Making a Christmas wish
One Christmas wish, one Christmas dream.
Every traveller will have had one place in their hearts that they have always dreamt of visiting. Indeed, some travellers may have more than one place. It’s a place that was imagined from childhood and carried onwards through to adulthood, a place that refuses to be erased or de-prioritized from one’s personal must-visit list, a place that resists all the peer pressure and transient trends of today’s social media-obsessed era. What is that place for you? For one part of your Dessert Correspondents, there have been two such places. There has been a long-held dream to experience a “wintry Christmas” amidst the Christmas Markets of Central Europe, and there has been another dream to trace the rise of the sun as it casts its glow on the pyramids just outside of Cairo. In light of the ongoing political and social unrest in the latter part of the world however, we settled upon the former for the venue of our next travel (and dessert adventure).
Prague in December is… magical. As utterly eye-rollingly cliched as that may read, we are presently struggling to find another adjective that would quite encapsulate the city in one word. Over the course of three days, we explored both banks of the Vltava River that cuts a loop through the city. On one side of the river, one should not miss the 12th century-old library at Strahov Monastery, even if you have to grit your teeth, pay an entrance fee and a “photo permission” fee, and are then only permitted to peep at the libraries from the doorway. Less penny-pinching, and arguably, more memorable are the views of the city as you descend from Prague Castle to the Podul Carol Bridge. And from that bridge, watching the sun silhouette the graceful curves of the Charles Bridge, it’s almost like being part of a sepia-toned movie.
On the other side of the river is the Old Town. Here, we relinquished all sense of orientation while attempting to navigate the labyrinth of narrow, car-free cobble stone streets that spun off from the Old Town Square (also known as “Staromestske namesti“). Neither paper nor phone maps really work here. And in the midst of our geographic confusion, we also became confused temporally. Yes, there is an array of little tourist-centric stores peddling the usual colourful keyrings and magnet souvenirs, and ostentatious crystal ware. But casting your eyes above street level, never, on all of our of our past trips to Europe, have we encountered a more intriguing assortment of architecture as what we encountered in Prague – a melee of Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Neo-Classical buildings, with many powdered black by the passing of the centuries.
Because to fully experience a place, one must see it at both street-level and at loftier heights, we ascended to the top of the Old Town Square Tower. From here, we gazed upon the fairytale spires of the Church of Our Lady before Týn and the twinkling Christmas Markets below, as luminescent as one of the hand-crafted Czech crystal bauble decorations. And upon descent, to regain some warmth, we ventured to one of the many shops offering trdelnik. Known as “Kürtőskalács” in Hungary, and “Prügelkrapfen” in Austria, and seen as commonly in the Christmas Markets of those countries as in the Czech Republic, trdelnik is a cone of dough twisted around a metal rod, baked on the same rod on an open charcoal fire until golden brown, then rolled into a tray of cinnamon sugar and a dash of crushed hazelnuts. It’s not a churro or a doughnut, but a crispier creation. You don’t need to add chocolate, caramel, ice cream or any of the confection that may be on offer (and which we have also seen in other places, including New York). Close your eyes, take one bite, and as the sugar sprays into the air, make a wish – a wish for the upcoming new year, for another magical Christmas.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: Found at almost every corner of Prague, albeit in greater proliferation and density around the Old Town Square area.
- ☑ Budget: $.
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: Pastry creation.
- ☑ Must-eat: Trdelnik (aka a delicious fried dough dessert).
- ☑ The short and sweet story: Making a Christmas wish.