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.

IMG_1612

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.

IMG_1670

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!

IMG_1699

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.

2013-12-25 12.21.41

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! 

IMG_1884

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.

IMG_1765

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!

IMG_1876

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.

2013-12-25 13.34.39

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!

Advertisements

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:

Image

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

Image

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.

Image

 

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!

Image

 

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? 

Image

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! 🙂 

a German thanksgiving

This post brought to you by a writing break I’m taking because the winds caused by Winter Storm Xaver are howling uncontrollably, preventing me from focusing on my actual work.

In the past, I have claimed proudly that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I don’t necessarily consider it that anymore… I’m not actually sure I have a favorite holiday… but I do have a soft spot in my heart for a day reserved for hanging out with many of my favorite people and eating many of my favorite foods (mashed potatoes are probably my very favorite food and I starkly prefer pie to cake).

But alas, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and I wasn’t sure how I’d get to celebrate it this year, if I did at all. Some of my German friends had expressed an interest in doing something the day of Thanksgiving, and my thoughtful and generous Aunt Mary Beth even wired me a little Thanksgiving fund so I could at least treat myself to dinner somewhere. But due to some terrible judgement on my part, I have a class from 6:30 until 8 on Thursdays, which is especially cruel when you know that your family and friends are probably sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner as you learn about soil types.

However, as it turns out, non-Americans don’t know when Thanksgiving is supposed to be, so if all but two of your Thanksgiving guests don’t care that you are celebrating it on a Sunday, you just might be able to get away with it! So that’s what we did! The Sunday after Thanksgiving, which as you may recall was actually the first Sunday of Advent, which could take away Thanksgiving’s spotlight if you let it, we had an amazing Thanksgiving feast. For most of those in attendance it was their FIRST Thanksgiving! So that was pretty cool.

Image

Photo cred to Domi because I am too lazy to hook up my camera right now

Felicitas and I planned out the menu by deciding to cook the Thanksgiving non-negotiables ourselves and then ask everyone else to bring the side dishes. So I bought a bunch of turkey (I was not about to attempt my first ever real Thanksgiving turkey this year, so I bought some turkey breasts and turkey cutlets), Felicitas found cranberries for cranberry sauce and cranberry pie, as well as pumpkins for pumpkin soup and pumpkin cake, and I tried in vain to make gravy (it was disgusting and I did not serve it). We also made some improvisational vegetables to round out the meal.

(Actually, I should clarify that we did not make cranberry sauce–we made cranberry RELISH, a time-honored Swaintek/Lord family tradition that apparently came from a recipe on the back of a bag of Ocean Spray cranberries. But regardless, I insisted that we make it because it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it, and it was a huge hit. Everyone loved it and we barely had any left over to eat with the next-day turkey!)

Our guests brought salad, rice, sweet potatoes, dessert, and so much beer and wine! The person who had volunteered to bring potatoes had to cancel at the last minute, and since it was Sunday, we had a short panic that we wouldn’t be able to get our hands on any. But luckily a 365-day Lidl just opened at the train station and our wonderful British friend Nathaniel didn’t mind boiling them up for us! So we did have potatoes and all was well in the world.

Image

Even better than the food was the company. In addition to we two Americans, we had one Brit, one Hungarian, one Nigerian, and lots of Germans. Two of my friends have been au pairs in the US before, so they’d celebrated Thanksgiving at least once, but we answered lots of questions from inquiring minds wanting to know how we REALLY celebrate Thanksgiving in the States, why football is so important to the holiday (try coming up with an answer to that one…), and the origin of Thanksgiving.

Image

Like any good Thanksgiving celebration, we ate way too much, and then we waited awhile and we ate way too much dessert, and we talked and enjoyed each other’s company. This was the first time I’ve ever had to do dishes from Thanksgiving dinner and I’d just like to say “thank you!” to my mother and all the other wonderful people who normally DO have to clean up after the Turkey Day carnage. It’s 5 days later and I just finished washing everything.

Image

Felicitas and I are actually going to be celebrating Thanksgiving again tomorrow in Jena with Allie, who studied at Northwestern with Flitzi. But thankfully I won’t be the one cooking the turkey! We will, however, be making cranberry relish…. Flitzi bought six cartons of cranberries from Karstadt yesterday in anticipation!