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The Christmas tree in Prague’s Old Town Square is magnificent. With the iconic towers and steeples of the old city proudly looking down and the art nouveau facades of the the buildings around the square looking on, the tree shimmers and shines in the cold evening air. The surrounding Christmas market around the tree is a hustle and bustle of happy people. Christmas music fills the air. We arrived in the capital of the Czech Republic in the early afternoon after a pleasant train ride from Dresden. We passed through the Saxon Switzerland as we followed the Elbe valley out of Germany and into the Czech Republic. The towering rock cliffs and forests were dotted with castles along the way.
Our apartment is wonderful and is located just off the old town square just behind the Tyn Church. We ate a simply marvelous Czech meal at a popular restaurant that sources local produce. Even at three in the afternoon, it was packed and a wait list. We ate a fabulous cabbage salad, that was partially cooked and marinated with tasty spices. Other menu items, all tasty, were cabbage and sausage soup; goulash (tender beef and paprika sauce); bread dumplings; chicken breast with mushrooms; creamed spinach; and cucumber dill salad.
It gets dark here by 4:30 P.M. We meandered the square and soaked in the atmosphere and headed to the apartment for a leisurely evening. We have an exciting day planned tomorrow. WEG
December 4 was Melisa’s birthday. We celebrated in Dresden, Germany. In the morning, Randy and Melisa went to Moritzburg on the outskirts of Dresden to visit the hunting lodge (palace) of the Prince Electors of Saxony. Filled with one of the world’s largest collections of stag antlers, some dating from the 1500s, the palace is set on an island surrounded by a lake that beautifully reflects the palace in the sun. The palace was in a refurbishment phase, so the deer skin wallpaper, much of it hand painted, was removed from the walls. Moritzburg is a beautiful iconic palace, especially for outdoor enthusiasts.
Having been to Moritzburg on previous trips, Kathy and I spent time in the markets, meeting up with Randy and Melisa in the afternoon at the medieval Christmas market in the Royal Palace courtyard to film Randy’s debut as blacksmith. The owner had invited Randy to work with him on a project that Randy was purchasing. It was marvelous fun. People from around the world were filming the fun. Randy was on center stage and making the most of it–oh those Texans! The project took about two hours, but Randy now has a steak branding iron made with his own hand. He heated the iron in a hot pit, hammered it, put it in forging clamps to make final shapes, turned it with a spiral handle and smoothed it. We have a video.
We took a late afternoon break back at the hotel and got ready for an early dinner and concert in the Kulturpalast-Dresden. Our meal was scrumptous! The concert, a blast! For fans of the vocal harmonies of the Pentatonix, the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra called the Philharmonix was a wondrous harmony of instrumentation. I easily remember their instrumental adaptation of the Queen’s adaptation of the “Hungarian Rhapsody.” They combined “Waltzing Matilda” with the “Cannonball Express” and swing with Tschaikovsky, to name a few of their musical creations. It was anything but traditional and certainly great music. The acoustically pristine hall was filled with appreciative fans! We marveled at one member’s sound projection with his breath through his hands mimicking different instruments as he played along with the group. Many standing ovations kept the group playing, and no one left early. Melisa had a grand birthday party! We returned to the hotel quite late, but thrilled with the day!
Today was Dresden Christmas Market day. Unfortunately, the historic green vault, one of the world’s premiere art collections, was closed, because somehow someone was able to steal $1.1 billion of one display showcasing what was the most complete collection of royal jewels anywhere. They did not get all the jewels! This is a huge cultural loss. So we changed gears and headed for more time in the markets. The hut displays are absolutely, without a doubt, the best we have seen. Dresden is a cultural capital and its art and architecture reflect not only past glory but present reality. Attention to beauty and detail are the rule and there are few exceptions. The 180 huts in the Altesmarkt Square are fully decorated and together form a magnificent Christmas village. Each hut is crowned with a Christmas display, all lighted and some with animation. Some huts are entire wooden buildings built in old world Christmas beauty. It is all very elegant. By the way, the Altesmarkt Christmas Market is one of eight in Dresden, each with its own unique character. The one near our hotel in the Neustadt has white tents, all matching with their pointy tops, stretching for four long blocks. A huge ferris wheel in Christmas colors invites revelers to walk the market. Interspersed are large fire pits in steel barrels with Christmas cut outs–live fires burn through the night. People gather round and drink gluwein, a hot liquor and wine concoction. We thoroughly enjoyed our day! WEG
Today we took a risk to take a day trip to Gorlitz, Germany, via train. We had never been to Gorlitz before, and it was a very cold day in the freezing range. As we walked into the city it was sleepy and seemed not so great. I was wondering if the day trip was worth it. However, as the day progressed, it got better and better.
We walked a circular trip that took us into Poland, Gorlitz being on the border. We enjoyed the journey discovering many wonderful and beautiful buildings. We walked near a city park and saw a new synagogue being built. The Jewish population was decimated during the World War II holocaust. Many survivor families have returned and are building a very large synagogue near the beautiful park.
As we walked over the border, there were buildings painted in a Polish style, pastels with white trim. Much refurbishment and revitalization is being done in Zgorzelec, Poland. It was past noon and we thought what better use of our time than to have lunch in Poland. What an adventure that turned out to be! One restaurant after another was closed until later in the day. Then presto, an open restaurant on the river! I am positive it would be hard to find a finer restaurant anywhere! Housed in a historic building and refurbished in high style, the linen tablecloths and napkins at Miodmaliny said, “Right place.” Polish stencil work on the walls and red velvet couches and silver velvet chairs made for comfortable seating. The chef was so gracious to explain wine, beer, cordials, appetizers, main courses, desserts. We tried it all! Thin pancakes with Polish curd and fruit and mushroom and sour cabbage perogies in herbed cream sauce were our shared appetizers. Cabbage rolls with veal in a rich tomato gratin; golden duck with whole cranberry sauce and baked apple with Swabish (a state in the old German Empire that was given to Poland after World War II) potato dumplings were our main dishes. The duck was by far the best I have ever eaten–crispy exterior and tender interior. The wines and beers were very good and the fruit cordial tasty. We all oohed and aahed the rest of the day.
We returned to Germany via a pedestrian bridge in a scenic part of the river. Directly in front of us was a majestic Lutheran Church, closed for some repair and rehearsal prior to a weekend concert. We heard a pipe organ playing through the massive walls. We were in the Altstadt (historic section) of Gorlitz. It was beautiful, and workers were everywhere preparing for the Christmas Markets that are to open this weekend. An ice skating rink was already open in a city square and filled with laughing children. We entered another large Lutheran Church from the 1200s. Painted ceilings and walls highlighted the long nave with a beautiful carved altar drawing attention. Fascinating.
As our long day was drawing to a close, we headed back to the train station for an hour journey back to Dresden. What started out as a day unclear as to what would be seen or if any experience could be had turned out to be a very rewarding day. We were reminded that sometimes one can take an adventure when not sure of the outcome. Some people are afraid to take that risk–we were glad we did. WEG
Dresden, Germany, is classy and elegant. A center for the arts, the unity of the Baroque buildings and the thoughtful care executed in the many fine details of the Christmas atmosphere shows that the city has refined its well-honed culture. The city is impressive and we were impressed! Harmony, harmony, harmony in the beauty.
It started as soon as we stepped off the train from Nuremberg. The main station was aglow with garland and lights over the giant archways of the main entry. The enormous Christmas tree was a focal point. As the cab wound its way to our hotel on the Elbe River, I noticed that the massive train bridges had modern paintings where most other train ways have had graffiti in other cities we have visited. Classic buildings were evident.
Kathy and I received a room upgrade to a wondrous suite for our five day stay. Yeah! Unfortunately, because Randy has never admitted he forgot my coke light, Melisa has to suffer along with him in a standard, but quite nice, room. (This is somewhat an inside joke that has carried on now for days.) As we walked to the old town (Altstadt) we saw beautiful Christmas displays. Randy and Melisa were astounded by the historic city that few have visited. The massive baroque towers and steeples, buildings with winged angels and statuary, the castles and palaces and then–the German Belle, the mighty Frauenkirche! As if the exterior was not impressive enough, when we walked inside, both Randy and Melisa were flabbergasted by the light and airy beauty of the baroque design. (Melisa opined, “I could stay here a day just to soak in the beauty.”) Blue and pink with white and gold angels and saints all looking upon Jesus while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane as God the Father looks down from heaven. The altar (180 feet tall) is topped with the pipes of an acclaimed pipe organ creation by Silberman. J.S. Bach played on the organ. A Lutheran church, the Frauenkirche is crowned with a massive dome painted with saints in baroque style. The church is somewhat circular with tiers of balconies reaching skyward. We were blessed with a short Advent service, the pastor in black robe with a broad white bifken.
We ate at one of Kathy and my favorites. Filled with antique furniture and tiffany lamps, each table is different than the next. We ate a filling German meal. Then, to some of the many markets in the city. We were amazed with the medieval market in the palace courtyard. The buildings were aglow with specialized projections of snow and torches. The market stalls were all medieval in character staffed with people in medieval costume. Live medieval Christmas music filled the air. Randy was impressed with the blacksmith shop and the owner invited him back midweek to work along side him, heating and shaping metal into objects. Of course, Randy is ready to go! The blacksmith told him to ditch the puffy coat and wear only natural fibers. We will make sure Randy ditches the lighted Christmas hat he has been sporting around as well.
Kathy and I have loved Dresden for a long time and have stayed here for prolonged periods. It is such a pleasure to see our friends fall in love with it also. WEG
Rothenburg ob der Tauber (on the Tauber river) is a charming and romantic city that time forgot. Never destroyed by war, the beautiful buildings inside the fairy tale walls and towers exude German quaintness to the max. That it was beautifully decorated for the Christmas, all the better.
It was obvious the city markets were ready for the crowds. There was live outdoor music of various kinds with regularity. We meandered the outdoor streets and admired the wondrous creativity that captured the architecture of the city. Every street was picture perfect. We stopped to eat in a wonderful restaurant overlooking the St. Jacob Church. It was classy and the food excellent. I had veal in cream sauce and root vegetables.
Our long lunch concluded, we stopped into the St. Jacob Lutheran Church with its two grand towers which houses amongst its precious art, the famous Riemanschneider Altar, which contains a vile of blood, traditionally considered from Christ at the Crucifixion. Because of this, the church has always been one of the most important on the pilgrimage route. Once we entered, we noticed that the church was packed. An Advent service was in progress. We were allowed entrance and marveled at the adult choir, the children’s choir, the orchestra, the pipe organ and recorder choir. We were blessed!
Once outside it was cold and we were glad we had dressed warmly. We went to more Christmas Market and then to the flagship Kathe Wolfarte Christmas store. Housed in classic Rothenburg style, it was overwhelming. Christmas items, artfully displayed on end! Randy and Melisa tried valiantly to buy a hand crafted/carved wooden Christmas tree; unfortunately, in the end, it was unavailable until next year. Oh, did I forget to say, Randy was wearing a Christmas stocking hat that had lights!
As evening fell, so did the temperatures and we headed back to our apartment in Nuremberg. We had one hitch in that a train was delayed. Randy and Kathy had time for a break and went to the station food and facilities area. Randy, unfortunately, forgot to bring me the coke light he was supposed to buy. He acted like he didn’t remember as the Christmas lights on his head blinked. We are having a grand time. WEG
Our train trip to Nuremberg, Germany, from Strasbourg, France, was smooth as we glided through fields green with winter crops. We found our apartment near the main train station, unpacked quickly, and headed out to eat at a Franconian (a region of Bavaria) restaurant. Melisa had her first sauerbraten and Randy his first pork shank. Potato dumplings were also a first for both. The meal was satisfying all around. The beer is great: German beer is unfiltered, has no chemicals and is not pasteurized.
We headed to the old town where the main Christmas Market, the Chriskindlesmarkt, is located. So did the rest of the world, it seemed, as we were greeted with a crush of crowds! News media was out in full force for this first day of one of–if not the most–popular markets in Europe. Eventually, we decided to go to the organ and choir concert at the amazing St. Lorenz Lutheran Church. Along the way we stopped in to a great little place selling light desserts and drinks. It was warm inside in contrast to the upper 30s outside.
The concert at St. Lorenz was nothing short of spectacular! The huge church was overflowing. People sat on the floor or leaned against the giant pillars that divided the church into three aisles. Thankfully, we found seats in the side aisle but with good sight lines. Unbelievably, a family behind us spoke excellent English and two of the boys had just graduated from the boys’ choir that was singing that night. We received so much wonderful information! The choir consists of 100 boys who go to a special school to allow them to practice, get private voice lessons, travel in concert, and get a regular education, without being in the general population. Talk about first class sound! Heavenly! The church reverberated with the voices wafting through the high ceilings of the church. The Lutheran Church pays for half the costs, and sponsors make up the rest. Since this was an Advent/Christmas Service, the church’s massive organ was also played. We soaked up the sounds and will long remember it. Kathy and I commented that it took us back to our childhood when we had children’s Christmas programs. The Advent/Christmas music we memorized formed some of the content of the service/concert. The boys’ choir sang underneath the Angelic Salutation adornment by Veit Stoss and beside the stone tabernacle by Adam Kraft (over 90 feet tall and carved from one stone). Both are artistic treasures, but not the only ones in this richly adorned church. It was a first class and spiritually enriching experience. Our Christmas spirit was elevated for all the right reasons. WEG
We walked into the Petite France section of Strasbourg along the river. Half timbered buildings mingled with traditional French and German architecture. Strasbourg is along the German border, and the Alsace region of present day France was part of Germany for long periods of its history. There are still Lutheran/Protestant churches in the city, and one of them, St. Thomas, had a noon day scripture and music devotional. The church was begun in the 700s and is very large. Its pipe organ was built by Silberman, the great pipe organ builder. Albert Schweitzer played on the instrument. The music was meditative and the pastor had chosen hymns that were definitely Thanksgiving in character. How appropriate for us! We were able to sing along since some sang in French, some in German, and some in English as the words of each language were printed out. It was a good moment in time as we thought of family and friends back home. We were thankful to God for our many blessings.
Our Thanksgiving meal was eaten in a striking restaurant all decked out for Christmas and in a quaint half-timbered building set along the river. Everything was quite French. I believe my Camembert fried in a sesame cream and Randy’s meat dish in a French pastry won the prize for great French cuisine. Not a typical Thanksgiving meal, but it was for us a memorable one. The local beer was also quite good.
It is a grey day with intermittent rain, but the Christmas lights are bright and cheery. In the mid-afternoon Kathy and I returned to the apartment for a short rest while Randy and Melisa went on exploring. They returned to the apartment to fetch us because they had found the largest Christmas market in Strasbourg. It is one we had not visited. Lights and stalls abounded. It seems as if stores compete to see which can have the most festive display. All of this in a beautiful old town on its own right, festooned with Christmas joy. It is an almost surreal experience.
We ended our day with traditional gluhwein (a liquor and hot wine concoction) and a huge white bratwurst. We also called family to say, as I do to you, “Happy and blessed Thanksgiving.” WEG
Randy and Melisa had a wonderful day in Colmar and Riquewihr, France. Both are medieval villages in the Vosges Mountain area of eastern France not far from Strasbourg. They are in a wine growing region known for their white wines, especially Riesling and Pinot Noir. A part of the Alsace province, they are quaint and filled with half-timbered houses and buildings.
Colmar is filled with canals and hosts a popular Christmas Market (actually the word Christmas Market usually means several different markets in various parts of the city). You are transported back in time in Colmar. Randy and Melisa hit every market during their stay. They went on to Riquewihr for the mid-afternoon and were quite impressed with its beauty and massive city gates. A smaller village, Riquewihr sits on the wine road of France, built on the side of a mountain. Randy and Melisa were blessed to find a cab driver who took very good care of them, driving them to take pictures of the area and coming back later to pick them up and bring them to the train station in Colmar.
Kathy and I took the day off. Kathy had suffered a fall in the Basel, Switzerland, train station two days ago. The station was in remodeling and we were routed outside in the dark to get to our platform. The incline toward the station in the dark rolling her luggage caused her to fall hard—breaking her glasses (thankfully, she brought an extra pair). She now sports a black and blue face. I had become exhausted after all our travels with no real break or sleep time. We decided we needed a break day and so we rested and slept the day away. It was a wise decision. WEG
We arose early for our long journey back to Israel. Our exciting experience along the way was time on a Jeep ride—pickups with built-in seats in the bed—into the Wadi Rum, the south Jordan desert. The movie, The Martian, and portions of both Star Wars and Transformers were filmed in the desolate, sandy, rock mount area. The sand is reddish brown and fine. The rock formations that jut up through it are intriguing—towers, shards and rounded boulders mixed together. We stopped along the way to climb a sand dune. We took off our shoes and sank deep. With absolutely no moisture, the sand does not cling. The day was wonderfully cool and the bright sunshine made it bearable.
The ambience was absolutely Arabic. Men in traditional long dress with head coverings riding camels. We had an informative presentation of making strong coffee the Middle Eastern way—hint: boil for 30 minutes and add cardamom, filtering twice. We were instructed on the importance of coffee manners. For instance, to fill a person’s cup is a polite way of telling them it is time for them to leave.
I’ve said little about our food. I really like it. Some common examples are: Eggplant fixed in numerous ways—all good. Hummus is like their butter. It is always available. Meat balls in pepper or cream sauces; cucumber mixed with many different vegetables for a cold salad; mixed vegetables stir fried in olive oil; chicken with saffron rice; cabbage and more cabbage in different sauces are staples. One food we have in common is okra in a tomato sauce. The flat bread is baked in a brick oven and toasted on the outside, very soft on the inside. One dessert that is particularly tasty is a cream cheese mixture with honey and cinnamon topped with a crushed nut and spun honey topping. The food is served in abundance. We have loved learning and experiencing a life that in outward forms is far different from ours. WEG