Monday, August 11, 2014

The Mountains are Calling

Do you remember the last time you were completely alone with just your thoughts to keep you company? No phone, no internet, no distractions. It seems a little intimidating at first, to even think about processing life without our handy dandy smartphones. We have become so accustomed to numbing ourselves with these artificial "company keepers" that when we are finally alone, it feels like we constantly need to be talking to someone, doing something, keeping busy.

I just spent five days in the wide open wilderness of the Colorado Flat Tops. With no phone, internet, or anything but real, live humans (and a human-like dog) to keep me company. And, of course, a constant stream of internal dialogue. What I realized during these five days boils down to this:
1. Humans are impressive creatures. We think deeply, love deeply, and are always trying to better ourselves.
2. Family, whether blood-related or not, is always the source of a smile and infinite words of wisdom.
3. It's okay to miss someone so much it hurts, because then you know how much they truly mean to you.
4. It's not okay to eat PowerBars on an empty stomach. You will throw up. At least I did.
5. Never underestimate the power of yourself. You are always stronger than you think.
6. Nature is astonishingly awesome. Cherish it. Cherish your time in it. Revel in the little things.

I can honestly say that the past five days have changed me for the better. I have been doing this annual backpacking trip since I was a freshman in high school, but it has never impacted me the way it did this year. I grew closer to my family, and farther away from my insecurities and worries. Being in nature has the impressive ability to change how we think about pretty much everything. We become essentialists. There are less things to distract us from enjoying the current moment. We are finally present within ourselves: how our muscles, bones, and mind work together to propel us forward; how our breath matches our movement; the way our lungs settle and and strengthen after gasping for air just moments before.

By the end of the five days I was both sad and happy that we were packing up camp to head home. "Happy" because my sleeping pad had a hole in it, and sleeping on bare ground is stiff and freezing. Also happy because I was ready for food with texture (although the freeze dried food we had wasn't all that bad. And my brother caught two fish so yum.) I was "sad" because I wasn't ready to leave the lifestyle I had so quickly become accustomed to. A little, orange two-person tent had become my home, my shelter, my safe spot. I felt the calmest I had felt in months. So naturally, of course I didn't want to go back to the hustle and bustle of "real-world" life.

But then I realized: why can't that sense of presence and calm become my real-world life? It will take more work to distance myself from technology and every day distractions (ironic that I'm writing this on a laptop and posting it to the internet? I don't know.). I will have to devote time to my internal dialogue. I will have to really stop to appreciate all the little things in life, because they are truly what make life so grand.

I could not be more grateful for my time spent out in the woods this past week. It has made me a fresher, happier, and more appreciative person. I came back smelling absolutely offensive, but radiating a happiness I hadn't felt in a long time. So yay to mountains, yay to backpacking, and yay to new perspectives!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back To Basics

It's been about a month since I set foot back into the good ol' US of A. Things I was most happy about upon landing:
1. My AWESOMESAUCE boyfriend waiting at the arrivals gate after a hellish wait in customs to pick me up and drive me three hours back home.
2. Mexican chain restaurants.
3. Colorado people in general. You guys are really the coolest, most down to earth, friendly folks on this planet. I'm so proud to live here!
4. My (eight year old) puppy dog, Thunder, greeting me with kisses and so much love at the door.
5. MY BED. Oh, my bed. Three foam toppers and a memory foam pillow. YES.

I've slowly but surely settled into my summer life here in the boat. I'm working at a little coffee shop downtown called MountainBrew, where I started as a baking intern my senior year of high school. I've been doing my best to socialize, but it's hard when a) I have to wake up at 5:30 AM for my job and b) all I seem to talk about is travel. People only want to hear so much. Most people at least. When people ask me how my trip was, it's challenging to really describe it in words that fit into a small talk conversation. What am I supposed to say besides inadequate adjectives like: amazing, indescribable, really-super-tremendously-awesome, etc. But there are a few priceless individuals who ask questions deeper than "how was it?" and who really want to know. And I am happy to blabber away about every little detail. But anyway.

In many ways the transition back to home was really easy for me. By the end of my adventure, I was very ready for the normalcy and ease of my life in America. I cried when the plane landed in Denver, hearing the time and temperature, the amount of traffic on I-70, and seeing those weird white tents that apparently look like mountains (they don't). When I saw Mason waiting for me at arrivals, holding a sign that said "Welcome Home" in every language from every country I had visited (how did I find someone so cute?!) I cried again. I was back in the land of comfort, ease, and Hot Cheetos. I felt good. I felt tremendously happy. I went back to work after one day of adjusting to the time change. It wasn't all that hard, considering I had to be up early and my body thought it was 1:30 in the afternoon anyway. I kept myself busy: working, catching up with friends, exploring and enjoying the beauty of the Colorado outdoors.

Slowly, though, the "newness" of being home began to wear off. I started to miss Prague! Every passing day, I missed it more and more. I still do. I miss the lifestyle. I miss the people. I miss the challenges that made me stronger, and the freedom I had to be purely and uninhibitedly myself. My time there was less mundane, scheduled, and filled with moments where I felt I was "supposed" to be doing something. It was filled with spontaneity, and a peace inside me that I was always in the right place at the right time doing what I needed for myself. I can honestly say I grew into a person I fell in love with while I was abroad. I am stronger, more confident, and more determined to create a life meaningful to me (instead of basing my decisions on what others think.) This is what I miss most about Prague. I didn't learn so much in school as I did about myself, life, and others. In the end, isn't that what truly matters?

So now I'm getting back to the basics of being home, and coming to the not so super realization that I'm home for a while. Home is nothing like Prague, and it shouldn't be. If I had one wish in the whole world, though, it would be this: I would pack up everything that is dear to me (my family, my closest friends, my dog, Mason) and move them all abroad. That right there would be my perfect life. But this home is where I am right now, and that is okay. I am surrounded by people who love me. I have never been happier or more grateful for the life I have been given.

So thank you, Prague, for all that you taught me. One day I will come back to you, that much is definite. But until then, I promise to make each day a blessing, to marvel at the little things, and to never ever stop loving and learning.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's Dad Strnad's Birthday!

Today is a joyous occasion of many sorts. First off, it's Cinco de Mayo (which I will gladly be celebrating at one of the few Mexican restaurants in Prague). But, more importantly,
It's Dan Strnad's Birthday!
Cinco de Mayo is lucky to share a celebration day with the best Dad that's ever existed. Because I can't be with him today (and buying gifts can be tricky...), I thought I would post him a little surprise Birthday Blogpost. 

I think it's officially safe to say you're an old man now, right dad? Just another couple years and you're legally considered a "senior citizen." How exciting! A whole new world of possibilities: discount dinners, movie tickets, entrance fees -- gosh, you'll be living like a king! But let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

You are the youngest "old man" I know. You're playful, quick to laugh, and probably the most devious (in a good way) and ornery person I know. You've taught me that taking yourself too seriously is a waste of time and energy (even though I still do this too much) because laughing at yourself is sometimes the best medicine. You still run or walk every day, ski like a badass, and hike around the open wilderness with a 65 pound backpack on like it's just another day in the park. One foot in front of the other, right? And even though your bedtime is somewhere around 9pm (on a good night) you're always up an at 'em, ready to greet the sun. 

Your youthfulness inspires people in a way I know you will deny. The second you start to laugh, others start to laugh too. Your laugh is absolutely contagious! It fills a room, and immediately makes everything lighter. Your desire to explore and learn is anything but old. You make people feel young right along with you, I've seen it. Poking fun at our friends who are usually too afraid to talk, making Mom and I scream and giggle while you squeeze our sides, playing pranks on your office mates. The list could go on forever. Besides the number on your birthday cake, there isn't a single old thing about you. 

So, while you're still young, feel free to eat all the German Chocolate Cake you want, poke a little fun at Mom and Ty, and just dance like it's your birthday. Because it is. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD! I love you!

P.S. Just in case you forgot how to dance, here's a little reminder to get yourself back in the groove :)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Well-Read Traveler: Travel Booklist

Recently, due to my time in Prague, I've become inspired to read more about other's worldly adventures. There are so many books out there that deal with the seemingly infinite facets of travel -- from the actual trip, to personal impact, to global connection. So here is a short (but incredible!) list of books about traveling. Most of the books are either ones I've read myself or know someone who has (so they're legit), but a couple are ones I've come across and would love to read myself. Enjoy!

1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

2. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World  by Eric Weiner

3. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

4. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

5. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

6. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

7. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in The Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost

8. Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson

9. The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

10. My Life in France by Julia Child

Hopefully one of these tickles your fancy and leaves you itching to jump on a plane, head outdoors, or even just roam around the undiscovered places of your own town.

Until next time!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Break Part Three: French Riviera

After two beautifully relaxing days in Prague, I was off on the third leg of my break: to the insanely beautiful Southern France. Travel to France was much smoother and shorter. We flew from Prague to Zurich, Switzerland (where I fell in love with the adorable little airport and hope to visit again) and then onto Nice, France.

The first day in Nice consisted largely of eating, with little bits of walking here and there. It was so incredibly windy when we first got there, it was almost impossible to stay outside for very long! So we just meandered around the downtown until it was time to check into our hostel. We stayed at the Villa Saint Exupéry Beach Hostel in downtown Nice. This trip was another one with Bus2Alps (which I mentioned in the previous post about Croatia), so they set up our accommodations and transportation. This hostel was...not my favorite in the whole world. We shared a room with six other girls, and only had one bathroom (aka ten girls to one bathroom = lots of annoyance). The free breakfast, which I was especially excited about after the one in Budapest, consisted of a wide variety of choices including: toast or cereal. And considering I don't drink milk, my options were narrowed to the toast. The upside was the beds: memory foam pillows and mattresses. So I slept like a baby, but other than that I wasn't very pleased with the hostel.

Our second day in Nice we received a tour of the downtown and surrounding areas. Our tour guide lead us in a very French manner: she would march ahead of us, pointing a giant baguette. Her favorite saying was, "follow the baguette!" She told us the story of the renowned French robber, managed to steal millions from a bank in plain sight, during the day, without hurting anyone or using any weapons. When he was caught and brought to trial, he managed to escape by jumping out the courthouse window and driving away with a friend who had been waiting on a motorcycle. To this day he hasn't been found, and the French regard him not as a criminal, but as a "hero."

She also brought us to the top of this giant hill, where we could see the entire city sprawled out beneath us. At the top there were streams and brooks and a giant waterfall. It felt like we weren't in the city at all, but in some sort of wilderness area. It was raining for much of our tour too (although it wasn't cold) so eventually our faithful baguette began to get soggy and our tour guide resorted to eating most of it. She was pretty cool.

The best thing about Nice was the gelato. One store with 95 different flavors. Could you get any more close to heaven than that?? The greatest thing was, I remember going to that exact gelato shop the first time I was in Nice when I was fourteen. It was interesting to reminice on how I remembered it versus how I was seeing it in the present day. I think while I was in France I ate gelato three times a day. At least. The very first flavor I tried (and I think the best from what I had there) was lavender. "What?! Ew. Gross. No!" is what you're probably thinking, right? Well, wrong. It was delicious! Just absolutely amazing and indescribable as you might think lavender gelato might be. Needless to say I was back at that shop often over the next few days.

Our third day in the French Riviera we took a bus trip to the neighboring towns of Eze and Monaco. In Eze we visited the Fragonard Perfume Factory, which I had also visited when I was in France the first time. It was so much larger this time though! They expanded their products from just perfumes to include soaps, lotions, and even argan oil for dry skin and hair. I love these kind of shops, so I was in heaven.

Monaco was one of the most fascinating places I've ever been. I come from a very affluent town, but I've never seen money like it exists there. People drive around in their Rolls Royces and Bugattis as if they were Fords and Toyotas. The yachts we saw in the harbor were easily worth millions of dollars. And this is just petty cash to most of the people that live there! I can't even imagine. I tried my luck in Monte Carlo, gambling a whopping .26 euros before I gave up on the slot machine because I didn't understand how the game worked. My grandma would be so disappointed in my gambling skills. Sorry Grammie!

It had finally warmed up, so we spent some time on the beach in Monaco. The water here was easily just as pretty as the water in Croatia. I was so bummed I didn't bring my bathing suit. I could have bought one there, but it most likely would have set me back around 100 euros. So I didn't. But I soaked up some sun, and enjoyed the beach anyway.

We ended our last night in Nice with what I would like to call The Last Supper, French Style. We found an obscure little restaurant and ordered what appeared to be just your typical tomato pasta with eggplant. It was so far from typical. It was a huge pan of pasta with perfect tomato cream sauce and sautéed eggplant, topped with melted cheese and basil. It was ginormous. And I ate the entire thing. I dream about that pasta. It was honestly perfection. In every bite. And of course I had gelato (three different kinds) for desert. I don't think I've ever been so full. I was definitely waddling.

Our final morning in France was beautiful and serene. We went down to the famous Fruit and Flower Market, and got all the fixings for brunch on the beach before we left to go back to Prague. We got fresh baguettes, homemade goat cheese and brie, fresh salami, strawberries, and homemade fig jam. Eating that meal on the beach, in the company of some of my best friends, rehashing our experiences of the last week is a memory I will never forget.

 Je t'aime, Nice! And I think it's safe to say that I'll be back to visit you again soon. Au revoir!

Spring Break Part Two: Budapest

After being dragged away from the shores of Croatia, I returned to Prague for a couple days of rest and relaxation before the second leg of my break. On the way home ("home" being Prague), we stopped in Budapest for another crazy 24 hour adventure.

Budapest is actually a lot like Prague in its architecture, layout, and overall feel. It almost was as if I was just in a different area of Prague while I was there, although the people in Budapest were noticeably more friendly and open than those in Prague (a common trend throughout this trip). Since we had been staying in hostels the previous parts of our trip, we decided to treat ourselves and booked a hotel for our night there. If you're ever in Budapest and need a hotel, The Charles Hotel is everything you'll ever need. It's affordable, the staff is incredible, and the breakfast is to die for. I ate so much at that breakfast it was a miracle I could even get up to walk around the city.

Since we only had a little time here, we tried to pack in as much as possible. We started by seeing the Buda Castle. Beautiful and grand, it was definitely a match for the Prague castle. We watched the change of the guards, and meandered around the little shops that lined the paths surrounding the property. We stumbled upon a little man dressed in medieval clothes. His occupation? Working a little shooting range that let tourists (attempt) to showcase their inner warrior through archery. Naturally, we had to give it a try. I was terrible at it! My first arrow went straight into the ground because I didn't understand how hard you had to pull the bow, and the second flew way over the entire target. So clearly, archery is not my forte. Thank goodness I didn't live in medieval times. Or didn't have to compete in the Hunger Games.

We had friends who were spending most of their break in Budapest, so we tried to meet up with them at a monument called "Shoes on the Danube River." Which is apparently a very American touristy thing to do because none of the shops we went into to ask for directions knew what we were talking about. We probably ended up walking six or so miles trying to find this monument, and never ended up meeting our friends since we arrived over an hour late. The monument was interesting, but I still don't know what it represented...I'm still glad I saw it though!

We wandered around the government side of Budapest (the river separates it into the Buda and Pest sides, something I never knew before traveling there), and had lunch at a spot where I drank amazing elderberry lemonade. It was exactly what I needed after all that walking!

The best, and definitely most interesting part of the adventure in Budapest were the baths. Essentially the baths are these huge natural spring pools where people go to just relax and swim. It's a very medicinal thing to do there, going to the baths for your health. It felt so good on my muscles after all the walking all day, but it was apparent that people there didn't care too much about: discretion, nudity, or what others thought of their bodies. It was kind of a free for all, and although bathing suits are required, there were many who tried to avoid that rule. Still something I'm getting used to!

Budapest, even though I was only there for a very short amount of time, was an incredible city that I would love to go back to to thoroughly explore one day. In short, you da best, Budapest!

Spring Break, Part One: Croatia

Hello! It's been a while since I last blogged...I've been caught up in some amazing adventures and readjusting to the school lifestyle (much harder than I thought it would be...), and finally have the weekend to write about my travels.

This has by far been the most eventful Spring Break of my life. Never in a million years would I have imagined myself sitting on the beaches of Croatia, shooting arrows at a castle in Budapest, or eating gelato three times a day at a shop in Nice with almost 100 flavors.

I began my break by setting off on a 21 hour bus trip (yes, you read that correctly) to Split, Croatia. I have never traveled for so long in my life, and I have to say it made time seem incredibly relative. Where I once "dreaded" the three hour trip to Denver, or a three hour class period, three hours seems like no time at all. The silver lining, right? Getting to Split it almost felt like nothing was going right. But this is often the case with travel, and it was a lesson in patience and definitely planning. The view as we pulled into the bus station, absolutely disgusting from lack of sleep, showers, and nutritious food, made everything worth it.

And so began my less than 24-hour stint in Croatia. Our hostel, Goli Bosi Design Hostel, was incredibly hip and accommodating. The first night there I ate my first hamburger since being in Europe, appropriately named the "Chuck Norris Burger." I'd like to report that it was no where near American standards, but I was so hungry that a patty with some thousand island on a bun was pretty dang delicious. And the french fries. Oh how I've missed the french fries.

We booked the Croatia trip with a company called Bus2Alps, that offered a boat hopping tour the next morning we were there. I was a little worried about the price (40 euros), but now I am so, so glad I decided to go. It was easily the best thing I did in Croatia, and one of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had. The hosts of the boat served us little breakfast pastries and shots of some medicinal liquor that the locals apparently drink every morning. I don't know if the locals have incredible alcohol tolerance, or if it was being on the boat, but that one little shot (plus the bottle of wine we bought for the beach) was definitely enough to put us in "high sprits."

The view from the boat was absolutely stunning. The water was crisp, blue and slightly turquoise in some places. Even though it was windy and not incredibly warm, the water was so inviting! I wanted to dive right off the boat! We stopped at two islands, neither of which I knew the names of. I was shocked at how friendly everyone was! We stopped in a grocery store to get some snacks, and even the cashier was interested in us, asking about where we were from and our study abroad journey. It was a refreshing change from Prague, where the people usually keep to themselves unless you engage them. Croatia was also very clean and family-friendly. There were kids everywhere on the main promenade when we were there! Families would just go for walks along the water, or stop to eat at one of the cafe's alone the harbor.

The last morning of our stay in Croatia we decided to get up to watch the sun rise over the water. It was such a tranquil and serene experience. I felt the presence of my roommates, but also the stillness that only comes when you're alone. In those early hours, I realized that I love being near the water. I love the endlessness and mystery that comes with it, and especially the reflection of lights that make everything seem glamourous. The sunset was all pinks and oranges and with the blue of the water, it was absolutely exquisite. There's no doubt in my mind I'll be back to Croatia one day. Honeymoon? I think yes.