Christmas has never been my favourite holiday - I'm just going to put it right out there. So when we were planning a trip to Europe for Christmas I was fully aware that this time of year in Europe escalates to a whole other level, usually in the form of a plethora of Christmas Markets and bottomless Glühwein (mulled wine). I was excited to soak up all of the season. Like how Paris is always a good idea, Europe is always a good place for the soul. I was craving some culture and new experiences in new cities so I swallowed a dose of Christmas cheer, put on some red lipstick and headed across the pond! We went to 4 cities in 2 weeks and each city offered their own unique qualities and charm. We ate and drank our way through Prague, Amsterdam, Cologne and Copenhagen while fitting in what we counted as daily doses of culture in the forms of museums, walking tours, trips to church and climbing towers.
Keeping align with the world of highlight reels, I've got you covered on must see and eats of these beautiful countries.
Oh Prague! You can see why is called a romantic city. Having been one of the few places that was not bombed in WW2, the city had such an old historic feel and the buildings were so well preserved. Give me some bridges and some water and you've won me over. We climbed the Petrin Tower, it's the little sister to Paris' Eiffel Tower and gives you an incredible view to take in the city. What you'll see from this view is the Charles Bridge, famous for the gargoyles that apparently ensure a safe return to Prague if you give the statue a rub. This bridge is also the only bridge not made of wood and the secret ingredient to the mortar used is egg whites! The tower views also give you a great look at the King's Castle that stands out among the red roofs, important to note this castle lights up the skyline at night thanks to the Rolling Stones (the band). That's right! When the Stones were performing in Prague they concluded the castle should be lit at night and when the King said there was no budget for the lights the band generously donated them. Another visual to note with the castle is the flag, it is used as an indicator for the people of the city to know when the king is in residence, if it's down they know he is out of the country and more likely than not embarrassing the country due to his fondness of the sauce. Prague is also home to the National Opera Theatre, how could we not go? I wanted my "Pretty Woman" after all. The theatre did not disappoint, but in true LC fashion I managed to fall asleep ... I blame the jet lag? Other city highlights to note is the Astronomical Clock which is manually run (except for the moon) and follows biblical number system, you'll also find the Lennon Wall under the Charles Bridge. My favourite part of Prague was the Christmas tree in the middle of the market, I think the tree was so magical it would turn the most scrooge of people onto Christmas.
- Where we ate & drank:
- Divinis: We have a knack of eating at the best restaurants first, the steak tartar and the truffle pasta could be anyone's last meal.
- Naše Maso: We concluded this may be the best burger we've ever eaten, a small butcher shop that you can take out or eat in with a glass of vino. The staff was so cute and helpful, likely if you lived in Prague this would be a regular stop to make your day better. I'll be back for the meat loaf.
- Bugsy Bar: Delicious drinks in a dark and sultry cocktail bar, perfect for a fedora and people watching.
- Cafe Savoy: So good we went TWICE! Freshly made everything, special note to the french toast that was light and heavenly as well as the perfect marriage of eggs and truffles. Go here.
- Pastar: Amazingly fresh Italian food, the foie gras was delicious and the wild boar pasta was incredible. Just get the special, even if you're not sure what's in it - you will not be disappointed.
I could walk the streets of Amsterdam for days, in fact we did. We logged some serious kilometers exploring Amsterdam but the distinctive architecture of the city provided a great distraction to take in all of the cities charm. Walking the canals you simply get immersed in the different colours, bikes, door ways, design details and quite possibly the family cat in the window.
- There is no shortage of museums to visit in this city, we visited 3 that offered a wide array of pieces and artists:
- FOAM Museum: A photography museum that features a mix of young talent from around the world and provides them with a platform to share their work and world famous artists.
- Van Gogh Museum: This museum hosts the largest collection of work from Vincent Van Gogh, it's incredible how many pieces he actually created and how it was so reflective of what was going on in his life. This exhibit also features his friends Monet and Daugbigny, artists really do feed off each others creativity and methods.
- Moco Museum: With a focus on more modern and contemporary art, this exhibition features the works of Banksy and Warhol - they had their famous pieces 'Girl with the Red Balloon' and the Soup Cans but by far the coolest thing was the truck on display with Bansky's work - you literally felt like you were on the streets of London and you could feel both the political and hopeful impact his work has had on people.
- Amsterdam Light Festival: We were lucky enough to experience the water colour canal tour that took you through the entire city viewing different artists work from the water.
- De Pipjt: South of Amsterdam this district is known as "the melting pot of cultures and nationalities" where you'll find an a variety of restaurants and coffee shops.
- Where we ate:
- Baker's & Roasters: Epic brunch work the wait, I'm currently recreating their turmeric, ginger almond milk latte at home.
- Omelegg: Nutella filled croissants and any of the omelettes will not disappoint. Also! First omelette in the Netherlands, it must be good!
- Restaurant Red: Steak & Lobster. Enough said.
- Red Light District: An eye opening walk...
I may move to Haarlem. We probably wouldn't have explored this city if it wasn't where our Air BnB was. It's about a 20 minute drive from Amsterdam and is this quiet place with cute little houses and store fronts with almost a Medieval look and no shortage of bikes. You literally felt right at home in this neighbourhood and like you could envision people's lives in this place, largely because when you walked by you could basically see into their entire home but still. Neighbourhood coffee shops, delicious restaurants, great boutique shopping - all these side streets led you to a giant square called Grote Markt, which nicely housed a giant Christmas tree which complimented the 14th century St.Bravo's church well.
- Where we ate & drank:
- De Jopenkerk: this former church is now a place of warship Haarlem's infamous Jopen beer!
- Rataouille: A michelin star restaurant that was recommended to us, quite the experience and the staff was phenomenal. From the wine pairings to the wide spectrum of dishes - our table left the meal impressed and with aspirations to become a sommelier.
- Thrill Grill: Burgers and Truffle fries. Delicious.
- Anne & Max: Great spot for breakfast! Fantastic bowl of porridge.
- Where we shopped:
Christmas Markets: I'd definitely say Cologne had the strongest Christmas market game. The city transforms into this enchanted Christmas land with each market offering a unique take on the holidays spirits. There were no shortages of food or drink to indulge in and your nose was pulled in every way from currywurst to bratwurst to freshly made crêpes, waffles and strudels all to be accompanied with a mug of glühwein in adorable Christmas mugs. The Heimat der Heinzel and Markt der Engel were our favourites and even included a skating rink in the middle, magical star lit streets, and a ferris wheel!
Cologne Cathedral: The shining star of this city has to be it's Cathedral, spanning over 8,000 square feet, the gothic architecture commands the attention of the city and was even home to the three wise men and 20,000 other guests for that matter. You could stare at the details all day.
Museum Ludwig: The exhibition that was on was celebrating it's 40 year anniversary. It had a mix of 25 different artists and a wide array of art forms including videos, sculptures, and contemporary and traditional spices.
Christmas in Denmark! We were so excited to conclude our trip in this beautiful country, I'd only heard good things. Our pre-planning clearly lacked on this leg of the trip as we learned that in Copenhagen you celebrate Christmas on the 24th and most of the city shuts down from the 24th-26th or even til the New Year! We figured it out and made the most of the city, including a Christmas dinner feast from the epic corner store and a breakfast spread from 7-11. Other highlights (I know, there is more...) included:
- Tivoli Gardens Amusement Park: Fun fact, Disneyland was actually modelled after this place! Found in the heart of Copenhagen this amusement park is the second oldest in the world and offers a market feel with danish culture and some epic rides, noteworthy: 'The Demon', a rollercoaster peaking out at 28 meters high and 'The Golden Tower' which drops you from 63 meters high above the city.
- Mad Kaffee: This brunch place is a must visit! Instead of a traditional menu you're given a pencil and an order form where you write your name at the top and pick your items, it's a dream of this indecisive soul who typically wants a bite of everything and not a lot of anything. This place delivered with everything from fresh pressed juices, in house baking of traditional danish pastry and croissants and an americano that will make anyone's day better.
- Walking Tour:
- While all the locals celebrated Christmas, the tourists were left to explore the city with the help of a walking tour! We learned about some key players to the country like Bishop Absalon who founded Copenhagen and Christian IV. Christian IV was the King of Denmark for 59 years - during that time he had highs and lows including the Thirty Years' War and his ambition to focus on economic development for Denmark. His legacy lives on with his initials C4 branded on the buildings he was involved in building.
- Christiania aka Freetown Christiana was founded in 1971 as a "social experiment" by squatters and artists, the "free town" refers to the fact this area is not policed by Copenhagen law enforcement and is protected by Christiania Law of 1989. In the Christiania community you'll find no shortages of murals, cafes, museums, cultural centres, music venues as well as 30-40 different types of cannabis for sale. Christiania has it's own flag and currency and it's understood that when you enter Christiania town you are leaving the EU. It's hard to describe what it was like to walk through this community but it is definitely sometimes to experience first hand, photography is forbidden but our tour guide encouraged us speak to members of the community to hear how they came to be apart of Christiania.
I couldn't think of a better way to end 2016. Naturally, we were planning the next trip on the layover home because there is a lot of this world to see and, as the saying goes, "travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer." Oh, and 'Memories are Souvenirs too', a sign in Amsterdam told me so.
Where's your next trip?!
Happy New Year!