The Wine Bends: A Detour in the Austrian Countryside

Ah, Austria. We could wax artistic about Vienna’s museums, poke fun at the people in period outfits selling classical music concert tickets, tell stories about Euro 2008, or tempt you with impressions of Viennese coffee houses and flaky apple strudel.

Austrian Ticket Vendor
Decked out in period costume in Vienna, Austria.

But what fun would that be? You can read about that in the New York Times Travel Section, Conde Naste Traveler or any other travel magazine.

Instead we’ll share how, with the help of an Austrian friend and an unplanned turn of events, we discovered the real Austria in the country's Weinviertel (Wine Quarter) about an hour outside of Vienna.

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The Best European Christmas Markets

We’re here in Beijing, China and the only things going up more rapidly than new buildings are Christmas trees (mostly fake, of course). Last night, we became nostalgic while strolling past another giant shopping center Christmas tree, this one shielded by a roof that houses the world's largest LED video screen (250 meters long by 30 meters wide).

Beijing Christmas Decorations
Getting into the Christmas spirit in Beijing, China.

Though the proliferation of Christmas decorations in Beijing is remarkable, their presence just doesn't capture the holiday spirit like a European Christmas market would. So, we offer a walk down European Christmas Market memory lane and our “Best of” European Christmas Markets list.

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Christmas Reflections – A Detour to Dresden

One year ago today, we left our home in Prague to begin this journey of ours. Our first stop was Dresden, Germany where we found the Christmas spirit in its Advent markets on our way to Southeast Asia.

Christmas Market - Dresden
Smoking men at the Christmas market in Dresden.

We have a soft and nostalgic spot for Christmas markets. We were first hooked by our experience nine years ago at the markets in Munich (Germany), Salzburg and Hall (Austria). The storybook images in our heads sprang to life there in the midst of snow-capped mountains as communities gathered at dusk to drink spiced wine, eat freshly roasted chestnuts out of small paper bags and shop for handmade decorations. Spices wafted from stalls serving waffles and candied almonds and gift stalls burst with nutcrackers and wood-carved incense-burning Santa figurines.

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Eating Ethnic in Prague

When we first moved to Prague in 2001, ethnic restaurants were relatively expensive; the selection was slim and value low. In response, we sought out odd spice shops and developed new skills in cooking Italian, Indian, Thai and Mexican. As with the availability of ingredients, the number of ethnic restaurants in Prague has grown substantially over the last few years. We’ve even been introduced to some new cuisines like Afghan and Georgian.

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Cooking Well in Prague

When we first moved to Prague at the end of 2001, fresh goods like celery and limes were luxury food items with out-sized price tags whose whereabouts were restricted to an imported food shop called Fruits de France.

In the last five years, however, the landscape for finding fruits, non-root vegetables, spices, herbs and imported goods in Prague has evolved rapidly. Prague still doesn’t have a good central food market or a “fresh market” culture like Vienna or Munich, but the Vietnamese community has managed to fill some of the void by opening endless fruit and vegetable shops. Although it’s still difficult to assemble a sophisticated, full-course meal with one stop, if you know where to look you can find almost anything you need.

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Malesice – Prague’s Little Hanoi

Wondering where the real Vietnamese food is in Prague? Are fresh herbs and Asian goods your thing?

Where did you get those bags of frozen tiger shrimp? Where do you get your fresh Thai basil and long beans? Where did you get all those fresh herbs for your Vietnamese summer rolls?

If we had a nickel (a Czech koruna, perhaps?) for every time we’d been asked these questions, we’d have enough money to buy a vote in the Czech parliament.

We covet the secret no longer. Here’s the scoop…

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