FC: Munich | Bratislava | Prague | Vienna | Sam & Alisa | go to | December 2011 | Budapest
1: After months of waiting and anticipation, including Globus having canceled our original travel booking, we were finally on our way.! | We arrived in Munich just after 7 am under the cover of some light snow flurries mixed in with some rain. We'd made it to Europe.! | To get ourselves from the airport to our hotel, we decided to take the train, so we bought ourselves a one day local transportation pass | A few minutes of waiting and the train arrived. We took a 30 minute ride through the snow-covered countryside to Rosenheimerplatz. | December 9, 2011 | Munich, Germany
2: We started our European Christmas tour with a 2 night stay in Munich at the Holiday Inn Munich City Centre. Conveniently, the hotel is located along the subway line at Rosenheimerplatz, with underground walkways that lead directly to the hotel so we don't ever have to exit to the outside. Interestingly, of the 4 cities we stayed overnight at during this trip, 3 of the hotels assigned us to a room with 2 single beds rather than one bed. | Unfortunately, since we arrived at the hotel so early in the morning, there wasn't a room available for us. We decided to head to Marienplatz, the center of the city, via the subway, to start exploring Munich, until we could check in to the hotel. | December 10, 2011
3: Marienplatz is the main square of Munich and considered the city center. A mainly pedestrian square, this is a popular meeting spot for locals. During the Christmas season, all of Marienplatz turns into Munich's largest Christmas market. Munich's most recognizable landmark, the Neues Rathaus, or New City Hall, greets visitors as they step out of the subway tunnel at Marienplatz. Built in a Gothic style, the New City Hall is also the home of the famous Glockenspiel.
4: In comparison, on the other side of the square sits the Altes Rathaus, or Old City Hall. The Old City Hall has a much more modern architectural style than the New City Hall. In other words, the Old City Hall looks new and the New City Hall looks old.! When we arrived at Marienplatz, it was so early that a lot of the Christmas market stalls were just starting to set up for the day, so we weren't really able to browse through their wares. Not to mention that the snow flurries we saw earlier had started to turn to straight rain. So, here we are in a nearly empty town square, with the rain coming down, and Sam has no umbrella, no hat, and no hood on his jacket. Needless to say, he was feeling wet and cold.
5: After having wandered around for a bit, we saw this bakery and decided to stop for some breakfast. Alisa got the Vanillakrapfen and Sam got a Hawaiian pizza bread. It definitely hit the spot.
6: As you can tell, someone wasn't looking too happy after having walked around Munich in the cold and rain. After a bit, we decided enough was enough and we came back to the hotel to dry off and rest for a bit. The tour officially kicked off that night when we met our tour director, Volker, and our fellow travelers at dinner in the hotel's restaurant. I think we were all surprised to see that this tour only consisted of 16 total members!
7: After dinner, we decided to take the subway back to Marienplatz to see what the Christmas market was like at night with all the Christmas lights.
8: The Christmas market at night is full of life and people, and colors and lights. Everyone's enjoying a hot cup of gluhwein while strolling down the aisles with stall after stall full of great Christmas goodies and hand crafted items.
9: Each morning during our tour, we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel. The breakfasts were wonderful and filling and got us off to a good start each day. We'd find offerings such as omelets, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, roasted tomatoes, yogurt, salads, muffins, croissants, toast, cereal, cold cuts, cheeses, orange juice, coffee, and milk. We certainly never went hungry. | December 11, 2011
10: The morning of the first full day of the tour, we were given a city tour of Munich, including a stop at Nymphenburg Palace. Schloss Nymphenburg, as it's known in German, was the summer residence of the Kaisers of Bavaria.
11: Eventually, we found ourselves back at Marienplatz. Marienplatz is named after the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary that looks down upon visitors from the top of a high pedestal. This time, we were there in time to see the famous Glockenspiel that sits on the front facade of the New City Hall. Each day at 11 am, the Glockenspiel performs 2 stories from Bavarian history- the top row depicts knights jousting with the Bavarian knight emerging victorious, the bottom row depicts barrel makers dancing a traditional Bavarian dance.
12: We were given some free time on our own to wander around the Christmas market and have lunch. We decided to buy something to eat from the food stalls at the Christmas market. One of the big things with the Christmas markets, besides the handcrafted original goods, is the variety of local foods you can find. We fell in love with the soft bread with the grilled sausages sandwiched inside. Alisa really liked the variety of chocolate-covered fruit being sold.
13: We also took the time to walk around Munich city center. We found another Christmas market (they are everywhere), saw the famous Hofbrauhaus and the Opera House.
14: We took an optional excursion out to Linderhof Castle and Oberammergau. Linderhof Castle, located in the snowy wonderland of the Alps was the private residence of King Ludwig II. He loved to come here to escape from the world. And he decorated it so opulently that it was quite gaudy, yet breathtaking. The interior of the Castle is based upon the designs of Versailles in France.
15: After our tour of Linderhof Castle, we drove to Oberammergau, site of the Passion Play which is performed by villagers every 10 years as a thanks to God for having saved the village from the Black Plague. We loved Oberammergau because that's where we bought our new cuckoo clock.!
16: After having spent 2 nights in Munich, it was time for us to leave for our next stop. We hopped aboard our luxury motorcoach for the day's journey to Prague, Czech Republic. With a tour group of only 16 people, it was nice to be able to spread out on the tour bus and not feel cramped. As we were leaving Munich, and got stuck in Monday morning rush hour traffic, we had to divert our route slightly, it ended up taking us right by Allianz Arena. Allianz is the premiere football arena in Germany and is home to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. Sam was excited to see the arena. | Later in the day, after we had crossed the border into the Czech Republic, we made a stop at one of the fancy European rest stops. We purchased a bottle of Cherry Coke, which we had to take a picture of because the bottle looks different than what we have at home; the taste is a little different too. One of the girls on the tour from Australia remarked at how much she loved Cherry Coke and how you couldn't find them in Australia, so she had to get one too. | December 12,. 2011
17: The Hotel Yasmin in Prague would be our home-base for the next 2 nights. Located right off of Wenceslas Square, this small boutique hotel put us right in the heart of all there is to do and see in Prague. | For the first time, we actually got one large queen bed instead of 2 single beds.
18: Prague, Czech Republic
19: The first night in Prague, we took a night tour of the city to see the sights. We walked through Old Town and saw the Gothic Tyn Church. | The city's main Christmas market is here in Old Town. We also went to a local pub and enjoyed some traditional Czech music and Sam had some of the local brew.
20: We finished our walk around Prague with a visit to the Devil's Canal and a stroll across the famous Charles Bridge.
21: The next morning, we went on a full city tour. We started off at the Prague Castle complex where we arrived just in time to see the changing of the guards. | The highlight of the Prague Castle complex is the Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, which is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and regarded as the most important church in the Czech Republic. | December 13, 2011
22: The interior of St. Vitus Cathedral was as impressive as its exterior. The cathedral is filled with so many beautiful panels of stained glass depicting various scenes from the Bible.
23: The end of our tour of the Prague Castle complex brought us to the President's office which is watched over by guards and some impressive looking statues. There's a lookout point where you can look across the river to Old Town Prague.
24: Our tour of Prague ended at the Astronomical Clock. First installed in 1410, this particular Astronomical Clock is the world's third oldest, and the oldest one still working. It chimes every hour along with a parade of Apostles that look out the window at the crowd, statues depicting the stages of life and a golden rooster that (kind of) crows.
25: After our tour was finished, we had the rest of the day on our own to explore the city. We started off by wandering around the beautiful town square where the main Christmas market was set up. We strolled through all of the stalls and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. As it was close to lunch time, we | decided to pick up trdelnik. This is a Czech pastry that is extremely popular around Christmas time. Essentially, you take dough, roll it in cinnamon sugar, nuts and vanilla, and then you coil it around a rod. The rod is then spun over an open flame, like a rotisserie until the bread is grilled. | The trdlenik comes out crusty and crunchy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside. It's fantastic.! Sam and Alisa both had to have their own trdelniks.! After our little snack, we continued wandering through the narrow alleyways of the city until we came to the Charles Bridge.
26: The Charles Bridge by daylight is much different than it is at night. At night, it's very mysterious, with its numerous statues casting shadows and lovers strolling under the moonlight. By day, it's filled with photographers, artists, and tourists who stroll the bridge to see the sights, look down the river, look
27: across the river, buy souvenirs from vendors who have set up on the bridge, and who come to see the statues they couldn't see at night. Construction of the bridge started in the 14th century and was the main route connecting Castle Hill and Old Town Prague. This bridge made Prague an important trade town between Eastern and Western Europe.
28: Wenceslas Square is more an avenue than a square that connects Old Town and New Town Prague. The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. The square has been the sight of many historic demonstrations and protests. It is as pretty at night, especially with all the Christmas lights, as it is during the day time. | After several hours of walking through alleyways, exploring a couple of different Christmas markets in various squares, and seeing the Charles Bridge by daylight, we headed back towards our hotel on Wenceslas Square.
29: For dinner on our own that night, we decided to try the hotel's restaurant, Noodles. We had seen numerous locals enjoying their lunch there and figured it must be pretty good. The restaurant specializes in noodles from all over the world. Alisa ordered the pad Thai, which was quite tasty, and Sam ordered glass noodles with prawns which he really liked too.!
30: The next morning we were off again. Before heading to our next destination of Budapest, we had a lunch stop in Bratislava. Bratislava is the current capital of Slovakia. A beautiful bridge over the Moldau (Danube) with a revolving restaurant at the top leads straight to the main town square. Atop the hill overlooking the city is Bratislava Castle. | Bratislava, Slovakia | December 14, 2011
31: The town is whimsy and charming and some of the the streets have these cute bronze statues. The main town square is a pedestrian zone filled with small streets and passageways full of shops, cafes and eateries. Of course, being Christmas, there were several lively Christmas markets as well. We enjoyed our time walking around and even picked up a few souvenirs.
32: By mid-afternoon, we arrived at our hotel in Budapest, Hungary. Our base camp for the next two days would be the Radisson Blu Beke right near Pest city center. Once again, we were given 2 beds. | Budapest, Hungary
33: After dinner, we went on a night tour of Budapest. We started on the Pest side of the city and went for a quick walk around the waterfront area. In the foreground is a popular bronze statue of a girl sitting on the hand railing right at the waterfront. In the background is the beautiful Chain Bridge lit up at night as well as Castle Hill, including Matthias Church and Buda Castle.
35: We ended our Budapest illumination tour by going up to Liberation Statue at the top of Gelert Hill on the Buda side of the Danube River. The statue was erected as a tribute to Soviet forces who liberated Hungary from Nazi forces. From the top of Gelert Hill, you can look down over all of Buda, Pest and the Danube River. You get a bird's eye view of Castle Hill with Matthias Church and Buda Castle lit up. You also get a terrific view of Elisabeth Bridge and the gorgeous Chain Bridge that cross over the Danube and connect Buda and Pest lit up. We drove back to the hotel via Andrassy Avenue, all decorated in Christmas lights. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was late at night after a long day and Sam was not looking so happy.
36: December 15, 2011 | The next morning, we had a half-day tour of Budapest. We started on the Pest side of the Danube River and went to Heroe's Square to see the Millennium Memorial. Completed in 1900, when Hungary was party of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Memorial features statues of the 7 tribal leaders that came together to create Hungary as well as some members of the ruling Hapsburg dynasty.
37: From Pest, we drove over to Buda and entered the Castle complex to see the gorgeous Matthias Church. The church has an intricate mosaic roof with beautifully carved figurines and built in the late Gothic style. The church was originally constructed in the 14th century and extensively restored in the 19th century.
38: The inside of Matthias Church was so beautifully decorated with various frescoes and relics, including a special Madonna statue with Christ in hand. Inside the Loreto Chapel, the Madonna statue was revealed to a group of praying Muslims Legend has it that when the city was under siege by the Turks, local townspeople walled the Madonna statue in to protect it. It was never discovered. Years later, when the city was under siege again by the Holy League, a group of Muslims were praying inside the chapel when nearby cannon fire collapsed the wall and revealed the statue. It is said that the statue was presumed to be a bad omen by the Muslims who then lost their morale and gave up the city the same day.
39: The Castle Complex also contains Fisherman's Bastion. The neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque terrace that surrounds Matthias Church has 7 spires which represent the 7 Magyar tribes that came together to form Hungary. The view of Pest from Fisherman's Bastion is incredible.
40: The Castle Hill complex was amazing. The views over the Danube were breathtaking, especially the views of the Parliament building. And Sam loved the cobbled streets of Castle Hill.
41: After our tour of the Castle Hill complex, we were given the rest of the day free to do our own thing. We decided to spend our free time wandering around Pest city center and the Christmas market set up in the pedestrian zone. | The Christmas market was rather large and consisted of food vendors and goods vendors. However, there were more food vendors here than we saw anywhere else. The market here also seemed to be more artsy than some of the others. We were able to pick up a nice hand-crafted souvenir.
42: After a day of walking around Budapest, we were ready to come back to the hotel and relax, especially since it had started raining. We decided to try out the cafe/bar in the lobby of the hotel; Cafe Zsolnay. We soon discovered that they had the most incredible pastries! Sam called it the best dessert he'd ever had. It was nice to spend the afternoon with pastries and coffee.
43: Sam ordered the dark chocolate pear cake along with a cup of coffee. Alisa ordered the tiramisu along with a cup of hot chocolate. Living the cafe lifestyle is something we both could go for!
44: For dinner on our own in Budapest, we decided to stick with the safe option. Nearby to our hotel, at the closest intersection, known as the "Octagon" due to the fact that it's shaped like an octagon with 2 side roads at each of the 4 corners of the intersection that are used as turn lanes, there was a TGI Friday's. Since we enjoy TGI Friday's at home, we thought we'd give it a try in Budapest. When we walked into the restaurant, it was pretty busy, with locals who were out for some good food and drinks. | Alisa ordered a crunchy chicken sandwich with a side of french fries. The sandwich was quite tasty and not something seen on the TGI Friday's menus in the US. Sam ordered a double cheese cheeseburger that had fried mozzarella in it. He liked it because it was very similar to a burger that used to be on the menus in the US, but no longer is. It was a little taste of home in the middle of Budapest.
45: The next morning, we were on the road again, on our way from Hungary to Austria. Right before we reached our destination of Vienna, we stopped at a rest stop for lunch. Alisa put her German skills (or lack thereof) to use and ordered a panini sandwich and a cup of hot chocolate. In the gift shop, we had some fun with the giant candies they had. If we could, we would have taken them home with us.! | December 16, 2011
46: Vienna, Austria | We made it to our hotel, the Mercure Grand Hotel Biedermeier in Vienna. The hotel was located conveniently a few minutes walk from the Wien Mitte central train station from which we could get to any point in the city. Like 2 of the 3 hotels that came before, this hotel also gave us a room with 2 single beds.
47: Shortly after arriving in Vienna, we went on a city tour. Unfortunately, it had started raining as our tour started, so that put a bit of a damper on the tour. However, we were lucky when it came to the walking portion of our tour as the rain stopped just long enough. Our first stop was at Maria Theresien Platz. The black cloud covers set against the bright sun made for quite a setting.
48: From Maria Theresien Platz, we walked across the street to Hofburg Palace, the former imperial residence in Vienna of the ruling Hapsburg family. Today, it houses the offices of the Federal President, ministries of the chancellor's office and the secretaries of state. From
49: Our next stop was Stephensplatz to take an inside tour of St. Stephen's Cathedral. Built in the 12th century, St. Stephen's is the emblem of Vienna and marks the city center. The cathedral is one of the most impressive architectural accomplishments of the Middle Ages.
50: The exterior of the cathedral is Gothic in architecture with an incredible tiled roof | The interior features 18 altars and numerous chapels, including one where Mozart's funeral was held. One of the highlights of the interior is the 16th century pulpit designed by Anton Pilgrim.
51: In the evening, we went out with our tour group to a traditional Heurigen dinner. Heuriger is a licensed establishment where they serve self-produced wine from the year's most recent crop.
52: A Heuriger must also serve traditional Austrian fare. We were had chicken soup, a mixture of traditional salads | as well as Weinerschnitzel, sauerkraut, pork chops, sausage and potatoes. It was so delicious.
53: Lastly, a Heuriger must have music performances by live performers. We were entertained as we finished off our meal with apfelstrudel.
54: Our night of musical entertainment continued as we headed to Palais Auersperg, a former private residence in Vienna's City Center to listen to their Residence Orchestra perform a number of compilations of Vienna's classics from Mozart to Strauss. Musicians, ballerinas and opera singers performed for us.
55: Our very last day of the tour was a day on our own in Vienna. We decided to buy a one day public transportation pass and take the U-bahn out to Schonburnn Palace. Schonbrunn was Empress Sissi's summer residence and rivals Versailles. However, we weren't there to see the Palace but to visit the Christmas Market set up in the square in front of the palace. | December 17, 2011
56: We visited Christmas markets at Schonbrunn Palace, Maria Theresien Platz, and Rathaus (City Hall). The atmosphere was jovial and fun, full of revelers enjoying gluhwein and roasted chestnuts. | Alisa found more vendors selling chocolate dipped fruit, so she had to partake. We also found some unique items in Vienna we hadn't seen at any of the other markets, like some amazing candles, but we just couldn't bring any of these home.
57: One thing was for certain, food and drinks were always the most popular stands at each and every Christmas market we visited, though the ones in Vienna had some food items we hadn't seen elsewhere - | potato pancakes, various types of hot dogs in round buns, numerous different types of gluwein, large flavored pretzels and numerous different types of pastries and cookies. | I don't think it's possible to go to Vienna without trying some of their specialty pastries. Walking through the Christmas market at the Rathaus, we bought some pastries to enjoy later in our hotel room; Sam got a huge linzer cookie with berry filling and Alisa got a krapfen with vanilla custard filling.
59: When night fell, we took the U-bahn back out to Rathaus and Vienna's pedestrian city center so that we could see the buildings and Christmas markets all lit up at night. It was a sight to see. As we ended our evening, and our European Christmas market tour, and walked back to our hotel, it started snowing lightlu. We finally got the winter wonderland that Alisa was looking for!