Christmas is coming and along with all the cosiness there is also the dreaded Christmas shop. Give something different this year and give yourself a present at the same time. Why not head off on your travels and stock up on traditional European goods from a foreign christmas market and soak up the incredible atmosphere.
Vienna’s Christkindlmaerkt is one of the most famous, and long running in Europe and Vienna makes the perfect setting for this European Christmas Market. A lot of effort goes into the magical decorations and atmosphere and it attracts people from all over the world. Held in front of the town hall, visitors flock to Vienna to grab photos with the famous Christmas decorations, listen to the seasonal music, pick up traditional gifts and of course overindulge on sweet chestnuts. The city also offers the chance to see the glorious Schonbrunn and Imperial palaces and to stuff yourself silly with all the great cakes at the coffee houses.
It’s official, Trip Advisor the world renowned travel site has awarded a host of awards for best destinations 2014. The annual Traveller’s Choice Awards includes the vast city of Istanbul in Turkey which tops the poll, with Rome, London and Beijing following close behind. Each city or place earned its review through the reviews and opinions of visitors the site. “If you’re looking for trip inspiration, look no further than the Travelers’ Choice Destinations,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “Our global travelers are the tastemakers for uncovering the best places to visit around the world.” The awards in its 6th year picks out 500 of the absolute best places to visit in the world.
But what are these places really like? I’ve asked some of the Purple Travel family to share their thoughts on the top destinations 2014. Some they loved and some… well, you’ll see for yourself. We’d love to hear what you think, good or bad about the official list!
1. Istanbul, TurkeyFantastic city full of sights and culture. The people are so friendly and eager to help. This place has it all. – Gary I think the best of the best way to taste the Turkish food, and experience the Turkish mentality, is to eat this giant hot dog with fish and cabbage at the Bosphorus coast on the Asian part of Istanbul. There are cooks on floating boats, preparing the grilled fish, that are then placed on these huge bagel and stuffed that with cabbage, fried potatoes and mustard. You cannot imagine! Also don’t miss the old guy outside the Blue Mosque who sells bagels and gives you for free La vache qui rit portion! – Soso
2. Rome, ItalyWhat can someone say about Rome, about the Italians, their food and their language? I think my best moments in Rome were when we were walking around from the Piazza di Spagna, to the Colosseum, and the Fontana di Trevi. Suggested hotels-the newly built Caravel hotel (just two stops by bus from Piazza di Spagna) with nice big rooms and a lovely receptionist and Hotel Trevi, with its traditional style in the very centre of the city!!! loved them both, love Rome! – Soso
3. London, EnglandMassive dump, ok for day trips but get out before it chews you up. – Gary
Number 7 Use your boot to get a man. Single women in the Czech Republic throw a shoe over their shoulder while standing with their back to the front door. Not to knock someone out and nurse them back to help (haven’t we all thought of that?) but if the shoe lands pointing to the door, it is said the lucky lady will be married within a year.
Number 6 Add a spider to your tree. In the Ukraine it’s tradition to hide a spider and its web somewhere in amongst the decorations on the tree. Whoever finds it is said to be blessed with good luck for the year to come.
Christmas Spider under creative commons by @ jdhancock
Number 5 Hide your broom. In Norway it’s thought the barrier between evil spirits and ghosts is at its thinnest on Christmas Eve, so naturally enough the ladies of the house go mad hiding their brooms, while the husbands go out with their shotgun to try to warn off any overly-motivated spirits.
Number 3 get your skates on in Caracas, you’ll need them. In Venezuela’s capital city it’s tradition to rollerskate your way to early morning church services. The streets are even blocked off to allow worshippers get to their destination safely.
Rollerskates under creative commons by @ Jovanlaar
Number 2 Santa’s evil twin in Austria At Christmas all across Austria, where a demon creature comes to life to punish children. This guy is Santa’s bad half and we promise he’d scare anyone! The Krampus is let loose on the streets to frighten and beat children into better behaviour.
The number 1 has to be Catalonia’s poo log. Caga Tio, the smiley Yule log is seen throughout the region – if you’re in Barcelona you can’t miss it. A hollow log is set by the fire from Dec 8th and fed every night and covered with a little blanket to keep him warm. On Christmas Eve the log is beaten with a stick and a cheerful song orders him to poop.
From ancient bohemian capital, to a buzzing modern city, Prague tourism (or Praha to the locals) has seen lots of changes over the years. In fact the whole centre of the city was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site so you know there’s lots to see and do.
Here’s our Purple 10 of the must see things to do and see around Prague.
Prague’s huge popularity was once down to 20p pints and cheap flights on EasyJet. And today, although not the bargain it once was, its appeal continues to grow. A fascinating history combined with a stong architectural credibility, ensures the Czech capital is as compelling a city break as ever. Take the city centre, for example. Here you will find examples of almost every architectural trend of the last two centuries, including Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, neoclassical, art nouveau and cubist. And for those who venture beyond the medieval lanes of the Old Town and the Castle District, a hub of modern culture fashions the landscape, from lively bars and beer gardens to clubs, live music venues, and cutting-edge art galleries.
However, Prague travel does have its negatives. The good places are often the most difficult for an unknowing tourist to scope out; too many people, serious traffic jams and heaps of tacky commercialism mean Prague’s secret treasures are less ‘hidden gem’ and more Mission Impossible. In fact, many travellers return from Prague considering it nothing more than ‘Magaluf in a city break’. With this in mind, we wanted to create a Prague travel guide that would seek out the best of Prague, so you won’t waste any valuable holiday time and can avoid getting ripped off with the crowds.
Czech in: the sights worth visiting in Prague
This spectacular 15th century bridge is the connecting structure between the ‘Lesser Town’ and the old town. Adorned with 30 statues of saints and lined with old fashioned lanterns, it is the perfect spot for a romantic stroll.
Purple Tip: Avoid visiting during the middle of the day when the crowds flock across the bridge to grab some snaps of the ‘entertainers’ and craft stalls that line the bridge.
The Astronomical Clock
The striking astronomical clock of the town hall, which also features a calendar painted by the famous Czech painter Josef Manes, and the procession of the 12 apostles who appear through the wooden doors that open at the top, is a must-see in Prague. The clock displays four times: central European time, old bohemian time, stellar time and Babylonian time.
Purple Tip: Visit early (9am is best) to avoid the crowds and make sure you arrive on the hour to view the show of the apostles.
The John Lennon wall
One of the more unusual sights in Prague is the graffiti-covered, featuring an image of John Lennon’s face. Despite having never visited Prague, he became a hero to young Czechs, anti-communists and peace activists, particularly after his murder in the 1980s when western music was banned here. Since the collapse of communism, visitors from all over the globe have added messages of peace, creating an impactive statement set against the soft palette of the more traditional buildings of Prague.
Purple Tip: You can find some really fascinating messages on the wall if you look closely.
The Prague Castle is the largest ancient castle in the world. Having survived invasions, fires, wars and rebuilds, the castle displays a striking mix of architectural styles. It is currently the seat of the president of the Czech Republic, and every hour, on the hour, visitors can witness the changing of the guard.
Purple Tip: If you catch the changing of the guard at midday, you can see the military fanfare, too.
The harrowing story of Prague’s Jewish community begins as far back as the 13th Century, when the Jewish Quarter was created. Jews had extreme restrictions placed upon them and were not allowed to live in any other area, causing it to become known as The Prague Ghetto until 1781. Important historical buildings, including synagogues, The Jewish Town Hall and the Jewish cemetery remain on the grounds.
Purple Tip: The Jewish cemetery is a must-see for history fanatics. It is the oldest burial ground in the world, and where some 12,000 graves are piled on top of the one other.
Kampa Island and Kampa Museum Opened in 2002, the Kampa Museum holds an extensive, permanent collection of Central European art, as well as some impressive temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Situated on Kampa Island, on the left back of the Vltava River, the modern gallery is the home of a large chair sculpture by artist, Magdalena Jetelova, which is situated outside the museum and is a prominent landmark visible from across the Vltava.
Purple Tip: Include the visit into your exploration of the Lesser town and enjoy lunch in the museum’s elegant riverside café.
Czech these out: things to do in Prague
Grab a coffee
Prague’s chicest and most atmospheric cafes are mostly all on the first floor, meaning great views and fewer tourists. Expect to find a picturesque setting of period interiors, such as in the Grand Café Orient above the Cubist Museum, where the coffee is dependably wonderful and the cakes are decorated with love. Similarly, the Café Louvre, with its abundant natural light, numerous elaborate mirrors, fine pastel shaded walls and light furniture, was a favourite with Kafka and Einstein. Try one of their legendary hot chocolates, so thick that you can stand a spoon up in it.
Have a wild night out
Clubbing and anarchy goes hand-in-hand in Prague; with almost no safety regulations or political correctness, you can expect bar-top stripping, grungy interiors and rampant stimulant use in many of the capital’s bars. Venue such as Staré Mêsto on a Friday night, hip art bar Cross Club and live music venue, Bordo, all organise seriously cool events, such as short film festivals, experimental rock nights and 90s throwback tributes. Újezd is a smoky three-storey madhouse, filled with badly amplified rock and a young dreaded Czech crowd and Wakata, a true teenage wasteland, houses art exhibitions and live bands.
Czech, please: the Prague food scene
In a country where the national dish is roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut, you better leave your diet at home. Traditional Czech meals are not only heavy, but also on the salty side, however, they are always tasty. There’s also some serious pig lust going on here, so vegetarians – do your research (and see below). Here’s our pick of the best places to get your fill in the capital:
Clear Head is a vegetarian restaurant located in a 15th-century house on what is said to be the shortest street in Old Town Prague. This welcoming former teahouse serves a rotating menu of feel-good foods, including hearty soups, Indian-influenced cuisine and colourful entrees.
Recommended by the NY Times, this bagel joint is life-saving for anyone craving something familiar amongst the midst of menu items you cannot pronounce. Bohemia Bagel serves up bagel sandwiches, burgers and diner classics like huevos rancheros and pigs in a blanket.
Serving up frill-free French cuisine, this wavy riverfront building designed by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic, resembles a couple – often called Fred and Ginger – in midstep. Gwendal Le Ruyet, the head chef, who spent five years working with Alain Ducasse, uses mostly local ingredients and intense flavours. The top floor of the building provides unparalleled views of the Vltava River and Prague Castle.
For unrivalled Italian cooking in Prague, head to the Four Seasons Hotel. Although a little on the pricey side, chef Vito Mollica’s seasonal dishes are worth emptying your pockets for. Expect dishes such as slow-roasted veal with Alba truffles and aged Modena balsamic vinegar.
Enjoyed our Prague travel guide? Visit Prague on a great value city break in 2014 with Purple Travel. Visit our website for more or call 02079939228.