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Mihaela Lica Butler
Millions of people say; “there’s no place like Moscow during the Christmas season.” While there may be some argument on this, the color and pageantry Russia’s capital are adorned with are on par with anyplace on Earth. But when locals and visitors take to ice skates, the city has no equal for its outdoor ice skating rinks. Here’s a short review of five of the best.
VDNKh ice rink
In 2017 the World Record Academy awarded Moscow’s VDNKh ice rink the title “world’s biggest skating arena with synthetic ice.” Boasting some 20 thousand plus square meters of the ice surface, the stylish rink thrills skaters by allowing them to skate by beautiful fountains and past Soviet-era pavilions. Lined with many dozens of cafes and food courts, VDNkh is worth visiting for the sheer joy of skating, and for its proximity to the Moskvarium, and other nearby attractions too.
The rink has a capacity of more than 4,500 people who may split their visit in between several themed zones: Big Circle, Infinity, Lovers’ Alley, Children’s Playground and the Hockey Field. But at Christmas time everything takes on a more festive and joyous flair. For convenience visitors have six equipment rental pavilions, skate sharpening stations, two medical areas, and three changing rooms. Entry fees range from 200 to 400 rubles.
Gorky Park ice rink
One of Moscow’s most famous icons, legendary Gorky Park endeavors each year to improve on the previous year’s icy wonders. For instance, the huge ice rink was recently enlarged by one thousand square meters to well over 19,000 square meters. Famous for its skate tracks that pass through the park’s Central Square, Gorky Park also added a “stereo rink” so that skaters can ice dance to tunes provided by leading DJs.
This season Gorky Park created an innovative portal to the reality of stereo and a world of light, music and events. Designers used wavy patterns that remind us of a sound sequence, and symbolize a movement of free sound. Visitors will also be able to see optical illusions without any 3D glasses, skate along ice alleys-equalizers and move to another part of the Ice Rink through illuminated tunnels. The whole park is an experience not to be missed, and visitors can expect a host of amenities from restaurants to the Gorky Park Museum and other attractions. Entrance tickets for adults to the main rink are in between 350 and 600 rubles.
GUM ice rink
Why not skate right on Red Square? You can, you know? The GUM ice rink on Russia’s main square opens on Nov. 30, and while the rink only has space for about 450 skaters, the atmosphere is beyond compare. Skaters revel beneath the Kremlin walls and towers, the Historical Museum, St. Basil’s Cathedral and a festively illuminated GUM department store.
Next to the rink, the New Year tree and a small fair add to the experience. Drink a warm tea or mulled wine, and eat a bliny in sight of one of the world’s most iconic landmarks. There are also always some entertainment shows too, that includes Russia’s Santa Claus – Father Frost. Prices are from 200 to 400 rubles through February.
Smaller than either VDNKh or Gorky Park, the ice skating rink called “Ice” is only 5,300 square meters. However, you’ll find skating here a bit more intimate, since there’s not near as many visitors most days. The park is famous for music and dances on the ice, and this year there’s a huge hand heater to go along with the foot heater.
First-time visitors to the park will be amazed at the park named for the falcon hunt formerly held by the Grand Dukes of Muscovy. The Sokolniki Park is one of the city’s most beautiful, a labyrinth of walks and lanes with restaurants and amenities dotted throughout. You can also expect quite a few cafes and the usual skate rental outlets. Tickets are between 300 and 400 rubles.
For those visitors in search of an intimate Moscow experience, the ponds at Patriarshiye and Chistye are free as well as romantic attractions. Covered in ice in winter, these two natural skating rinks are also adorned for the season. Skaters can check out light and laser shows, music, and even a disco. These ponds are actually Moscow’s oldest areas for skating.
There are also frozen pond rinks at Ostankino park, Baumana Garden, Porklonnaya Gora (Park Pobedy), Luzhniki.
Welcome to a world of magic and alchemy: featuring four lesser-known Prague attractions and a spa to pamper you in the winter.
1. Lázně na lodi
Lázně na Lodi at Rašínovo nábřeží
Lázně na lodi is a wellness center with sauna and spa. It is located on the river at Rašínovo nábřeží and offers jaw-dropping views of the city. Guests can enjoy a classic Finnish sauna and bathe in a hot water outdoor pool. The a pilot project by H3T architekti, aims to test the interest of Prague residents and visitors in sauna facilities. So far, the project is a success.
2. Muzeum Smyslů
Muzeum Smyslů, the Museum of Senses, is a playful tourist attraction, which only opened in November 2017. It is a unique experience, fun and educational at the same time. You start with a walk through a dark tunnel where the water flows upwards, and the journey will take you to the top of a skyscraper, to a dessert of optical illusions, in a park where you can play music and form extraordinary sand structures, and so on. Simply fascinating, and a great stop for a fun winter afternoon in Prague.
Muzeum Smyslů: Infinity disco room
3. Mysteria Pragensia
The Museum of Alchemists and Magicians “Mysteria Pragensia” is a sensational attraction that offers a trip into the occult with odd exhibits that challenge your imagination and beliefs. They also have a pub and often offer ghost tours of Old Prague, as well as boat tours on the Vlatva.
Museum of Alchemists and Magicians
4. Reon Argondian’s Magical Cavern
Reon Argondian’s Magical Cavern on Petřín Hill is an art project the artist started in 2005. It’s a private cave-like museum with walls covered with the psychedelic paintings of Argondian (nee Jan Zahradnik). This is also the artist’s studio, where you can meet him and see him at work.
Reon Argondian inside his Magical Cavern
5. Speculum Alchemiae
We remain in the world of magic with our last stop: Speculum Alchemiae. It is a relatively new attraction, discovered after the floods that affected the historical center of Prague in 2002. This was the secret laboratory of the alchemists of the rennaissance and the current exhibition gives an authentic view of the city’s occult past, featuring items that belonged to personalities like John Dee, Tadeáš Hájek of Hájek, Rabbi Löw, and Tycho Brahe among many others.
If you have more than a weekend in Prague, you could also visit Matej Kren’s “Idiom” installation at Mariánské nám. 98/1, in the entrance hall of the Prague Municipal Library. The artist’s “tower of books” was installed here in 1998 and still fascinates the visitors of the library. Made of 8,000 books, the tower has also been sometimes dubbed the “Column of Knowledge.”
The Slovakian capital is more laid back than other European destinations, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy an active holiday in Bratislava.
Winter Wonderland is our special discount for the season, but also a state of mind in Warsaw. If you visit the sprawling capital of Poland from December until the end of February 2018, you may think that there are fewer things to see and do than in the warmer months. But Warsaw will surprise you. Here are some of the most exciting things that will make your winter holiday in the Polish capital a fantastic experience.
Of course, you can always stroll around the Old Town, which is beautifully illuminated in December in Christmas lights. There’s also an ice rink in the Old Town Square. Another ice rink will be available during the winter at the “PGE Narodowy” stadium, the National Stadium Warsaw, with added attractions like a skate park, curling sheet, multi-lane slides, and all sorts of musical and sporting events.
The Figlowisko ice rink will open too. The indoor ice rink stay open 24 hours a day, welcoming children of all ages, as well as adults.
You can sip mulled wine at the Christmas market, visit a museum, go shopping and food tasting at Hala Koszyki, people watch at a cozy cafe. Yes, these things are pretty standard. You can also opt for one of the top things to do with children, as many of these attractions remain open in winter too. But what if you want more? Here are our suggestions.
Acro School Warszawa
For those interested in kitesurfing, snowboarding, wakeboarding, free-running, surfing, freeskiing, land kiting and skateboarding, look no further than Acro School, a new initiative designed exclusively for active people. But what truly sets AcroSchool apart is its Poweriser offer. Even if you have never jumped on Poweriser jumping stilts, you can enjoy the thrill, here, in safe conditions. Packages for all skill levels, children, and adults alike.
Go horseback riding at Stajnia Agmaja
Stajnia Agmaja are stables, offering recreational horseback riding, hippotherapy, a mini zoo, social bonfires, costume balls, gala events, and a lot more. This is an ideal place to spend a quality afternoon with your family, but can also be booked for longer horseback riding trips for groups.
Winter Wonderland in the magic garden at the Wilanów Palace
The King’s magical garden at the Wilanów Palace is a fascinating winter wonderland too. The children will love the mysterious passageways glittering with thousands of Christmas lights. They will discover huge flowers, animals, and fairytale creatures in what becomes a giant outdoor playground designed by Santa Claus. The “Royal Garden of Light” is an elegant, sophisticated exhibition, directly referring to the Palace’s architecture and history. Every element and detail of the exhibition refers to the iconographic sources, Jan III Sobieski’s coat of arms and the Palace symbolism. The exhibition also features three-dimensional light and sound shows screened on the facade of the palace every weekend.
The magic garden at the Wilanów Palace is open until February 25, 2018, daily from 16:00 to 21:00 (Photo: Marcin Mastykarz via Muzeum Pałacu Króla Jana III w Wilanowie on Facebook
Go Skiing in Park Szczęśliwice
Park Szczęśliwice is just a short 20-minute drive from Warsaw and a top spot for the locals for all-year skiing and snowboarding because it boasts Górka Szczęśliwicka, an artificial hill perfect for the two sports. They also have offer skis and snowboards rentals, so there’s no problem if you fail to bring along your gear. The slope has an area of 9,500m² covered with a Dendix mat, which, in the absence of, or low amounts of snow, can be covered by a snow cannon. A chairlift with a capacity of 1200 people per hour and a ski lift with a capacity of 700 people per hour serve the site.
Besides this famous spot, the hills of Królikarnia and Moczydło are favored for another beloved winter pastime: sledding.
Eat traditional Gołąbki
Gołąbki are cabbage rolls filled with minced pork or beef, chopped onions, and rice. They are the traditional food of the winter, served in most Polish restaurants as a simple, hearty, comfort-food that reminds of childhood and the food served in rural homes. One of the best restaurants to enjoy this specialty is Gościniec – Polskie Pierogi, which is also famous for its delicate fried dumplings and liver served on a hot cast-iron platter:
There are two Mamaison hotels to offer you a warm welcome this Christmas season in Warsaw: Mamaison Hotel Le Regina and Mamaison Residence Diana. Both participate in the Winter Wonderland special promotion, which gives you a 15–20 % discount on your accommodation, as well as attentive pampering upon your arrival. You can continue to follow us on Facebook for more tips and information on winter activities that make your holiday in Warsaw this season a memorable experience.
Winter can be a magical time in Budapest. From mid-November until early January, the city is dressed in Christmas lights and the locals embrace the spirit of the season with joy and enthusiasm. The Hungarian capital stays lively and active, with youth going clubbing, foodies discovering new gourmet hangouts, and spa-goers fighting the cold in one of the numerous spa baths that made Budapest legendary.
Beyond visiting the Christmas markets, and riding the Christmas Tram decorated with Christmas lights rides on two lines: 2A along the Danube promenade and 19 from Batthyány tér to Kelenföldi Pályaudvar, here are some of the most interesting to see and do in Budapest this winter.
Irgalmasok Veli Bej
Irgalmasok Veli Bej is one of the lesser advertised baths of Budapest, and, although they have been featured by several prestigious travel guides, they are still considered the “secret” baths of the city. Indeed, considering that most tourists choose between the famous Rudas Baths, Széchenyi Baths, and Gellért Baths, visiting Irgalmasok Veli Bej may not be as “trendy.” But it’s worth it. A historic landmark, Veli Bej is also the largest Turkish bath in Budapest.
One of the most beautiful Turkish baths of the city, Veli Bej boasts five thermal pools, which can benefit people with a variety of disorders, including chronic arthritis and neuralgia. Guests may also enjoy two steam baths with various essential oils, massage showers, Finnish sauna, infrared sauna, jacuzzi, and a swimming pool. The spa is also used for a variety of cultural events, conferences, dance, and entertainment.
Join the annual New Wine and Cheese Festival
The beloved tourist landmark known as Vajdahunyad Castle remains open in winter, offering visitors plenty to see and do. The permanent exhibition in the castle features the thematic collections of the Hungarian Agricultural Museum, but there are also visiting exhibitions with other interesting topics that crown the seasonal offer. Plus, you shouldn’t miss the annual New Wine and Cheese Festival, which takes place at the end of November. Visitors will enjoy a variety of wines produced by professional winemakers, indoor and outdoor activities, homemade cheeses from the countryside, a wine fair, a New Wine contest that will choose the best Hungarian wines of the year, and the procession of the Hungarian Wine Order members, among other events.
At the New Wine & Cheese Festival in Vajdahunyad Castle don’t forget to taste the famous Furmint wines.
Welcome 2018 from a cruise on the Danube
New Year is the season’s liveliest celebration, with many parties all over the city. For a spectacular, fun-filled step into 2018, book a cruise on the Danube. There are several choices, ranging from classy gourmet dining to booze parties, boogie and swing, and much more. This website lists cruises, boat parties, and other events that guarantee a New Year party to remember.
Go ice skating at Városliget
The City Park Ice Rink in Budapest is the main meeting point for locals and tourists alike in winter. The venue is open from November 20, 2017, until February 26, 2018. This year’s ice skating program includes ice skating lessons for children and adults, skating lessons for school and kindergarten groups, and skate sharpening workshops. They will also offer skate rentals in the future.
You can book tickets online for ice skating at the City Park, on the venue’s official website.
Eat delicious kürtőskalács
Kürtőskalács, the famous Hungarian chimney cakes, are a favorite treat on cold winter days. You will find many stalls selling the delicious dessert in the streets so you can still enjoy them even if you missed the festival in October. Cakes are cooked to order and you can choose your favorite toppings.
You can still enjoy warm chimney cakes in Budapest even if you missed the Kürtőskalács Fesztivál in October.
Where to eat the best chimney cakes in Budapest?
The following venues are quite popular with the locals.
- Molnár’s Kürtőskalács (Váci u. 31) is the definitive crowd pleaser. The cafe serves traditional Kürtőskalács, Molinari coffee, and Italian ice cream. They are open daily from 9:00 to 22:00.
- Körösfői Kürtőskalács is just a kiosk on Szent György tér 2 but it is popular and you will often see the locals queuing up to get their fix of chimney cakes. Their selection of toppings is, however, poor: chocolate, nuts, coconuts, cinnamon, and vanilla. Still, worth the wait. All Kürtőskalács are made to order here too.
- Vitéz Kürtős have two permanent bakehouses at the Budapest Zoological and Botanical Garden and at the Budapest – Csillagvár Shopping Center ( Rákóczi street 36). They offer classical chimney cakes, but also flavors like vanilla, nuts, cinnamon, cocoa, coconut, and almond. They also sell homemade chocolate, baking kits, and baking accessories. You will also find their stalls at the Christmass Fair at Vörösmarty square, and at the Autumn Fair at Erzsébet square at Budapest Eye.
- Töltött Kürtős (Erzsebet ter 13) is a kiosk too and they are known for their non-traditional approach: they fill their Kürtőskalács with Nutella, topped with ice cream and syrup. A decadent dessert, by all means.
Sure, Budapest is far more complex in the white season. You will have to explore it at your own pace to discover more than what travel guides reveal. Or ask your hotel concierge for recommendations. There are two delightful Mamaison Hotels in Budapest waiting to pamper you this winter season: Mamaison Hotel Andrassy and Mamaison Residence Izabella. So keep an eye on our blog, Facebook page, and Instagram updates, for other travel tips, places to see, special offers, and more.
Mamaison Recommends: some of the most interesting things to do and see this December and holiday season in Moscow. Whether you stay at Mamaison All-Suites Spa Hotel Pokrovka or elsewhere in the beautiful Russian capital, here are the things that will make your vacation a superlative experience.
Vajdahunyadvár Summer Festival
When you stay at Mamaison Hotel Andrássy Budapest here are the attractions that are just a short walk from our hotel.
Carved casks in wine cellar of a Slovak producer. (© Renáta Sedmáková Fotolia.com)
There was a time when the stretch of land between Bratislava and Trnava was the most important road in this part of the world. Roman chariots roamed up and down, carrying a precious libation, brewed by Bacchus himself, all the way from Gerulata, to the table of the emperor. Today, this is called the Small Carpathian Wine Route – no longer a royal site, but a sight for sore eyes, nevertheless.
Visitors to the south-west of Slovakia will no doubt note the unique qualities that make the region so universally appealing. At once medieval, and at the same time clean and modern today, this place was inhabited since Neolithic times. The area grew expansively once the Romans took over. What they brought with them, the winemaking tradition Slovakia is now noted for, is one of Bratislava’s, and the country’s most cherished activities. The Small Carpathian Wine Route is a part of this tradition, and travelers to this region have enjoyed it for generations, albeit their passion is not noted in detail by many travel guides.
Perhaps the limited access to some of the villages here explains why not many tourists dare to pursue a tour of the Small Carpathian Wine Route. If you don’t have your own car, Modra, with its celebrated Manor House, which holds a handicraft market for Christmas, and some other interesting wine-related activities around the season, is out of reach. But specialized touring companies have no trouble taking you there, and if you are an experienced hiker, there are many resources, including detailed maps, to help you find your way around.
An experiential tour that combines wine, countryside, history, and the exceptional gastronomy of the region between Bratislava and Trnava, the Small Carpathian Wine Route proposes a rich bounty. What was once part of the Great Moravian Empire, is today a treat of another kind. Strung along this wine route, the towns of Pezinok, Modra, and Jur, all take part with their unique wine production techniques and idiosyncrasies. But no matter which town you find yourself in, you’ll discover not only fine quality wine but people who speak of centuries-old excellence and goodness.
The Small Carpathian Wine Route is not well known outside Slovakia: only about 0.3% of all European wine comes from here. Nevertheless, some wines are exported and enjoyed abroad, in particular, the sweet varieties blended with beet sugar: Nitrianske knieža (Knight of Nitra), Kláštorné červené (Red from Monastery) and some other refined creations. These and the more traditional libations are served all over the region, even in the fine restaurants surrounding our magnificent Mamaison Residence Sulekova.
Beginning in November, on Deň otvorených pivníc, the cellars of the region open all around the Small Carpathian mountainous region, with top varietals; Veltlinske Zelene, Rizling Vlassky, Frankovka Modra, Rizling Rynsky and Modry Portugal, to name a few of the more famous. About 80 wineries participate in the event, and many other small cellars along the route open their doors to show their fine winemaking traditions. But, for first-time partakers, the Malokarpatské múzeum Pezinok (Small Carpathian Museum Pezinok), 20 km northeast of Bratislava, is the best to take in the history of viticulture and winery under the Small Carpathians. The museum offers a tour of the cellar, a permanent collection of wine-press machines from Central Europe – the largest of its kind, as well as tastings of local wines. If you are in the region, don’t miss the cellars of the Pezinok Castle, a former moated fortress turned chateau, which are now home to the National Wine Salon (Národný salón vín Slovenskej Republiky).
In Častá, on the same route, this time 37 km NE of Mamaison Residence Sulekova Bratislava, you will find Hrad Červený Kameň, a 13th-century castle which houses wine tastings and an art exhibition at the wine-cellars day in May, when the season opens. Widely considered the most beautiful castle in the Little Carpathians, Hrad Červený Kameň was built at the request of Queen Konstancia Uhorska, on her own land, before 1240. The original construction was modernized by Rudolf Palfi and his wife Maria Eleonora Kaunitz – Rietberg in the 18th century. The castle is now a museum, opened to the public year round, and offering a diversity of public and private tours, as well as spaces for weddings and other events. The 1729 historical items collection of the castle is one of the main attractions here, but the library beats every record held by this landmark, with its 14 312 books. After you visit the museum, stop by its wine tavern, or the restaurant, to taste the fine wines of the Small Carpathian Wine Route.
Tasting these wines, echoes of the time when this land thrived as a winemaking region, you will discover an utterly unique European treasure, a tasteful retreat into the very heart of the continent. Just follow the little white signs that read; Malokarpatská vínna cesta – Small Carpathian Wine Route.
Holešovice has emerged in the past ten years as Prague’s capital of cool. It boasts fancy industrial spaces housing bars, clubs, and all kinds of artsy shops showcasing up and coming Czech designers and artists. Some of its abandoned factories and slaughterhouses are now used for pop-up cultural events, exhibitions (like DOX Center for Contemporary Art), or are centers for performing arts.
Some of the coolest places to see in Holešovice include the neo-Gothic Church of St. Anthony of Padua, the Veletržní palác, and the Praha-Holešovice railway station. But besides architectural landmarks, this neighborhood offers enough to entertain you.
The Národní galerie v Praze, National Gallery in Prague, is housed in large part inside the Veletržní palác. One the largest museums in Central Europe, the gallery has an extensive permanent collection featuring works by artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Miró, Klimt, Gauguin, and many others. Czech and Slovak painters and sculptors are also represented through the works of Alfons Mucha, František Kupka, Rudolf Fila, and Bohumil Kubišta, among many others.
Výstaviště Praha is another interesting destination in Holešovice. These are Prague’s Exhibition Grounds, a popular attraction since opening in 1891. They are located next to the Stromovka Park.
Or, you can hang out with the hipsters at VNITROBLOCK. It is a multifunctional concept store with original brands, sustainable fashion, and interior design by European designers, as well as live DJs, art exhibitions, DIY workshops, and other cultural events. One side of the space is occupied by trendy café.
If nature is your thing, there are two beautiful parks in Holešovice: Letna, with views of the Old Town, and Stromovka, the largest park in Prague.
Last, but not least, Holešovice is a great destination if you love street art. Almost all its streets will reveal a gem of proportions, but the best art is still on Milady Horakove street.
Holešovická Tržnice, now Pražská tržnice, or the Prague Market, is another appealing attraction. It’s a maze of stalls selling all kinds of goods. You’ll even find a “Mint Market,” a pop-up design market selling original fashion, jewelry, and accessories, plus concerts and workshops.
Do you have any other favorite spots in Holešovice you would like to mention?
Although the Moscow Halloween is not a tradition recognized by the church and religious groups and conservative politicians try to ban it in Russia, you will find out that many Russian enjoy marking the event with parties, decorations, themed-food, and festivals.
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