Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. ~G.B. Stern
“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner (1912-1996) Art History Professor, Theologian, Poet
“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” -Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) Philosopher, Mathematician
appreciation [əˌpriːʃɪˈeɪʃən -sɪ-] noun
1. thanks or gratitude
2. assessment of the true worth or value of persons or things
Not long ago, a wise friend wrote a spontaneous comment to me about the expat experience. She, too, had been an American who had lived for an extended period of time outside the United States. And she, too, had moved back to the United States recently with her family. I have thought about and repeated what she said many times over the past few weeks, as I and my family transition from our almost 4 years of living abroad in the Czech Republic. What she said was this:
“The best thing about being an expat is the appreciation you have for everything when you return.”
I might only be able to add, with emphasis and bold letters, to the word EVERYTHING. Because that’s what it really is: I appreciate EVERYTHING.Read More»
“Through the window, the night air appeared dense, each snowflake slowed in its long, tumbling fall through the black. It was the kind of snow that brought children running out their doors, made them turn their faces skyward, and spin in circles with their arms outstretched.” -Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
Isn’t that what happens when the first snow falls? We watch in amazement as the muddy autumn world turns a crisp winter white. It’s as if the lacy flakes dance and twirl and mimic our hearts during the first snowfall — we feel lighter, more joyful. Snow turns us all into children again, if we let it.
This past weekend, in Prague, we had our first gorgeous snowfall. Yes, we suffered through an October snow that snapped tree limbs and piled atop colored leaves still on the trees. But this snow was different. It was the kind I classify as pure magic.
My family and our dear friends’ family met at the National Theater for an afternoon Advent Concert. It was beautiful (next week, I’ve decided I have to blog about the Theater, which I LOVE). When we exited the Theater, a shimmering of pixie dust glittered in the air, stirring the Castle and the Vltava and the vintage trams rumbling by the legendary Cafe Slavia into a magical land.Read More»
“Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form inself on the edge of consciousness.” – Raymond Chandler, from The Big Sleep
If there would be one scene that defines Prague for me, it is the serpentine Vltava River winding through the city. Bridges cross the river at regular intervals, artistic in their arches, their Gothic architecture, and their spacing. Vintage red trams cross several bridges, along with cars and trucks and buses. But one bridge in Prague is completely special: the Charles Bridge.Read More»
“The monumental Nelahozeves Castle, one of Bohemia’s finest Renaissance castles, is situated on a gentle slope overlooking the Vltava River in the village of Nelahozeves (birthplace of the great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák), approximately 35 km north of Prague.”
-from the website (Lobkowicz.cz) of the former Czech royal family, the Lobkowiczes
Music has always been an important part of my life. Not just rock music (which I love, and blogged about going to see U2 in Vienna and Coldplay in Prague), but classical music as well. This is the story …
I distinctly remember the day I chose what instrument I would play when I was a girl in the 5th grade. My family had recently moved from the South (Texas) to the cosmopolitan North (suburban Philadelphia), and I was an awkward 11 year old with a hard twang of an accent, dressed in prairie clothes my mother made and double braids my mother braided every day, and stood taller than my male 5th grade teacher. Yes, that was a tough time. Music was one of the things that saved me, I’m sure.
The cart the music teacher rolled into the school auditorium had been loaded with instruments — flutes, clarinets, trumpets, and a violin. Perhaps a few more. But I remember I only had eyes for the stringed instrument. When the teacher saw the size of my hands, she told me I needed to play something larger than a violin. A viola or cello, she said. I agreed. A viola sounded nice.
For the next many years, I played my viola. I toted it with me when we moved to another new state, and also when I ventured to college. I played the same viola when I became a mom and after, at friends’ events or at church. My viola still sits upstairs in a special boy-proof spot. The sheet music waiting inside the viola case still calls my name, though I don’t play it nearly as often as I like. Several of the pieces inside the case were written by Beethoven, and one was by Dvořák — all are favorites.
Fast forward to Czech Republic, where I currently live with my family. One day, when playing the music from my viola case, I recognized a name written at the top of the music, in German. Lobkowicz.
Soon, I discovered the 7th Prince Lobkowicz had been the prinicipal sponsor of Beethoven, including his 3rd, 5th, and 6th symphonies. Stunning!
And Dvořák grew up literally beside the Lobkowicz family castle called Nelahozeves Castle in Nelahozeves, Czech Republic (then Austrian empire). It was then, at these discoveries, that I began to dig in to see everything I could about the rich history in this enchanted region near Prague. Seeing all of the history, standing inches from the original Beethoven manuscripts, hearing the music played in castles and theaters near Prague — these all have left an imprint upon me and my life.
So, I must share them here as best I can with you — today, Nelahozeves Castle.
The Lobkowicz family has made an enormous mark on the world, through so many things, but also through music. Last week, I featured one of the Lobkowicz castles, Strekov Castle. I have talked about the Lobkowicz Palace inside the Prague Castle. And following, photos from one of my visits to the Lobkowiczs’ magnificent Nelahozeves Castle.
One of the most incredible parts of the Lobkowicz story happened when their properties and possessions — castles, music, palaces, and everything — were confiscated by the Nazis in 1939 and then by the Communists in 1948. In recent years, since the fall of Communism and the Soviet bloc, the Lobkowicz family has been working to restore all that had been taken from them, and put back on display for the public to see.
And since photography isn’t allowed inside the Lobkowicz properties, you must go and see the incredible exhibits for yourself. Priceless music, art, household items, armor — the Lobkowicz palace and castles are must-see places when you visit Prague. For more, visit their website at Lobkowicz.cz.
For you: What are your favorite classical musicians? Do you play an instrument? How does seeing such history and grandeur affect you?
“Střekov castle is situated in the village Střekov in the city of Ústí nad Labem. It was built at the beginning of the 14th century on a basalt rock above the river Labe to protect the important waterway and to collect duties. Střekov castle enchanted many world known artists notably Richard Wagner who was inspired to write a poem that served as basis for the libretto to the opera Tannhäuser.” -Wikipedia
One of the most surprising learnings from my time in Czech Republic has been discovering the number of castles throughout the small country. Czech Republic is roughly the size of the US state of South Carolina, 30, 000 square miles, with about the same number of inhabitants, 1.3 million. But imagine, in a country of that size, Czech Republic has over 2000 castles and palaces.
I’ve traveled to see many, and have found a few in places where I never would have expected to find a castle. One is only a few miles from my house.
Recently, my family and I took a roadtrip north to see a castle owned by the Lobkowicz family, renowned for its dark and looming presence above the Elbe River. That castle is Střekov Castle, near the town of Ústí nad Labem, close to the northern German border. (pronounced Strzh-eck-ov)
Bohemian legend says that a maiden once lived in Střekov, the daughter of the Lord over the Castle. She fell in love with a common horseman, yet her father forbid their love.Read More»
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m not sure there is a way to become an expat besides just taking the leap. Actually, a leap from a cliff into a murky pool of water. There is no way to know if, on the other side of a Trans-Atlantic move, it will work out until you try it.
It’s like diving into a murky water, fast moving in parts and slow moving in others, and the views along the river are all unknown. Everything is unknown. Where will we go? What will we do? Where will we live? How will we make a life in the complete unknown?
Those were all questions in my mind when I leaped, with my husband and three young sons, into the darkened water that was a move across the Atlantic, from quiet and predictable suburban Ohio, USA, to an endlessly interesting village just outside Prague, Czech Republic, three years ago. It was an act of faith.
Before the move, during the swirl of days of selling our house and cars, and packing our furniture for its two month trip across the ocean, we had a two-day seminar with a Cultural Trainer to prepare us for our new country of residence, to help brace us for becoming citizens outside our home country, expats. Most of the things our trainer said were daunting, and all seemed impossible. But I made a practice of making mental notes to keep me for the coming months and years. Those notes — they have all paid off in full. And, after three years, I can honestly say ALL of the unbelievable things the trainer said have been or become true.Read More»
“But he that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” -Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
June is a beautiful month in Czech Republic. Everywhere, outside of Prague, vast fields of grain stretch out across the hills and into the mountains. The fields’ seafoam green coloring in June could almost pass for ocean. Here, two photos of the field and forest at the end of our street.
Here in Czech Republic, my family lives in a house very modest in size by US standards, but the fenced-in yard is even tinier — our grass is about the size of an average US living room. But despite the small size, we love it. Less stuff = bliss. And I still grow flowers …Read More»
“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.” – Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Prague German Jewish author, novelist
Prague is the most beautiful city on earth, and I think Franz Kafka agreed with me.
Even after living in Prague as an expat for three years, I still have not tired of Prague’s beauty. From the steep city hills to the winding Vltava River, to the time-worn cobblestones to the thousand spires skyline, Prague is a city like no other. If you haven’t visited Prague yet, you must. Start a jar for saving nickles and dimes today.
When you arrive in Prague, you’ll realize the centerpiece of the city is the Prague Castle, which sits high on a ridge overlooking the Vltava River. The Czech government still meets in Prague Castle today, yet the first structures within the Castle date back to around the year 880 AD. It is a fascinating place to tour.
If you have 3 hours, you can see much of Prague Castle. Here, my 10 favorite sites within the Castle walls:
1) Golden Lane.
2) Kafka’s house on Golden Lane.Read More»
Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home. ~Edith Sitwell
The first winter I lived in Prague, in 2009-2010, the snow came early and stayed late. Months passed and kept us blanketed with more than a foot of snow. For me, a native of Texas, the months of that first winter in Prague were out of a fairy tale … castles, spires, palaces, cathedrals all etched with enchanting and glittering snow.Read More»
“Attracting the attention of invading armies … objects in precious metals were the first to disappear from a household …” -The Lobkowicz Collections, on the value of their family’s vast decorative arts collections
As I look to wrap up my thoughts for 2011, after traveling more than 12 countries and dipping my toes in the Seven Seas in 2011, I must reflect on one event that has changed my thinking and altered my view of the world more than any other. And this event happened just last week, on December 15, in the Prague Castle grounds … at the Palace of friends we have the immense privilege to get to know a bit.
What do you think of when you hear the word CONFISCATION? Do you recall the bottle shampoo the security agent at the most recent airport you traveled took away because it was too large? Or the contraband you saw taken away at a school event, or other official venue, because it simply wasn’t allowed? I can think of a million things that might be confiscated at different places on different occasions …
But no confiscation ever could be as significant as the one I heard William Lobkowicz speak about last week, in relation to his family, and what the Nazis, and later the Communists so hastily took away.Read More»