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Prague Castle Christmas Market

The Christmas Markets are the whole reason to brave the cold and visit Central Europe this time of year. They are beautiful festivals dating back to the very roots of Christmas tradition as we know it and they transform what could otherwise be a dreary time into winter wonderlands.

Mrs Smith holding a cup of warm, mulled wine and a trdelník, or chimney cake, highlight our first Christmas Market. Appropriately enough, our first Christmas Market experience occurred at the Prague Castle, just steps away from the resting place of Saint Wenceslas I, the famed good king of song. Here stalls of vendors join together to sell many handmade gifts and local delicacies.

The trdelník is a long strip of dough wrapped around a wooden stake and then cooked over an open bed of fiery coals. Once golden brown, this hollow treat with a crisp outside and doughy soft inside is rolled in a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, and, often, almonds. Some places fill it with cream, chocolate, fruit filling, or even ice cream, but we prefer it plain, fresh of the grill, and piping hot.

The Czechs also love their grilled cheese. Grilovaný oštěpek is not the ooey-gooey orange variety that Americans are used to, but rather a harder, stringy white version that takes on a firmer, smokier exterior. It's often eaten with break and, for the holidays, with a little cranberry jam.

For heartier fare, the Czechs have what seems like endless combinations of sausage, potatoes, and cabbage. This comforting version mixes small potato dumplings (akin to gnocchi) with small pieces of sausage and shredded cabbage.

And if the trdelník isn't sweet enough for you, there's plenty of intricately decorated gingerbread to go around.

Of course, we won't be forgetting our first Christmas Market anytime soon. We purchased several kinds of Czech sausage to take with us.

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