Winter Wonderland in Leavenworth, WA

Visiting Leavenworth in Washington was on our list for a while, especially around the Christmas/holiday time. This town brought back some sweet memories of small villages of Europe because of its charms and cozy setups.

Leavenworth, WA

Leavenworth, WA

Leavenworth is German village at the foothill of the Cascades. Its Bavarian style half-timbered colorful houses give this town an enchanting look. Shops and cafes along the road-sides and round the year activities attract thousands of visitors each year. Leavenworth is a popular getaway in Pacific Northwest because of magical Christmas lighting and other winter activities/sports.

Christmas lighting in Leavenworth, WA

If you are planning to stay in Leavenworth during summer break or winter holiday season, be sure to book your hotel ahead of time (way ahead maybe). We stayed in Ellensburg, WA, which was about an hour away from Leavenworth.

Artistic places of Leavenworth in Washington

Artistic places of Leavenworth in Washington

If you are planning to have either lunch or dinner in Downtown Leavenworth, try to make a reservation at a restaurant or cafe in at least couple hours before you are ready to eat. During lunch or dinner time, it gets pretty crazy with long lines, and waiting time in restaurants were at least 2 hours. We ended up having some pretzels and danishes at a bakery. Then made an early reservation at a Mongolian place, called Wok About Grill for dinner. But if time and energy allow, do try some Bavarian style food here, like schnitzel and brats and etc. One final tip about visiting Leavenworth in December is that, make sure to wear few layers of clothes with heavy jacket with other winter gears. It came down to 8 or 9 degree Fahrenheit when we were there.

Bavarian style houses in Leavenworth, WA

Bavarian style houses in Leavenworth, WA

We spent only few hours in the heart of Leavenworth to go around and to enjoy the Christmas lighting and festive atmosphere the town has to offer. I do plan to go back there during summer sometime soon. For now, these are the few places we’ve visited in Leavenworth.

  1. Downtown: This is the heart and soul of Leavenworth. Laced by lots of boutique stores and gourmet restaurants, downtown is the place where the stunning holiday lighting takes place every year. All the cafes and shops will catch your eyes with its decorations or names or their unique products. If you don’t want to be trapped by the crowd near the stores, enjoy the kids sledding on snow from a tiny hill near the gazebo or just sit down with a cup of hot chocolate to enjoy all the alpine beauties all around the city.

Christmas lighting in Downtown Leavenworth, WA

2. Nutcracker Museum: This is one of the coolest and fun museums we’ve been to. With more than 6,000 nut cracking devices, some dating back from the Roman time, this place will definitely make its guests excited.

The Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, WA

The Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, WA

The museum won’t take more an hour to visit and the ticket is only $5 per person. Watch the video before the tour to know more about the nutcrackers and its amazing history. Also, check out the souvenir shop before leaving which has some pre-owned and new nutcrackers from Germany and China. These nutcrackers come in different shapes, sizes, and colors…have fun choosing one for you or the loved ones.

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3. Waterfront Park: This is probably not very popular place to visit in December. We took a little walk along the Wenatchee River. It is probably one of the best kept secrets of this town.

Waterfront Park in Leavenworth, WA

Waterfront Park in Leavenworth, WA

Only few minutes from the main streets in downtown, this Waterfront Park is a quiet place with few trails and a bridge. I can imagine this place in summer time with incredible sceneries and fun outdoor activities.

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Christmas in Peacock Lane

After living in Portland, OR, for many years, I finally got to visit this place that becomes magical during the holiday season. It’s in a neighborhood in the SE Portland which becomes pedestrian only area for the last two weeks of every December.

This is an old Portland tradition since 1920. Every house here are fully decorated with extravagant Christmas lightnings and ornaments. My girls had a blast walking in front of every house and checking out all the different themes and dazzling scenes.

The event is absolutely free, but we had to park couple blocks away from Peacock Lane. It does get crowded pretty quickly as soon as it gets dark.

Check out the pictures of Peacock Lane in Portland, Oregon…hope you like them.

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Home and Abroad: Bring Father Christmas To Life This Winter

Christmas is always a magical time, and it’s even more exciting when you have children who still believe in Father Christmas. From his jingling bells to his big round belly, and his team of reindeer to his promise of presents, Santa Claus is kids number one favorite man come Christmas! Bring Kriss Kringle to life in as many ways you can this Christmas, and reignite the magical spirit of one of the favorite months of the year. Let’s take a peek at how you can bring Santa into your home both home and abroad.

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Picture source: Hu.Wikipedia.Org

Father Christmas In His Own Home

At Journey Around The Globe we love making magical memories, and those that you can share with your children are all the more special. Take your children on a spellbinding trip across the globe to Santa’s workshop, and give them a true winter wonderland experience. If you want to see Father Christmas in the North Pole or in fact in his home in Finnish Lapland, then it’s time to take a winter holiday that will beat all others. In Lapland you’ll be greeted with a bewitching snowy landscape, reindeer sledding and cozy log cabins. All perfect for creating the true spirit of Christmas. In Finnish Lapland, your children will get to make snow sculptures, bake cookies and take snowmobile rides. They can even spend an afternoon searching and visiting Santa in his own home. Nothing beats meeting this magical man more than seeing him in action in his magical winter workshop. For the adults, there are roaring log fires, cross-country skiing and warm Finnish saunas. And for the kids? Copious amounts of snowy fun for an experience of a lifetime! They will be able to take husky rides, join in with Christmas crafts, visit the reindeer farm and eat their dinner in a restaurant made from ice. Take them across the globe this year for a white winter they will treasure forever.

In Your Own Home

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Picture source: Pexels

Christmas Eve is always such fun when you have children. As the suspense builds up, they’re barely able to contain their excitement. And they will want to stay up all night waiting for an appearance from Father Christmas. Luckily most will burn out by midnight, and you can get on with the Ho Ho Ho duty of bringing Father Christmas into your home. Be sure to make Christmas cookies with your children on Christmas Eve to leave out for Santa. Let them have fun decorating with glitter and sprinkles too. Make sure you also go shopping for carrots and milk too. Help them pen a letter to Father Christmas to leave out that night. And make sure you have one written by the man himself to leave in return for them. Get your children to make reindeer dust out of glitter and oats and tell them it’s to lure the reindeer into your home. Leave trodden snow footprints outside their bedroom doors and by the Christmas tree. Make these with flour, talcum powder or fake snow. Get some jingle bells and give them a little tinkle just as your children are falling asleep. And make sure to leave half eaten cookies and carrots for them to find in the morning. If you have a fireplace also leave a few coal marks so, they can be sure Santa has been.

Picture-Perfect Prague

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Praha or Prague is a picturesque European city situated by River Vltava. Founded in 9th century, historically, this was once the capital of the Bohemian region. Now it’s the capital and the largest city of Czech Republic. Prague is such a beautiful city that it would be unfair to try to describe it with words or portray thru photos. This is one of my favorite cities in the world where I can come back at any given every opportunity.

One of my most favorite cities in the world - Prague
One of my most favorite cities in the world – Prague
            

River Vltava and its bridges are what you probably seen in lots of pictures from Prague. It is indeed something to admire. The city can offer some stunning views from many points like Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and many of its towers. Prague is regarded as one of Europe’s most charming cities and is one of the most popular destinations in Eastern Europe. Its old town was listed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.

River Vltava and the city of Prague from Charles Bridge
River Vltava and the city of Prague from Charles Bridge
              

(Please excuse my old photos from 2009 with the big yellow dates on them.)

TIME of TRAVEL: I have mentioned in my last few posts that we took a road trip during Christmas of 2013. My uncle-in-law from Chicago was here with us during this trip. After visiting Fussen in Germany and Innsbruck and Salzburg in Austria we arrived in Prague the day after Christmas. Eastern Europe can be below freezing in December but it was actually not that bad during day. Temperature was definitely low at night but it didn’t stop anyone from having good time in Prague.

Last time we were in Prague was during Easter holidays of 2009. We took a two weeks tour around Europe when we were still living in Portland, Oregon. Easter is very colorful here. It doesn’t matter when you make a trip to Prague, it is always swamped with tourists and thriving with busy lives.

OUR HOTEL: This time we stayed in an apartment-style place, Hotel Julis, in Wenceslas Square. Parking can be a problem (the garage is 5 minutes of walk) but the best part is you are right in the middle of a busy square. Christmas lighting was fantastic as well as the markets on the pedestrian zone. It took us only 5 minutes to reach the main square from here and maybe another few minutes to reach Charles Bridge. There were many shops and souvenir stores just outside our hotel. It was a spacious room with a small kitchen in one side. Breakfast and free Wi-Fi were included in the price too.

Last time we were here in 2009 we also stayed very close to the old town. It was Hotel Unitas. It had breakfast and parking spaces for customers. If I can remember correctly, the hotel was only 5 minutes’ walk from the metro station.

EATING and SHOPPING: Our first dinner in Prague was on the other side of Charles Bridge in Lesser Town. The name was “U Tri Zvonku” meaning “The Three Bells”. The food was fantastic, but the cool part of it was that there were small notes and writings on all the walls of this restaurant. Customers can write anything on its wall if they can find an empty spot. We also asked for some markers and our daughters wrote their messages on the walls too. Second night, we ate at “Taverna Toscana” near Astronomical Clock in the old town…good Italian food and nice people. Afterwards, we tried a traditional Czech pastry-like snack, called Trdelnik from the Christmas market. It’s a rolled pastry roasted on fiery coals.

Trdelnik - a rolled pastry on burning coal, something local we tried in Prague
Trdelnik – a rolled pastry on burning coal, something local we tried in Prague
              

Last time in 2009 we had dinner in old town square at the corner of Astronomical clock. And I remember clear they had some awesome dishes, especially the dipping sauce they served with the warm breads…still can’t forget its taste.

There are too many things in Prague to buy as souvenirs or memorabilia. Traditionally, Bohemian glass or crystal are something very famous in this region. They are very exclusive and can be very expensive. Bohemian garnet is also very well-known in Prague. I saw many amber stores too. Also lots of stores carry wooden toys and marionette puppets depicting many celebrities and traditional characters from stories.

Bohemian glass and crystals in a souvenir shop in Prague, Czech Republic
Bohemian glass and crystals in a souvenir shop in Prague, Czech Republic
              

Streets of Old Town and Lesser Town are packed with tons of stores. Shops in Old Town square during Easter and Christmas are good places to buy souvenirs for reasonable prices. Try to avoid buying things from the main old streets; you can find same items with much cheaper price in smaller alleys. We bought a print of sketch from Charles Bridge for 60 euros and a Bohemian glass vase with glass flowers from Wenceslas Square. In 2009, we bought a hand-crafted Bohemian crystal egg from Lesser Town for 20 euros, I think.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: First time we were here in 2009, we stayed in Prague for 3 days but this time we were there for a day and half. There are countless things to do in Prague which can keep any visitor busy for weeks. It is a big city after all and has something for every taste. Enjoy classic shows in theaters, be amazed by really old churches or synagogues, enjoy the view of whole city from different towers – like TV Tower or Petrin Tower, appreciate old and new architecture of Prague (especially check out the Jewish quarter for that), get lost in small alleys of old town, or if nothing just take a stroll on Charles Bridge and enjoy its bustling scenes.

Christmas lighting in Old Town Prague
Christmas lighting in Old Town Prague
           

1) OLD TOWN and ASTRONOMICAL CLOCK: This is the main square and one of the liveliest places of Prague. The Christmas lighting and markets were fabulous here and the Christmas tree was one of the tallest and gorgeous I’ve seen so far. It includes several historic buildings, monuments, and churches.  It’s a perfect place for drinks or a meal.

Some Renaissance and Baroque buildings in Old Town Prague
Some Renaissance and Baroque buildings in Old Town Prague
             

Last time when we were here during Easter, the place had many stores at that time too. We took a horse ride around the old town from here. St. Nicholas Church is a Baroque church from 18th century in the northern side of the square. We never went inside the church but it’s beautiful. Goltz-Kinsky Palace (now National Gallery) from 18th century is the most remarkable building in old town. Church of Our Lady before Tyn is a dominating feature of this square. This 14th century Gothic church was the main place to worship in old town during that time. Currently, I am not sure if visitors are allowed to go in but it looks gorgeous at night when its two towers with 4 spires are lit up. The southern side of the square has a series of some photogenic Renaissance and Baroque façade buildings covered with murals from couple centuries ago. And finally, a huge memorial to a religious reformer, Jan Hus, stands in the middle of this square.

Main square of Old Town Prague and Church of Our Lady before Tyn
Main square of Old Town Prague and Church of Our Lady before Tyn
            

At one side of the square is Prague’s old town hall with a big old astronomical clock on it. It’s a 14th century Gothic building. There is a little show at very hour when the clock rings…something worth seeing. Tourists are allowed to go inside and to its tower for a little fee.

Astronomical Clock in Old Town Prague
Astronomical Clock in Old Town Prague
           

2) CHARLES BRIDGE (KARLUV MOST): This is my most favorite bridge in Europe and one of the must-sees of Prague. It connects Old Town with Lesser Town.  It can be very crowded and touristy at any time of the year (particularly in summer days) but this pedestrian bridge over River Vltava offers absolutely stunning view of the river, other bridges, Prague Castle, and overall a nice view of a lovely town by River Vltava. This 12th century bridge has two impressive towers and I think, tourists can go on top on one of them. Thirty, mostly Baroque style, statues of various saints richly adorn the two sides of Charles Bridge (15 on each side). These sculptures are not the original ones (original statues were destroyed in floods and in other events) and you will see many people touching them for good luck. Take a stroll on this bridge both during day and at night to experience different looks of it.

Charles Bridge at night, in Prague
Charles Bridge at night, in Prague
               

Charles Bridge is more than just a bridge, it is the symbol of Prague. The bridge is beautiful day or night. We crossed it once at night and then the next day to go to Prague Castle. By the way, this is a nice place to buy paintings or sketches done by local artists. You can also find some other local souvenirs on this bridge.

Bustling life of Charles Bridge during day
Bustling life of Charles Bridge during day
      

3) PRAGUE CASTLE: According to the Guinness Book of Records, Prague Castle is the biggest ancient castle in the world dating back to 9th century. You can find virtually every architectural style of the last millennium in this castle buildings. This is the place where Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors and presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic have had their offices. The Czech Crown Jewels are also kept here. Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa gave the castle its present architectural form. Ferdinand I (V) was the last crowned King of Bohemia and his coronation in 1836 was the last important event at Prague Castle before the creation of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918.

Steeples of St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle from Charles Bridge in Prague
Steeples of St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle from Charles Bridge in Prague
            

You can get one of the best views of the city from Castle Hill. Bridges, steeples and domes of many churches, red roofs of nearby neighborhood, and everything in the far distance look fantastic from here.

A view you should not miss from Prague Castle
A view you should not miss from Prague Castle
              

“The Gate of The Giants” is what the main entrance to the castle is called. Two royal guards stand there continuously. Make sure to be near the entrance to catch change of guards. It takes place every hour but if I think, at noon the event is longer and nicer. We saw it in 2009 but not this time.You can find several exhibitions, like art, history, toy museum, galleries, and few temporary or permanent exhibitions once you are inside the castle. Other than that the castle has several palaces, defense towers, and gardens. Most of the castle area is open to tourists. There are few big courtyards within the castle complex.

"Change of Guard" at the entrance of Prague Castle
“Change of Guard” at the entrance of Prague Castle
            

As soon as we passed the first courtyard, we saw St. Vitus Cathedral. This Gothic cathedral is one of the most prominent architecture in the whole city. This is also the biggest and the most important church in Czech Republic. This grand edifice is stunning outside and very ornate inside. The pair of its old and tall steeples can be seen from far away. Although we didn’t go, anyone can visit its bell tower for a unique view of the city.

Then we stopped at Old Royal Palace. It may not be that impressive from outside but the palace houses some old portraits, large halls, few old furniture, a throne room, and replica of orb, crown, and scepter.

One of the halls of Prague Castle
One of the halls of Prague Castle
               

A red building beside Royal Palace is the Basilica of St. George. This Romanesque basilica was founded at the beginning of 10th century. It’s very simple and small. There was a small exhibition on church’s history here, maybe something worth visiting.

Basilica of St. George inside the complex of Prague Castle
Basilica of St. George inside the complex of Prague Castle
           

From there we grabbed some sandwiches before walking towards the Golden Lane. This is something we didn’t explore in 2009. This is a small cobbled-stone alley with some exquisite shops. The main attraction of this lane is that there are some displays of Renaissance age’s professions and how those professionals lived during that time. You can see goldsmith’s workshop, an old tavern, a psychic’s house, and etc.

Finally, we visited the prison room in the castle. It was a tiny underground cell from the medieval time. We get to see some old torture instruments and a big well where serious criminals were kept.

The castle is located on the Castle Hill near Lesser Town. You can either walk up the ramp or take lots and lots of stairs to go up to Prague Castle. There are few packages to explore the castle. We took the “Short Visit” which was 250 CZK and it included St. Vitus Cathedral, Royal Palace, St. George’s Basilica, and Golden Lane. Kids under 6 enter free.

4) LESSER TOWN: The neighborhood on the other side of Charles Bridge near Prague Castle is known as Lesser Town. This is also an old part of Prague. This historic quarter has some beautiful cobbled streets, churches, and local shops.

Old buildings in Lesser Town of Prague
Old buildings in Lesser Town of Prague
      

5) MARRIONETTE OPERA: Something new we did this time in Prague was that we watched a marionette opera show in old town of Prague. This side of Europe (including Austria) is very famous for their marionettes. The one we saw was called “Don Giovanni”. This was a gift from the famous composer Mozart to the city of Prague in 18th century. It’s a classic story with fantastic music and wonderful puppets. We went there mainly for the kids but I even loved it so much (although we couldn’t understand story) that I had to come back to hotel and read the story of Don Giovanni…should have done it before going to the performance.

Mozart's "Don Giovanni" marionette show in Prague
Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” marionette show in Prague
              

The theater is very close to Charles Bridge, can’t really remember the name. They have marionette shows like this every day at 5pm and 8pm and the show lasts for about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

6) DANCING HOUSE: Also known as “Fred and Ginger”, this is one of the unusual buildings in Prague which was built in 1996. It was named after two dancers, Fred and Ginger. This is Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry’s one of the finest piece of works. You may have to walk a bit away from the old town but it is within walking distance and something worth the visit.

"Fred and Ginger" or "Dancing House" in Prague, Czech Republic
“Fred and Ginger” or “Dancing House” in Prague, Czech Republic
         

7) WENCESLAS SQUARE: Although this is the biggest square in Prague, it is more than just a typical square. Originally it was a horse market in the Middle age. Now, Wenceslas Square is more like a modern avenue lined up with many shops and souvenir stores…a fantastic place for shopping. The place comes alive especially after dark. We found a big Christmas market here too. A statue of St. Wenceslas was placed here in the 19th century. This is a historic place of the Czech people, this is where they came together to demonstrate against the communist government. At one end is the Czech National Museum.

Christmas lighting in Wenceslas Square
Christmas lighting in Wenceslas Square
          

La Chandeleur – Happy Crêpe day

Last week, February 2nd, was La Chandeleur or Candelmas day for French Catholics. It is a day to celebrate the presentation of Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth (Christmas Day) and the purification of Virgin Mary after giving birth. This is a very popular celebration in France, Belgium, and I think, also in the surrounding French speaking regions. The tradition is to eat crêpes for dinner on that night, but only after 8 p.m. As my French teacher Kristine was saying, usually the dinner starts with ham, cheese and other finger foods. Then eventually they will have variety of savory crêpes followed by some sweet crêpes for desserts. Not to mention, in the old days the feast was celebrated with fresh home-made crêpes, but now a days people can buy different variety of ready-made crêpes from the stores. Another tradition that goes with La Chandeleur is to flip the crêpe with one hand while holding a coin in the other hand. If the cook can catch the crêpe in the pan, his/her family will be prosperous for the rest of the year.

One of my favorite French desserts - Crêpes

This is very similar to the Groundhog Day in North America. La Chandeleur also predicts when the winter will be over and the spring will begin.

What better way to celebrate this day than having lots and lots of crêpes. I try not to miss having my share of crêpe when in Paris. I know I am late, but we are still in February. So, Bonne Chandeleur to everyone.

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