merry christmas from the family

Warning, very long post! But there is a point of general interest at the end so you should read the whole thing! 😉

My trip to Prague started out with my phone losing the Google Maps directions I had uploaded to help me get to my family’s hotel, so I had to wait on the steps of the Nicholas Church for half an hour for them to come get me. And my trip ended with me losing my phone somewhere between the hotel in Prague and my apartment in Dresden. But between those two sad, phone-related occasions, I had a fantastic time with everyone in Prague!

This is how much fun I had. But if you think that's out of hand, you should have seen these guys...

This is how much fun I had. But if you think that’s out of hand, you should have seen these guys…IMG_2013

It was definitely a non-traditional Christmas, but in true Lord form we played cards, got lost several times per day, took lots of pictures, and generally had a good time! And in keeping with Swaintek tradition, we did drink a good amount of whiskey and beer, though it was not Yuengling.


Day 1 was Christmas Eve. We started off the day with a boat tour departing from the famous Charles Bridge. Somehow, the tour was in both English and Russian, which was somewhat amusing. Everyone got their first taste of Glühwein, included with the tour, but it really was not all that great.

After the tour, we walked over to Old Town, which houses the famous astronomical clock on the side of Town Hall, as well as the main Christmas market and several churches of different architectural styles. We shopped around at the Christmas market, enjoyed some Czech sausage and beer, and took photos in front of the giant, yet somehow incredibly sparse, Christmas tree in the center of the square.


We also saw Wenceslas Square, which is basically a big shopping street and not all that exciting, yet some how we walked all the way over there several different times and managed to get lost almost every time!

After finding a restaurant for our Christmas Eve dinner and making reservations for later that evening, we headed back to our hotel where we played Password (Colleen and my dad are the family Password champs; once, many Christmases ago, they scored ten points when Colleen correctly guessed “pineapple” after only one clue, “tropical.”), opened a few Christmas gifts, and drank my superior homemade Glühwein.

Having had enough Czech food the previous evening, we enjoyed a delicious Italian meal in an adorable little restaurant apparently staffed by only 2 people that night!


The next morning, we headed to Christmas Mass at the beautiful St. Thomas Church in the Lesser Town where we were staying. It was an English language Mass, and the priest appeared to be from New York! The rest of the family marveled at how cold the church was, but really it was quite comfortable for European standards… there were little heating vents on the back of every pew, which was a game changer.

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We ate lunch and made a quick stop in the other famous church in the neighborhood, Our Lady of Victory, which is better known as the home of the Infant of Prague.

My dad and I took a quick climb up to the castle, which was quite near our hotel, and I tried to show him the Senate gardens, my favorite attraction from my last trip to Prague, but it turns out they’re not open during the winter!

Later that evening, once it was dark, we climbed up to the top of the City Hall to enjoy beautiful, yet awkwardly crowded, views of the Old Town before descending again to catch the clock chiming 7! Every hour, the doors at the top of the clock open to reveal 12 circulating Apostles, while the skeleton figure on the clock dances to celebrate the passage of time and our impending deaths. Then a bugler appears at the top of the tower and plays for a few minutes! It’s pretty cool to see! 


As we started to make our way to our dinner reservations, we attempted to find a souvenir shop we had browsed in the previous day, which led to us becoming hopelessly lost and all 5 of us thinking we were in a different location of the city, though we were all wrong. Eventually we made it back in time for our reservations at a steakhouse called “Cowboys,” of all things; it was really very delicious, which you maybe wouldn’t expect of a steakhouse in Prague!

The infamous Municipal House, which my dad tricked some of us into thinking was the National Theater, leading us to visualizing ourselves in the totally wrong part of town... ;)

The infamous Municipal House, which my dad tricked some of us into thinking was the National Theater, leading us to visualizing ourselves in the totally wrong part of town… 😉

On the 26th, my mom and I made our way bright and early to Old Town to catch a tour about World War II in Prague. On the way there, we were almost knocked out by a low-flying swan on the Charles Bridge. I am not even joking. We were admiring the beautiful groups of swans skimming the river, when all of a sudden my mom saw something in her peripheral vision and luckily got me to duck when a huge, seemingly asthmatic swan flew inches over our heads! My life flashed before my eyes.


Anyway, we got lost again on our way to the tour, which it turned out started right from where we had ended up the previous evening but hadn’t known where we were. The tour was definitely way overpriced; we learned some interesting facts about Prague and the Czech Republic during WWII, but since the 26th (St. Stephen’s Day) is a national holiday in Prague, a lot of the sites the tour would have normally seen were closed.

Shortly after our first tour ended, we met up with the rest of the family and our sweet tour guide who would be with us for the next 2 days! I am forgetting her name right now, but she’s a few years older than me and native to Prague. She showed us so many interesting things in the city and just knew so dang much about everything!

I love this shot from the Loretto Chapel

I love this shot from the Loretto Chapel

First stop was the Loretto Chapel, which was so much more amazing than I had expected! It was built around a copy of Mary’s house, the original of which was transported miraculously by angels from Nazareth to Loretto, Italy to save it from desecration. Built around that little shrine is a gorgeous courtyard and church, which house so many beautiful examples of sacred art! [I skipped this the first time I went to Prague because it had an entrance fee and I figured it would just be another church, but I was super wrong. You should go if you ever find yourself in Prague.]

This is Mary's house (or its replica). I really can't remember whether it had a special name...

This is Mary’s house (or its replica). I really can’t remember whether it had a special name…

Later that afternoon we spent all our time at the castle, which is up on a hill overlooking everything.The cathedral, St. Vitus, is part of the castle complex and is the huge gothic building that overtakes most of the castle skyline. It’s absolutely gorgeous inside!

We also saw the old castle building, as well as the very first Romanesque church built on site, and Golden Lane, a small strip of old (tiny) houses where working-class people from the castle complex used to live. Later on, Franz Kafka lived in one of the houses! Now there are a bunch of shops there, as well as an exhibit about armor and weapons through the ages.

After we had made it through everything at the castle, we were incredibly hungry and slowly becoming hangry (mostly me, but everyone else was slowly approaching this point) so we started the long and treacherous journey towards finding a restaurant that fulfilled everyone’s culinary desires, did not smell like smoke, and actually had room for 5 people. Eventually we found a place that would serve German-ish food (though our waitress was terrible and basically tried to fleece us… she brought the 3 of us who ordered beer LITERS of beer, though we noticed that everyone else around us had gotten regular, human sized beverages). Luckily, the Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel was good enough to make up for it!

Feeling good after a liter of beer (though, for the sake of accuracy, only Ryan was able to finish his)

Feeling good after a liter of beer (though, for the sake of accuracy, only Ryan was able to finish his)

The next day, the 27th, we went with our tour guide to Old Town, specifically the Jewish quarter. We saw several important demonstration sites during WWII and the time of Communism, which my mom and I had seen on our tour as well. We also saw several different synagogues — one of which has been turned into a Holocaust memorial of sorts, where the names of the thousands of murdered Jews are painted on the walls. The Spanish Synagogue was particularly beautiful… incredibly ornately decorated! And we saw the Old Jewish Cemetery, in which 12 layers (let’s call them “generations” instead… sounds less morbid and graphic) of deceased Jews from Prague are buried. The headstones all seem so randomly and haphazardly placed!


We walked through Old Town Square again, seeing the big church on the edge, whose name I forget right now, which really was stunning, and we saw the neighborhood behind the square which dates back to medieval times. It was one of my favorite parts of town, I think.

One of the churches back there has a man’s shriveled hand hanging from the back wall, which supposedly belonged to a thief who tried to steal the gifts that people had bestowed on the statue of Mary. The statue grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let go, so they had to cut his hand off, and now his hand serves as a warning to anyone else who would steal from the church!

That’s not why this was my favorite part of town. It was just a really quaint area.

We made our way to Wenceslas Square, where we said goodbye to our sweet tour guide and hopped on the tram, which took us back up to the castle. The rest of the family went on a tour of the old palace of the Lobkowicz family, an old noble family of Bohemia. I was running out of steam at this point (go figure that I would be the first one to shut down… haha) so I headed back to the hotel and took a quick nap before dinner.

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We saw the Lennon Wall earlier in the week and I forgot to mention it! We didn’t sign it, but we did run into some fellow Longhorns! So we can pretend that their inscription of “Texas Forever – December 2013” was also ours.

We ate at the brewery/restaurant of the Strahov Monastery, just uphill from our hotel. We all agreed that it was the best combination of good food, fair prices, and good service of the whole week. Their beer was, unsurprisingly, the best part. We did have to eat outside (inside was too smoky and also full) so we enjoyed the brisk weather and unexpected fireworks from the patio.

The next day was Saturday, our last day in Prague. The boys went on a day trip to a surrounding town while the girls stayed in Prague, did a little shopping, and leisurely made our way around town to take more pictures and enjoy the scenery. When the boys returned, we played a few quick games of Spades, another family favorite game, before heading to a pizza restaurant I had scouted out earlier that week. I was really itching for some pizza, and the place we went was really great… just around the corner from the astronomical clock AND right down the street from the mystical souvenir shop we’d been looking for all week!

Overall, the week was wonderful! It was great to spend time with my family. They are pretty cool and make great sightseeing companions! I now feel like I’ve seen everything Prague has to offer… on to further adventures! This year, I will be traveling to Spain (Madrid and Salamanca) to see Daniel, Rome for the canonization of John Paul II (yay!), Amsterdam and other NW-European cities (Bruges? Paris? We’ll see) with my BFF Laura when she visits in May, possibly Greece for a conference, and hopefully Scandanavia with Felicitas–we both want to go so badly!!

Luckily my research SEEMS to be progressing enough that I should be able to travel this much! I have TWO appointments for interviews next week! I can’t believe it! Now I just have to be disciplined and actually work on my outlines…

I guess that brings me to one last topic…. I have been posting sporadically the past few weeks partly because I’ve been busy and partly because I’ve been incredibly burned out on blogging. When I do summon up the brainpower and energy to write a blog post, the things I find myself wanting to write about tend to be observations, attitudes, and experiences that I would rather internalize and keep to myself. I know that makes me a bad blogger! So for now I am switching to journaling for the day-to-day stuff… but don’t worry, I’ll continue to write blog posts about my travels!

merry christmas / frohe weihnachten / veselé vánoce!

I am currently in the magical city of Prague celebrating with and enjoying the company of these gems:blogblog2blog3This Advent, and especially in the past week or so, I have learned in a very tangible way what it means to expectantly wait for something… something greatly anticipated that you just know is going to happen, but you just can’t figure out how you will make it to that point!

Advent is always like that, I suppose, but in the end, we know that Christmas will come, that Jesus was born, and (maybe, if we’re having a good day faith-wise), that He is here with us now. And of course we are surrounded by Christmas decorations, Santa’s at the mall, and even the most normal radio stations play Christmas songs from time to time, so it’s inescapable that Christmas will happen at some point.

This year, Advent led not only to Christmas, but also to my reunion with my family! I couldn’t speed that up by watching Home Alone or listening to Christmas music or going shopping a little early… I just had to wait! And even though I haven’t been homesick, per se, I was just so anxious to finally see everyone!

Anyway, I hope all of you are having a wonderful Christmas so far! Enjoy this song from one of my faves. It has a special meaning for me this year, though of course this song is a classic and you can’t quite go wrong!

what’s been happening lately

So I have been terrible with keeping up with this, haven’t I? My apologies. Between trying to keep my head above water on my research (so to speak…), attending classes, making new friends, keeping up with old friends (I’m currently joining my best college friends in celebrating one very exciting engagement from afar!!!), and traveling, not to mention finding time to keep my room clean and go Christmas shopping, things have been a little crazy! 

The research is plugging along nicely. I finally have some leads on people to interview, and some of them have even responded to my e-mails (written in flawless German, naturally)! Here’s hoping for a fruitful January and February with lots of interesting conversations with legislators and city planners! Living the dream, I tell you.

The year is somehow winding down… how did it get to be December 16? It is madness. The German university calendar is a bit wacky in that the semester doesn’t end until February (or at least classes don’t end until February, and then the semester somehow officially ends at the end of March, except for the part where it doesn’t. Don’t get me started). Regardless, we get a nice little break starting after this week. I’ll be meeting my family in Prague a week from today… I am so excited!!

The Advent/Christmas season has been beautiful so far! I have enjoyed going to some of Dresden’s many Advent markets:


Flitzi and I traveled to Jena to celebrate Thanksgiving, Part II:


St. Nicholas’ feast day was on December 6. Traditionally this is a big day in Germany, as St. Nicholas was always the Santa Claus figure here, so his feast day was a big gift-giving holiday in addition to Christmas. But now there’s a pretty stark regional difference in that respect, as during the Communist regime here in East Germany, St. Nick was replaced with the secular, Santa-esque “Weihnachtsmann.” But as I’ve gotten plugged into the small, but lively, Catholic community here, I got to celebrate St. Nicholas not once but twice!

On the 6th, Agnes (I mean, St. Nicholas!) filled my shoes with some chocolate treats as per tradition. Then some friends of mine hosted a party in their apartment with lots of glühwein (hot spiced wine that is my new favorite thing! I can even make a pretty good batch of it myself). The next week, at our weekly Catholic center community evening, we had a belated Nikolaus celebration complete with a gift exchange in which the presents were distributed by the good Bishop himself! He was very witty, I must say. Lots of Glühwein was had, and we sang Christmas carols and enjoyed the musical talents of our fellow students. (I don’t have any pictures, sorry!)

This past weekend, I took a short day trip to two towns here in Saxony: Görlitz and Bautzen. My friend Domi organized the trip because he had visitors in town from his hometown of Budapest. It was freezing cold and I left my hat and gloves at home by mistake (a mistake I will not make again!) but it was a delightful day.



We saw lots of old buildings and water towers and fortresses and the like, and a few stunning churches, as well. Görlitz is right on the border with Poland, so we walked over the bridge to another country! How cool!



We got to Bautzen just before sunset and enjoyed beautiful views of the walled city at dusk, and then enjoyed some Glühwein at their Advent market. Are you sensing a theme? 


My international friends are slowly departing for home before Christmas, and my German friends will soon start to leave, as well. I’ve been very blessed to be able to meet so many lovely people during my first 3 months here. (It’s now been exactly 3 months since I left Texas; how crazy!) I am absolutely loving my time here. I wish I had more time to update you guys on what’s happening, but I guess it’s good that I’m spending more time doing things rather than blogging about them! Don’t feel I’ve forgotten about you; I’d love to hear from you, too, by snail mail or e-mail or Facebook or whatever! 🙂 

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Christmas! It’s now in less than a month already, and Advent starts on Sunday! Just craziness!

(Edited to say: If you notice that I am lacking in clarity and/or normalcy in the way I write, just go ahead and blame it on my 50/50 split between English and German every day. I re-read “It’s now in less than a month already” and just gagged. I apologize.)

One of the things that motivated me to come back to Germany was the thought of experiencing Christmastime here. There are a lot of amazing German Christmas traditions, many of which America has adopted (the Christmas tree, for instance), and this season just has a certain charm to it here that I am excited to experience. The season is slowly beginning!!

My roommate Agnes and I baked some Christmas cookies this weekend… well, Agnes really did most of it but I helped with the cookie cutters and chopping up ingredients a little bit. 🙂 So now we have a nice stash of Christmas cookies to hopefully last us the next month!

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving here, though a few days late. (I have classes ALL DAY on Thursday… boooo.) Agnes and I are hosting a dinner at our apartment on Sunday, and Felicitas and I are going to do our best to create some American dishes with German ingredients. We’re hoping to find some cranberries somewhere, and I’m going to cook some turkey (not A turkey. Some turkey). Our guests are contributing dishes, as well, so it will be a real international potluck! I’m excited.

IT SNOWED TODAY!!!! It was so wonderful to wake up to a nice soft flurry outside my window! It didn’t keep up all day, but it was still snowing a bit by the time I headed to campus in the early afternoon, so that was nice. I know it will snow far too much for my liking before long, so I’m glad that at least my first day of snow was a lovely, sunny day with blue skies.


And check it out... This article lists Dresden’s Christmas market as one of the top 11 in Germany!! It opens tomorrow, but I did happen to walk through on Friday… some of the booths were just getting set up, and it was absolutely magical. I can’t wait to visit soon!!! Glühwein, Stollen, adorable Christmas figurines… I cannot wait.