Europe For The Senses

Author/Photographer Vicki Liston blogs on her book and some interesting places she's traveled. "Europe for the Senses - A Photographic Journal" was published under the name 'Vicki Landes'.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Prague - Exotic and Charming

Exotic, mysterious with its Old World charm, and still hiding so many secrets, Prague enchants even the most cynical tourist. Prague’s rich history dates back thousands of years and a simple visit feels like a trip back in time. With nicknames such as ‘The Golden City’ or ‘City of a Hundred Spires’, it promises to be fascinating.

Prague is more than an interesting place to vacation, it is an experience. Make your way across the Charles Bridge, occasionally pausing to watch a street performer or observe a sketch artist at work on a tattered piece of paper. Stare into the somber faces of the stone statues which border the famous bridge, knowing somewhere beneath each distant gaze lies the soul of its carver. Beautiful and sad, they hold their vigil, oblivious of the rushing waters below. Explore the wares of the many crystal shops where the light dances off of each sparkling trinket. Pay your respects to the many residents at the Old Jewish Cemetery. Prague’s greatest Jewish scholar rests here and his grave has become a pilgrimage site for many of his faith. Examine famous ‘timepieces’ – whether the medieval Astronomical Clock mounted on the old city hall building or the modern, out-of-place metronome that tick-tocs its way through the hours where Stalin’s monument once stood. Hike up the steep Golden Lane, weaving in and out of street vendor carts and up to the castle. Take in the skyline view of crowded greenish church steeples, bridges, and an ever-freezing river while the merciless wind sends a chill up your spine. The St. Vitus Cathedral stands as the imposing giant at this hilltop castle, undaunted by the history it has witnessed from its perch above. Rest in a creaky wooden pew and gaze wide-eyed at the radiant rose window, almost exploding with color, before making the trek back down the Golden Lane and into the heart of the bustling city for some hearty goulash.

Even if you’ve never thought of visiting Prague before, you’ve probably sung about one of its favorite patron saints. Prince Wenceslas pursued a better relationship with a neighboring dynasty and was eventually assassinated by those not sharing his diplomatic views. He now sleeps forever at St. Vitus while countless sing ‘Good King Wenceslas’ during the Christmas holiday season.

Ready to visit? Here are a couple of web recommendations:

* - lots of background information!
* - very nice 3-star hotel. The staff is friendly and helpful, they've got parking, and it's perfectly located - we walked everywhere from here!
* - if you don't want to take *another* tour with a hundred other people led by a woman holding an umbrella over her head, go with native George Kuklik from Prague Master! George met us at our hotel, gave us a fantastic, customized tour of all the places we were interested in seeing, and even carried Brady when he got tired. Best of all, we had him all to ourselves! We took a few other tours with the 'big' companies while in Prague and George was by far, the very best. Book before you get to Prague to ensure you get him for as many different tours as you want! or +420 / 603 455 067

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stuttgart Restaurants

I'm down to my last couple of hours in Germany - and let me tell you, it's depressing. We've spent 7 years here getting to know the city, its people, and of course German cuisine. We're hitting our favorite spots 'one last time' and savoring as much as possible because I'm not sure where I'll be able to get maultaschen or a flammkuchen near Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. So, as I say good-bye to my home, let me offer some of my top recommendations on where to eat in the Stuttgart area:

* The Busnauerhof in Busnau (near Patch Barracks) - I got my first taste of German food here so I made sure they were my very last meal in Europe. Detlef is a genius in the kitchen and his wife, Marion, is angelic. I love the entire menu and this is the ONLY place that I will eat tiramisu - it's perfect.

* The Lowen in Vaihingen (next to the Rathaus near the square) - two ladies own this restaurant and it's my favorite place for maultaschen. Rob loves the Cordon Bleu and their Zanderfilet (fish) is famous.

* Coc@inn in Stuttgart (on Schloss Strasse - I take the S Bahn to the Feuersee and walk 3 blocks). This one's an original - a Brit that grew up in South Africa and owns a Mexican restaurant in Germany. The burritos are enormous and if you don't like the vegetarian one, it's free. Great atmosphere, fun food, and guacamole that Rob and I fight over (he hates the stuff).

* Le Rose (on Patch Barracks) - yes, we love Le Rose so much that when we call, they know who it is and what we normally order. I love Italian and this is has been one of our favorites throughout our time here.

* The Brauhaus (in Boeblingen) - this one's been a new find but lots of fun. If you wish it was Oktoberfest time again, visit the Brauhaus. Set up like a fest tent (with the long tables and everything), this is the perfect place to bring a large group of friends. There's even a playground out back for the kids, great for summertime dinners. The only thing missing is the ohm-pa-pa band.

* Tavern Olympus (in Vaihingen on the Hauptstrasse) - The owner bubbles over with personality while the food explodes with flavor. I ADORE the lamb goulash and the tzayziki just by itself is worth going for.

Of course, I've eaten at tons of other places but these stick out in my mind as not only delicious but great atmospheres and wonderful owners. I'll definitely miss visiting them!

I'll be off-line over the next several days as we transition back to the states but we should be up and running again after Christmas! Auf wiedersein to Germany and have a beautiful holiday season!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Germany's Christmas Market

Although Germany’s frigid weather isn’t appealing to many travelers, its festive Christmas markets rope in holiday-loving tourists every December. Called ‘Weihnachtsmarkt’ in the country’s native tongue, these special bazaars range from spectacular productions in big cities to folksy and intimate occasions in the smaller towns and villages. Regardless of location and size, the markets promise an entertaining time as visitors explore the extent of the grounds.

Mingling aromas of hearty German delicacies, roasting chestnuts, and spiced glühwein fill the chilly air as the streets stay crammed with shoppers looking for the perfect gift. A visit during day lit hours is best for serious shopping but the dark evenings bring out the charm as the markets glow with the warmth of the colorful lights. Vendors offer an array of beautiful gifts for sale which plays in with the market’s theme. For example, many of the older towns can be dated back as far as the Middle Ages and the markets uphold their aged customs. Local craftsman bring their handmade goods of wood, metal, cloth, or glass. Larger cities wanting to please a wide spectrum of the population will offer both the old and more modern wares. In either case, traditional folk songs provide the perfect backdrop to this atmosphere seeping with holiday spirit.

Visiting is easy - simply check your desired destination’s website for dates, times, and venue. Most cities have one hosted at www.(city name).de and information can either be translated directly on the site by clicking ‘English’ or a flag or through the use of an online translation web page. Other information such as parking, public transportation schedules, or special events can also be obtained and planned around for the optimal market experience.

Ready to go? Here are some in and around Stuttgart (thanks, Lisa for the list!):

Ulm/Neu Ulm: 27 Nov - 22 Dec - on the Münsterplatz (A8 towards München)

Esslingen am Neckar: 28 Nov - 22 Dec - This one's a medieval market on the Marktplatz

Ludwigsburg: 28 Nov - 23 Dec - Baroque market on the Marktplatz

Reutlingen: 29 Nov - 22 Dec - around Marienkirche 11a - 8p

Stuttgart: 30 Nov - 23 Dec - on the Marktplatz and Schillerplatz

Schorndorf: 2 Dec - 17 Dec - on the Marktplatz

Bad Urach: 8 Dec - 10 Dec

Felbach: 8 Dec - 19 Dec - market with fairytale forest around Rathaus and Eislaufbahn ice skating

Herrenberg: 8 Dec - 10 Dec - on the historic marktplatz

Sindelfingen: 9 Dec - 10 Dec - on the Marktplatz

Tübingen: 9 Dec - 10 Dec - at the Bebenhausen Monastery from 11am to 6p

Tübingen: 15 Dec - 17 Dec - in historic old city

Schönaich: 16 Dec - 17 Dec - around the Bürgerhaus