inside the Baptistery was a beautiful, peaceful experience. It is oxagonal in shape, symbolic of the ‘eighth day’, the day of the ‘Risen Christ’ – a day out of our reach in our conventional seven-day weeks. I found that the shape of the building made me feel safe and secure. Perhaps because the building consists of one room, it is small and so one can see everything in the building from its centre. Nothing is hidden. Therefore, it is very easy to lose a sense of time here, to think, to ponder, to let go. You could just marvel at the frescoes on the ceiling for hours. It was very meditative.

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Depiction of Christ inside the Baptistery

Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore Museum is located behind the cathedral. It provides a brilliant history of the cathedral and Baptistery; of the buildings themselves, as well as the religious practices conducted throughout. You can learn about the incredible architecture and sculptures of the cathedral, and even see a reconstruction of a Renaissance model that was proposed.

The cathedral in the centre of the square is free. It is a beautiful building with intricate art and sculpture on the outside. Inside, it appears to almost dominate in its height and size, a stark contrast to the comfort of the Baptistery. Inside the cathedral is a staircase leading down to the Santa Reparata, a museum holding the old ruins prior to the cathedral’s modern restoration. 

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Inside the cathedral.

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View of the Cupola from one of the levels in the bell tower.

The last two, the Bell Tower and the Cupola, each require you to climb 400+ stairs but provide an amazing view of Florence. The Cupola is particularly spectacular, giving you access to a landing where you see the frescoes inside the dome up close and a bird’s eye view of the cathedral. Be prepared to get sweaty as it is quite a climb!

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View from the Bell Tower

Seeing these five attractions definitely gave us a good introduction on Florence’s history and culture. When I travel to a new place, I really like finding something that gives you some structure on your first day. Seeing those views of Florence was the highlight of my day yesterday – though we are feeling it in our legs today!

This morning, we woke up early to go to the Academy Gallery. Having previously reserved tickets over the phone, we got to skip the queues and just pay for our tickets at the reservations desk. I highly recommend doing the same, and to reserve tickets for as early in the morning as possible! The gallery is of course home to Michelangelo’s David, and several of his unfinished sculptures, as well as Gothic and Renaissance paintings by various artists and a museum of musical instruments.

Standing in front of David, you are immediately drawn to his beauty and feel oddly uplifted by his courageous stance. He represents all that is beautiful, brilliant, and brave in this world, while also being presented (I think) as vulnerable and unknowing of his inspiration.

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Definitely worth a visit, and only a few minutes walk from Duomo square. It is not a very large museum and could easily be toured in 2 hours or less.

Afterwards, we wondered some of the streets in the old city centre befire heading over the Arno river and across to the ‘new’ part of Florence. Here, we climbed (ow, legs!) up to Pizzale Michelangelo where there is a bronze copy of David and another spectacular view of Florence, this time from across the river.

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In just the last couple of days, I have learnt of the richness and beauty of Florence and cannot wait to learn more!

Ciao Venezia!

Well, here we are in Italy for the very first time! And what an amazing introduction Venice is!

I romanticised Venice to its core prior to my visit. Yet seeing it now goes beyond my expectations. I have fallen in love with this city and this blog will tell you why. So sit back and plan your journey to the beautiful Venice!

The Canals & Bridges
The canals are iconic to Venice lifestyle. I have loved walking up a bridge and taking in the gorgeous view of the canal ahead; colourful boats reflected in the water surface, a bird or two flying overhead, a gondola circling its way through…

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The Waterbuses
There are no cars here in Venice; you walk, or you travel by water. There are water taxis and the (somewhat touristy) gondola ride, but my favourite method has been by waterbus. Though slow, the service is fairly frequent and the no. 1 gives you a great tour around the city! It is quite expensive however: €7,50 for an adult standard, and €20 for an adult day ticket. But you make that day ticket worthwhile by visiting some of the islands – we loved San. Giorgio and Murano island. The waterbuses provide a great view of the city, and it is a really lovely way to experience Venice.

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View from the waterbus in front of San Marco

The Shopping
While travelling, I have never really paid close attention to the shops around me. I tend to just look out for supermarkets and museum shops to buy trinkets and souvenirs for back home. Venice offers something unique: niche, specialised stores selling a handful of good quality products. Beautiful window displays catch your eye, while pleasing symmetrical and colour-coded layouts entice you inside. Leather gloves, shoes, and handbags are popular, as are upmarket cashmere and wool clothing. You will also find delicate stationary, exquisite Murano glassware, and modern art and sculpture.

Sant Marco’s Square
The number one tourist attraction in Venice certainly lives up to its title. Lined with more beautiful shops, its basilica and many surrounding churches provide a most picturesque scene. You can visit the basilica for free (one of the few attractions left that does not charge!) but you have to deposit your bags in the cloakroom around the corner of the square and no photos are allowed inside.

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Things to be aware of
There are some things to be aware of before you visit Venice. Like the rest of Italy, there is a tourist tax of €2 per person per night. They is also an extra charge for non-EU citizens at some institutions and attractions. Furthermore, if you choose to dine in, many restaurants will charge a table service of €2 per person. These extra charges can add up so if you want to save money, choose take-away options and avoid pricey attractions. You can’t avoid the tourist tax – just be prepared with cash on arrival to your accommodation.

Taking aside the extra charges, Venice is very expensive in general! When choosing accommodation, it is best to look for places which include a kitchen so you can prepare your own food. Avoid minimarkets on the street and look out for ‘Coop’ supermarkets. Coop is much cheaper and better stocked. Walk where you can. And walk past those beautiful Italian leather shoes in the shop’s window (I know it’s hard). It is very likely that they are more expensive than a month’s accommodation.

Lastly, don’t eat in tourist places like Sant Marco’s square unless you want bad quality and expensive food. This advice can probably be said for the whole of Europe. Look out for restaurants in back alleyways and outside the centre instead, or ask for recommendations from your host/the hotel staff.

Tonight is our last night in Venice – we head to Florence tomorrow! Whee!

Venice, my love – I will return!

Tropical Islands Waterpark

So, we wanted to get out of the cold for a while and head for a little tropical island taster. What better place to so so than the world’s largest indoor waterpark, Tropical Islands?!

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About an hour outside of Berlin, it’s easy enough to get to: just buy a day ticket from the train station and head to Brand (Tropic. Islands) train station. There is a free bus service which is timed nicely with the arrivals and takes you direct to the waterpark.

Open 24 hours, this place is like a hidden away resort. From the outside, it looks like something from a sci-fi film; the dull grey dome dominates above the trees surrouding it. Inside, it is clear that a lot of work and technology have gone into tricking people that they are visiting Southeast Asia. Expect standard stereotypes of the tropics, cheesy designs, and resort-like service. Unlike the tropics however, there is no humidity or risk of sunburn, so at least we are saved from that.

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Balooning inside the sci-fi dome.

The slides are worth the wait. I personally am not a fan of heights or speed so I don’t know what I was expecting when I jumped into the tallest, sharpest degree slide and felt pure dread. It was like a freefall; I was in and out in 8 seconds. Evidently, enough time for my body to feel like it was facing death.

There are not a lot of tourists (however all staff speak English); the customer is typically a German family wanting a day out. The way it works is you book online prior to arrival, and they give you a bracelet which is stamped with your locker number. You can then buy anything in the waterpark by scanning your bracelet, and you pay the total of all spendings at the end.

You can also spend a night or more in and around the dome, to add to the experience. Though, to be honest, I’m not convinced it would be worth it.

While this blog may seem cynical, I actually did have a great day here. It’s definitely not a cultural must-do, it is more like a rest between cultural must-do’s. The slides were fun, the swimming pool and lagoon was great (particularly at night as it lights up), and the prices of food and drink were not as expensive as you may think. Here are some tips if you too want to imagine you are in the tropics:

Pack a small bag in order to take thongs, towel, shirt, etc while you are going around the park. The lockers are at the other end of most of the attractions so it is a little annoying to go back and forth.
Remember to buy a day ticket from the station in Berlin (we went from Alexanderplatz station but there may be other connections?). The train station in Brand does not have a ticket machine so if you are like us and bought a single ticket, you will be forced to buy a ticket home on the train itself – it will end up costing you 3x the amount.
To avoid crowds, arrive and leave earlier in the day. Arrival at around 10.00-11.00 and check out between 17.00-19.00 seem to be peak times. Also peak times in the changerooms and showers.
Bring swimmers with you. Buying swimmers there will end up costing you €45 or m

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ore.

In Berlin

I absolutely love Berlin. It has to be one of the easiest, inclusive, and tolerant cities of the world. Its nightlife and alt culture surrounds you when the sun goes down, appearing in every nook and corner. Full of history and top-notch world-famous attractions, there is plenty to explore by day. The people here are wonderful, multilingual, and so helpful to awkward foreigners like myself. Its public transport system is ideal; easy to use, relatively cheap, and frequent.

We have been here over the New Year week, and had the pleasure of attending the wonderful festival behind the Brandenburg Gate to welcome in 2016. Lined with many shopping, food and drink stalls, the festival is a wide open space through Tiergarten with a ferris wheel at one end and a giant stage at the other. Great music, weird and entertaining commentators, and a great atmosphere – you can’t go wrong!

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Lights surround the Brandenburg Gate

Here are some tips for New Year celebration at the Gate:
Free entry – yay!
Get there by 8pm at the latest. I really recommend getting by 8pm at the very latest. Yes, it is a long wait for midnight but the queue to enter gets longer and longer the later it gets, and people were starting to be turned away soon after 8pm
Don’t bring a bag. They advise against it, plus you’ll have to go through a security check.
No alcohol or fireworks. It may be allowed on the public streets but you are not allowed to bring alcohol or fireworks into the festival.
Wear comfortable warm clothes and shoes. I stupidly wore flats and tights and I couldn’t feel my toes by the end of the night. No need to dress up; no one else does! If you plan to go clubbing afterwards, go home and get changed into something a little more fancy afterwards. The clubs don’t really go off until about 2am anyway.
The prices inside the festival are not as bad as you might think. You could definitely save money with dinner if you’re happy to eat hot dogs and drink beer all night.

Apart from New Year celebrations, and a couple of day trips (see my previous post on Sachsenhausen concentration camp), we have spent our days this week exploring Berlin city. Here are some highlights from our time here:

Sandeman walking tour. Do this on your first day. It’s free (tipping at the end) and gives you a brilliant insight by a university student living in Berlin. It’s a great way to tick off some of city’s main attractions, get an introduction into the city’s history, and to get your bearings of the city itself. Usually, your tour guide will have some great stories and trivia for the group and will know some really interesting spots of the city which you may not have read about in a travel guide.

Memorial for the Murdered Jews in Europe. Straight rows of concrete blocks of varying heights and a path that dips in the middle. With a deliberately ambiguous meaning, you are meant to come up with your own interpretation as you walk through the memorial. You are not allowed to stand on the blocks, but you can sit or lean on them.

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Reichstag. Free entry but arrange an appointment online before you go to avoid queuing for hours. The parliament building but what you are really going there for is the beautiful mirror art dome which sits atop.

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Berliner dom. A beautiful old church which houses royal crypts from the 1600s-1700s. When you first enter, you are struck by its vast beauty and peaceful nature. You can climb up the stairs to see the exhibits about its construction, and climb all the way up and around the Dom to see a 360° view of Berlin. Head downstairs to see the crypts. Don’t miss the entertaining animation videos along the way!

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Dali Museum and Potsdam Platz. It’s all happening in Potsdam Platz! With its modern architecture and trendy bars and restaurants, Potsdam is a great place to go day or night. There are many excellent museums here. We only went to the Dali museum here, which houses quite a collection of his work in all forms of artistic technique. From lithograph, collage, and sketch to film noir and animation, it is essential you go here.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp

About an hour outside Berlin lies the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. One of the first and one of the smaller concentration camps, it has become a memorial and museum site.

Like other concentration camps, it is an eternal symbol of fear and evil, of Nazi fascism, of loss and suffering. By opening this site up to the public, it serves as a reminder of the past: a past not to be repeated. It gives a better understanding of the horrors that took place. It provides families and friends a place to rest flowers upon the mass graves and in recent additions of memorial areas. It serves as a site for the memory of the victims: the Jewish people, the communists, the homosexuals, the disabled, the Roma, the Jehovah’s witnesses, members of the resistance, and other minorities and individuals who did not fit into Hitler’s idea of the Aryan race or had different ideas or lifestyles to that of the Nazi government. In essence, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp has become a symbol for the suffering and the liberation of the victims, not the symbol of power that it once was.

A lot of the concentration camp was destroyed after the liberation, and by even more recent attacks by neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, some buildings remain standing. Many of these buildings now house an exhibition or contain a reconstruction of what it used to look like. As you walk between the buildings, take note of the overall architectural plan of the camp. It was deliberately made to be oppressive towards the prisoners with its triangular ground plan, high walls, and the construction of the A-tower. The A-tower was the workplace of Nazi authorities and sat at the top of the triangle. From inside the tower, you are able to see the scope of the camp.

For me, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp provided a much better empathetic understanding of the Holocaust. It was a very emotional day; at many times I felt quite ill at the thought of it all. The biographies of both the victims and the Nazi soldiers and officials hit me the most. Biographies provide the personal, intimate, human experience. History can seem so distant yet biographies help to bridge the gap between the distant and the real.

Living in Australia, we are only taught about Nazi history in the classroom, by textbook or film. However, I can see that throughout Europe, and especially Germany, people today have to live their everyday lives with reminders of a Nazi past all around them, such as old buildings belonging to the fascist government and the many memorial sites put in place since. So maybe the history does not seem that distant to them.

Visiting the Sachsenhausen concentration camp is not a fun experience but it’s a must on your trip to Berlin. Take the time to reflect, to learn and to understand this dark time in history.

Practical information:
A paid tour will give you insight from a student or expert in the area and is definitely a convenient option. However, you can get here quite easily by yourself (while saving a lot of money). Simply purchase a Berlin ABC ticket (approx €3.30, transferable across U and S-bahn, as well as buses) and find the best route to Oranienburg station. From there, take a bus to Sachsenhausen (leaves once an hour, and is included on your ticket).
I would recommend going as early as possible in the day to avoid crowds and tour groups.
Once there, it does not cost anything to enter, though I will personally recommend the audio guide and map (€3 per person). It gives a much greater insight into the site.

The Sedlec Ossuary, Kutná Hora

The Sedlec Ossuary or the Bone Chapel is located in the small town of Kutná Hora, approximately an hour outside of Prague.

When you walk in the door of the chapel, you are struck by possibly the most unusual sights you will ever see. Bones nailed to the walls in all types of decorative fashions. Skulls line the door frames and walls. Arm and leg bones piled on top of each other to form shrines behind wire cages. A rather beautiful “chandelier” is the centrepiece, again made out of a variety of bones and complete with scupltures of Cupids. All of these bones are real. All of these bones are human.

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The remains of 40,000 people from the Middle Ages are found here. Leading causes of death are from the plague epidemic or as a consequence of the Hussite wars. However, their skeletons were not always strung up for decoration for the world to see. They were buried in the Sedlec cemetery until the 15th century when part of the cemetery was destroyed. The relics were then housed in the underground chapel of the church. In the 18th century, the Baroque inspired bone decoration took place. In all its glory, it asks visitors to remember the dead, to respect them, and to have faith in resurrection.

Today, it is still a place of worship, abd the cemetery still remains. But you cannot deny that it is also a place of macabre intrigue and of aesthetic beauty. It draws many tourists each year.

Don’t be seduced by tours and the like – you can get here quite easily and cheaply on your own!
1)Simply buy a fast train ticket from Prague hl.n. to Kutná Hora město (approximately CZK 183,- per person for a return ticket). If you get a slow train, you will find yourself on a train for 5 hours as opposed to 2 hours in total.
2) Take the train to Kutná Hora Hauptbahnhof.
3) Catch a second train towards Kutná Hora město (the price on the ticket of course includes this second train). However, get off at the first stop, NOT at Kutná Hora město! Kutná Hora město, or the city centre, is the second and last stop from Kutná Hora Hauptbahnhof and only goes once an hour!
4) Follow the signs toward the Bone Chapel (a short walk from the stop).
5) The entry fee of CZK 90,- goes toward the reconstruction of parts of the church at this time of writing.
6) Find your way back to this same stop to head back to Kutná Hora Hauptbahnhof and on to Prague hl.n.

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Hint: do a little research of the town of Kutná Hora before you go. There are many beautiful churches and buildings around and in the centre. You can get a discount if you buy tickets to two or more attractions in the one go. Find single and multiple tickets at the entrance of any of the attractions.

Christmas in Prague

The Christmas aftermath; a battle of hangovers, full bellies, and a ridiculous amount of wrapping paper lying upon the floor. While Christmas is still in our minds before we turn back to normalcy after the new year, I will share my first Christmas in Europe. More specifically, in Prague, Czech Republic.

It was not a white Christmas as we had hoped (apparently it doesn’t snow very often around Christmas in Prague anyway). It was actually quite a lovely temperature of around 11 degrees.

The Christmas markets are very busy (be aware of crowds and pickpockets!), very jolly, and very grand. Vendors selling fantastic street food such as ham, sausages, hot dogs, goulash, the must-try trdelnik, gingerbread, and the inevitable mulled wine. Stalls selling Christmas decorations, embroidery, metal jewellery, clothes, and much much more.

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Christmas markets

You could practically get all your Christmas shopping done here! Adding to the unique atmosphere are the beautiful old Town Hall and the fairytale-esque Gothic Týn Church.

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Týn Church

Despite the holiday season, there is still plenty of things to do as a tourist between sips of hot wine! During the Christmas season, you’ll find most, if not all, tourist attractions, cafes, and shops are open and various tours are still operating (with the exception of perhaps 24-26 December – double check the tour/venue prior!). You’ll also find multiple different concerts and theatre productions being shown. There are also many Christmas concerts on, including Prague’s annual show of The Nutcracker.

In the Czech Republic, people actually celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve, with a large dinner with family and friends, the opening of presents, and finally attending midnight mass. So of course we decided to go out for dinner on Christmas eve. It may be their night of celebration but there are many restaurants open and offering multiple course Christmas dinner. Just book early (we booked about 5 days ahead).

We went to the Medieval Tavern for Christmas eve. A lot of fun and I highly recommend it! A 5 course meal with unlimited beer, wine, and soft drinks. Traditional Czech cuisine, with one of the courses being a traditional Czech Christmas meal of fried carp and potato salad. You share a communal table (though there are private tables as well) and throughout the night live musicians and bellydancers perform for the diners.

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Medieval Tavern was touristy but we expected that. With the communal table, we met fellow travellers and swapped stories and tips. Being without family on Christmas can make you feel a little homesick but being with fellow homesick travellers can help a great deal!

Christmas day itself was… uneventful. Welcomingly uneventful, I should say. Back home, Christmas is usually set around a good breakfast and lunch, and then winding away the afternoon with family. During our ventures of Christmas markets, we picked up gingerbread, sweets and traditional Czech Christmas bread to eat on the day. After a sleep-in, we went out and saw the new Star Wars film at Cinema City near the Old Town. We took a stroll around the markets, bought some street food and then relaxed in our apartment.

Hope you all had a merry Christmas and/or a happy holiday, wherever you are in the world!