Food, Glorious Christmas Market Food!

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Christmas markets are wonderful for a multitude of reasons. Awesome finds, unique presents, pretty lights and best of all, it gets you the festive mood. Among these, one of the highlights has got to be the food! That could just be me. That could just be the Trini in me. We love our bellies!

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In this one concentrated area of Christmas fun, you can find so many things to eat. It’s been particularly great this season, because I’m in a new city in a new country and lots of the foods are new to me. My eyes were as wide as the huge, steaming saucepans they fell upon, as I walked along peering at everything. The smells, the colours, the names I very slowly try to pronounce, depending on how many čárkas ´ and are háčeks ˇ are present. All of it makes for an exciting cultural experience.

So, without any further delay, here are some of the delights I have sampled over the past few weeks.

Koleno na pivě. This taste just like the stew we make in Trinidad!!!! So it’s probably one of my happiest finds- stew pork. Extremely tender and juicy. Flavourful. Beautiful.

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Halušky (“haloushky”). I completely forgot that I was strictly instructed to only have this when I go to Slovakia. But the person wasn’t mad, because apparently now I’ll be able to see why he said that. Haha. Surprisingly tasty… I’m always a little weary of what to expect when cabbage is involved. It also had chunks of sausage in it and some sort of doughy pieces which I later learned is typically made of a mixture of potato and flour. It did make my tummy grumble a bit after :z I’m not sure if that’s due to the dish itself or where I bought it.

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Horká medovina. Hot honey wine. Ooh-wee. This one will go straight to your head if you’re not careful. Shout out to my students who recommended I try it. Not overly sweet, decent kick, warms the soul and your organs. Yes.

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Good ol’ ham. The reason this became a priority was because one of my students told me his dad said to him and his mum, “There’s ham in Prague. We are going this weekend!” That was reason enough for me. When I was in Prague, I followed suit. However they cure it gives it an excellent flavour. I could see why one would travel miles for it. Succulent, tasty, divine. One of the best buys.

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Trdelník. I saw lots of these as I wandered around the markets. I had never seen anything like it before. The dough was wrapped around a massive stick and cooked over hot coals. They were then rolled in sugar and nuts. You could also get chocolate put on the inside or add cinnamon as well. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. A filling treat.

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Staple mulled wine. Tis the season. There was a huge opportunity to customize your drink at this hut. Spike it however you want and then you could also choose to add lemon, orange, strawberries or raisins and almonds. We bought the recommended Královský Punč (included brandy) and added raisins and almonds to ours. Chin chin!

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Bramborák. Fried potato, need I say more? Okay 🙂 This was essentially a hash brown of sorts. The smell as you walk pass makes it irresistible. That is, until you try it. The flavour was good, it was lightly seasoned. The edges were crispy and crunchy but wow, the oil. About three of my napkins got soaked through with oil. As I got to the halfway mark, I decided to give up. The oil started making me feel a bit queasy. This one was not for me, though I’ve been told that this is one you have to make at home because it’s usually miles better. I believe them.

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Sausages. You can’t really go wrong, can you? I chose a black one and it tasted kind of like black pudding. Kerry chose a lighter one with a yellowish colour, which tasted a bit like liver. We were both pleased with our choices.

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Langoše. Another one that reminded me of stuff from Trinidad (fry bake). After carefully stretching and shaping the dough, it goes swimming in hot oil. You could add different toppings. Available were cheese, mustard, ketchup and something else I didn’t get the name of. Another one that made the favourite list for me, but I’m probably bias because it reminded me of home 🙂

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And those were my “new buys, new tries” at the Christmas markets here in the Czech Republic. What things do you most look forward to at the Christmas market? Have you ever tried anything strange and new there?

~~~The Wandering Pier

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New Things: Péct Cukroví

In the Czech Republic for Christmas everyone bakes a bajillion little cookies, with different shapes, designs and flavours. These are called cukroví. On the weekend, I joined in. A coworker, Markéta extended the invitation to her home for the opportunity to learn and get involved. A chance to learn more about culture and traditions is a big part of what living abroad means to me. It was an easy yes.

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We started by drinking an Irish coffee, naturally. That was followed by lengthy conversation. We then stepped out onto the balcony to admire the brilliant view of sun kissed landscape and a small village over the way. Then we stepped back inside and began.

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Rolling, cutting, baking, talking, burning, oops. Seconds matter in the game of cukroví. Homemade jamming. Raisin chopping, nut crushing, piping. A couple of hours in and it was break time.

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Markéta’s husband prepared a snack for us. The flavour of the cured meat was incredible. Wine was poured. More Bailey’s offered. I had already refused twice (having already had two…or was it three) but I told them I couldn’t say no three times. Bailey’s.

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Then came the moment for them to light their final advent candle. They asked me to light one of the candles, which was a small honour for me. That was followed by carol singing. Her husband and two sons sat on the sofa singing and nodding along to the carols they played. It was one of the cutest things I’d seen in a while.

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Our work turned out great! Everything looked super cute and tasted delicious. It was a Sunday well spent. It was so nice to be in a family home, doing family things. Things like that definitely matter and stand out to me when you’re living away from home and family and friends. If you’re lucky enough to be spending Christmas with your family, don’t let the holiday stresses overrule this precious time. Take a quiet moment to pause and soak it all in. Veselé Vánoce. Merry Christmas.

~~~The Wandering Pier

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Christmas Market Festivities

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A coworker mentioned that she was going to check out the Christmas market near our work. I was about to finish so I asked to tag along. There are two within walking distance from work and we managed to see both of them. The first one was smaller and very cute. It was Wednesday afternoon, so it wasn’t too busy. There was a good variety of stalls ranging from Christmas ornaments, soaps & candles, local foods and of course, mulled wine.

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We got a drink at the first mulled wine hut we saw. It was a delicious red wine, spiked with brandy, finished with a heaped spoon of raisins and almonds. As we walked along we got closer to the sound of live music. There was a stage set up with a band covering some Louis Armstrong tunes. The singer was mimicking his voice singing in both English and Czech. Very unexpected, funny and entertaining.

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There were rides for kids, places selling wreaths and poinsettias and a few stalls that were serving hot food. We finally gave into the aroma and sight of sizzling sausages and stopped to have one.

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After that, we made our way down to the second market. This one was much more bustling which was unsurprising as it was in Freedom Square (Náměstí Svobody) in the centre of Brno. Here, the focus seemed to be more on foods and less on trinkets and decorations. That being said, I found a stall with the cutest wooden ornaments and bought a few as a present for someone.

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There was a towering Christmas tree, lights everywhere and the low hum of music in the background. In all, it was a great first trip to a Christmas market in the Czech Republic and for the season. Ho! Ho! Ho!

Adventures in going nowhere

The art of sitting still

Travel Between The Pages

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It may be surprising to discover that the renowned travel writer Pico Iyer thinks that sitting quietly in a room might be the ultimate travel adventure. In his recently released book The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere Iyer looks at mindful ways to experience life and travel. This video of his TED Talk about the book explores how Iyer sees technology leading us to seek spaces for retreat and contemplation. It’s worth 15 minutes of your time before your next trip.

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Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Fisherman’s Wharf was cool, but also absolutely terrifying. One word, seagulls. I can’t stand them and there they were aplenty! I arrived in the area via the old style cable car on the Powell-Mason line. From where it drops you off it was just a five minute walk over to Fishermans Wharf and there are lots of shops along the way to distract you. It’s a great spot to pick up souvenirs and some of the vendors will barter if you try 🙂

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When I arrived at the wharf I walked through the tight little passageway where all the seafood stalls have their grub on display for your salivating pleasure. There were so many stands with so many things! However, they all basically serve their seafood in similar ways. The sourdough bread bowls full of clam chowder looked to die for! I wasn’t really hungry so I just bought myself a little bowl of mixed seafood for the sake of it and decided to find a spot near the water to relax and eat it.

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Not so. The entire time I had any food I was on guard, certain a seagull was going to swoop down and fly away with my shrimp. They were EVERYWHERE. Then there were ticket touts trying to get me to buy tickets for all sorts of things. I finally found a spot on a bench and sat down. I even had a view of the bay and Alcatraz. I proceeded to eat, without much enjoyment because of my feeling of impending doom. Then for some unknown reason, a tour group decided to gather around me for their meeting. I sat encircled by the crowd of them thinking, is this for real? It’s not like they couldn’t see me.

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At that point, I gave up. I fought my way to freedom and walked over to the water for a better view of the prison island. Then, a nearby man threw a bunch of food in front of him, for the seagulls. Several swooped down and that was my final cue to leave the area. The walk was nice, especially since I didn’t have any food and was no longer a moving target. There is the famed Pier 39, museums, a shopping centre and aquarium. You can spot sea lions playing in the water, there are lots of photo opps and you can even rent a bike and ride along so you can see more of that stretch called the Embarcadero. I walked all the way down along it to the the Ferry Building. It was a very lengthy, but good walk.

If you’re going to Fishermans Wharf, these are my recommendations: eat inside. As tempting as the lovely views and beautiful weather are, it isn’t worth it. Get a bike, you’ll cover more ground and it’s just a fun, nice way to explore the area and San Francisco in general. Runaway from all men holding food. Unless that’s you… In which case, hurry up and eat your food x_x Add all the events during your visit, good and not so good to your memory bank so you can laugh about it later. Ha, ha. Ha.

~~~The Wandering Pier

New Things: A Čajovna

I had two goals for my Saturday, check out a museum and find a čajovna. I’d been interested in seeing what a čajovna (“chai-ovna”) or teahouse was like, since one of my students mentioned it. We were talking about cafés and coffee shops and he explained that he didn’t like coffee so he preferred to go to a čajovna. I’m always down for a cuppa, so I knew I had to get to one.
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I didn’t find the one I went in search of, but instead stumbled upon another. It was very nice. The seating was largely on low platforms with cushions. Shoes off (Korean stylie 🙂 ), dimly lit, with nice, chill music playing. They had an extensive tea menu. The teas were divided into several categories- green & yellow teas, black & red teas, semi-fermented teas, white teas, happy teas and non-tea teas! They came from countries all over the world. By my guesstimation they had at least 100 to choose from.
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If you’re not a tea drinker, they got you too. Coffees, hot chocolate, shakes/smoothies, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were all on offer. You could also order food. Not a full meal, but snacks and nibbles. To top it all off they did shisha as well.
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I sat there for a couple of hours sipping Nilgiri Shiva tea and reading my book. For me, it was pretty much the perfect setup. I’m eager to see what different čajovnas have to offer, not just to drink, but also in atmosphere and decor. However, it’s safe to say I’ll go back to this one in future. Winner.

~~~The Wandering Pier