Greetings from Prague! I'm just over halfway through my European vacation, so I thought it'd be fun to share some of my adventures and to take a glimpse at the financial side of this journey.
This trip is unusual for me because I'm traveling with a party of six. My cousin Duane has terminal cancer and wanted to see some more of the world while he still can. A few family members decided to join him. We're exploring Christmas markets as a group.
For the most part, Duane's health has been fine over the past two weeks. He tells me that he's felt great lately, and he's hopeful he has more life left in him than the doctors say. (Who knows? Maybe he and I can squeeze in another trip before his time on this Earth expires.) That said, he did have to take a short rest yesterday because he became dizzy and disoriented as we strolled the cobblestone streets of Prague. He's obviously not feeling 100%.
Our group doesn't have a set agenda. We're merely moving from city to city, exploring the Christmas markets and other touristy delights. Often when I travel, I'm a traveler not a tourist. Right now, I'm a tourist. I wouldn't want to do this every trip, but I'm fine with it at the moment.
So far, we've been we've been to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. I liked Vienna. I loved Budapest. But after 24 hours here, I'm ambivalent about Prague. I didn't like it at first, but the city is growing on me. I think one problem is our location.
In the first two cities, we were a mile or two outside the downtown core. We stayed in residential neighborhoods. (In both cases, we were relatively close to university areas too, but that was pure chance.) We were directly across from metro stations each time, so it was easy to get where we wanted to go.
Here in Prague, however, we're staying in the downtown core, which means we're immersed in the tourists. (Yes, I realize that we ourselves are tourists and thus part of the problem.) There's no escaping the crowds and commercialism because of our location. This is an interesting lesson to learn for the future: Stay close to downtown in popular cities but not in the downtown. If you're close to a transit station, it's plenty convenient to get where you want.
The Christmas markets have been festive and fun. They remind me of Portland's Saturday Market, a craft market held every weekend in my home city. Vendors erect small stalls where they sell either food or wares.
A lot of the stuff being sold at the Christmas markets is the same from stall to stall — ornaments, winter clothing, jewelry, souvenirs — but occasionally there are vendors with unusual items, such as cookie stamps, wooden toys, and hand-forged knives.
I'm more interested in the food stalls. In each individual city, these “huts” are similar to each other. But the food offered varies from city to city.
- Vienna food stalls sold wieners (“wiener” literally means “Viennese”), wurst, spaetzle, baked potatoes, toast with cheese, and roasted chestnuts. The drink vendors sold hot punch and glühwein. (Glühwein is mulled wine. It's very popular in Vienna.)
- Budapest food stalls sold paprika sausages — Hungarians love their paprika! — and pig knuckles and delicious goulash. The drink vendors also sold mulled wine and a variety of punch.
- Prague food stalls sell chimney cakes, fire-roasted ham, toasted cheese (with jam), and a sort of potato-onion dumpling dish. Here they sell mulled wine too, but they also sell hot mead and cold pilsner. (Pilsner comes from Bavaria, and it's available everywhere. I like the Czech word for beer — “pivo” — and I enjoy asking for it at the market: “Pivo, prosím.”)
The one factor our group failed to consider was the cold. Actually, we considered it…but not enough. We prepared for Oregon cold, not central European cold. (It didn't help that Duane emailed us from Paris to say that the weather wasn't as cold as we'd feared.)
We all brought warm clothes, but each of us has had a turn getting chilled to the bone. One night in Vienna, I was the coldest I've ever been in my life. While the rest of the crew enjoyed ice skating, I made a brisk one-mile walk back to the flat so that I could take a hot bath. Everyone else has been equally cold at some point.
I'm a little worried about Switzerland. The forecast low for when Duane and I arrive in St Moritz tomorrow night is -25 celsius (-13 fahrenheit). Holy cats!