The Opening of the Christmas Markets

THERE'S NO HARD transition into Christmas season here like there is in the States.  The end of Thanksgiving, black Friday, Cyber Monday, all signal that Christmas season has started...and started abruptly. 

But here without that national holiday it just....sort of...shifts.    The first sign Christmas is sneaking up is the low-key opening of the Christmas markets.  Before the season is over we'll visit four or five of the local markets in various towns and cities.  Each outdoor market - opening about a month prior to Christmas -  will offer warm food, hot mulled wine or cider, seasonal stands for Christmas shopping and free Christmas cheer. 

 Our town's Christmas market opened this week, so a few of us trekked down and had our first glasses of warm punch and mulled wine with the smells of winter treats sizzling from the stands nearby.  

Which, by the way, is not a bad way to get into the Christmas spirit. Not a bad way at all. 


"Czechs are people": Prague from the Kids

I'VE TEMPORARILY LOST MY INSPIRATION, but I have some pictures of Prague to tonight I call on the narrative skill of the kids who were closest to the computer while I was uploading the photos.  Emphasis from yours truly in italics.  Enjoy!

 Chase:  "That's the castle in Prague that we went to.  With the guards."

That is Prague Castle, taken the night we arrived from across the Vltava river.  The story of the guards follows.

Chase:  "That's the Castle.  Again."

OK, true, that is Prague Castle again, taken the night we arrived from across the Vltava river.  Except with a different shutter speed.  So that makes it completely different. 

Chase:  "That is Charles Bridge. Charles Bridge is a famous bridge in Prague."

That is pretty much exactly right.  

Chase:  "That is Charles Bridge and the Castle in the same picture."

That also is fairly accurate. 

Anna:  "Chase's description of these pictures are dry and boring.  That's the thingy on that bridge when it was nighttime and it was dark."

That is true.  But after this picture I banned Anna from using the words "thingy" or "poptart" and she lost interest in helping with captions and walked away shortly thereafter.  Anna, Chase, and I had taken a little night walk to the Charles bridge, and this building was a gate on the near side of the bridge.  

Anna: "That is a statue that was made by someone who has bad taste in color."

Actually I think it is weathered bronze.  In the background left is the gate when entering Charles Bridge.  Statues like this one line the length of the bridge on either side.  To the right is a Spire, one of seemingly a million spires in the Prague skyline.  This one was right in the neighborhood of our apartment.  

Chase: "That is us on Charles Bridge."

We've actually paid the kids to smile before.  I'm not kidding.  Interesting story, when we crossed the German-Czech border the day before, I had stopped at a gas station to buy a vignette (sort of like a tourist car-tax).  There was an English-speaking woman there who didn't speak German and was trying to understand what the vignette was for from the Czech & German speaking attendant.  I stopped and explained it to her, exchanged pleasantries and then we hopped in the car and drove on to Prague two hours farther down the road.  On this morning right before this picture was taken, a tourist stopped us and asked us if we would take a picture of their family.  Same woman from the gas station two hours away the day before.  One in a gazillion.

Anna: "That is the back of my head."

That is also Charles Bridge, a busy pedestrian bridge that connects either side of Prague across the Vltava river.  The bridge construction started in 1357.  I used to think a house that was built 20 years ago was old.  I don't now.

Chase: "That is us at the Charles Bridge and the river underneath."

 That's the Vltava River. You can also see Prague Castle and the impressive gothic St. Vitus Cathedral in the distance to the right.  We were on our way there on foot.  

Chase: "There were more than 170 stairs to walk up."

These are the stairs to the castle.  Chase is my count there were 219.  I had a more vested interest in counting because I was the one carrying the stroller and it took my mind off of the crippling fatigue. 

Chase: "That is a very busy Castle. It does not look like a normal castle because..."
Anna: " looks all fancy."

True, we are used to castles that are crumbled and in ruins. Prague castle is still in use as a public building, and it's really more than just a castle, it is a large complex with many buildings.  For example, St. Vitus Cathedral is actually inside of the castle gate.

Chase: "That is the guard guarding the castle.  He has a gun with a knife on it.  And he wears a hat."

Prague Castle has guards a-la the royal guards in London.  They maintain a stiff and stoic posture while tourists flock to get their picture taken with them.  

Chase: "That is an army of people coming."
Jazzy: "They marching."

 We were there to witness the changing of the guard at the castle, this is a procession from the courtyard to the castle.  They change the guards every hour on the hour.  

Chase: "It was a big crowd watching the army."

There was a tremendous crowd watching the whole event, which lasted about 10-15 minutes with a well rehearsed scene including a marching drill, music, lots of dramatic pauses, and the actual guard change.   It occurred to me that if the guard changing happens every hour and it takes 10-15 minutes to change, then there is really not that much actual guarding going on.

Jazzy: "Um, das me and das Cam."
Chase: "And the Castle is behind them."

Jazz: "Is big spikey church."
Chase:  "It was spikey."

Cathedrals might seem boring to the kids but I think they are amazing, especially the big gothic ("spikey") cathedrals.  This is as far out as I could zoom, but you can see the people below the door to get an idea of the scale.  How did human beings build such incredible structures with so little mechanization? 

Chase: "That is the inside of the church.  The roof was very, very, very high.  Plus it was very, very busy."

Again, amazing.  Gigantic.  Every stone hand crafted and flawless.  

Jazzy:  "Iss the church. We was goin innit."

Chase: "These are very awesome cinnamon rolls called Turtle Necks. You can only get them in Czechoslovakia."

And by that he means the Czech Republic.  These were really tasty, a cross between a cinnamon roll and a doughnut, but roasted over a fire.  We had a couple of rounds of them.  

Jazzy: "Mommy is buying turtle neck for me."

Chase: "We're eating at a Prague restaurant.  I ate chicken."

The sign in the back shows the house specials, one of which was "Goulash prepared according to military chaplain Katz and dumplings."  That sounds delicious, I'll have that!  

Chase: "That's a whatchamacallit and a whatchamacallit and onions."

I did order the goulash, and it seems to me military chaplain Katz really liked his onions.  Yowza.  It was good though. 

Chase: "That was our neighborhood."

This is Bethlehem square, our apartment was located on the fourth floor of an apartment just around the corner on the right.  It was 5 minutes from Charles Bridge and not much farther to the Old Town Square.  Awesome location.  

Anna: "Its a market"
Chase: "It has hand carved wooden stuff."

Thank you Anna for your descriptive caption.  This is Havelske market, a market located on a small street just off of the Old Town Square, where you could buy anything from fruit and vegetables and chocolates to paintings and tourist trinkets. 

Anna: "Buying stuff at the market. I spent 50 crowns on a magnet."
Chase: "50 crowns equals 2 Euro"

The Czech Republic is one of the few European nations that did not adopt the Euro as its currency.  (That may turn out to be a stroke of genius).  Instead, they use Czech crowns.   At first the kids used a little shorthand and called them "Czechs". We had to explain several times, "No, you do not have 50 Czechs.  Czechs are people.  You have 50 crowns.".  

Chase: "That is the clock tower. We went up in the top of it."
Jazzy: "And look out of da window."

This is the old clock tower that dominates the Old Town Square.  See the windows at the top?  There are people up there.  And we never miss the chance to go up in something really tall. 

Jazzy: "The clock."
Chase: "It's an astronomical clock."

This famous clock on the clock tower is a huge tourist draw....

Chase: "These people are standing by the clock tower waiting for it to ding.  Because death comes out, and then the 12 disciples come out, and then death goes like this (swings arms in a hammering motion)."

Ok, that might take some explaining.  On the hour, the astronomical clock strikes.  When it does, two little doors at the top open and the twelve disciples go parading by.  In addition, a small statue next to the clock - a statue representing death - tips his hourglass and pulls a cord that rings the bell above the clock to sound the hour.  A real-life trumpeter up in the clock tower plays a tune in sync with the ringing of the bell.  It's a fast but complicated mechanical ritual and both times we saw it happen there were a few hundred people below the clock tower waiting for the chime.  

Chase: "That is a big church we saw behind a few houses."

That is the church Our Lady in front of Tyn that rises above the buildings on old town square and at night makes for a striking contrast to the yellow street lights below. 

Chase: "On this clock the disciples are out.  On the top right corner of the clock you can see Death.  He's a skeleton."

Chase: "That is a statue in the Old Town Square."

Chase: "That's us in front of the church we saw, but we didn't go into it.  I found a postcard on the ground."

Jazzy's face is exactly why we have been known to pay the kids to smile. 

Chase: "We are in the clock tower at the moment and we are looking down at the city."

Chase: "That's me looking out the window of the clock tower."

Chase: "That's us in the clock tower.  It was humongous. There was a thousand million floors, but we elevatored 'em."


Chase: "That's the cage the elevator was in.  The things around the side are the stairs we could have walked up.  And we ended up walking them down."

The best reason to bring a stroller to a tourist destination in Europe is that it gives you access to the elevators.  Instead of climbing up the clock tower like a bunch of schmucks we rode the elevator to the top and then climbed down later.  Much easier.  If you plan on coming to visit Europe and do not have a baby that requires a stroller, then just buy some five dollar Chatty Cathy doll and cover her up well enough that it  passes for a real baby in a stroller.  Front of the line and elevators every time. 

Chase: "Anna is making a creepy face and Dad took a picture of her.  But that's a mirror, not really him."

There is absolutely no reason to post this picture, other than when I snapped it I threatened Anna that I would put it on the blog.  I made good. 

Chase: "That is the astronomical clock and the church."

Chase: "We were walking back to our apartment.  Prague was awesome."

This was a final stroll down the foggy Havelske street where the market had long closed up.  It was a short trip, but Prague was a beautiful and interesting city.  Great long weekend!