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Trip Report Christmas Markets 2016

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We visited Vienna and Prague, with a day trip to Dresden, in December 2016 for our 4th Christmas Markets trip. I lurked on these forums quite a bit in planning the trip so thought I'd come back with a report. Thank you all very much for helping us have a great trip!

http://herewegoagain-viennaprague2016.blogspot.com/

Introduction
Vienna and Prague: Christmas Markets, 2016

Who: Husband, me, and friends, J and G
When: December 2 - December 11
Where: Vienna and Prague, with day trip to Dresden
Agenda: Museums, opera, ballet, great eats, and Christmas markets

Hotels:
Motel One Staatsoper, Vienna (4 nights)
Archibald at the Charles, Prague (4 nights)

Travel between cities by prepaid train (thanks to instructions from the man in seat61.com)

Guides:
I borrowed several from the library for planning purposes.
Did extensive internet research, particularly on Christmas Markets and locations.
We took Rick Steves Pocket Vienna and Pocket Prague on the trip.
I copied recommendations on what to do in Dresden from a post on tripadvisor and from the Fodors guidebook.

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    The destination is worth the aggravation
    Days 0 and 1: New Orleans to Houston to Vienna

    My flight to Houston was on time but the onward flight to DC, where we'd catch a connection to Vienna, was delayed so that we wouldn't make it. We suffered an 8 hour delay at the Houston airport instead. We arrived in Frankfurt to more delays, finally making it to Vienna at 530pm instead of 840am. A whole day was lost in delays. To add insult to injury, my suitcase was still in Houston and wouldn't arrive until sometime the next day. The "joy" of travel was surely ours this day.

    But Vienna was worth it! Husband and I visited Vienna on our first trip to Europe in May, 1998 with his parents and brother. We remembered her fondly. I don't know why it took so long to go back.

    Our friends had a nice day out in Vienna since their flights were not delayed. We met up at the hotel and rushed to keep our dinner reservation at Plachuttas zur oper. They all enjoyed the food tremendously while I enjoyed the atmosphere and service.

    After dinner we walked around looking at the beautiful Christmas lights. The St. Stephan's Christmas Market was still (somewhat) open so J got her daily gluhwein.

    Back to the hotel to sleep and hope my luggage arrived the next day or I would have to go shopping (an activity I do not enjoy).

    Takeaways:
    1. Always pack extra underwear and small size toiletries in the carry-on. I would have been in big trouble without my tiny bottle of contact lens solution and extra underwear and socks.
    2. Be mad and upset about delays and no luggage, then let it go. Be glad to have arrived alive; everything else is replaceable.
    3. Make reservations for dinner. Especially that first jet-lagged night.

    Next: Mass with the Vienna Boys' Choir, the Hofburg Palace complex, the Albertina

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    Vienna's treasures, part 1
    Day 2: Music, treasures, art, markets

    We slept the sleep of the dead in our comfortable Motel One room. Its only drawback was a very small bathroom.

    I was grateful for the borrowed sweater from J which I wore with all my stinky things from the long travel day. I really hoped that my luggage arrived later...

    We had a 9:15am date at the Hofkappele where the Vienna Boys' Choir would be singing at mass. We grabbed coffee and before heading out. It was an easy walk there from our hotel.

    The mass was sold out. I'd managed to snag the last 4 seats together on the last row on the floor a couple of months before the trip. We had a nice view of the altar and were early enough to hear the choir practice, which was heavenly.

    The music during mass was lovely. But it was a Catholic mass, not a Vienna Boys' Choir performance. We were only treated to one song by these talented boys, after the mass was over. I really enjoyed this experience.

    After mass we were hungry. We ended up at Cafe Griensteidl and filled up our bellies. Their apple strudel was delicious!

    Next we headed back to the Hofburg Palace complex intent on touring the Imperial Apartments and Sissy Museum. We bought the combo ticket that included Schoenbrum because that was a must see during our time in Vienna.

    We left without buying anything in the ubiquitous gift shop. We were headed to the Albertina but on the way popped into the Augustiner Kirche.

    Before touring the Albertina, we needed sustenance. Luckily the Bitzinger Wurstelstand was right there to the rescue! They serve delicious sausages, fries, and beer. I was freezing but it was delish. We retreated into the nearby Augustinerkeller for more beer--much cozier.

    Suitably refreshed, it was time for some art. The Albertina has a permanent collection of impressionist art, drawings, and modern art in a beautiful palace.

    After our (too brief) visit to the Albertina, we headed out to see some Christmas markets. But--because I was cold and the church was open--we stopped in to see --- and it was really very pretty.

    As we left the church I got another pic of my favorite street lights. Vienna's streets had the prettiest Christmas lights and decorations I've ever seen.

    We browsed in the St. Stephans market and Haas Tea Market on our way to the Maria Theresa Platz market. I liked this one very much. It was filled with great stalls. I loved the lights reflected on the Naturhistoriches Museum.

    We walked across the road to the Museum Quarter market. It was much less traditional with cool igloos where you could sit and drink. But they were not heated and this girl was freezing. So we headed out.

    Back to the Augustinerkeller for dinner. The food was good, not great. But the atmosphere was warm and the servers were friendly.

    We arrived at the hotel to the welcome news that my luggage had arrived! So I would not have to go shopping and should be warmer tomorrow!

    Takeaways:
    1. The Vienna Boys' Choir is special. I'm glad we got the opportunity to see them, even if in the limited setting of a mass.
    2. The Hofburgs really had incredible wealth.
    3. Vienna is wonderfully walkable.
    4. The Albertina deserves more than 1.5 hours.
    5. Sunset is really early in the winter. I hate cold weather. :(

    Next: The Belvedere, lunch at Steirereck, and the opera

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    Vienna's treasures, part 2
    Day 3: Our posh day

    We had two big things today: lunch at 2 Michelin star Steirereck--the best restaurant in Austria; and tickets to see L'Elisir d'Amore at the Staatsoper.

    I wanted to see some Klimts and the best place to do so is the Belvedere which happened to be near-ish Steirereck so there we headed on the tram. The tram stop was super convenient to our hotel.

    It was a beautiful but cold morning. We got off a stop too soon and hiked up to the Upper Belvedere Palace--gorgeous. We were hungry so went over to the Christmas Market where I got a bread thing that I unfortunately allowed to be covered in garlic butter. J got her daily gluhwein while I had two coffees. I loved seeing the schoolkids order their kinderpunsch.

    The Belvedere is a beautiful 1700's Baroque palace with a fantastic collection of Austrian art. It's a UNESCO Heritage site for good reason! No pictures allowed in the galleries. I loved the paintings by Monet and Van Gogh. But I was blown away by the gallery of Klimts. I knew his Kiss and similar paintings but hadn't before seen his softer figures and landscapes. Incredibly beautiful. It wasn't crowded so I lingered in front of each painting for a good while.

    Then, way too soon, we left to make our way to Steirereck in the Stadtpark. It was a bit of a hike but we arrived on time for our 1230pm reservation.

    I took a few pictures as we were leaving around 4pm. It was a very long but delicious lunch.

    We walked through the Stadpark to Karlskirche and its market. It was a gorgeous early evening.

    We arrived at the Karlsplatz market. I convinced the others to pay the 8E fee to tour the Karlskirche because I'd read that you could climb up to the ceiling.

    How many opportunities does one get to get within a few feet of the dove at the top of the dome in any church? It was pretty awesome!

    And seeing those gorgeous paintings in the ceiling up close, wow! Stupendous.

    I confess the hike up was a bit scary (but definitely worth it!). The others had no issues with the height or the fact that the stairs were moving when people walked around. Even though I was scared, I'm so glad they left the steps there after the renovation work!

    Back down to earth, we looked around the church itself before heading out to the market.

    This turned out to be my favorite market in Vienna. I loved the atmosphere and the uniqueness of the crafts. They had things I knew I wouldn't see anywhere else. J got another gluhwein and it was by far the best one yet.

    We walked the short distance to the hotel to relax a bit before our 730pm opera.

    The Staatsoper is just absolutely gorgeous. This was my second time to see an opera there and I'd (obviously, it's been 18 years!) forgotten how spectacular this place was. This time we had cheap seats way up in the galleries--their ticket allocation system is really not geared to single performance purchasers. No matter, I was in my happy place. The opera, L'Elisir d'Amore by Donizetti, was light, funny, and engaging. I enjoyed every minute.

    After the opera, we headed next door to the Augustinerkeller for a nightcap. G entertained us with a card trick and we relaxed before turning in for the night.

    Takeaways:
    1. A long lunch at a great restaurant is a treat.
    2. The Belvedere's collection is outstanding. Gustav Klimt was beyond talented
    3. I love opera in Vienna, even in the nosebleed section

    Next: Another palace, more art, and more great food

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    Vienna's treasures, part 3
    Day 4: Schoenbrum, Kunsthistoriches, dinner at Vestibul

    The first order of business was getting to Schoenbrum. It was pretty easy going until we encountered a road block in the form of adorable children out on a fieldtrip.

    We arrived pretty early and perused the Christmas Market stalls for a bit before going in to tour the apartments. Schoenbrum was such a highlight of our trip in 1998 that I wasn't sure it could live up to my memories. But it did! The palace is spectacular in every respect. The audio guide is very good and the rooms on display are gorgeous. The grounds were winter barren but still attractive--not that we walked far; it was literally freezing outside!

    After doing some shopping and eating in the Christmas market, we subway'd back to Museums Quarter to tour the Kunsthistoches. My first stop, though, was at the Flammenkuchen stand and boy was it good!

    We paid our entrance fee, dropped our stuff in a locker, and were deciding on how to view this massive collection when the group decided more food and drink were needed. The restaurant in the museum is in a gorgeous round room and was pretty full. We managed to snag a table and ate and drank there for awhile.

    In 1998, we'd had a guided tour of the Kunsthistoriches and I do not remember the guide mentioning the Klimts on the columns above the grand staircase. This year we searched for them and made good use of the magnifying glass strategically placed on one of the balconies. Gorgeous art by Mr. Klimt!

    We explored the painting galleries and their overwhelmingly beautiful collections. A nice touch was that each room was kind of "themed" so a bunch of Raphaels or Bruegels or Peter Paul Rubens' were hung together with a poster to explain a bit about the artist, period, influences, etc. Nicely done.

    We happened upon a delightful Vermeer in one of the side rooms. He only painted 34 canvases. We're lucky to have seen 9 in one year!

    After the paintings galleries, we set out to find what was purported to be the most costly item in the collection, Cellini's Salt Cellar. And it was spectacular!

    We had a 7pm reservation for dinner at Vestibul, which was recommended to us by some regulars at Steirereck. The restaurant was close to the Rathaus so we took the tram to the Rathaus stop and were immediately impressed by the Christmas Market. It was really quite a show! The lights were gorgeous!

    The skating rink was so pretty! I would have loved to take a turn (except for that clumsy gene and probably breaking my leg part).

    The Vestibul restaurant was basically across the street from the Rathaus. We arrived, divested ourselves of our coats, and sat at a cool alcove table in a half full restaurant. The chef came out to talk about the special truffles and the servers explained the menu quite well. This was my favorite dinner in Vienna (as Steirereck was my favorite lunch). The restaurant was beautiful and warm, the staff were excellent, and the food was delicious.

    We walked back through the Rathaus market and happened into another lights display, which was just gorgeous, too. Vienna does lights really well!

    We meandered back to the hotel, had one last look at the Staatsoper, and said goodnight to the pink bunny. It had been a fabulous last day and night in Vienna!

    Takeaways:
    1. Vienna was just as fabulous as I remembered. There was a lot less graffiti than in 1998.
    2. Transportation in Vienna is ridiculously easy to use.
    3. When foodie locals make a recommendation, listen! Vestibul was fantastic.
    4. The Rathaus Christmas market was the best in decorations but Karlskirche was the best in crafts.

    Next: Early train to Prague, first impressions
    at December 06, 2016

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    Hello Prague, so nice to meet you
    Day 5: Early train to Prague, Old Town, La Degustation

    The train left at 7am. We got up early, walked to the subway station at Karlsplatz, bought some pastries and coffee, and make it to the Hauftbanhof without problems.

    I bought the tickets in advance and first class was pretty cheap. We settled into our big seats and relaxed for the 4 hour journey to Prague. I spent some time practicing my Czech. :)

    We arrived at the Prague station and had to find the ATM for CZKs and buy tickets for the trams. It's a big, modern station but it took us a few minutes to get our bearings. It's also kind of a sketchy looking area, and we didn't have a great map. We finally got money and tickets, walked ourselves to the tram stop, and asked locals to point us in the right direction for our stop. We decided against getting off at Malostranska Namesti (which we had settled on before leaving home) and exited at Hellichova instead.

    This took us on a meandering walk through very pretty streets to our hotel on Kampa Island. We somehow walked right by the Lennon Wall on the way, so we didn't have to search it out again. Win! (But we'd be using the Malostranska Namesti stop in the future)

    We finally arrived at the Archibald at the Charles Bridge hotel. It is ideally situated right next to the Charles Bridge on a quiet street. Dropped off our luggage--the rooms weren't quite ready.

    We made our way over the Charles Bridge. I find it incredible that it's been there since the 1400's! It's gorgeous. And the views were spectacular. It was a really pretty day.

    We were hungry and walked to a couple of places listed in our guidebooks. They were both busy or unappealing. Husband and G went off exploring and found The Pub. They have beer taps at each table. I repeat, they have beer taps at each table! The Pilsner Urkel was the most best beer I had the entire trip. Fresh, crisp, and delicious. We had burgers and chicken wings and fries. It was a great lunch! It would have been easy to just hang there and get really drunk but we settled up and headed to the hotel to check in.

    It was still early and I wasn't ready to stay in the room. I wanted to see the Crawling Babies and the Memorial to the Victims of Communism before the day was over.

    On our way back to the hotel, we happened upon an open church and of course I had to go in. It was the Church of Our Lady Victorious which is a pilgrimage church because of its smartly dressed Baby Jesus, aka Infant Jesus of Prague. It was filled with tourists--one of whom picked up and kept my favorite winter cap that I momentarily forgot on the offering box. :(

    After shopping for a replacement hat, we went back to the hotel (so very conveniently located!) to change for dinner at La Degustation, a 1 Michelin star restaurant. A short tram ride later, we were sitting down in this swanky, cool place ready for a great meal.

    I really enjoyed this restaurant and appreciated that they worked to accommodate my picky palate. The food was inventive and delicious and the staff were professional and efficient. We all liked this place very much.

    We walked from La Degustation through Prague's quiet, pretty streets to Old Town Square. The Christmas market was long closed but the tree was gleaming with thousands of lights. It was spectacular!

    We didn't wait for the impressive Astronomical clock to do its thing. We went to Black Angels Bar for a nightcap instead.

    We sat in the Piano Bar and I impressed everyone by busting out my extremely limited Czech to order red wine. It was boss! :)

    A short stroll through town and over the Bridge, we were back at the hotel for the night. Except for having a hard time walking on her cobblestone streets, I was loving Prague!

    Takeaways:
    1. My favorite type of hotel is a quiet one in a convenient location, close to transportation for a reasonable price. The Archibald at the Charles Bridge was this and much more.
    2. Prague's train station is modern and clean. But figuring out how to buy tickets for the trams was confusing.
    3. Prague is filled with spectacular public art.
    4. La Degustation truly deserves its Michelin star.
    5. Old Town Square's Christmas tree may be the prettiest I've ever seen.
    6. Being able to speak a little Czech was fun!

    Next: Secrets of Prague tour, Mucha's Slav epic, Lobkowitz palace, and the Nutcracker

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    Prague's treasures, part 1
    Day 6: A tour, a lot of Mucha, a palace, and a ballet

    In any new city, when feasible, I like to plan time with a tour guide. They are the experts and can educate us on their city better than any book.

    We had a date with Jason of livingprague.com for his Hidden Secrets of Prague Old Town and Jewish Quarter tour. We started at 9am on Old Town Square and ended back there at noon. Jason is a Brit who lives with his wife and family in Prague. We learned a lot--which now I've forgotten--and felt it was time very well spent.

    We stopped at a very hidden memorial to Jan Palac whose self-immolation helped trigger the Velvet Revolution.

    We learned about the Old Jewish Cemetery and why it is multilevel. We walked past each synagogue.

    We learned how and why the Franz Kafka memorial was placed by the Spanish Synagogue. And that it is based on his short story Metamorphosis.

    We went into Basilika Sv. Jakuva (Church of Saint James).

    Under a garbage can, he uncovered tiles that marked the Jewish residents who lived in that building and died in concentration camps.

    We ended back at Old Town Square. We really enjoyed the tour!

    Afterwards, we wandered about Old Town Square's Christmas Market, ate some tasty sausage and chicken and washed it down with delicious beer.

    We parted ways with J & G and headed to one of my "must see's" in Prague: Mucha's Slav Epic. It is housed in an ugly building, called the Veletrzni (Trade Fair) Palace, with a super cool glass elevator to modern art galleries and beautiful views of the city.

    Mucha's massive masterpieces are his vision of Slavic history. Our Rick Steves Prague guide had great descriptions/interpretations of each canvas. I lingered over each canvas; I felt the pain, the sorrow, the joy, and the glory depicted. This collection was overwhelming and wonderful.

    We took a coffee and desert break in the cafe before (with difficulty) finding our way to the Prague Castle complex for a quick visit to Lobkowicz Palace. We trudged our way up the hill arriving just in time for a magnificent sunset.

    We only had an hour at the Palace and made the best of our time. I enjoyed seeing painting by Brueghel, Canaletto, and the weird Velazquez canvases. But my favorite collection were the hand-annotated manuscripts by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. The rooms seem kind of bare and the only room I was blown away by was the grand ballroom. I'm glad we went but it was missable. The views were amazing, though.

    We made our way back to the hotel to meet back up with J & G who'd had a lovely relaxing afternoon. After a couple of drinks, we walked to the Narodni Divadlo Theatre where J & I had prime seats for the Nutcracker and husband and G had cheap, standing room only spots.

    Husband and G left at intermission and were tasked with finding us a place for dinner after the show. I have seen the Nutcracker at least 15 times in my life. I love the music. I don't always love the performances. This was a very different take on the traditional Nutcracker. The costumes were modern; the mouse was a stuffed animal; the nutcracker was not the weird man with a big mouth but an actual steel implement to crack nuts; the pas de deux was the parents performing for the kids to get them to sleep; the ethnic dancers were the Christmas ornaments. It was "narrated" by a gold woman and silver man who held up various signs throughout the performance. I really wished I knew Czech! It was very well danced, inventive, and fun. I loved it!

    The guys didn't find any place for us to dine so I pulled out my trusty list of nearby restaurants and we headed over to U Medvidku brewery. We sat in a copper kettle and enjoyed the food and beer. We bought a mug in the little shop then made our way to the hotel.

    It had been a long and wonderful day in Prague.

    Takeaways:
    1. Good tours, like ours this day, can really bring a place to live.
    2. Don't miss Mucha's Slav Epic if you're ever in Pragu
    3. Skip Lobkowicz palace
    4. The Narodni Divadlo is a beautiful intimate setting to see a performance
    5. The Nutcracker was wonderfully non traditional

    Next: A day trip to Dresden

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    Dresden day trip
    Day 7: A day trip to Dresden

    This was our fourth Christmas markets trip (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016). It was the first time we didn't start and end in Germany. And because our time was limited, we had decided against a day trip to Dresden in favor of seeing more of Prague.

    But as much as we enjoyed Vienna and Prague, their Christmas markets were missing something for us. I couldn't describe what was missing to our friends but they were game for going to Dresden. Once they got there, they understood. And husband and I decided we'd never again omit Germany from a Christmas markets trip!

    Because we bought on the day of travel, our train tickets were pricy. We took the 7am train and were in Dresden in two hours. We left Prague resplendent in the morning sun and arrived to drizzly, overcast weather. This was typical of the weather we've encountered on every previous Christmas markets trip to Germany. I felt right at home.

    I'd done a little research on Dresden so we had a basic plan that included the Streizelmarkt, Neumarkt, Frauenkirche and markt, the Historic Green Vault, Stallhoff markt, and Zwinger courtyard. We planned to take the 7pm train back to Prague.

    The markt just outside the train station immediately reinforced that we made the right decision to come to Dresden. It was a Christmas market like we'd loved on our previous trips! J got some kind of amazingly delicious drink while husband and I bought some Finnish honey. We made our way to the center of town.

    It was pretty quiet this early and I loved wandering about. I was even happy to do a little shopping! We drank some beer, ate some pig, and were generally delighted by this gorgeous market.

    High on my list for today was a visit to the Historic Green Vault. I dragged the rest of the gang to the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) because I knew the entries were limited and timed. We deposited our stuff in the lockers but had to go back because we (uhm, I) didn't leave ~everything~ behind. The first room, where we got the audio guide, did not really give a sense of how amazing the treasures in the Green Vault would be--I was actually wondering what all the fuss was about.

    We went through the double climate controlled doors to the first of 9 rooms. Each is arranged by a theme, like ivory or silver or jewels, and is incredible. No pictures allowed, obviously, but what's on the internet is a faithful reproduction.

    This was one the coolest treasuries we've ever seen. It alone would be worth the effort to visit Dresden!

    Next we headed to the Medieval market which is always our favorite in Munich. This was a great little market. The flambrot and beer were very tasty.

    We exited and headed to the Frauenkirche. I wanted to linger in this church. It has been completely rebuilt since WWII. It's baroque, very pretty, and light-filled. It felt inviting. The market surrounding the church was lovely.

    Husband noticed the Augustiner Keller right there on the square. We stopped for an early dinner and some tasty beer. By time we left, it was quite crowded with what looked like locals. Reservations would be essential if you wanted dinner there.

    The weather never cleared so we went back outside to a cold, drizzly, overcast evening. But the lights in the streets and markets were cheerful and pretty. Not Vienna pretty, but really lovely.

    Back to the main Christmas market for a little more shopping. A live band was entertaining the crowds

    We debated about staying in Dresden until the 9pm train but it had been a long day so we caught the 7. We made it back to Prague and our hotel around 10pm.

    Taking the day to visit Dresden had been the right decision!

    Takeaways:
    1. For me, Christmas Markets ='s Germany
    2. Dresden is beautiful but made me sad because the people suffered so much in WWII and during communism
    3. If you have a chance to visit the Historic Green Vault, do!
    4. We've always had pretty bad weather in Germany in December

    Next: Prague Castle and environs.

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    Prague's treasures, day 2
    Day 7: Prague Castle and environs

    The breakfast at the Archibald at the Charles Bridge was really, really good. Great variety of everything. The only let down was the coffee which was out of a machine and mediocre.

    The plan today was to tram up to the Poholorelec stop, visit the Strahov Monastery Library, the Loreta Chapel, and the Prague Castle complex.

    The tram ride from Malostranska Namesti to Poholorec was very picturesque on this gorgeous day. We got off and, as usual since we didn't have a good map, struggled to find the way to the Monastery.

    We finally found the right direction and arrived in the pretty complex.

    We toured the Library which was just gorgeous. Unless you pay extra and make special arrangements, you can only see it through openings in the main hall. I really wished I'd prearranged a tour. No pictures allowed.

    We walked out to the view behind the restaurant. It was spectacular!

    From the Strahov Monastery we made our way to the Loreta Chapel.

    From Loreta, we headed down to the Prague Castle. I was struck by the beauty of this building which I later found out is the Schwarzenberg palace. It's a renaissance building with a sgraffito facade. It has become the National Gallery and houses a permanent collection of Bohemina, Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque art. I think it would be worth a visit on a dubsequent trip.

    Maybe we were naive, but none of us expected the crowds we encountered on this December day at the Prague Castle. The line for security wrapped around for a mile (maybe a slight exaggeration). The Rick Steves guide was inconclusive about whether there was a better entrance. We definitely did not feel like waiting in the line. We browsed in the tiny Christmas market then bailed in favor of lunch.

    We used my 2gis app to find the Uraka Hotel which I'd read about online. I had made note of it because of it had good lunch fare and a fireplace near the Castle. It felt very off the beaten path!

    We passed a house astronomer Tycho de Brahe lived in 1600. J's dad is a fan.

    We arrived at Uraka and, around the corner, the guys were stunned to see a nude photo shoot on this very cold day. This immediately vaulted up to their favorite place! LOL

    Our lunch was very good. The food was tasty. The servers were friendly and accommodating. They showed husband and G all around the hotel after lunch. It was a very good break.

    Quite refreshed, we walked back down to the Prague Castle complex. The lines for security had just about disappeared. We breezed through and made our way to the ticket office. We bought Circuit B which included St. Vitus Cathedral, Old Royal Palace, St. George's Basilica, and Golden Lane with Daliborka Tower. We would only have two hours to see what we could.

    The first and most important order of business was St. Vitus Cathedral. It is huge, it is old, and it is impressive.

    The outside was just as impressive as the inside.

    There was a small Christmas market here

    We had enough time for a quick visit to the Basilica of St. George and I liked this place very much. It felt serene. They were setting up for a concert and I imagine it's a lovely setting for that.

    We wanted to spend our last few minutes before closing on the Golden Lane. We arrived at its entrance to a massive crowd. We decided to wait and eventually the gates were opened and we all trudged through. It was not possible to stop in any of the shops.

    The sky was beautiful so I climbed up one of the buildings and took some photos, along with a few other people.

    We made it to the courtyard of a restaurant just before it closed down. We took a few more pictures of the gorgeous sunset before we headed out.

    It was our last night and we had taken our guide Jason's recommendation to try Monarch, a tapas restaurant, not far from the hotel. Prague is really walkable! It was a nice meal even if it didn't exactly scream Prague, Czech Republic.

    We walked over to Old Town Square and decided to have desert on the roof at the Hotel U Prince (where the Black Angels Bar is). It was cold out there but a perfect way to say farewell to Prague.

    One last meander about the Old Town Square market with its gorgeous Christmas tree. It was very crowded!

    Husband and I had a 650am flight back home. We told J & G farewell and we'd catch them in New Orleans.

    Takeaways:
    1. The Prague Castle complex is probably always super crowded. Plan accordingly. Maybe go early?
    2. Next time I'll plan ahead and pay extra to get into the stacks at the Strahov Library
    3. Research better for a final night dinner spot
    4. The rooftop at the U Prince Hotel is fantastic
    5. I really liked Prague. I hope to return one day
    6. Find the equivalent of a Streetwise map for Prague (why did they have to go out of business?!?)

    Next: Back home but first a little anxiety.

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    Back home
    Day 9: Early flight

    Our flight departed from Prague at 650am and we wanted at least 1.5 hours to get through check-in and security. I booked a ride to pick us up at the ungodly hour of 445am.

    The hotel kindly prepared breakfast boxes for us. We paid up and waited for our ride.

    And it didn't come. I tried to call but (was rattled and had no coffee) couldn't get through. The receptionist called on my behalf and found out that I had booked the ride for the next day, yikes, and no one was coming for us. Numbers are really not my strong suit!

    The receptionist called for a cab. I made sure he told them that we'd need to pay by credit card.

    The cab arrived by 515am. The driver looked like a rode hard and put up wet Fabio. He drove very carefully and didn't seem to intuitively know the airport route. Thankfully traffic was very light.

    We arrived at the airport around 550am. I got out and left husband to pay the fare. I went inside to figure out where to check in. It was taking a while for husband to meet me. Finally he showed up and said the driver couldn't run any of our credit cards. Husband had no CZKs or Euros so the ride was free. He said "Fabio" got frustrated and told him to get out of the cab and left. We felt really bad about not paying the fare. But there wasn't much we could do with out cash.

    We checked in and got through security without problems, whew! When we went to board, the Lufthansa gate agent stopped husband and told him he had to check my carry-on. She said it wouldn't fit in the bin.

    He said he wouldn't check it (it had my laptop, our souvenirs, my essentials). She was unpleasant and seemed to target my husband. We noticed many other people getting on with bigger, fatter cases. We rearranged some stuff, showed the bag in the bin, and her more pleasant coworker cleared us.

    We arrived in Frankfurt with plenty of time before our flight. We ensured our seats were what we expected and waited to board. It was a long few hours back to Houston. The idiots in front of us kept their seats fully reclined the ~entire~ flight, even before we took off and while taxi-ing to the gate. She also threw her scarf over the seat back, interfering with my little TV screen (I stopped that in a jiffy). A child behind us kept throwing up.
    It took awhile for baggage to arrive for the connection to New Orleans but I was back home in the lovely warmth and humidity before too long. Economy has to be one of the levels of Dante's hell.

    Travelling in winter is my least favorite thing but Vienna and Prague (and Dresden) were great, as was our company! We hope to do it again soon.

    Takeaways:
    1. Husband must always check my numbers! Having a ride booked for the wrong day almost cost us our return home.
    2. Keep a little cash, if possible, in case the credit card doesn't work.
    3. Gate agents can go on power trips but they really can stop you from travelling. As unfairly enforced as it seems to be, having the correct carry-on sized bag is crucial.
    4. Economy sucks. Not being able to choose your own seats in advance (thanks to archaic code share rules between United, Lufthansa, and Austrian Airlines) sucks more. I will not be booking code share again, if at all possible.
    5. I look forward to our next Christmas Markets trip to Germany in 2020.
    6. My Marmot Chelsea coat was the best $200 I've ever spent. I loved my Costco 32 degree long underwear and my Smartwool gloves and socks. My bargain Columbia boots were comfortable for long days of walking and kept my feet warm. I was a lot less cold this trip than in the past.
    7. Travelling with J & G was super fun.

    Next: Santorini, the Peloponnese, Meteora, and Athens, Greece. May 2017.

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    Nice report. Our first visit to Vienna was in 1999; now we live here, and I have returned with a better camera to snap all of the places we visited. It's hilarious to look back on what we chose to photograph!

    I agree with you on the Augustinerkeller: decent food, not great. But the setting is fun, especially with friends.

    Too bad you missed the markets in Spittelberg; they are noted for handcrafts from around Austria as well as the neighbors, and it's one of our favorites.

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    @fourfortravel, on our first trip, we were there only 3 nights but your city made a lasting impression. It's really grand, very beautiful, and easy to get around. My favorite picture of myself in Vienna in 1998 is one where I'm sitting on the sidewalk in the entryway at Schoenbrum eating a cheese and butter sandwich. I remember it being delicious.

    I had a list of Christmas markets we wanted to visit and Spittelburg was on it. Because of our whole day lost to travel delays, we ran out of time.

    @tasmangirl, thank you for reading. We really enjoy our every four years Christmas markets trips. I know we'll be back for more in 2020. Winter travel is very hard for me (I'm a thin blooded southern girl) and I refuse to go more often than that!

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