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What Freedom Means Now

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” -Nelson Mandela

An American flag flies high above the US Embassy in Prague, from an iconic white building high on Petrin Hill, where it billows in the breezes along the Vltava River. The Czech flag and EU flags fly elsewhere, especially at the Castle and throughout the historic and governmental sites, but none sticks out so prominently from so far a distance as that lone American flag.

the Glorietta, US Embassy, Prague
the Glorietta, US Embassy, Prague

Once, after obtaining approvals and while wearing loads of badges, accompanied, of course, by a US Embassy friend, I had the privilege of climbing to the white structure with the American flag. The site is called the Glorietta. (In the photo, the Glorietta is at the tip of the white arrow.) And though I didn’t have my camera (security reasons), I will never forget the view. It was what freedom looks like.

When I moved to Prague, I became friends with people who were often parents of my sons’ friends at school, people from far-reaching places around the world like: India, China, Russia, Malaysia, South Africa, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Ukraine. Some stories I heard in the years with them were funny, others heartbreaking, and some so different from the way we live in the US that it was hard to believe they could be true. But they were.

One close friend, a native of Czech Republic, shared the truth about her family during the Nazi occupation, and then during Soviet communism. Hers are the stories that have changed my worldview completely, and redefined what freedom means to me now.

Her grandmother and grandfather, a teacher, were newly married in the early 1940s and were expecting their first child (my friend’s father). But one day, as her grandfather taught in the town school, Nazi soldiers came and took him away. Why? They didn’t take him because he was Jewish (he wasn’t), but for being an artist, a free-thinker, a writer, and respected community leader. He was sent to die at the concentration camps. He didn’t even get to say goodbye.

Later, the Czechs were ruled by the Soviet iron fist. My friend remembers walking to school beside the soldiers as they marched in time, their weapons propped up on their shoulders. Soviet tanks rumbled through the countryside and ruled the people with fear. Anyone who was caught doing anything subversive or against the state was sent to the Uranium mine work camps in the north of Czech. My 4th grade son had a field trip there.

If a person was smiling or laughing, the officials believed they were up to something. A smile or laugh brought them under suspicion during communism. They could be sent to work camps because of a smile, a laugh, a flirtation. It appalls me, and yet it is true. The effects are still evident today (a smile is rare in Czech).

Clearly, the world has had a tough century. In every corner of the globe, people are oppressed by others consumed with power. But sometimes, we forget. American flag

The most important thing we can do, each day, is not forget. Freedom is worth fighting for.

Freedom is the only way we can be our very best, individually and together. May we live in a way, every day, that respects and enhances others’ freedom.

Let freedom ring.

 

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23 Countries & 5 Seas: My 3 Years in Prague Travel Log

Stunning Switzerland

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo

In the past few years, since my family and I moved to Europe from the US Midwest, I’ve had the opportunity to see and travel to far more places than I ever dreamed. It’s been one incredible adventure.

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik

During that time, I’ve written dozens of posts on my travels around Europe, from places like Dubrovnik to Paris, from Sweden to Tuscany. We’ve traveled to 23 countries in Europe, and dipped our toes in 5 seas!

 


visited 24 countries (10.6%)

I thought I’d compile a list as a blog post to share here. Following, a list of many of my Posts on Travel:

 

Italy's Amalfi coast from a hike along the Trail of the Gods

Italy’s Amalfi coast from a hike along the Trail of the Gods

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

 

For you: Most of our travels have been by car from Prague. Lots and lots of roadtrips! Where is your favorite place to travel on a roadtrip?

 

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Charles Bridge, Prague, and Sunrise in Fog

Prague's Charles Bridge

“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.

Prague's Charles Bridge in black and white
Charles Bridge, Always Mysterious

Continue reading Charles Bridge, Prague, and Sunrise in Fog

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Amazing Restitution after Complete Loss: Regaining Six Centuries of Lobkowicz Family Collections

the Majestic Prague Castle

“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

 

The Prague Castle, the Lobkowicz Palace at the right-hand end in creamy white

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. Continue reading Amazing Restitution after Complete Loss: Regaining Six Centuries of Lobkowicz Family Collections

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The Artistic Mystique in Prague’s Vltava Bridges

Prague and the Vltava River

“Life is an art, and you are the artist.” -unknown

Prague and the Vltava River
Prague and the Vltava River

Last week, I took this photo from Prague’s Mala Strana (Lesser Side), standing beside the Prague Castle complex near the ancient Golden Lane. Artists and writers (Franz Kafka) and dreamers are known to have lived and worked near this outlook. It is no wonder …

I am inspired by the view, for it overlooks the turn in the Vltava River which runs through Prague. On the other side of the river, Prague’s Old Town stretches out in the haze with endless tile rooftops and countless beautiful spires. And the bridges— from the Charles Bridge to the furthest turns in the River, the bridges crossing the Vltava fade into the haze and fog that often lingers in Prague.

The fact is: Prague has inspired artists and musicians and people who take the time to notice, for centuries. The bridges and the spires poking up skyward through the fog stop my heart, endlessly. Every view here in this beautiful Prague is a piece of art. Living here is a dream just waiting to be photographed, painted, and written about.

There is so much living to do, so many places to discover, so much beauty to inspire our lives … Do you have a favorite view that inspires you? Of mountains, plains, a city, or the ocean?

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Autumn in Prague

The view across Charles Bridge and the Vltava River, in Prague

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.  -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In Prague, the leaves are changing into brilliant splashes of color scattered among the city’s rigid architecture. And autumn in Prague also means fog. Which means more beauty, and mystery for this gilded city straddling the Vltava River.

The view across Charles Bridge and the Vltava River, in Prague
The view across Charles Bridge and the Vltava River, in Prague

With hopes to photograph Prague in the early morning fog, I ventured down into Mala Strana (Lesser Town) last week, just catching the last hints of fog lingering along the Vltava River when I arrived. And, I enjoyed a few serene moments alone in the magnificent St. Nicolas Church in Mala Strana (photos below).

In contrast to the lovely sites, however, daily living in Czech Republic is a challenge. Last week, a grocery cashier sporting a typical Czech chip on her shoulder threw the bread I was buying onto the floor at her feet. (People here normally buy three items at a time, as opposed to people like me, who buy a mountain of food to feed the four men in my house for one day…)

But despite the difficulties, this second year of living in Prague, I find my love deepening almost daily, for the city, for the history that pours from its centuries’ old stones, and for the potential that continues to build of Czech’s restoration after the devastation of communism. St. Nicholas Church in Lesser Town, which sits above the Vltava near MalaStranka Square (Sv. Mikulas Kostel, Mala Strana), beckoned … since I had never taken the chance to go inside. I was awed by its magnificance.

The Church of St. Nicholas in Mala Strana, Prague

I am a Cathedral girl. I love a space massive enough to stretch high toward the heavens, inspiring visitors with not only majestic architecture, but also frescoes or stained glass or both. St. Nicholas, of Baroque styling, boasts one of the largest frescoes in Europe, painted over an area of 1500 square meters. St. Nicholas’ spires stand tall, and add substance to the impressive Prague skyline. Ironically, St. Nicholas’ bell tower was used in the recent Communist era by the State Secret Service, for spying on the people and the embassies below.

The view up, of St. Nicholas’ frescoes

To me, I love the place where human imagination creates something so grand we cannot help knowing that God had a hand in the realization of that dream. A cathedral, rising toward the sky in adoration, happens to be one of those places for me.

The View of the Prague Castle, the Powder Tower, and St. Nicholas’ spires from Charles Bridge

Luckily, Prague is said to be the city of a thousand spires — the beauty is unending. Despite whatever snags daily life throws at us, we can always choose to look for the beauty. It is always waiting, even in a simple changing autumn leaf. Here’s to finding the beauty in each day …

Starting the conversation (leave a comment below): What have you encountered lately that has inspired you?

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EAT, STRAY, LOVE: Italy, Tuscany, and the Maremma

Overlooking the Mediterranean, from Italy's Maremma region, in Tuscany

Posted on August 11, 2010

With the release of another popular film set in Italy, people worldwide know of the country’s most luscious region: Tuscany. But few realize the Mediterranean Sea skims along the classic wine and olive region, and combines sensational flavors with unforgettable views.

Overlooking the Mediterranean, from Italy's Maremma region, in Tuscany
Overlooking the Mediterranean, from Italy's Maremma region, in Tuscany

Here, find three ways to enhance the Italian culinary adventure and traveler’s delight, in the unforgettable Maremma region, nestled into the southern coastline of renowned Tuscany.

EAT

In Italy, it is impossible to miss the food and drink. Even the least-interested traveler can find a meal to please. But for the food-lover, Tuscany’s southwestern Maremma region borders the Mediterranean Sea and offers wine and olives with an additional alluring treat: fresh seafood.

Read the rest of the post by clicking here: LINK TO JENNIFER’S ARTICLE on AOL’s Gadling.com.

And, a big thank you to Gina at RedRoom.com for linking me to the AOL folks. Click here to read the article on Prague they featured last week: WHAT TO DO IN PRAGUE, EUROPE’s MOST AUTHENTIC CAPITAL.

Again, I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with some great editors, and to put a few articles out into a large audience and many readers’ screens. I hope you enjoy them! -JK
Starting the conversation: Have you visited Italy? If so, what was your favorite part?

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One Year in Prague

Summer in Prague

Posted on July 22, 2010

Growth is the only evidence of life. ~John Henry Newman, Apologia pro vita sua, 1864

 

Summer in Prague
Summer in Prague

We have a globe in our house– you know, the normal kind with the light blue ocean and different colors for every country in the world. But before we moved to Europe last summer, our youngest son, age 6 at the time, had a funny way of talking about the countries on the globe. He would stand and point out the various places he knew as a kindergartner: one land mass was “Grandma’s House”, another was “School”, and with a spin of the globe, he’d point out other places like the post office, and church, etc. I can’t help smiling. It’s easy in a comfortable environment to know only what we know– the rest, well, is out there.
But now, our lives are significantly different. No longer is the world out there, because we are out there as well.
As of this week, we have made a significant milestone– the marker of our family’s one year in Prague.
You can bet that our boys, now almost 8, 9, and 11, have absorbed all of the countries we have visited. They know exactly where they are. And the language spoken there. And the currency, and the landmarks. Not because we’ve taught them, but because they’ve lived it. I’m amazed. And the countries they don’t know from personal experience usually correspond to their friends’ native countries from class, as the school our boys attend here in Prague has a representation of about 60 countries around the globe.
We have all learned so much, and GROWN. Travel does that, as does living in an environment not very similar to the one from which we came. It’s been an incredible year, living here in Prague, Czech Republic. We’re very grateful for the experience, and look forward to another year or two here.
To celebrate, the top 10 things I’ve learned from One Year in Prague:

1) Language: Okay, Czech, they say, is one of the most difficult languages in the world. I agree. We’ve learned enough to get around, understand some conversations, and discover that when we accidentally say “Nádraží” (train station) for “Na Zdraví” (cheers), everyone laughs. Similarly, when we say “Strašný Nový rok” instead of “Šťastný Nový Rok”, they gasp and become offended. (Terrible New Year instead of Happy New Year) Learning: There is no easy cover for language faux pas. OOPS!
2) Driving: Well. Let’s just say US and Czech share driving on the same side of the road. For that I’m very grateful. But the driving in Czech is treacherous, beyond scary. Most of my friends have flipped their cars from dodging oncoming Tatra trucks. It would have been very helpful to know that “highways” through Czech countryside rarely have more than an inch of asphalt as a shoulder, commonly have a few feet of height dropoff from there, and almost never have a centerline. Add that to: in order to dodge the lumbering Tatra trucks, the oncoming traffic must slow to a stop as they pass. Learning: Awesome defensive driving skills along with constant prayers while driving.
3) Refrigerators, Houses, and the General size of European stuff: Much much smaller. Freeing, actually, when we find we can only house a few extra things, and have no room for storage. We use everything we have in the house. Less clutter, more sanity. Learning: Living with less equals freedom.
4) Screens and Air conditioning: Having screens on the windows is incredibly rare, which means on 90 degree + days (which we’ve had a LOT), we open the windows and have a house full of bugs. Learning: Screens rock. I miss them.
5) Shopping: Kroger, unfortunately, doesn’t exist in Europe. And all of the comparable stores are quite far away. So we’ve learned to shop as the Europeans do, a few items every day (which is all our fridge can handle anyway). The little stores rival Stop and Shops in the US, or any similar convenience stores, except that they’re usually in couple-hundred-year-old buildings, which means– a couple-hundred-years’ worth of dirt. Learning: I’ll cry from happiness when I shop in Kroger in a couple years. Every time.
6) Quiet: Czech is a beautiful, mainly rural country of rolling hills that gather height into gorgeous Czech mountains. Learning: The Natural beauty here is stunning, something I will always treasure. I revel in it every day we’re here.
7) Snow: There are no snow days for schools here. Which means driving through the forest and down the mountain to the boys’ school is no cake walk for a few months of the year. Learning: Thank God for a 4×4.
8) History: Oh, wow– can I even express how much I love the history here? Every building, every place, everything has a soul. Especially the little places, like the church we attend built in 1175 ad, and the Shakespeare and Son bookstore under Charles Bridge. Learning: Richness of culture and history pours into the people. I love it.

 

9) Smiling: It might not be an overstatement to say no one smiles in Czech Republic. It just isn’t done. And when I do (which I can’t help, because I love to smile), I can tell they think I’m a little loopy in the head. Learning: Smiles are necessary for a happy life.
10) TRAVEL: In the US, we were known to drop everything and drive 30 hours to camp in the Tetons for a few days. Same with the beaches in Florida, the rocky coast of Maine, the mountains in Colorado, etc. Now that we are in the heart of Europe, the whole world is within driving distance. Rome, Dubrovnik, London, Stockholm, St. Petersburg. We may not make it everywhere, but experiencing the countries along the journey has been amazing. Read back through the past year’s blog posts and you’ll get the feel for traveling Europe. It is living a dream. I am so grateful. Learning: Europe is a dreamworld.
Thanks for sharing in the journey!
Starting the conversation: What things can you do this year to further your growth, to bring you a step closer to living out your dreams, toward being fully alive?

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Memorial: Three Thoughts on Terezin

"Arbeit Macht Frei": Work makes you free.
Last Friday, I journeyed with two European friends to Terezin Concentration Camp an hour north of Prague. We spent the day there, in the post-Nazi ghost-town that remains. After a few days of processing the visit, I am sure it is a day I will never forget.
a window in the Ghetto
a window in the Ghetto

The facts:

Terezín Nazi Concentration Camp:
140,000 imprisoned from 1941-45
88,000 were deported to Auschwitz
34,000 died in Terezin.
the prison in the small fort at Terezin

I knew little more than Auschwitz, before I went to Terezin. But the Nazis set up concentration camps, and smaller feeder camps all through central Europe. The more notorious camps, like Auschwitz in Poland, became known because of their “effective elimination” programs like the gas chambers. Before the gas chambers came to be, the Nazis used all sorts of methods, including exhaust chambers, where a truck exhaust was funneled into an enclosed chamber packed with humans. It is horrific.

 

"Arbeit Macht Frei": Work makes you free.
"Arbeit Macht Frei": Work makes you free.

Most sobering is what the Nazis did for appearances’ sake. This is what makes Terezin unlike all the other camps. There, at Terezin, the Nazis turned a fort built in the 1700’s into a large cage for the Jews. But the ghetto in Terezin became known for “humane” treatment–the Nazis allowed sporting games, musical concerts, medicine and food to be provided. For SHOW. As a front for what they really were doing at Terezin and the rest of the major concentration camps, the Nazis invited the outside world to see what a nice job they were doing caring for the Jews in the Terezin ghetto. The Red Cross arrived to inspect Terezin in 1944. The Nazis “passed”.

 

fierce conditions

We watched the Nazi Propoganda video at our visit. And then stood utterly speechless as we saw the truth unfold from beneath the deception. Terezin, at the time of the visit, even underwent construction for gas chambers, underground.

 

cells 28, 29, and 30 in the Prison Camp

Beneath the surface, if the humans at Terezin survived the starvation, the cold, the cramped conditions (1.5 m3 of space), and the labor, they were shipped to other “extermination” camps like Auschwitz within months. Worst–what they did to the kids. An entire population of children stayed at Terezin for months, put up the show for the Red Cross, and the day of Yom Kippur, were shipped to Auschwitz. The model “family camp” put on for the Red Cross visit disappeared days after they were forced to write post-dated postcards to key outside world destinations. Chilling.

 

a torture corner

The stories I learned from Terezin linger in my mind. But three thoughts have dominated the others in my mind:

1. Story: I love to write; I am fascinated with the difference between what seems to be and what actually is, what looks nice on the surface, and what truth boils underneath. This is why I write: life holds stories that need to be told, especially ones with difficult truths buried under a decent façade.

2. Art: A few brave souls at Terezin dared to express themselves in art–paintings, writings, sketches–and hid them for others to find later. Many of these artists survived, against incredible odds. Art brings hope.

3. God: Despite the inexplicable horror hovering in a place like Terezin, God is evident. He is there in the art left behind, and the stories that have survived, and even in the tremendous loss and despair. God was there, even as today He is here–and He is not silent.

Thank you for sharing in my visit to Terezin, even though the horrors of a Nazi camp are difficult to swallow. More than anything, we need to remember.

On this Memorial Week, I want to say thank you to all who have gone before us, whose bravery has paved a way to a brighter future for us. Here is to above all remembering history’s difficult lessons and using them to learn and never repeat again. In Memoriam.

Starting the Conversation: What heros and events do you take time to remember? In memory of those who have gone on before …

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What Prague Looks Like in Winter

the Prague Castle
This week, as I continue work on my in-progress novel (and deplete all of my brain cells), I’m taking the opportunity to post photographs I’ve taken from in and around Prague this winter.
the Prague Castle
the Prague Castle

So, what does Prague look like in the winter? Beautiful! And, given the heap-loads of snow we’ve had in the past few months, the sites have been perhaps even more beautiful adorned with snow.

Prague in Winter … Enjoy!

Josefov, Jewish Quarter
Old Town Square

 

the Astronomical Clock
one of my favorite buildings on Old Town Square
Strahov Monastery
the view over Prague from Petrin Hill
a Palacial facade near Prague Castle
Prague Castle
Inside Saint Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle
The Star Summer Palace near Bila Hora, Prague
We look forward to watching (and photographing) Prague awakening for Spring.
Have  a great week! — Jennifer
Starting the conversation: What is your favorite photograph, or site in Prague? Do you have a favorite European city you’ve visited? (Leave a comment below… Thanks!)