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January 11, 2018

Birthday Czech: Český Krumlov

You know, that one time of year when you can wish for almost anything and it may even come true?

Ever since we moved to Bavaria, I've had my eye on the UNESCO heritage city of Český Krumlov in southern Czech Republic.

Marc asked me what I wanted to do for my 32nd birthday last week.

I pitched the road trip with promises of good meals and medieval wanderings.

His response: "It's less than three hours away? No problem!"

(There are so many places that I would have not been able to experience in the same way without Marc graciously offering to drive me around. I'm really lucky, and even luckier that he usually enjoys the places we road trip to!)

Marc and I have both shared with our local friends that we went to Český Krumlov for my birthday. The only person who had heard of it was the Czech player on Marc's basketball team.

It's crazy to me because I have personally been hearing about it for at least a few years because this little Czech town is definitely a hot spot for bloggers. I want to especially thank Cynthia over at Adventurings.com and Lorelei at CaliforniaGlobetrotter.com for their very accurate and inspiring posts that really showed me what a great idea Český Krumlov is!

We didn't take any pictures of the food. It was too delicious and we were too hungry to need to do that. I also think it's one of the things I would have done with Instagram, and I am avoiding that kind of social media vacuum now.

But you can know that we thoroughly enjoyed Papa's Living Restaurant for lunch, where we both devoured different kinds of seafood with delicious risotto. We stopped in a little cafe for a cappuccino and hot chocolate, and later at the super chic Apotheka Cafe Bar for winter tea and cider blends. We finished our "food tour" at Krčma v Šatlavské ulici (Tavern in Šatlavská Street), where we ate fish that had been grilled in front of us on the open fire inside the cavern restaurant. You won't regret trying the potato pancakes, either! Our only strikeout of the day was that Monna Lisa Gelateria was closed for the winter months.

All of these spots were recommended by other travelers and can easily be found by searching these names that I have carefully spelled correctly on Google Maps.

We didn't end up going into any of the museums, but that's better for next time. Especially with how great of weather we were having for January, we opted to walk more outside instead of inside. Someday, we'll return and go inside the sprawling castle on the mountain, the monastery, and I am also interested in the photo museum on the south side of the town.

Český Krumlov is actually the second most visited place in the Czech Republic after Prague. Of course, in order for someone to know about it, they really have to have already been to Prague and have a deeper interest in Bohemia. In our case, we have a little of both, plus actual proximity, and that brought us to this adorable city.

What have your experiences in the Czech Republic been like? 
Have you been able to road trip to smaller cities in the countryside?

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January 5, 2018

Arts & Beliefs in Barcelona, Dos

For the backstory on why these thoughts came to me in the middle of Spanish art and history museums, see Arts & Beliefs in Barcelona, Uno.

I was really struck by the somberness of the presentations, and how very differently Christianity is artistically portrayed in this day and age. I felt like my belief system is like a heavily Americanized-pop-style version of Christianity that is very distant to the Catholic relative that sustained the Bible and Christ's teachings for about 1500 years before the Protestant Reformation.

For example, contrast the agonizing Jesus suffering on the cross next to angry Romans with smiling and well-groomed Jesus sitting with happy children by a lake. Christians used to be constantly reminded of their guilt and sin, and today's warm and fuzzy version constantly reminds us that Jesus is our BFF and loves us so much that we can get away with anything as long as we ask for forgiveness.

This sounds like two completely different belief systems to me, and it amazes me that they are indeed related and even both views are accurate - but each viewpoint doesn't really like to talk about the other one.

The other thought that came to my mind was how in the year 2017, I was walking around church artifacts from the 11th to 13th centuries and making my finite observations to type into an online blog posting program. One question remained: what kind of church artifacts will be in the museums in 2717 (if we even last that long) and how will those visitors comprehend and react to what's left of us?

I think the most interesting thing about any museum is that someone gets to choose what's important and saved and what's tossed out or set aside. These someones can actually be anyone, with any kind of worldview and a wide variety of what is believed to be valuable.

The main theme in the Romanesque art section was that "the value of the symbol was more important than the narrative." That phrase makes my head hurt a little bit reminiscing some very confusing poetry and literature classes I didn't click with in college.

The most simplistic way to define that is what the image represents is more important than just writing words down to describe it. It was also a time period when most people were illiterate, so using imagery and symbolism was basically the best way to show what the Bible said.

If you are a Christian today (or are even just generally familiar with what the Bible says), can you imagine not having ever read a Bible?! Can you imagine basing your entire belief system and worldview solely on paintings and sculptures?! No way to read and know for sure what you really think or believe about any of it?!

It's very interesting that the Bible attests to, "All Scripture is God-breathed..." (2 Timothy 3:16), but doesn't necessarily include a verse about how spiritual art could also be considered as fair truth and important for learning about God. Both the Bible and religious works of art have been produced by humans inspired by a Being and Truth greater than themselves.

Regardless of whether or not the medieval church was encouraging a belief that could change lives or just fear that could create income, the fact of the matter is that many forms of Christianity and Catholicism still do exist today. We still have worldwide conflicts based on our political and religious systems, because ultimately, our worldview is influenced by whatever belief system we may have (even atheism still counts as a belief system) and that dictates how we translate politics and our place in the world.

Kathleen and I were really fortunate to visit these museums together because we could talk about our questions and impressions in a safe space. The Barcelona history museum (MUHBA) had a whole chapel full of an exhibit on "Images to Believe" about the history of Catholics and Protestants within Europe, Spain, and Barcelona. It gave a very neutral perspective on how all sides used propaganda to promote their positions within the various Reformations. I learned a lot more about Martin Luther and the different doctrinal decisions he made after his most famous one with the posted 99 Theses.

I didn't plan on our Barcelona museum journey to include so much religious history, but that's how it worked out. We didn't even make it to the 500 Years of the Reformation exhibit at the Caixa Forum, but with everything else we were able to learn, we don't think we missed too much.

I know this post doesn't have an introduction, main points, or a strong conclusion. I wanted to write out the thoughts I had while digesting what these museums had to offer. Might be a little all over the place, but this blog is my place to be that way, after all. I'm really grateful that the MNAC and MUHBA both presented religion and spirituality in a clear way, and I believe anyone interested in the "why questions of life" would really appreciate the exhibits and the presentations.

The best part of all of this? I would have never had this many thoughts to share after a museum visit even as recently as my mid-twenties. I'm thankful that incredible educational opportunities exist outside of a classroom, and the background information and history of what I did learn in school can compliment what I continue to learn today.

For more on my art museum experiences, see "9 Works of Art that Move Me."

Several of these deeper thoughts have a lot to do with a book I had been reading over the last two years, Iberia, by James Michener. It's a lot of meat and potatoes about Spain, and I highly recommend it for voracious readers who want to really get to know Spain on another level.

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January 3, 2018

Arts & Beliefs in Barcelona, Uno

When I first started adjusting to life in Europe, a grand castle in the distance only meant one thing: "I get to pretend to be a princess!"

Soon, I learned that more often than not, European castles tended to display more museum qualities than royal family lifestyles, and I was disappointed.

I also learned that being a princess was actually a horrible curse where you get to be super rich and never make any of your own decisions. Thanks, but, no thanks.

After I dabbled a bit in the Parisian museum scene, a new perspective came to light.

Instead of seeking out castles and mansions that were purely for "playing house," I began to wonder what kind of art these grand buildings hosted.

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona has definite curb appeal. Crowning the southeastern rim of the Plaça d'Espanya, the MNAC only gets larger and more magnificent as one approaches.

My first moments in Barcelona were during my pre-museum-liker phase in 2014. I wandered through the plaza, made my way up to the building, and was able to appreciate it from the outside.

A really poor-quality photo from a really poor-quality camera, 2014.

Upon returning last summer: it was summer. I don't really plan on museum time when the weather is nice!

Then there we were, right before Christmas, with decent winter weather, but, winter weather, nonetheless.

Kathleen, ever the travel buddy ready and excited for anything European, and I started our walk through this museum with an open mind. I didn't remember anything special about the artwork from my research in the previous months, and Kathleen was mostly along for the ride.

(P.S. Marc was thrilled that Kathleen came with us because it meant I had a museum pal and he got to relax in the really nice apartment while we marched around.)

We started to our left inside the main entrance toward the Romanesque collection. It consisted of art preserved (read: permanently borrowed [stolen?]) from Romanesque churches, and was arranged to make the visitor feel like they were actually walking through a long and winding cathedral. Most of the displays were arched and concave, creating the impression that it was being viewed in its original state inside a chapel along the walls of a huge cathedral.

The next collection we walked through was the Gothic Art section. This does not mean everything was in black and covered in eyeliner, please do a little bit of Google research. I couldn't help but begin to wonder about religious perspectives while being in the midst of the Romanesque churches and the Gothic art depicting Christ and various Biblical scenes. Those thoughts (and there are several) are detailed in the second half of this post: Arts & Beliefs in Barcelona, Dos.

We wandered into a huge ballroom at this point and enjoyed being lost in a giant space for a few minutes. I didn't feel too keen on visiting the Modern Art collection, but Kathleen was like, "Why not, we've already paid for it!" Good point.

That ended up being the second best decision of the day! Apparently "Modern Art" in Catalonia is what the rest of the world calls "Impressionism" and "Art Nouveau." I was in art museum heaven. I loved every painting, every sculpture, every piece of wavy and flowery-detailed furniture, and so on. I was particularly taken with three pieces: Rest, Dream, and Pursuing the Dream. I must confess that I have a very specific focus on what I want to feel when I'm looking at art! These three phases may also signify the way my life cycles, but that's for another post.

Since that was the second best decision of the day, it's now time to elaborate on what was the very best decision of the day. We had exhausted all corners of the artwork and exhibits, meandered around the museum cafe until we realized our money was in our bags in the museum lockers, and we saw a small door with a sign off to the side.


(OK, I don't remember exactly what the sign said, but this was the gist of it.)

We walked through said door, got on an elevator, and were whisked up, up, and away to the top of this magnificent castle museum building.

Why was this our best decision of the day? Because not only were the views awesome and it was fabulous to be that close to the architecture, but because we just happened to time everything so perfectly that we had the whole roof to ourselves and the sunset over Barcelona.

We ooh-ed and ahh-ed our way around the different pathways cut between the towers and turrets, and enjoyed every second of that fiery pink sunset.

There was, of course, more to our nine days in Barcelona than just one day at an art museum, but I feel like this time at the MNAC really summed up all the great moments of thoughts, feelings, and experiences together.

I hope you think about and comment on the dialogue I open in Arts & Beliefs in Barcelona, Dos.

All in all, the best description of our trip to Barcelona this Christmas can be defined by the titles of those artworks I mentioned above: we rested, we dreamed, and we returned ready to pursue the dream again.

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December 30, 2017

Time to "Like" Being There

The best thing about returning to places is that the self-imposed pressure to maximize my time there is lifted. Not completely, but lifted so much to the point where I can finally enjoy a museum or two (or three). I can also put my phone back in my pocket because capturing photos isn't my main objective anymore and sometimes I don't even need to use Google Maps to get around.

There are indeed photos of my third journey to Barcelona, but not nearly as many as a typical nine-day trip would normally collect. Most of the photos are also from my dear friend, Kathleen, who joined Marc and me for this Christmas.

There are two main reasons I don't have over two hundred photos from this trip (really, I think on my most photo-rrific adventures, I was averaging over twenty-five photos per day).

1. I purposefully left my main cell phone* and Instagram connection at home. Turned off. I wanted a real break from work, constant texting, and feeling the ridiculous need to get a "data-hit" every ten to fifteen minutes. No Instagram to post onto? No reason to take so many photos!

2. Barcelona is extremely photogenic. That does not mean I have to be chained to viewing the beauty from behind a phone camera lens the entire time! Because even though I have prided myself on being able to step away from my semi-connected phones during vacations, I have still succumbed to the 2017 addiction of regularly updating and posting on Instagram.

*Yes, I have two smart phones, but it's not my fault that Apple created software update dependency and my totally fine iPhone 4 that hasn't been able to update since 2014 is basically just a glorified iPod touch now. The latest blow has been that my FaceTime no longer works when calling Apple users who have downloaded the most recent iOS 11 update. Oh well.

I really liked Instagram. So much that it would consume large chunks of my days, thoughts, and reality. And when I feel like my time freedom is being compromised, it's only a matter of real time before I find some way to break free. I deleted all the game apps on my iPod back in 2012. I have never once downloaded or played another game on my phone or iPod since. I deleted my Facebook account in 2014, and have not missed it. Ever.

Last year I took a huge break from blogging, but knew I would come back to it because, for me, writing is an investment worth pursuing. Writing is my art expression of choice. But this blog had become an endless pursuit of audience building and social media trolling, and I had to step away to be normal about writing again.

With Instagram, I took a much needed break over Christmas, and this break acted just as well as a test for myself. I knew if I missed it, it would still be there and I could go back to it. I knew if I got so desperate as to re-download the app and sign-in on my old iPhone, I could do it.

I was not a gamer. Goodbye, games.

I was not a Facebook person. Goodbye, Facebook.

I am not actually a photographer. Instagram added the advertisements and the stories, and I knew I wouldn't be able to stick with it forever. And ultimately: I did not miss it one bit.

It's okay if the only "like" I get from a trip or experience is that I like being there.

In fact, it's more than okay, it's awesome and it's real.

Goodbye, Instagram.

My profile will continue to exist as historical facts, so all my hashtag links will remain and the years of documented adventures will still be accessible. Instagram peer pressure taught me a lot about how to take better photos and I really appreciate that. But I don't need to post instant stories or twice a day on my feed anymore. If you've got an important update for me to know about, you'll tell me. Or I'll find out from somebody else. Being late to the social information party never got me down.

I am a writer. I knew I was a writer ever since I got my first journal in 1996. Even after I can't be a gym rat anymore, I will still be able to be a writer. I am meant to write; I am not here to take so many photos that I don't have time to write my thoughts, characters, and stories. Why did I need to get better at taking pictures? Why did I need to receive virtual approval from others that pictures or videos of my experiences were worthwhile? We get so caught up in these handheld computers we call cell phones and this "cool app" and that "cool connection" that we are missing the moments that are happening right in front of us.

I don't know if my blogging activity will necessarily increase exponentially, but the opportunity to write more will. What I did not want to happen was in five more years, I would be ready to write a book and it would be about Instagram because that was the main thing I would have been doing the whole time.

A life is not well-lived on a cell phone, and I would rather have hundreds of actual present-life experiences than hundreds of likes and comments.

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