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Prague

New Year's Eve and a wonderful week in a beautiful city

sunny 4 °C
View Christmas 2012 on kmclean's travel map.

This was another great city. We spent a week here over New Year’s; I can’t imagine a better place to have celebrated New Year’s Eve. It’s a really beautiful city and very European. Lots of character, old buildings, and history. Over the week I feel like we got a good feel for the city, having the chance to see most of it. We did a walking tour the first day to get oriented and spent some time at the castle and in each of the other quarters of the city. Each district has a unique feel with lots to offer. We enjoyed the Christmas markets and the concerts, and were pleasantly surprised by Czech food. We also took a day trip to Kutna Hora to see the ossuary. It was definitely one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. Prague was an amazing city, with great food, beer, people, entertainment, and culture. So far it’s definitely up there as one of the best cities we’ve visited.

We arrived in the evening on boxing day and spent the next day touring the city. We did a general walking tour and walking tour of the Prague Castle. It’s the biggest medieval castle in the world and it has some great cathedrals and basilicas. I can’t say enough good things about these tours. It’s only a couple of hours and you get a great overview of the history and culture of the city, see the highlights within walking distance and can usually get some great recommendations for other things to do from the guides. Now it’s usually the way we start our visit to any city.

The second day we spent the day seeing more of the sites – the Charles Bridge, the oldest synagogue in the world, the New Town, and in the evening we saw the Nutcracker at the National Theatre. After seeing the highlights of Prague, we left for a day trip on our third day in the city. We went to Kutná Hora on a tour with the same company we did our walking tour with. It’s a really beautiful little town about an hour outside of Prague with an extravagant gothic cathedral and a really great restaurant, but what it’s most famous for is the “bone chapel”.

The next day we also spent just touring around the city. It was a Sunday so we didn’t plan to do much, but it turns out Sunday is just another day in the Czech Republic. The country is mostly atheist, so I should have figured, but everything was open and running as usual; the stores don’t even have reduced hours on Sundays. It was really nice change compared to Germany where you can’t find a coffee shop that’s open at 9:00 am on a Monday and entire cities shut down for an entire day every week. We ended up heading up past the castle and seeing a “miniature museum” in the monastery complex up there. It’s a collection of small – really small – artwork and objects made by a Siberian guy with a lot of time on his hands. There’s a picture of Jesus on half a poppy seed and a caravan of camels inside the eye of a needle, also the smallest book in the world is there, among other things. It was a fun way to kill some time during the day, and in the evening we went to see Carmen at the State Opera. So far that was the most beautiful performing arts venue we’ve been to. It’s very extravagant.

We saw a couple of other concerts the next day. It was New Year’s Eve, so during the day we went to a concert in a palace at the castle and then a show at the last minute inside one of the basilicas up there. Both were classical music. I love cities like Prague where there’s classical music playing anywhere, any time of the day, all over the city. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out around the castle before we went out to supper for New Year’s Eve. We spent the night at a restaurant called Lvi Dvur. The food was excellent but the portions were tiny, and it was rather expensive, but what can you expect on New Year’s Eve. It was definitely worth it, though; there was a band, fireworks from their terrace, and they gave us champagne at midnight. It was definitely a New Year’s Eve I’ll never forget.

We didn’t do a whole lot on our last day in the city. Just walked around, picked up some souvenirs, and saw the “official” fireworks show at 6:00 pm. I don’t know why the city had their fireworks show in the evening on New Year’s Day. I guess all the restaurants and people fire their own fireworks on New Year’s Eve, so this way it doesn’t get interrupted as much, maybe. Either way, we made it up to the castle just in time and saw a great show.

It’s sad to be leaving the city after such an amazing week, but there’s still a lot to see so I guess it’s time to move on. It’s nice to stay so long in one place once in a while, you really get a feel for the city and start to figure your way around. The only reason it’s not my favourite is that it’s very touristy. There are shops around every corner full of mugs, magnets, t-shirts, crystal, glass, absinthe, and everything else. It’s also very crowded, but that happens this time of year. It probably isn’t so bad most of the time.

Of all the cities we’ve been to so far, this one is probably the most “European”. It’s got great music and theatre, beautiful architecture, amazingly rich history, good food, and friendly people. On top of that it’s very cheap and well connected. It has some of the oldest and biggest buildings in Europe and the world and a lot of really recognizable sites. If someone could only visit one city and wanted to experience Europe, this would be the place to go. I hope we get the change to come back someday.

Here are some pictures.

Posted by kmclean 20:24 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague eastern christmas castle europe czech concerts republic hora kutna Comments (2)

Ljubljana

On our way to Venice

rain 25 °C
View Summer 2012 on kmclean's travel map.

We left Ljubljana today for Venice, and we’re sitting on a bus in the pouring rain right now. Ljubljana was a great city, very beautiful and very European. We had our first experience couch surfing here, and it went so well! We arrived on Friday on a train from Zagreb and our host picked us up from the train station. They gave us breakfast and helped us learn about the city and how to get around it. So far we’ve lucked out with accommodations. We have the nicest hosts and always a comfortable place to sleep. We’re camping in Venice though, and it looks like we’ll be camping in the rain, so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, Ljubljana was a great city, except that today we got stuck in a down pour on our way to the train station. We got soaked but we made it. The best part about this city was free washrooms and water! Well, that may not have been the best part, but so far it was the only place where we’ve been served water for free at a restaurant. There are also public fountains everywhere. That was definitely a bonus. The first night there we went to the Ljubljana castle. It’s a great attraction, only 3 euro for students and it’s very well kept. There’s a great museum there and a virtual tour of the castle. We spent the whole night there and then caught a bus back to our host’s house, which went very smoothly. Learning how to use all the different public transit systems has been a fun part of this adventure.

We had one full day in Ljubljana, so we got to see quite a bit of the city. They had a great market on Saturday morning, and after that we went to the Ljubljana city museum. That was definitely my favourite museum so far, they had really great exhibits and a free audio guide to carry along with you through the museum. We also checked out the national and university library, where there happened to be an exhibit on Slovenians in Canada. It looked really interesting but was all in Slovene. After that we went to the parliament building, the Slovenian philharmonic academy, and the University of Ljubljana, but none were open so we kept wandering around town. Eventually we found our way back.

This morning it was raining, but only lightly, so we went to a flea market that our hosts suggested we see. It was really interesting. He said this flea market is only for vintage items and other interesting pieces, and there’s a separate one for anything “imported or plastic”. There was tons of really cool stuff, and a lot of old Yugoslav paraphernalia; money, coins, stamps, army knives. After that we got caught in the rain on our way to the train station and got soaked. There’s no easy connection to Venice from Ljubljana, which I thought there would be, so we had to catch a train to Villach in Austria, wait for an hour and a half, and then catch a bus to Venice. Now we’re sitting on that bus and it’s still pouring, but we’re looking forward to tomorrow.


Here are some pictures.

Posted by kmclean 20:02 Archived in Slovenia Tagged markets venice castle yugoslavia flea ljubljana Comments (0)

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