prague, vienna and budapest

Happy New Year to you all (yes, I’m late–it’s already March for Christ sakes)! This late winter/early spring has been tough for me medically and we’ve had lots of life challenges to plow through. Charlie had her tonsils out after being sick much of the colder months and my health hasn’t exactly been stellar either. But as we wrap up our 2-year stint here in London I’m finally finding the time to look back upon some of the most incredible moments. My head is slowly coming above water and I have been wanting to share our most recent trip, so here goes.

The day after Christmas we packed up our cold weather clothes and headed to the airport, flying to Prague on a short 2-hour flight. I still can’t get over the fact that a short flight will take us to some of the most amazing European destinations–it’s definitely the biggest perk of living in London.

Note: for the photos below I rented an awesome lens (a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM) from Lens Pimp. It’s a great way to try out new gear without breaking the bank. Overall I was really happy with it–I’d never played with a super wide-angle lens before and it was so fun. 

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And then we were in Prague. It was magical, albeit cold.

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The Christmas markets were still running which provided much-needed stops for food and drink. Traveling Europe around the holidays is tricky as many places are closed (restaurants and otherwise) and don’t exactly advertise their hours on websites. Many restaurants don’t even have websites.

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But that didn’t stop us from trying the local cuisine. Above are the traditional “trdelnik”–sometimes called ‘chimney cakes’ in English-speaking countries. They’re a buttery sweet dough baked in swirls around wooden rods until puffy and golden. Then they’re usually sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or smeared with Nutella. Let’s just say I ate more than one.

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You can tell in this shot how wide the angle is on the lens–it’s basically the widest you can get without going fish eye.

The Christmas markets were probably the highlight of Prague–there was one at every turn and we often found ourselves in the middle of one, sampling the sausages, sweets, dancing and checking out the handmade gifts.

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When we weren’t there we’d wander around the city, taking in the gorgeous views.

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Above is the main square of Prague, containing the most famous site: the astronomical clock built in the 1400’s. Every hour on the hour it chimes and sends a parade of Apostles round and round. It was quite a site, though difficult to photograph as tourists jostled and bumped me, trying to get a better view. It’s definitely worth the crowds, but get there early to stake out a piece of ground front and center. The poor kids couldn’t see at all!

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The best way to experience the city (and most cities, as we’ve found out) is getting the lay of the land from a horse and carriage. Though our guide didn’t speak great English (and us even worse Czech) we were still able to see the important sites in about 30 minutes and get a better idea of what places we wanted to visit and what to skip. If you do this close to first thing on arriving to a city, it helps enormously. Yes, it’s touristy and everyone gawks at you. But besides being endlessly fun for kids it’s also a really good way to find out more about the place you’re visiting.

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Our last day in Prague we rented a car and drove to the fairytale city of Cesky Krumlov. Driving in a place where you can’t read the language and don’t know the rules of the road is…interesting, to say the least. Luckily Dave was my navigator and helped me every step of the way. It was the best decision we made the whole trip.

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Tiny, winding roads swirl between ancient, red-roofed buildings. I half expected Beauty and the Beast to pop out from behind a chocolate shop.

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If you visit, hike up the hill to the top of the castle. The most breathtaking views can be gained from there.

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This view isn’t too bad, either.

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Our next stop was Vienna which was even colder. Above is the Schönbrunn Palace, a 300 year-old palace and gardens which the Habsburg monarchs used as a summer residence.

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We were lucky enough to catch the tail-end of the Christmas market here, too.

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It was a cold day, but crisp and clear. The line to see the interior of the palace was miles long and we didn’t think to book in advance. If you go make sure not to repeat our mistake.

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The market entertained us for the afternoon, though, but I mostly spent my time keeping Charlie’s sticky paws off the hand-painted ornaments. Beautiful, but very tempting for a 4 year-old.

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Hand-painted gingerbread was also big here. Lebkuchen is has a much more distinct gingery flavor and is more heavy on the spice than American or even other european gingerbread. Not unpleasant, just different.

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But the mother of all sweets in the Austrian Christmas markets was the krapfen (and try saying that out loud to your daughters without laughing). They’re huge, sugar-dusted donuts filled with your choice of chocolate, vanilla or apricot.

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Charlie chose vanilla and it was–quite literally–bigger than her head. But so damn delicious that between the 4 of us we managed to polish it off.

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You can’t leave Austria without having a schnitzel or two and we found an amazing restaurant famous for its Tafelspitz (basically a slow-cooked beef in a rich broth, served with apples and horseradish). If you’re in Vienna book a table at Plachutta and give it a try.

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Last stop: Budapest. Which, I must plainly say, is the most child-friendly city we have visited in Europe so far. All of the restaurants–even the posh ones–had little areas for the kids to hang out while the adults sipped a drink and relaxed. Hungarians are so nice, too, and friendly.

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It was also one of the most breathtaking cities we’ve seen.

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It was so cold here (-10 C, roughly 14 F) that we only ventured out of our Air B ‘n’ B during the warmest parts of the day.

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The girls enjoyed it no matter what. I think kids are oblivious to cold.

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After 10 days we headed back to London. I want to go back to Budapest sometime and explore when it’s not below freezing. You can find more photos of our trip on my Instagram @rainydayjenny.

Next up–in 2 weeks–the polar opposite of trips (quite literally): South Africa. I’ll be renting another lens for safari and hopefully will get a post together about it that’s not two months after the fact. I’m lazy/busy/ill like that.

Love to you all xxx

Jenny