When we're in our 'Schengen time' (time in the EU), we have to optimize our time to get a lot of differing countries in one full swoop. In the months of November and December, I do believe it was a success.
First we spent a weekend visiting our friends in Belgium. It was a weekend full of delicious Belgian beer, wandering around our old stomping grounds, and celebrating a new engagement with friends (congrats guys!).
Off to Prague as the days waned faster, we tried to optimize our daylight time by taking frequent walks through the old town. What a gorgeous city! Since it was on the Communist side of Europe for WWII and the cold war, it remains largely untouched and pristine in its intended glory. The Old Town square was bustling with people and buskers, with each sunset casting a beautiful orange glow across the Danube. Charles Bridge (see you there Grandma Connie!), St. Vitus Cathedral, the astronomical clock (a highschool bucket list of mine), Prague Castle, the library in Strahov Monastery - the city is built to take you back in time.
We spent Thanksgiving there, and happily ate our turkey and mashed potatoes while no one else cared. Our flat was close to the Vinohrady neighborhood, known for its bohemian past and artsy flare. To get us in the Christmas mood, we saw a small production of Swan Lake, and almost daily helped ourselves to the Christmas markets' warm hot mead. Mostly, however, Prague was a time of wandering around the beautiful old city, breathing in the frigid air and gothic architecture, soaking in the Christmas merriment and gazing at the twinkling lights.
Onward to Vienna! We had the unadulterated pleasure of hosting two of our best friends, Micah and Sarah, on their first trip to Europe the week between Christmas and New Years. Before they were to arrive, we dutifully scouted things to see and do, while biding our time posting up at Christmas markets (gluhwien! bratwurst! lights!) and hiding from the cold.
For our Christmas gift to each other, as we don't bother with buying things (we'd have to lug them around for the next year - thanks but no thanks), we treated ourselves to an indulgent present of seeing The Nutcracker performed at the Vienna State Opera House. We did it to the nines, as it should be done! I bought a dress, Travis bought a suit, and I wore stilettos for the first time in 19 months. Might I add, I do believe we clean up quite nicely. Travis geeked out over them filming MI:6 in the House, and I was mesmerized by the performance. We had box seats, and the performance was dark and moody and absolutely stunning. Definitely not what the NYC Ballet puts on each year - but so, so beautiful.
The day after Christmas, Micah and Sarah arrived, and we hit it hard for the next week. We ran around Vienna, admiring the architecture of St. Stephen's Cathedral and the Hofburg Palace, wandering the Austrian Library and Kunsthistorisches Museum, venturing up to Viennese wine country and merrily enjoying the Gruner (watch out - they don't speak English until you leave a small tip), riding over to Budapest and walking the entire city, then again to Bratislava to eat lunch in what had to be a bomb shelter, and generally enjoying the company of amazing friends.
We went all out for NYE, celebrating amongst the throngs of people watching the fireworks in front of the Rathaus, and getting into the shenanigans of the evening. I don't know how many people can spend 7 days of uninterrupted time together, but we did it marvelously. It was so amazing to have them come see us, see how our days work in this off-beat lifestyle, and solve all of life's largest problems in the middle of the night. We love you guys!
And with that, it was a whirlwind 2 months of European splendor. The nights came quickly and treated us to magical lights, holiday spirit and great friends. Now, we leave the comfort and familiarity of Europe and embark on our next adventure - Africa!