First Christmas market experience in Prague!

christmas market in Prague

I love Christmas, who doesn’t? The bright lights, Christmas trees (bonus if they’re REAL!), carols…Growing up in the only Catholic country in Asia – Christmas is a huge thing in the Philippines. It’s probably the biggest and most important and anticipated event of the year.

I spent a good 19 Christmasses before I left to live in a non-Christian country (my first Christmas in Japan wasn’t what I expected it to be) and sure there are lights and Christmas decors there, it’s never the same. After 10 years in Japan, we moved to Dubai. There are Christmas decors here too but then it crossed my mind – what would Christmas look like somewhere else where Christmas is traditionally celebrated? Like in Europe perhaps?

christmas market 4

Prague is about 6.5 hours flight from Dubai so I chose it as destination for the plane tickets I won from a contest by Fly Dubai. I can only take one companion so I took my preteen daughter Pristine to embark on a new adventure – a trip to Prague, Czech Republic for the main purpose of hopefully experiencing a bit of Christmas a few days before the actual big day –  by visiting the Christmas market for the first time!

This is our first travel alone together and I was excited to see how she’d take it. She has not been to Czech Republic (neither have I) so we explored it together, got lost together and massaged each other’s feet after hours of walking.

christmas market in Prague 1

Tourists and locals alike flock to the Christmas market to buy presents, eat traditional food or sip hot wine or simply marvel at the sight of the huge tree at the center of the square. The tree is of course, real!

christmas market 10

We visited the oldest and biggest Christmas market in the capital city of Prague located at the Old Town Square which was only 5 minutes walk from our hotel.

christmas market in Prague 2

christmas market in Prague 3

On our first day in Prague, we joined a walking tour, had lunch and went back to the hotel to rest. When night came, we bundled up to go out and see the Christmas market all lit up. I cringed at the idea of going out in the cold but it would be a shame not to – it’s at night time when everything comes alive!

Prague Christmas market night

It was drizzling so I couldn’t take my proper camera out. So tip if you’re traveling during winter and want to take good photos using an SLR camera, either you could check the weather forecast first before you travel or have a waterproof photography gear.

Prague Christmas market night

christmas market night 3

It’s just so much different during the night, isn’t it? I love the photos I took even though these were just from my iPhone.

The dates during which Prague Christmas markets are open are usually different from year to year. In general, you’ll find at least some markets running from the last week of November into the first week of January. The Prague Christmas markets run from 28th November to 3rd January.

baubles

christmas market in Prague 4

christmas market in Prague 5

What’s so enchanting about Christmas markets are all the little things that never change: children gathered round the crib; grown-ups gathered round the hot mulled wine (svarené víno or svarák) stalls; the nutcrackers, the carols, the candlelight. Foreigners come here to stock up with gifts and delicacies. Locals often just drop in for a few drinks and a bite to eat.

hot wine

pork roast

christmas market in Prague 7

We loved everything about the Christmas Market in Prague, most impressive of all is the Christmas tree, shipped in from Ceská Lípa, which is north of Prague. The tree is erected at the Old Town Square and draped in a blaze of lights. It is switched on every night around 5pm, and makes a spectacular sight, set against Prague’s dark gothic skyline.

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF PRAGUE’S CHRISTMAS MARKETS

1. Book a hotel around Prague 1, that’s the nearest to the Old Town and Wenceslas Square soyou can leave your hotel and be in the midst of the markets in minutes. Grab a drink, browse the stalls, and soak up the atmosphere. And when you’re ready for a warm bath, it’s just a short walk home.

Pariszka street

During our visit to Prague, we stayed for two nights at The Intercontinental Prague using the loyalty points I got from the IHG® Rewards Club. The hotel is located on the fashionable Parížská shopping street in the Old Town area of Prague, a fantastic location that allowed us to walk to most important tourist spots including the Old Town Square where the Christmas market was taking place.

intercontinental prague

2. Take your time. Remember, this is a market. There will likely be more than one vendor selling similar products so there’s no need to impulse buy at all. And the price of the same item will differ from one vendor to another!

christmas market in Prague 6

3. The market usually gets busier at night, so if you want more time to check things out at a slower pace, a daytime trip would be better. Also, you can take more photos of everything in the market without too many tourists crossing in front of you during daytime.

4. Take it easy on the mulled wine. Hot alcohol hits harder. No, really.

warm wine

5. Keep warm. It was around 0 degrees celsius at night when we were there early December. No snow yet but it was raining on the our first night in Prague. You might be better off wearing waterproof winter jacket as well.

Prague is a picturesque city throughout the year, although the spirit of the city during Christmas time is extra magical. We could not forget the time we spent in Prague even if it was a short one. We would love to go back again, Christmas or not, next time, bringing the whole family.

What do you want from Santa this Christmas?

Christmas is right around the corner. Since we don’t have Thanksgiving here, we go straight to Christmas. Heck, in the Philippines, the Christmas mood starts when the “ber” months roll in. I know this sounds crazy but it’s not unusual to hear Christmas songs playing on the radio as early as September.

I was on Twitter the other day and saw an announcement from UAE Secret Santa. You know that fun event last year when people who signed up for the Secret Santa gift exchange would be paired up anonymously and exchange gifts? I don’t know what others got but I would like to think I was the luckiest Santee. I was left speechless went I got my gift(s) from my Secret Santa.

Up to this day, I have no idea who gave me those gifts so this year, I decided to sign up again so I can pay it forward. There’s this normal form to fill out with name, address, telephone number and a few questions. I took so long so send the form back because there’s one question where I’m stuck:

What do you want from Santa this Christmas?

Flashback years ago, I would have listed so many items (that I need, some very basic ones including socks or even hankies).

Last year, I listed so many things I fancied so my Secret Santa could choose which one would be easier to get. I did not expect he would give me ALL + much more!

However now, I found that as I age, I don’t need many material things any more. Sure, I still get attracted to a watch, the only accessory I can’t leave the house without, or a pair of really good shoes but aside from those, what I really need can’t be bought by money: health of my family, will and determination and fighting spirit to get me through my different life goals, my children’s smiles.

My heart overflows at the thought that I am not too hungry to list the things that I want because as it is, more or less, I already have the ‘things’ that I need.

As I turn a year older TODAY, I feel more and more blessed. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate material gifts (huge shout out to my baby sister who surprised me) but it’s not like I’m going to be sad if I don’t get any. Another year means another year to be thankful for – I lived and survived everything that came my way for the past 365 days. THAT for me, is a big deal.

Here’s looking forward to more adventures, challenges and blessings that will come in the next year.

How about you, have you thought about what you want from Santa this Christmas?

Secret Santa

My Secret Santa is awesome

Secret Santa

I’ve read that more than a hundred UAE residents have signed up for the UAE Secret Santa. Strangers are being paired, one is a Secret Santa who buys a gift for his/her Santee. Wouldn’t it be fun? I will be someone’s Secret Santa while I am a Santee to someone. Get it?

Participants are required to make a wish list and I did list some of my favorite things. A wish is a wish so I wrote some things that are way beyond the minimum price requirement because, it is after all, a wish. Most of the communication between Secret Santas and Santees are done via Twitter with the help of @uaesecretsanta which I must say, have done a GREAT job at organizing this fun event, connecting people and giving the holidays that extra spark of excitement. 

The gifts are to be sent out before December 31st. I sent out mine before Christmas and was received by my Santee with joy (whew!). Now I was waiting in anticipation for any sign from my Secret Santa. Yesterday, I got a message from Twitter that someone from the organizers is going to deliver it for me and we arranged a date…Christmas day!

I got a call from someone from the UAE Secret Santa Society (heh, I like the sound of THAT) right when I was taking a nap (no, a food coma actually), so I missed plenty of calls. Sorry!! I brought two equally excited kids out to meet someone outside our apartment building. There were 3 gift bags inside the car, I mean, SLEIGH so I asked, “So, you’ll be busy delivering other gifts after this?”

UAE Secret Santa

To which the reply came…”No, they’re ALL YOURS!”

What? All three beautiful gift bags, MINE?! To be honest, expected to get either of the newly released books from Paulo Coelho or Nicholas Sparks as they were on top of my list. But then I got BOTH books…and then MORE.

secret santa

I think it is safe to say that I have been good this year? Well actually, very good if we are going to judge by the Christmas stash I got!

From a stranger.

I FEEL SO LOVED.

EDITED (after awakening): It was so selfish of me to say and declare, “Oh, I’ve been so good, that’s why I got these wonderful gifts!”. And I want to apologize for that. My Secret Santa is NOT my mother, father or husband, I am pretty sure of that so he/she has no idea if I had been really good (and if I were, that did not give me the license to be gifted this grand, right?). The ultimate reason why I got all these gifts (almost all + more of what’s in my wish list!) is because my Secret Santa is good. That is the most accurate way to say it.

P.S. I still don’t know who my Secret Santa is.

I am still turning the gifts one by one to see any hint from where they came from. My Secret Santa was very generous and I am so moved! My favorite things, including Lindt chocolates (there are actually 5 boxes but my son got one and ran away with it so there are only 4 boxes in the photo)! 

UAE Secret Santa

My Secret Santa also supports my goal of a fitter 2015! I included gloves I needed to use for lifting weights in my wish list. The dumbbells from the workouts I’ve been doing are giving me callouses in my hands, especially below my ring finger! Then a heart rate monitor I’ve been wanting to have for the longest time! But hey, my Secret Santa is WISE and knows for sure that all work and no play makes Grace a dull girl so he/she threw in some chocs (no less than LINDT). Well played, Santa, well played!

gift boxes

Even the boxes were all sparkly and colorful! I love everything and can’t help but scream and scream as I opened the ones wrapped in paper inside the boxes. The children helped me with this exciting task too.

opening gifts from secret santa

It’s so sweet to get things you really wanted, the thought really counted and this one is very well thought of! And again, very, very generous too. I mean, VERY.

So, I can go on and on and make you jealous but I need some investigation to do. WHO is my Secret Santa? I have turned each of the things to see a little note or a hint and have found none, as of yet. I may not be able to sleep tonight because I may not ever know who he/she is! If he/she wanted to be known, he/she would’ve used a delivery company to get my presents to me! But he/she used someone to deliver it to me personally…hmmm. Sneaky.

snow globe

Anyway, I am THANKFUL. My daughter asked me, “WHY, what did you do and you got all these good stuff?”

I’d like to think that I’ve done something good to someone, somewhere, some time – there could never be any other explanation why I deserved this. That was what I told my girl. I always believed that if you have done something good, it will come back to you. Karma, good or bad comes in circles. Maybe. Most probably. 

So, Secret Santa, I know you are reading this (you have been stalking my blog and my social media channels pretty well to know what tickles my fancy!). Thank you very much, you made me really happy. I thought surprises were overrated but nah, this was a really, really good one! Merry Christmas to you if you are celebrating!

Top photo credit

working on Christmas

Working on Christmas day?

working on Christmas

Sorry for the lack of updates. Everyday, I promised myself to write just after I finish this work load but the time I finish the work load is only a few minutes before 6 pm when I needed to leave and go home. A few minutes to write a blog post when you’re mind is already fogged and thinking of only the commute and walk home and dinner? Yeah, that sort gets you nothing.

The plan to blog after work is a bad idea after all.

So now I’m going to wake up earlier and blog first before I dive to the depths of my work desk. I will surface again at sundown.

The thing is, Christmas is coming. Right, the merriest of holidays. Truth is, I have been working every year on Christmas day (December 25th). It is not a holiday here in Dubai, it’s a Muslim country after all. Same case in non-Christian Japan where we previously lived before relocating here. Christmas in the Philippines (where I was born and grew up)? The word festive would be an understatement. We start our Christmas countdown in September (no kidding). We stay up late on Christmas eve and eat at midnight when the clock strikes 12 midnight and the date changes. We have fireworks outside. I was in for a shock on my first Christmas in Japan because, nothing happens outside on Christmas night in Japan.

Related post: Christmas in Dubai: What’s it like?

This year, my seventh Christmas in Dubai, I want to be home on the 25th so I have been working double time so I can make my boss say yes to a day off on Christmas day. Thus the lack of energy to post a blog at sundown.

Top photo credit by Huffington Post

What have you all been up to? Are you done with your Christmas shopping? Because I have not started at all – who wants to freak out with me?

The Advent Calendar challenge

It’s like my previous post sucked out all the energy in me that I have declared myself unavailable to blog. No. Reality is that, I have been swamped with work, lots and lots of work because a work colleague is leaving the company and there will be no replacement. We have to suck it all up and divide his work duties among ourselves.

And also, I have been hiding under the rock in an attempt to be as crafty as I can trying to do an Advent Calendar project for my daughter. I’ve just been acquainted to this Advent Calendar thing recently – a very creative and fun way (especially for bright eyed children) to count the days down to Christmas.

Photo credit

Each box numbered 1-25 has a surprise treat inside for your child to open one at a time until Christmas day (some until Christmas eve).

When I saw this 20 Creative Advent Calendar ideas – all I can think of was go home and do it, do it, do it!! My daughter looked at her restless mother and thought where her real mother had gone. There’s a long three day weekend ahead of us starting tomorrow and really, this is something a working mother would wish for: longer weekend and doing something memorable, beautiful and meaningful with her children!

(I am posting beautiful and sophisticated advent calendars but making a really simple one involving the Japanese art of folding paper: origami)

World’s most expensive Christmas tree

…is in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. 

Think sapphires, diamonds, strings of pearls and other precious stones hanging in the huge 43 foot tree in the hotel lobby amounting to a staggering $11 million.

emirates palace tree

The Emirates Palace Hotel, already home to the world’s first gold ATM machine is enjoying the non-stop attention this tree has brought them.

According to the hotel’s general manager, Hans Olbertz,

The tree is artificial, but the jewelries on the branches, those are not artificial.

emirates palace tree2

The hotel is trying to get recognition from Guiness World Records.

More on BBC.

Christmas trees displayed around town is a common scene in Dubai and in the Emirates. In a country where majority of the population are Muslims, it’s a rare thing, even peculiar but who are we to question. This Islamic country doesn’t really mind what’s ‘politically correct’ or not and we Christians are thankful to be able to celebrate Christmas and enjoy the scene and that Christmas feel away from home.

But this tree is outrageous.

*****

Thanks for visiting my little blog, Googlers. I have written a follow-up post about this here.

Christmas in Dubai: What’s it Like?

Living in Dubai Christmas

Dubai, being a city located in the Middle East, Arab region, prevalently Islamic environment…one would think Christmas won’t have a place in its book. Wrong. I bet first time visitors and expats who come during Christmas time has that little fear of losing the Christmas feeling just because they have landed in an Islamic country. I had the same worry three years ago.

Living in Dubai Christmas

Every year, Dubai makes all the needed preparations and decorations to welcome Christmas and make the atmosphere Christmas-sy to foreign residents who celebrate it. There are Christmas trees in most (if not all!) malls and hotels. The photo above was taken inside Radisson SAS Hotel in Deira. The streets are lit up. There are lots of Christmas events like annual Christmas tree lighting or meeting with Santa which is always a hit for the kids.

December is a very comfortable month, weather wise here in Dubai so with the festive events and decorations around, it’s a great opportunity to roam around the city to see the lights in our light jackets. Needless to say, Dubai is kind and generous to all faiths where locals (UAE residents) and other non-Christian friends nonchalantly greet us Christians “Merry Christmas!” instead of the ‘politically correct’, “Happy Holidays”. I love that.

When compared to Japan, Dubai has a much better edge to giving that Christmas feeling. The Catholic/Christian churches even hold a Christmas masses to celebrate.

The only downside? December 25 is a normal working day (we can always take a leave if we like), just like in Japan. Thankfully, December 25 falls on a Friday* this year so I’ll probably be staying home, watching Polar Express or opening the gifts with my daughter.

* Fridays are our normal day-off every week.

Christmas trees around town

Just a quick post to say I am still taking house guest around town. Christmas may have passed but in Souk Madinat Jumeirah, the beautiful tree is still standing.

In Dubai Mall, we found a gigantic white tree that spans three building floors.

 

The base of the tree – compare my friend’s and Pristine’s size to the tree! My camera’s cheap prime lens couldn’t capture the whole length of the tree so here’s two-thirds of it:

I don’t know when they’ll take these trees down but it sure adds something nice despite what is happening in some hot parts of the Middle East right now.

last Christmas

I‘ve realized after writing my Thursday Thirteen for this week and after seeing a comment saying my list had more awful Christmas memories than not that it is true. I’ve written it without really thinking and after putting up the post and reading it again after a few days I was surprised.

This year, I didn’t want anything in particular for Christmas. December 25 is a usual normal work day here in Dubai. My family celebrates Christmas at midnight on December 24 – much like how people would celebrate the New Year. It’s work day the next day so no big parties for us. After coming home from work on Christmas eve, I had to cook our Christmas dinner and wrap gifts for the family members. The gifts were not much and I can wrap them in milliseconds with three pieces of cut tape so no big deal there.

Around 10 pm, Pristine and I were curled up in the bean bag, in our dimly lit small living room enjoying the white lights that my mother had put up by the window. We talked about Christmas and why we celebrate it, to which she delightfully reacted, “Jesus and I have almost the same birthday!”

We also watched the movie, The Polar Express. We have bought the DVD some weeks back but I have never really seen it. Pristine has seen it more than twice and swears it’s a good movie so who am I to contradict that? I loved Polar Express! You know those feelings when you thought you’d sleep through a movie or show yet finish it with your eyes still wide open and having that warm fuzzy feeling all over? The Polar Express did that to me, despite Tom Hanks’ ducky voice.

clutching her Christmas gift while watching The Polar Express on Christmas night

The movie finished just a minute after midnight then Pristine and I hugged and wished each other a very Merry Christmas. My mom was there too. However, my husband was not there – swamped with work. Christmas eve and Christmas mean nothing to him, according to his beliefs and tradition but I have accepted it and have nothing against it. We were incomplete on Christmas eve but I am not shattered into pieces. After all, Christmas has a lot more meaning than that. (He came home 10 minutes after midnight, though and had a quiet dinner, the three of us)

Sounds like this year’s Christmas is not so fun for me, you reckon but it’s definitely going down the memory lane as another memorable Christmas. I was happy to be able to spend it the way I wanted it to, at home, with my daughter, looking at the stars outside, feeling warm and fuzzy after a movie, sharing the story of a baby who was born long ago. These fleeting moments made my Christmas more precious than any gift I could ever receive.

Christmas in the malls: Dubai Festival City

Dubai Festival City is in the Christmas mood, just like most (if not all) malls in Dubai. They have a giant tree that I couldn’t wholly capture (my fault, not the tree) because of my unequipped lens.

tree at festival city

It must look more beautiful at night when the lights are on.

Near the giant tree, there are colorful gift boxes and other Christmas trinkets.

The poinsettia in the garden was real.poinsettia

Pristine asked me if there is really a snowman inside the box.
snowman

Flower shop in Christmas colors.flower shop

The babe loved posing for photos:

 Festival City Christmas

Festival City Christmas

So you would think people who celebrate Christmas will be dull without Christmas eye candy in this Islamic country? Now you all know that is not the case in Dubai! 🙂