Sunday, 1 December 2013

Czech Republic – Rocking around the Christmas Tree

November 30

Hello everyone!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kazakhstan, yet won’t miss the morning trudge to the bus stop through howling winds in temperatures regularly dipping below -30’C. One of the reasons we moved to Prague was the more moderate climate, where winter can be enjoyed rather than endured.

That’s not to say the Czech Republic is a tropical paradise. Colleagues here are already warning us that the temperatures will dip sharply to uncomfortable levels during the next couple of months. This fact is tempered by the inevitability that the capital will look stunning wrapped in a blanket of fluffy, white snow. Indeed, on a recent risk assessment trip to the south I was introduced to the breathtaking beauty of central Europe when snowflakes decorate the region.

Though it has threatened to do so, the weather system has yet to dump significant volumes of snow onto Prague. The image of a winter wonderland is thus currently restricted to our imagination, or looking at pictures on the internet such as the one below. In spite of the lack of snow, though, the city is certainly gearing up for the magic of Christmas.

It’s just my opinion, but Christmas seems more magical in this part of the world than any other I have experienced. The atmosphere of a central European city in winter seems remarkably relaxed. The build-up to Christmas in Britain is stressful, pressurised by expectation of satisfying the commercial hunger of the general population. December in Thailand and Singapore bizarrely combines artificial snow with blazing sunshine and shorts. Koreans, and indeed I, worked and studied on Christmas Eve, resulting in no time to foster a ‘Christmas spirit’.

It may be because the old Christendom has had hundreds of years to perfect it, but places such as Prague and Dresden (see the next blog for that adventure) seem to have struck a harmonious balance between the bustle of the markets and a friendly air reflecting the fact that this is the season of goodwill. The wooden toys and trinkets are a reminder of days gone by, before Father Christmas was asked for a PSP (though I was probably guilty of such lustful commercialism when I was younger), whilst the mulled wine and cinnamon rolls called 'trdelnik' warm the masses as they peruse the stalls of local produce.

Masses is an apt word to describe the incredible number of people who turned out for the first day of the Prague markets this Saturday. It is normally something I would avoid like the plague, but any agoraphobia or fear of being pickpocketed was trumped by the desire to see the lighting of the tree in Old Town square. A mighty green conifer currently soars over the wooden stalls below; not that you would know its original colour if the lights are turned on, as they have been since the big countdown.

Ignoring the outrageous electricity bill that the tree must be racking up, it is a wondrous sight that is sure to bring a smile to the stoniest face. Bright pear drops fall lazily as snakes of lights flash white warmth across the square, with colourful baubles twirling in the breeze within them. A giant circular star sits proudly on the top.

There are three sets of markets in central Prague: Old Town square (the busiest), Wenceslas Square (the longest) and Republic Square (the cheapest mulled wine). All are worth a visit, and within a short walk of one another. All of them have a friendly, warm atmosphere that has the potential to make you tremendously excited for Christmas. It has certainly made me eager with anticipation for the holidays, even without any snow falling.

Love you all


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