A True Scary Story

A True Scary Story

“Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.” -Carlos Ruiz Zafon in The Angel’s Game   Being scared happens. It’s part of living. And, sometimes it’s what teaches us who we are, and how to be brave. I’ve had a few scary instances in my life … of being followed when I was a 16-year-old model in New York City, more than once; of failing when I’ve dared greatly; of having hard conversations when they’re necessary; of the route when all hopes fail; of being alone, left in the darkness, and all the crazy scenarios our minds can cook up when we’re tired or we feel we’ve reached the end. A Village Street Near My Home outside Prague   But there is one true happening within the last year that sticks out as scariest in my mind. My story involves Swat Teams, burglary, nighttime, and the very not-secure back door to our rental house. True Stories at JessicaVealitzek.com, and since Jess’s site is now undergoing renovation, I’m posting the piece here, as well: A True Scary Story from My Days in Prague When my writing friend, Jessica Vealitzek, asked me and some of the other ladies on the team at Great New Books to write a “The Time I Was Most Scared” essay for her blog, True Stories, I knew instantly what I should share. But I wasn’t sure I could share this story out loud. Then, this past weekend, I talked with one of my dear friends overseas whose home was just targeted...
Appreciation: The Greatest Part of Returning to the USA

Appreciation: The Greatest Part of Returning to the USA

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. It’s funny. I don’t think I ever realized just how much I would appreciate home until I’ve returned. The most basic things are the things I am most profoundly grateful for, for instance: Safety and security: i.e.: that there aren’t mafia men in trench coats on 24-hour stake-out on...
Fairy Tale Prague: Christmas Markets & Snow

Fairy Tale Prague: Christmas Markets & Snow

“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. By the time we walked into Old Town Square, snow fell so thick it coated even our eyelashes.   The Christmas market stalls set up in Old Town Square sell Prague ham from a pig roasting on an open spit, Trdelnik from roasting bars turned...
Charles Bridge, Prague, and Sunrise in Fog

Charles Bridge, Prague, and Sunrise in Fog

“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. Today, only pedestrians cross the bridge, which was constructed in 1357 under the rule of King Charles IV. Three tall towers have guarded the Charles Bridge for centuries, and 30 haunting statues gaze over pedestrians as they cross. Darkened with time and elements, the statues were added to the bridge around 1700 in Baroque style, and to me, always feel as though they are watching. The mystery, legends, and history–the feel of standing still in time there–make Charles Bridge my favorite place to be in Prague. I love photographs I’ve seen of the Charles Bridge shrouded in fog, orange in the rising sun. Many many many times I’ve ventured down the Charles Bridge on a foggy morning hoping to catch my own photograph of the incredible scene. Every time, I’ve missed it. The fog is gone, fleeing by the time I arrive. But this past Friday, I woke up to a blanket of fog. And this time when I ventured down to Mala Strana it was different: the fog stayed. The sun rose, orange, glowing. Swans...
Nelahozeves Castle: the Finest Bohemian Renaissance Castle

Nelahozeves Castle: the Finest Bohemian Renaissance Castle

“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...
Střekov Castle: Stunning Gem of Czech Republic

Střekov Castle: Stunning Gem of Czech Republic

“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. He imprisoned the horseman, who soon died in the Castle tower. Stricken with grief, the maiden jumped from the...
My 3 Years in Prague

My 3 Years in Prague

“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...
Craving Roses, Grasping Thorns

Craving Roses, Grasping Thorns

“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 … Window boxes and planters spill with color from the windowsills … And our dog, Poppy, loves the yard. She finds plenty of places to get into things … Today, though, I didn’t think much about Poppy running around in the front of the house, barking. She disappeared for a few minutes behind an evergreen tree, and tried to come inside with pieces of everything stuck in her hair: moss, pine needles, bark, grass, etc. I brushed her off with two swipes of my hand, and raced her up the stairs for writing time. She leaped up into the chair like every day, and soon fell asleep, like always … But about ten minutes later, as I typed, I noticed a bug on my laptop keyboard. I looked closer … and it was *gasp* a tick! And then, another! And another! And two more, for a total of FIVE...
3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See

3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See

“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. 3)  The Lobkowicz Palace. (Actually, this is Number One on my favorites list, but you must visit Golden Lane early because of the crowds.) Inside, the Lobkowicz Collections display amazing cultural artifacts and treasures from over four centuries, including Canaletto paintings (including the recently renowned painting of Lord Mayor’s Day, remembered in celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee), Beethoven’s manuscripts of the 3rd, 5th, and 6th Symphonies, etc. Priceless. My other favorite is to have lunch at the Lobkowicz Palace on the balcony overlooking...
The Beauty of Prague in Winter

The Beauty of Prague in Winter

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. In November of 2010, I decided that I needed cross-country skis if we were to live in this place buried for months in snow. A week after I bought my used skis at Happy Sport in Dejvice, it snowed. And the snow didn’t stop … I skied my way through the winter of 2010-11. It was beautiful.   Now, this winter of 2011-12, I am waiting  for the sure-to-come winter that will bury us with snow. My skis, though well used in the Italian Dolomites over Christmas, are standing unused in the garage. But despite the lack of snow, Prague is beautiful in January’s low light.         This January, I’m enjoying the brilliant sunsets, the quiet evenings to read by the fire, the crisp air, and frequent pixie dustings of snow. It’s simply beautiful. What is your favorite part of winter? The snow? Reading by the fire? Enjoy! Related posts: Snow, Charles Bridge, and the Beauty of Prague’s Spires in Winter Prague’s Winter Loveliness What Prague Looks Like in Winter...