I believe in miracles.
I try to change the world every day.
I love my husband, my friends, and my family.
I plan my next great adventure constantly.
I think most occasions call for a dress.
I write what I know and believe.
It’s been a month of trying to sit down and write an update / life lately / currently post. It seemed way more fun to focus on recapping our travel adventures or sharing delicious recipes. But, that’s not real life, so here’s a little recap of real life.
[One] I had a staff member quit on November 2. When I returned from California advisory board duties on November 15, I became the college advisor at that school. I need to interview for a new one, but I simply don’t have time right now. It’s easier to fill in and try and start someone after Christmas break, I suppose.
[Two] Because of said staff changes, we weren’t able to head to Houston to visit my in-laws for Thanksgiving. We stayed here and had a quiet holiday with my mom, my cousin, and my grandmother. I am really excited about how my tablescape came out. I also shared a delicious almond torte recipe that I made yesterday.
[Three] I received a new lipgloss from influenster to try and I’m thinking I’m really going to love it. I haven’t purchased new make up since our first anniversary trip to NYC. I’m actually the worst at it. I like to play with it before I buy it, but I don’t like being bothered by salespeople.
[Four] Tomorrow’s my birthday. I have zero plans, zero things on my wish list, and zero expectations for it. This makes me everyone’s least favorite person, including myself. Truthfully, if you asked me last month, I would have told you that I just wanted to get away for a weekend to relax. (I wouldn’t say no to another weekend at Spa del Rey!) I don’t need anything. The other thing that I want (that no one can give me – unless you have a contact at Penn law – lol) is for my kid to get into law school ED. He’s one of my first and favorite kids.
[Five] I’ve been wrestling with a professional decision that I need to make by Wednesday. I’m frustrated because college access is so political. The decision is a no brainer (don’t give me an ultimatum), but I worry about the ramifications for underserved students if my voice isn’t at the table.
[Seven] The instagram algorithm is showing me pictures from all the European Christmas markets. Couple that with the post I did on our trip last week, and I have major trip envy. Nothing feels more like the holiday spirit than Christmas markets!
[Eight] We’re hosting Christmas this year. Since I’ve been working in the high school, I haven’t had any time to plan it. I did put up the tree and the stockings I made though. I’m excited to host everyone, but I’m overwhelmed by the fact that I haven’t done any Christmas shopping. (I didn’t think the Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals were that good. Did anyone find anything great??)
[Nine] I can’t even talk about what’s going on politically. I’m convinced that Chris Murphy from CT needs to run for president though. I follow him on twitter, and he reminds of the West Wing. When I look at my students, all I can think is that we’ve got to do a better job… and I hope they are the future.
[Ten] Speaking of students, decisions will start coming out soon. We’ve got a number of early applications that I can’t wait to hear the results of. We had three kids match through QuestBridge on Friday, and that was super exciting. Three boys received full scholarships to Amherst, Grinnell, and Vassar. That’s the kind of win that I’ll leave you with today. 🙂
When we went to Venice for our anniversary earlier this year, our hotel included the most delicious breakfast buffet. One of the things I tried was an almond torte, and I was hooked. I decided to make an almond torte recipe for Thanksgiving. I used Leigh Anne’s recipe as a base and adapted it to work for me by cutting down on the sugar and the almonds.
Everyone, including those who don’t typically enjoy sweets, really enjoyed this almond torte recipe. It is really easy to make and it presents beautifully. The best part about this recipe is that it can be made in advance. Since we’re hosting Christmas, I’m thinking about making it for Christmas morning. Maybe Christmas Eve? Only time will tell!
I have a fun giveaway for my Friday favorites today! Linking up with Amanda to share my very positive experience with Smile Brilliant’s at home teeth whitening kit! Skip down to the bottom if you trust my judgment and you’re just here for the giveaway. 😉
Disclosure: This post was compensated by Smile Brilliant and I received free product in exchange for an honest review.
When I was first contacted by Smile Brilliant about this campaign, I thought I could easily slip it into my back to school routine. It would coincide well with our anniversary trip and my fall business trips. As my non-profit has grown, so too has my public role. I find myself giving more and more presentations, especially at the national level. This is a great opportunity but it leaves me wanting to feel my most confident.
When I competed in pageants (don’t laugh – I actually learned a lot), I did an in-office teeth whitening treatment, which was great (but expensive). Observation: I had a lot more time for self-care during those days. The Smile Brilliant at home teeth whitening kit can be completed entirely from your own home. In my case, at home means on the road, so it fits my busy lifestyle perfectly.
Smile Brilliant At Home Teeth Whitening – How It Works
The box arrives with everything you need to get started, including putty, the molds for creating the impressions, whitening gel, and desensitizing gel. Despite the straight-forward instructions, I was immediately dubious. I was worried the putty would trigger my (very sensitive) gag reflex. I also worried that the molds wouldn’t fit in my mouth. Thankfully, I was wrong on both counts. Creating the impressions of my teeth couldn’t have been simpler!
The putty hardens over night and you can drop the molds into the pre-addressed stamped envelope the following morning! Approximately 10 days later, my whitening trays arrived in a portable storage container. Easy enough.
The syringes made it easy to ensure that I was coating the front of my trays and to control how much whitening gel I was using. I remembered how sensitive my teeth would be after office treatments, so I started my whitening treatments using a 30-minute interval. When I didn’t experience any sensitivity, I increased it to 45 minutes.
The few times I did experience sensitivity, I would coat my teeth with the desensitivity gel. I also would give my teeth a break between treatments. It didn’t happen very often; I found the entire process to be pretty mild.
I received my whitening kit right before my whirlwind month of travel. I found myself whitening at home, in Venice, in Prague, in Boston, in Williamstown, and in New York City. My whitening trays fit easily into my cosmetic kit and the syringes are well below the 3oz rule, so I could carry them in my carry-on baggage. (TSA never stopped me!)
(Photos seriously make everything better. You can’t even tell how beat up that bag is.)
Though I couldn’t tell a stark difference, I definitely felt more confident about my smile after completing my whitening treatments. Knowing that I had done my part made it easier to smile in our anniversary photos in Venice, and I didn’t feel quite as self-conscious when I approached the podium at NACAC or College Board Forum. I was ready for anything!
The best thing about the Smile Brilliant at home teeth whitening kit was how easily it fit into my busy lifestyle. I didn’t have to go to the dentist to have perfectly fitting custom trays made nor did I spend hours whitening my teeth. Whether I slipped my trays in before a bubble bath or as I sat down to get some work done, my teeth whitening could fit perfectly into my schedule. The ease made it a product that I can easily get behind.
(Ever wonder what irreverent comment you’re making in pictures? I do.)
Try At Home Teeth Whitening Yourself!
I’ve been so pleased with my experience that I want to share it with you! I’m giving away a $139 credit so you can try it yourself! It’s open for the next week, so sign up today! If giveaways aren’t your thing, you can save 10% with the code: journeyofdoing10! I hope you love it as much as I do. It’s made this part of self-care so easy. If only I could automate my workouts in the same way…
Although I’m still sad that we lost most of our pictures from our trip last December, I couldn’t skip out on sharing what we believed to be the best Christmas markets in Europe and more about our itinerary. When I think about how much time and research I put into planning our trip, it seems silly not to share the details with others who might be trying to plan a similar trip. This post will be a little bit different (and VERY long) and won’t have nearly as many photos (especially of Munich – sad!), but I’m still excited to share our favorite things from the best Christmas markets in Europe with you after all.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for tours and products I love. I only recommend tours I have personally done and enjoyed so you can do the same.
Best Christmas Markets in Europe – Logistical Details
We booked an open jaw ticket through American Airlines/British Airways. (Dallas to Munich on the outbound and from Prague to Dallas on the inbound.) We connected through London both ways, which hasn’t been a big deal previously. I didn’t realize that we have not been switching terminals on our Italy trips.
Changing Terminals at London Heathrow
Since we had to switch from T-3 to T-5, we found that our 3.5 hour layover on the way to Munich was barely enough time to connect. We weighed going to the club lounge using my mom’s Priority Pass, but we ended up skipping out on it because we had such little time. Leave yourself plenty of time if you are connecting through Heathrow and have to switch terminals. The airport website does a good job of showing which airlines and flights come and go from which terminals.
Coming back, we breathed a sign of relief when we landed in T-3, so we headed to the American Airlines lounge. At some point I realized that our flight was about to start boarding, and we needed to hoof it to the gate. I remember seeing a sign that said we were 20 minutes from our gate and thinking there was no way we would make our flight, but thankfully, we got there with a few minutes to spare. Most of my Heathrow experiences have been in Terminal 5, which I find a lot more comfortable.
Transportation within Europe
Other than those two flights, we took trains everywhere. It was so convenient and easy. We didn’t book any trains in advances so we could have the most flexibility with our time. The only time we ran into a problem was on the train to Prague. Tom and I ended up sitting on the floor for about half of it, but we managed to snag my mom a seat a little bit quicker.
Munich, Germany – Best Christmas Markets in Europe
I had only been to Munich once before during my study abroad semester. I remembered liking it enough, but I was enamored with the old city during this trip. I’m so disappointed that we didn’t end up with many pictures from Munich because it felt truly magical and less like a big city in the evening.
Customs was super easy, our luggage arrived promptly, and we grabbed the S-Bahn, line 8 to the city. We purchased a family ticket, which covered up to 5 adults, for 23 euro. Single tickets were 12 euro. It took about an hour to get to the main train station, and we walked to our hotel from there.
Aloft Munich – I chose the Aloft because of its proximity to the train station. There was a U-Bahn station right outside our door, and we could get anywhere in approximately 10 minutes. First thing I have to say about the Aloft is that they have the absolute best staff. From the moment we checked in to the moment we checked out, we felt welcome by everyone we encountered. They were eager to make recommendations, helpful with directions, and even had a map for Christmas markets. (The closest one was around the corner!) As an SPG platinum, we were upgraded to a loft room and breakfast was included. The rooms are impeccably designed with every single modern detail you could want. In addition to the mini-fridge, tea kettle, and free water in the room, there was an access panel for charging all your devices. There were USB chargers to fit every phone, adapters next to the bed, light switches next the bed, and plenty of workspace. The rooms aren’t large, but they are so well designed that you don’t even notice the space. The bathroom includes Bliss spa amenities, which is one of my favorite, refreshing scents after a long day. They even had the massaging soap bar; I was in heaven!
I realize this is touristy. Guess what?! We are tourists. We truly enjoyed the lively beer hall, sitting at communal tables, drinking beer, eating giant pretzels, and realizing that we were sitting in one of the most famous beer halls in Germany. (Maybe we just enjoyed commiserating with Italians about how much we were going to miss Obama.)
Overall, the dark beer was the crowd favorite. We were disappointed to miss the original sausages (“Sold out by 7:00pm,” our waiter remarked.) My husband really enjoyed the pork crackling and said it was perfectly cooked. He and my mom loved the homemade fried pork sausages. I liked the Vienna sausages, which looked like hot dogs but tasted very meaty. The wool white sausages were very mild in flavor, at least compared to the ones I remember eating while I was in college.
I enjoyed the entire experience much more now than when I was in college. Judge if you want, but I think everyone needs to experience Hofbrauhaus at least once. With the band.
World War II History / Munich Walking Tour – Keith was a fantastic tour guide. He was from Ireland and studied history. We were dubious to have an Irish guide in Germany, but the depth of his knowledge was truly incredible. The tour left from the main train station, and we took a short subway ride to Marienplatz to start the tour. The material is deep, it’s dark, and it’s an honest look at German history from World War I through World War II. We saw many of the main sites, but we also saw other parts of the city that I had not experienced. Again, I wish that we had some of our photos. Viscardigasse, in particular, gave me the most pause because it reminded me of how brave some people were in such dark times. We had a particularly interesting conversation with our guide after the tour about the current events surrounding the 2016 election. Once again I was reminded at how much attention the rest of the world was paying to something that the American people seemed to be treating rather cavalierly.
Glockenspiel at Rathaus in Marienplatz – Gina has a great blog post on the glockenspiel, and since I have no pictures, I’m going to send you there.
The Aloft gave us a map of all the Christmas markets in Munich, which also detailed everything we needed to know to get around the city. The only thing I realized is that we couldn’t get to all of them. Sad! When we got back, I’m definitely heading to Schwabinger and the English Garden markets.
Marienplatz Market – There’s something magical about stepping out of the U-Bahn at night and seeing the tree lit up against the city hall. I had serious flashbacks to feeling like a kid at Christmas.
Weinaachtsdorf – They had the most beautiful ornaments at these stalls. We bought a few… and then my suitcase fell face forward while we were waiting on our train to Salzburg. Womp, womp, womp. Learned that lesson early on!
Salzburg, Austria – Best Christmas Markets in Europe
I was really excited to go back to Salzburg because I remember roaming the cobblestoned pedestrian streets, being enchanted with the horse carriages, and ice skating at night. The Sound of Music is one of my favorite movies, and I couldn’t wait to be back. I might have even made my husband watch it before the trip. (Spoiler alert: It looks the same!)
Trains leave regularly from Munich Haupfbahnhof (Hbf) and the journey takes a little over an hour, depending on the speed of the train. We grabbed a regional pass (Bayern ticket) that cost 33 euro for three of us. When we arrived in Salzburg, we took a cab to our hotel because it was dark and I couldn’t entirely remember which buses would run to the aldstadt.
Hotel Goldener Hirsch – This fantastic hotel is situated at the end of Getreidegasse (the main pedestrian street) and it’s iconic. (Just watch your head when you’re coming down the stairs!) Like the Aloft, the staff was incredible. They were warm and friendly and always happy to make suggestions. We were upgraded to a suite (room 6) with a sitting area. The furnishings aren’t “typical luxury,” but they are traditional Austrian and very comfortable. I really loved the fluffy comforters (and the AMAZING hazelnut chocolates that they left during turndown service). Our bathroom was large (by European standards) and included a shower and a tub. The bath amenities were a combination of Elemis and Hermes products, and I enjoyed them, too.
Most Memorable Meals – Salzburg, Austria:
Gasthaus Wilden Mann – Tucked into one of the many alley courtyards off Getreidegasse, this restaurant felt like an extension of the Goldener Hirsch. Traditionally Austrian, inside and out. We were fortunate to snag one of the only tables that wasn’t reserved and we ate our weight in schnitzel and strudel. (I loved the cranberry jelly served with the schnitzel.) The neighboring table was very interested to see my reaction to such a large schnitzel. The locals and the waitstaff eventually warmed up to us, and we all shared a few laughs.
Pizzeria il Sole – It was raining and very cold one night, so we opted for a cheap Italian dinner near our hotel. It’s a favorite among my UoR friends and the 7 euro pizza didn’t disappoint. We were able to get in without too long of a wait, but it’s clearly very popular.
Favorite Experience – Salzburg, Austria:
Apple Strudel / Salzburg Nockerl Class – Hands down, this was my favorite experience in Salzburg. It might even be my favorite thing we did on this trip. (We learned to make pesto in Cinque Terre, but this bumped that down to my second favorite thing we’ve done.) Not only did we learn to make two amazing deserts in a little over an hour, but our incredible chef, Johann, made us a delicious goulash lunch. The cooking school is set in the side of the Monchsberg mountain, which only adds to the experience. Johann demonstrated the technique required to make the strudel dough (only 4 ingredients!), and then we made our own strudel using pre-prepared dough. (The most important part of good strudel dough is the resting period and the right temperature.) Once we popped our strudel in the oven, we made the Salzburg Nockerl, which is supposed to represent the three mountain peaks. I wasn’t so good at the aesthetic, but my husband LOVED the dessert. (I’m pretty sure I need to add both of those to our Christmas menu now that I think about it. I wonder where the recipe book I purchased ended up.) Definitely don’t miss learning to make apple strudel and Salzburg Nockerl in Salzburg. I think Johann even teaches at Christmas cookie class, but we weren’t there for it. Sad.
The day that we planned to go up to the fortress, it started to rain so we skipped out on it and spent time at Salzburg Cathedral instead. I wish we had made it up there to see the market (and the view), and I wish we had made it to Helbrunn as well.
Salzburg Christmas Market near the Cathedral – We purchased several gifts here. From the scented, hand-crafted potpourri Christmas trees, to the beautiful Christmas ornaments, to the fresh pretzels, this market reminded me of everything I fell in love with about Salzburg the first time. My husband and I returned to it in the late evenings (because our hotel was so close!), and it just seemed magical. I think this might be one of the best Christmas markets in Europe because of the evening ambiance.
Salzburg Lake District / Salzkammergut Christmas Market Tour – I wanted to get out of the city and experience some of the smaller villages around Salzburg, so this tour seemed like a perfect way to see more of the countryside before heading to Vienna. (We stored our luggage at the train station. It was 4.50 euro for a large locker.)
Salzburg – Strobl
We met our guide, Thomas, near Mirabell Palace, loaded up in a van, and headed to Strobl. It was about an hour a way and we stopped for photos along the way. It was mostly a food market, and we enjoyed cheeses, sausages, and spiral cut fries. (Is it a given that we also enjoyed gluwein?) There was a huge nativity scene at the end of the road along we some reindeer, so it would be a great market to visit with young kids. We had about 40 minutes in Strobl.
Strobl – St. Wolfgang
Ten minutes from the Strobl Christmas market was St. Wolfgang. Oh my stars, it was crowded. St. Wolfgang reminded of everything I love about Cinque Terre – lots of hills and a church with beautiful views. The Christmas market was more traditional with lots of gift ideas, cold weather gear, and delicious gluwein. I really loved the views over the lake. We had an 1 hour and 15 minutes in St. Wolfgang and it was barely enough because of the crowds.
St. Wolfgang – St. Gligen
Our last stop was in St. Gligen, and it was magical. Absolutely, positively magical. Blue hour was ending, the crowds were thinning, and it was everything I expected a small village Christmas market to be. There was a live band playing in the square, fires to keep warm, and fantastic (alcoholic) punch. We had about 35 minutes there, which was enough to explore the market, but I would have stayed longer for the ambiance.
Vienna, Austria – Best Christmas Markets in Europe
After we returned from the lake district, we grabbed some supplies at Billa and bought a ticket to Vienna. Since we had such a great experience with the Bayern ticket and I had the option to buy one from Salzburg to Vienna, I did. We boarded a train and away we went. When the conductor started checking tickets, we found out that the train we were on wasn’t eligible. The fine was 150 euro. That sucked. Bayern tickets are only for regional trains. Consider yourself warned.
I’ve been to Vienna twice now, and I’m still not sure about it. Certainly, there are things that I like about it, but it’s not one of my favorite places I’ve been. I was hoping it would grow on me, but it still feels like a fairly generic big city and I haven’t connected with any our tour guides in a way that has helped me appreciate Vienna yet. Mostly, I just wish my dad was here to be my guide.
Marriott Vienna – Vienna hotels are insanely expensive. Winter or spring, it doesn’t seem to matter. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton Vienna on our first trip (which I still need to share more about but it’s only a block away), and I think it was a better value as far as points go. It’s right across from the park, and it’s about a 10-15 minute walk from the major sites. The service at the Marriott was friendly enough, and they put us (and my mom, Marriott gold) on the executive floor, but we had a standard room with no view (room 777). It could have been any Marriott anywhere in the world. The toiletries were a new-to-me brand, Acca Kappa, and it included green mandarin hand wash, which I loved. The lounge was too small for the number of people that had access, and every time we went up there, there was nowhere to sit. On the up side, however, our platinum arrival gift was delivered immediately (mixed nuts and water) and mints and pez candy a part of nightly turndown service. We tried to use the pool, but it was really too cold for me to swim much. I gave up after 10 minutes. There’s nothing about this hotel that makes it particularly bad, but there’s nothing that makes it particularly memorable, especially given how high the rates usually are.
If I had to give a touristy honorable mention, we enjoyed Figlmuller because of the schnitzel that was bigger than the plate (and my head) and because they are the nicest Viennese we’ve ever come across.
We did an evening tour of the Vienna Christmas markets, and it was a solid introduction to all the major sites. Dace was our guide, and she was better than other guides that we’ve had in Vienna. If this is your first time in Vienna, this tour is a great way to cover a lot of ground in the city. At times, it was difficult to hear Dace (no radios or headphones), and I didn’t feel like we got a lot of history. She provided some commentary about the various Christmas markets in Vienna, but there was no discussion about tradition or significance of them.
All that being said, the Christmas lights in Vienna were amazing! These were my favorite markets we visited:
Schoenbrunn Palace – You can take the subway to Schoenbrunn in less than 10 minutes from the Naschtmarkt. Come for the guided tour of the Palace (loved it!), stay for one of the best Christmas markets in Europe! They had journals, toys, ornaments, AND it’s where I discovered the “party pretzel.” Let me just say, it’s always a party when the pretzel is bigger than my head!
Rathaus Christmas World – This market is HUGE and offers the coolest ice skating experience I’ve ever seen! (Should that qualify it for one of the best Christmas markets in Europe? Maybe so…) It would be a fun market for kids to visit. (The Karlsplatz market would be another great market for kids to visit as there is a gigantic play are for them.)
Freyung / Am Hof markets – We stopped for punch and snacks at the Freyung market and continued around the courter to Am Hof market. They are very close to each other and easy to visit both.
There is snow globe booth at Michaelerplatz, which houses a small market that I wish we had spent more time at. (It’s also one of my favorite squares in Vienna.) Since Vienna is home to the first snow globe, I would have loved to bring one home as a souvenir.
Budapest, Hungary – Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Budapest is amazing. The first time we visited, I wondered what on earth I had done. The truth is, however, it’s a fantastic city. Maybe it’s because we really connected with the best tour guides ever, but I fell in love with the city and couldn’t wait to spend my birthday there.
Logistically, we took cabs to and from the train station. The streetcars and subway are easy to navigate. Budapest is best explored on foot (in my opinion), but it’s cold in the winter. Just be aware and dress appropriately.
Hilton Budapest – We’ve stayed here twice. The newly renovated rooms are fantastic! The redesigned bathrooms have a separate tub and shower. There are US plugs in the room, USB plugs next to the bed, and the view cannot be beat. I remember when we checked in the first time, and we realized we were basically staying inside Fisherman’s Bastion. There’s truly no better view of Budapest at night to be had, particularly from the Buda side. The lounge was temporarily relocated and difficult to find, so I don’t think this last trip is an accurate representation of it. Our experience previously had been a lot better. Despite being right next to Matthais Church, it’s a very quiet area away from the crowds and the nightlife. While I think I want to experience staying on the Pest side of the city (at least once), I really do love the location of the Hilton.
Pest-Buda Bistro – I love this place more than you can even imagine. We’ve been there multiple times on each trip. My birthday dinner was here. And, I might have almost cried when we got back too late to eat there one night. Pest-Buda is delicious. Goulash and the rib-eye steak with crispy onions are where it’s at, but the paprika chicken is great, too. The waitstaff is delightful. I like their strudel, but the Strudel House is still my absolute favorite. (Try the sour cherry!)
Favorite Experiences – Budapest, Hungary:
Budapest Walking Tour at Night – There is no better way to experience Budapest than by night. It’s beautiful. This tour was a great introduction to the city and included a river cruise. If you only have time to do a cruise, book one here, however, I found the walking tour and cruise to be the best value and it departed from a more central location. Be warned, river cruises in the winter can be cold. Bundle up so you can sit outside and not have to watch through the window.
World War II / Communist History Tour – Understanding Budapest from the perspective of a local is crucial to truly appreciating this beautiful city. As an American, I cannot fathom what it would be like to live under a communist government, so I found this tour especially interesting. As I’ve said before, we had the absolute best tour guides in Budapest. I cannot recommend Georg and Tamas enough.
You already know I love Tamas, so you should just book his Christmas market tour of Budapest. This tour begins with visiting both the inside of and the market at St.Stephen’s Basilica (try the wild board sausage), wanders through some of the markets in the main shopping areas, visits the high end Christmas Market inside the Four Seasons Budapest, and ends with tasty mulled wine in a lively market in Vorosmarty Square. Tamas provided some of the culture and history that he shares on his other (amazing) tours and lots of conversation. We also warmed up with wine tasting (2 whites, 1 red) and strudel.
Bratislava, Slovakia – Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Bratislava was the one place that I had not visited on this trip, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s not too far from Vienna, so I think I expected it to be more like Vienna. I actually loved it so much more than I expected to. We had really great tour guides, and parts of the city reminded me of Prague though it was less frantic. If I was looking to break up the trip between Budapest and Prague, I would choose Bratislava over Vienna. We grabbed a cab from the train station to our hotel (they were hard to come by!), but we were able to walk the city pretty easily once we found our bearings. There are also trams that run around the center.
Sheraton Bratislava – This hotel seemed completely new and modern, and we were upgraded to a junior suite. The room was HUGE with beautiful hardwood floors and large windows. The bathroom had a separate tub and shower. There was a fruit basket in our room when we arrived, and we had lounge access and free breakfast as an SPG platinum. My mom was able to get a spa appointment easily (and enjoyed her massage), and she bought new luggage at the adjacent mall. We had a little trouble getting an early cab, and the hotel wasn’t a lot of help in that regard. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the old town, which wasn’t bad, but I might check out Roset Boutique Hotel on our next trip. I had originally booked it because it was more centrally located, but we ended up changing to the Sheraton for a reason I can’t recall.
Most Memorable Meal – Bratislava, Slovakia:
Rio Grande Restaurant – We had booked a tour for our first night, so we thought we would pick up a quick dinner. When we couldn’t get into our first choice, we stumbled into Rio Grande. I’m so glad we did because I had my first lava stone steak and I still dream about the sauces. (The garlic sauce and the brandy sauce are my favorites!) The way this works is that they bring out a searing hot lava rock, and you are able to cut and cook your steak to your own degree of perfection. It was so unique and so tasty. (Tom also enjoyed the pasta, but I still think of the lava steak.)
17 Bar – Consider yourself warned, this place is popular. We grabbed a bench overlooking the main square and the ice rink, but would have loved a table outside. (They have blankets available to keep warm!) We had 2 pizzas, 2 beers, and a coke for less than 20 euro. The ingredients were quality and the food was cheap. What more do you want? Oh, and Luculus Gelato next door? 1.20 euro and delicious.
Favorite Experiences – Bratislava, Slovakia:
Night Walking Tour of Bratislava – We ended up being the only people on this tour and Kristina was AWESOME! She was worn in Bratislava and gave us a great overview of the city and its history. We were able to explore the old town, the castle, and ended the night with a drink at the UFO tour. The view was pretty limited because of the fog, but the house drink was tasty, the service was good, and it was a nice place to warm up after the hike up to the castle! Again, bundle up! The breeze off the river can be chilly!
Like Budapest and Vienna, we opted for a tour of the Christmas markets in Bratislava. This one was a food tour though, which I knew my mom would particularly enjoy! Nichole was our guide, and she has lived in Bratislava for 10 years. She’s from a small town, so we were able to learn more about the history of the area from her different perspectives. Building on the foundation we gained from Kristina the night before, Nichole gave us an in depth look at the old town, taking us to see the old city gates and everything in between. This tour included all the Slovak regional specialties and we tried potato pancakes, poppy seed rolls (sweet), and a chicken-onion sandwich, along with mulled wine. I can’t recommend it enough if you’re looking for an introduction to Christmas markets, Slovak history and culture, and food!
Prague, Czech Republic – Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Prague was the last leg of our tour of the best Christmas markets in Europe, and by that time, both Tom and my mom were pretty sick. That didn’t stop us, but it did slow us down.
Word to the wise: Weekend travel to Christmas markets is frantic. The train to Prague was VERY crowded. Make sure you book in advance and get a seat reservation. We sat on the floor for over an hour before we were able to find a seat, which was a bit exhausting.
Mandarin Oriental Prague – I covered everything I loved about this hotel pretty extensively in my Prague Travel Guide. It was truly the best place to end our trip. We arrived early, so our room wasn’t ready, but they offered us complimentary welcome drinks at Spices. My mom decided to take advantage of that, and Tom and I decided to walk down to Tesco and explore Mala Strana. (We’ve stayed at the Boscolo Prague previously.) We stayed in Room 127, which was on the ground floor and included a courtyard terrace. The room was absolutely gorgeous, and I kept thinking that I wanted my room at home to look like it. It was sleek, understated luxury and incredibly comfortable. The bathroom was huge with a walk-in shower and separate tub. I loved the bath amenities, and the service was exceptional. They even delivered the most delicious (and beautiful) Christmas cookies to our room. My mom swears by the spa, but I didn’t participate in those adventures. I trust her recommendation though.
As I mentioned in my guide to Prague, we have had a lot of misses with regards to restaurants in Prague. Since I know you can’t just eat tredlnik, I can recommend Meat and Greet for a tasty burger. Grab a crispy burger and a cheap Urquel, and you have my husband and my favorite meal in Prague.
Extended Night Walking Tour of Prague – I remember being cold to be sure, but I remember the winding streets of Mala Strana leading up to the castle complex more. We started at the opera house, wandered across the river, saw the Lennon wall, and ended the official tour at the castle complex. The views of Prague are spectacular from any angle.
Old Town Square – Every time we walked into the square, there was a performance going on at the Christmas market. The tree is huge. The stalls have the most beautiful ornaments I’ve ever seen. (I wish I had brought more home.) It’s just magical, particularly as the light begins to change at blue hour. It’s a matter of personal preference, but I find Old Town Square to be so much more beautiful than Wencelas Square. Grab some mulled wine and enjoy the view.