We made our first Christmas Market visit this past weekend to Prague, Czechia ( or to utilize my German Tschechein). Prague was an amazing city. Julie and I both were amazed by the architecture of the Old Town. Prague is also known as “The City of 100 Spires” but I think that is an understatement. We were shocked not only by the number of churches, but by the number of churches that have multiple steeples!
Those of us that went to school decades ago know the country as Czechoslovakia. My daughter informed me in an earlier post even calling it The Czech Republic is not correct. I did not know that the government of the country has adopted the simple English name of Czechia until I did a little research. It is hard to change old habits, but I am really trying to refer to the country by the name they desire.
From the picture above, you kind of get an idea why it is called the City of 100 Spires. I counted 15 steeples in just this one image!
Czechia has a rich history. It was originally known as Bohemia. It is bordered by Austria, Germany Poland and Slovakia. The area was founded in the 9th century and around the year 1000 was recognized as a state by the Holy Roman Empire. The county was slowly integrated into the German monarchy, and then in the early 1800’s was part of the Austrian Empire. After World War I the country became part of the “First Czechoslovak Republic”, but then in 1938 became part of the German Empire again. After World War II, the country became part of the Soviet Union and in 1989 the Velvet Revolution led to Czechia becoming its own country again. In 1993 Czechoslovakia was dissolved and two countries Czechia and Slovakia emerge. Czechia has been a strong allay of the US since the Revolution and even joined NATO in 1999.
One thing that did take us by surprise was the currency. Czechia joined the EU in 2004, but due to economic reasons they did not adopt the Euro. Because we planned on visiting Christmas Markets we knew we had to get local currency. Our experience has been that the Christmas Market Vendors prefer cash to credit, so we needed to get cash. Normally, this is a bit of a pain, but there are ATMs everywhere make this process easy. The exchange rate is roughly 23 Crowns to 1 Euro. On the surface it seemed like everything was SO expensive, and they we remembered “divide by 23.” We did learn about a brand new HIGH you get from traveling. That high comes from leaving the country with absolutely zero currency. It meant we guessed exactly right, and did not have to deal with trying to exchange back to Swiss Francs when we were all done.
Our visit even started out wonderfully. Our choices for flights were either 7 AM or 4 PM; so we chose 7 so that we could have a full day exploring the city. The hotel was going to hold our bags for us until we could check in, but when we arrived they had a room ready to go. It was so nice to be able to check in, get up to the room, and THEN go explore.
We were even lucky enough to get the room with the balcony!
Even though it was a little chilly we took advantage of the balcony and had some wine overlooking the plaza! If we had a west facing room we would not have even needed the jackets, but in the shade it was just a little cool!
We spent Friday walking from our Hotel across the Charles Bridge and up to the Palace. We were lucky enough to time it exactly right for the changing of the guard (see the video) and then we walked through the Jewish Quarter before going back to the Hotel to rest for a bit.
The Jewish Quarter is very interesting. The Jewish Quarter was started in the 1400’s when all the Jewish people were ordered out of their homes and forced to reside in one area. The area became even larger because Jews were expelled from Germany, Austria and Spain as well. All of these people came to Prague and settled in this one area. We were surprised to learn that the only reason the area was not destroyed by the Nazis was because of Adolf Hitler. His goal was to preserve this area as a museum to an “extinct race.” In some ways knowing the history of the area made me wonder how religion was able to play such a large part in the town knowing how they treated a good portion of their population.
Prague really got religion around the year 1000 BC. The Catholic Church was far and away leading influence on the country for the next 4 or 500 years. Now Czechia is considered to be the least religious of any country in the EU. Of course that explains why many of the churches have charges for admission. There just are not enough people to support that many churches. Of course I do not even really comprehend how they were able to build so many back in those days. Of course a lot of the building did take place over a period of time. In fact, the large cathedral in town took almost 600 years before it was finished. You will see a lot of pictures of churches at the end of my post. I have not been in that many places of worship since we visited Rome a few years ago. The churches in Prague may not be as large as some in Rome, but they are every bit as beautiful.
One of the famous churches is The Church of Our Lady Victorious. The outside of this church is not that remarkable, but step inside and WOW!!! The church was built in 1613 and is probably best known for the Infant Jesus of Prague. This is a wooden and wax statue of the baby Jesus. The statue is clothed by the nuns in the church. The statue has been venerated by three different Popes.
I put these pictures side by side, so that you could see the entire shrine, and then the closeup of the statue. I realize the pictures do not do it justice. We actually went to Mass in the church and it was hard to keep my eyes off the statue. It is fascinatingly beautiful.
Julie and I did determine the Christmas Markets in Prague do not live up to the hype we found online. There are many of them, but there was almost nothing unique. Out of the 6 markets we visited we bought three items. We did find an awesome art store near the Lennon wall, though. I was actually ready to spend hundreds of dollars on some of the things we found in that store, but Julie had to talk me down. We did wind up buying a beautiful hand blown vase to replace one that I broke this fall. Speaking of the Lennon Wall.
This is a throwback to the communist rule over the country. The wall is just across the street from the French Embassy. In the 60’s the wall was used as a form of protest and declarations of love, but following the murder of John Lennon the wall has been a symbol of love and peace. The original picture of Lennon is buried under layers and layers of paint, but it seems every time the wall gets painted within a few days there is another image of the artist.
We also ate very well, and even tried one of the local delicacies!
Trdelnik reminded me of camping with Boy Scouts. We would make something similar with Pillsbury rolls and a stick over the fire. These were delicious!! We also decided there must be one recipe that is followed for Glühwein. This amazing sustenance tasted identical to the wine we have had in Germany, France, and Switzerland! All of these countries are pretty close together, but we thought there would be some difference.
Below is another video I made of our visit to Czechia. Next weekend we are visiting a market in Colmar, France.
I hope your advent season is starting off well. Our has started GREAT! Enjoy the pictures.