Saturday, November 28, 2009

A little taste of Christmas in Vienna...

Here we are, in Vienna, Austria. Yesterday after school, Allison and myself taxied to Holosevice train station and 4.5 hours later we were in Vienna. It was dark so there was not too much to see, but after finishing my book and napping we had a good conversation with a guy from Australia who has been traveling through Europe for 20 days... cool!
The famous and biggest Christmas Market in Vienna- Christkindle Market in front of Vienna City Hall. There was sooo much to see- rows and rows of vendors, their booths filled with ornaments, cookies, candy, jewelery, candles, knick-knacks, and yummy food! After strolling for a while, Ali and I snacked on a Bratwurst with mustard- ah, Viennese mustard is so much better than Praha mustard! We also tried hot rum punch! YUCK! I sipped on it, dumped it out and saved the mug!
After walking through the first market, we decided to take the U (metro) to the Schonbrunn Palace. This is an incredible place. I have been to this palace before- it is still huge! I toured the entire grounds- inside and out with my Crusade buddies after summer project in 2004. It was a great way to debrief after our 2 week ministry in Moldova! Today, the palace courtyard was filled with what I think was the most eclectic market we visited.
There were so many vendors with hand painted ornaments, fresh beeswax candles, and many varieties of beautiful glass and pottery. I loved stopping by the toy booths all the cool, wooden, hand painted toys. I bought my parents the coolest gift at this market! I cannot tell you about it now because they read my blog and I don't want to spoil it... I promise to post a picture on Christmas Day!

After walking through 4 markets, we relaxed our cold, tired feet in our hotel room for an hour. Then we bundled up, grabbed our mugs and headed out to see the city at night! We walked around two more markets. The first was in the Museum Quarter. Below is a short video of this fun interactive holiday scene. I love the little skiers going up and down the slopes...

The last market we browsed was Spittelberg Christmas Market. It is Vienna's most historic market- and it was alive and buzzing! We filled up our mugs a few more times, me with hot, mulled wine and Ali tried various flavors of hot punch. Everything is so beautiful here. the markets are decorated with green garlands, ornaments, and bows. The buildings are tall and luminous.. people describe Vienna as a "Wedding Cake"- perfect and pristine! No joke, the buildings are incredibly well taken care of and the streets are clean. Vienna is a mix of modern and historic. Tomorrow, we plan to enjoy a local breakfast cafe, shop on Mariahilfer strasse, (Vienna's biggest shopping district... one long street); We will take in one last Christmas market and then train home in the late afternoon.

With the gratefulness of Thanksgiving still lingering and Christmas just around the corner, I am thankful for a job, free weekends, and finances to travel to places such as Vienna. Being here, browsing the multitudes of glass angels and wooden nativity scenes prepares my heart for the upcoming celebration of Jesus' birth- the "reason for the season" - a reason to be joyful...
Ciao- Nikki

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrating 20 Years of Freedom

Today marks 20 years from the fall of Communism in the Czech Republic. On November 17, 1989 the Czech Republic ended it's struggle for freedom and began crawling out from under the iron curtain! All over town, in and out of the various town squares and near the national museum, were many parades and Freedom day activities, dancing in the streets, and the clanking of glasses as people celebrated the day in remembrance of the past and a continued future of freedom. Below is a photo of myself and three friends/ISP teachers as we were taking in the early evening concert in the street. It was fun wandering around the town together, weaving in and out of the activity on the streets- full of life and celebration.
In a small room off the side of the concert was a memorial. The plaque on the wall says the date 17.11.1989- to be remembered. And as the evening went on people came to place a lighted candle at the memorial. The floor was covered in wax, flowers, candles, special momentos- it was stunning. It was exciting to be a part of "Struggle for Freedom" day!
Before wandering the town... I joined a big group of ISP teachers for a hockey game. It was a Sparta vs Plzen game- two big Czech teams, and it was exciting. The arena was full of energy- buzzing with cheering, chanting, rock and roll, and the slap-stick on ice! The game ended at 2-2 and remained so through a 5 minute over time! The game went into a Sudden Death... 1st round: Plzen 0, Sparta 0; Second round: Plzen 1, Sparta 1, Third round: Plzen 1, Sparta 1, Fourth round: Plzen shot on goal, bounces off inner rim... refs look it over call it no goal! Sparta... takes it all the way into the goal and WINS THE GAME! Take a look for yourself... below is a video I took of the last shot on goal and captured the crowd as they went into an uproar! Today was worth celebrating.. and that is just what I did. Ciao- Nikki

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Let's go on a pottery run to POLAND!

Welcome to Poland- Bolestaweic, Poland to be exact. Where the ceramika flows freely like the water at Multnomah Falls. Myself and 9 other co-workers road-tripped to Poland early Saturday morning to purchase some of the best pottery in Europe. (And I do mean early-- we left town at 7am!)
We made a weekend of it and stayed at the Villa Ambasada hotel. So far, it was the most gorgeous hotel I have stayed at in Europe. Between the ten of us we rented an entire floor of rooms and were able to secure a cheaper than average rate! Each room with a king-sized bed, heated bathroom floor, vintage-antique decorations, cushy, captains chairs, and flat screen TVs (with a few English channels) was worth the 55 Euro per night. (55 Euro for this quality of accomodation is dirt cheap as far as European hotels go...). The in-hotel restaurant was wonderful... great food and the company I was with couldn't have been better! We ate, drank wine, shared supberb desserts and talked for hours into the evening... But the hotel was only the beginning of the exquisite weekend.
The above pottery pieces were from the actual factory that makes the pottery. But you can find these large decorations all throughout the town...
Here is a sampling of the pottery pieces I purchased for myself. I was really excited to find these small bowls and olive plates for serving dips, oil & vinegar, or Tamari for sushi dipping! You wouldn't believe the designs they have... I am of course attracted to the floral prints. And all the blues match my kitchen really well. Not pictured above, I also purchased a large mug for tea and hot chocolate- very important now that the winter is settling in. My second favorite purchase was two soup bowls that can be heated in the oven- perfect for French Onion soup with melted Swiss to warm up a cold evening or also useful for a steamy bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar and bananas! Yum!
This is my favorite piece though. It is a deep casserole dish- perfect for enchiladas or roasting a chicken and vegetables. I love the combination of the blue roses across the bottom and the red flowers on the side.

All the Pottery is of a quality rated 1-6. Quality 1 & 2 can be heated in the oven. In fact, you can put the pottery cold from the fridge straight into the oven and it is not supposed to crack. Quality 3 & 4 is durable, kitchen-ware but not to be heated. (I bought a small cheese and cracker tray that is quality 4, as well as a large salad bowl.) Quality 5 & 6 is decorative ware and although not useful it is incredibly beautiful. Depending on the store you are browsing (and there are like 10-15 individual stores in this town) you can find certain patterns, sets, mis-matched pieces and some stores even have rooms with pottery that is 30-40% off... This is where I found my new butter dish! The best part about this pottery run is that the Polish zloty is 4.1 to 1 euro... so everything you buy is super inexpensive for incredibly beautiful pottery! I am increasingly amazed at how every countries currency and exchange rate is so different.

It was both an adventure and a relaxing weekend in Poland. After only a few wrong turns on crazy Polish highways we made it to Poland and in plenty of time for shopping. Today, on our return drive, we drove through Poland to Dresden, Germany then through Northern Czech Republic to Prague. It was a beautiful drive- sun shining, blue skies, with lots of fall colors through three very different country-sides. I am grateful to have these opportunities to travel outside the Czech Republic and experience new things. Next up, (before I fly home in December) is a weekend to Austria for the Vienna Christmas Markets... looking forward to it!
Love you all-- Nikki