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  • Abigail Springer

Forget Christmas in Hawaii. Try Central Europe for your Winter Holidays!

When my mom found out that her favorite opera singer, Andrea Bocelli, scheduled a European tour that coincided with my Thanksgiving break, my parents and I decided to spend the holiday in central Europe. The fact that we usually travel to the northern and western regions of the continent also motivated our trip.

Thanksgiving Break is just a week long, so we could only hit three major cities. Fortunately, one of those cities was Vienna, Austria. If you don’t know much musical history or haven’t taken European History (shoutout to Dr. Turney’s Honors Euro class), Vienna is considered the capital of classical music, and it has been the home of several famous composers, most notably Mozart. Going to Vienna was a dream come true for me! Upon our arrival, the first things I noticed were the Christmas decorations. (I was very confused until I remembered that Thanksgiving is an exclusively American holiday.) Of the three locations we visited―Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; and Prague, Czech Republic―Vienna was most decorated. On every other street, there were Christmas markets full of vendors and activities. One market even had a huge pit of hay―yes, hay. It was hilarious to watch people, of whom there were at least 40, running around in a hay pit the size of the Tillman Center. The markets also included food carts selling everything from crêpes to hot cider, and there were Etsy-like stalls where vendors sold handmade goods. Most of the markets we saw were in Vienna and Budapest; although there were some in Prague, many were in the process of setting up when we visited. Besides the markets, there were wreaths in everywhere, and Christmas songs were always playing.

As far as “American-friendliness” goes, Prague was amazing. Everyone spoke at least five languages, and they wanted to hear about our lives here in the States. There were small souvenir shops everywhere you looked selling Russian nesting dolls, hats, replicas of the astronomical clock (the third-oldest clock in the world, built in 1410, and the oldest one that still works to this day), and other little gifts targeted at tourists. What puzzled me, though, was that amidst the rich histories of these cities, I couldn’t turn my head without recognizing American influence, whether it was a McDonald’s (literally on every street corner), an American clothing store (such as H&M), or a Starbucks (also on every street corner, not that I was complaining...).

Each city had its own unique flair. In Prague, it was the mosaic sidewalks. In Vienna, it was the castles and monuments to the city’s royal figures (Empress Maria Theresa was by far the most popular), and in Budapest, it was the pride the citizens took in their wars of independence. Each city was also special to me, personally: Prague’s architecture and size made me feel like I had gone back in time, Vienna’s music made my heart skip a beat on a few occasions, and Budapest’s monuments and memorials pulled at my heartstrings (the memorials to the Holocaust and the revolution were the two that really got to me).

I will certainly never forget this trip. It was a wonderful experience, seeing how other countries spend their holidays and winter months, and I can’t wait to go back and see more someday.