Florence at Christmas time – December 2015

Duomo at Night

TreeFlorence, Italy is just a short trip from Lucca, so some friends and I decided to spend a full day there, enjoying the holiday festivities. The Duomo or main Cathedral in Florence is spectacular on a normal day, but it sparkles at night now with the large Christmas tree in front of it. I don’t know if I have ever seen anything so beautiful. There is also a large nativity scene in front of the cathedral as well (pictured at the bottom of this post).

The streets were all decorated with lights, and we were pleased to discover a few light shows throughout town as well. The one pictured below we just stumbled upon, but the big one is displayed on Ponte Vecchio. Don’t be fooled though. Just because it is the holiday season doesn’t mean that the light show will have a holiday theme. However, it is remarkable nonetheless and shows a deep appreciation for art. Pictures or videos just don’t do it justice. You have to experience it.

Lights

We managed to catch one of the last nights of the Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce. It was a great place to try different holiday foods like Hungarian Chimney Cake and German Apple Strudel. You can wash it down with some mulled wine. When you have eaten all you can, then it is time to shop. There were so many unique gifts to be found there.

There is nothing like Christmas trees, lights and markets to put one in the holiday spirit. Buon Natale!

nativity

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The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Christmas – Budapest, Hungary (November 2015)

StephensTree

I know the holiday season can be overwhelming in the United States. These days, decorations are up and holiday music is being played everywhere before Halloween is over. By the time Christmas comes around, people are sick of the holiday. However, this is not how it is in Europe. Decorations don’t go up until end of November or early December. In Lucca, Italy there are some Christmas lights and decorations but not much else to get you in the holiday spirit. Many people have told me that if I want holiday markets and more, that I need to go to Germany or Austria. Imagine my surprise when I found holiday markets and so much more in Budapest, Hungary. If you need a good dose of holiday spirit, which I desperately did, you should go to Budapest.

The picture above is of a holiday market in front of St. Stephens Cathedral. This market has everything needed to put you in the holiday spirit. It has shops, food, mulled wine, a market_standgiant Christmas tree, lots of lights, a nativity scene (pictured at the bottom of this post), an Advent wreath, and an ice skating rink. This market is minimal compared to the one that starts at Erzsébet tér that goes on for blocks and blocks. This DSC3367agiant market was a great place to try warm beverages and popular Hungarian pastries called kürtőskalács. They are to die for! I am not exaggerating when I say that with all the markets serving street food and beverages, that the entire town smells like Christmas with strong scents of cinnamon and nutmeg.

I got to experience the lighting of the Christmas tree in front of the Parliament building. It was stunning. Many buildings are decorated with twinkling lights, and the streets are all decorated with classic lights as well. As you walk along, admiring the lights, it is notDSC3293a surprising to hear Christmas songs being sung by carolers. If all these things are not enough festive holiday moments, you can also view a performance of The Nutcracker Ballet at the National Opera House, which is beautifully done with realistic sets and excellent dances. Plus, who doesn’t like sitting and listening to Tchaikovsky music for a while?!

If you live in a location that does not do a lot for the holiday season and need a reminder of all the joys of the holidays, you should consider a visit to Budapest, Hungary. Boldog Karácsonyt! Merry Christmas!

Bethlehem

BUDAPEST AT NIGHT (November 2015)

Buda Castle

This city is so stunning at night. No matter how cold it may be (or very windy like it was when I was there), go for a long walk along the Danube River. There is nothing like it anywhere. A walk along the Danube from the Buda Castle (pictured above), pass Matthias Church, to the Parliament building (featured below) is nothing short of magical, where all Night-bridgethe buildings are lit up.

On the walk back to the hotel, I cut through the city, walking around the Parliament building through the streets that are equally well lit. I came across this statue, which I believe is Roosevelt on a bridge (pictured on the right). It looked so real. You will find lots of other amazing statues on a walk through town. I found Ronald Reagan only a few blocks from the Parliament Building. Try not to miss walking pass St. Stephens Cathedral at night as well. Granted I got to see it with all the amazing Christmas decorations in front of it, but it would look amazing at night without that.

The nighttime views make this city one of the most romantic and spectacular of all European cities.

Parliament