Saturday, March 10, 2007

New Year's!

Stastny Novy Rok! or Happy New Year! Here's how we rung in 2007. Halle and I traveled back to Mikulas, and met up with my friends Miska and Katka. We started the "festivities" by joining the two at Miska's apartment for a movie. However, since it was a national holiday, there were barely any buses running, so we had to take a taxi into town. We ended up watching a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movie in Czech, and there weren't any English subtitles, but that's ok because the story was simple enough that we didn't need them. If anything funny was said, we just had Miska translate it. (Halle and I in the center)
We left Miska's close to midnight and went to the center to wait for the Slovak New Year's festivities. At the stroke of twelve, the fireworks started and so did the champaign shower and a bunch of drunk Slovaks singing their national anthem. It was so great! Ok, so it wasn't fun being doused with champaign, but the experience was definitely worth it! (The back of Miska's head, Katka, and some guy picking his nose)

We walked around town for a bit to see what all was going on, and then made a quick stop off at the Q-bar for a quick drink. The music they played was awesome because it was all traditional songs sung by old guys like Robo Kazik, and everyone was getting into them and singing. (The catholic church with New Year's fireworks)

Katka and I also did our "choreography" for Halle. At some point during the year, Katka and I made up this little synchronized snoring routine, so we performed that for Halle. Of course it didn't matter because everyone else at the pub was too busy singing along with Robo. (Halle and I in the Q-bar)
When we got tired of that, we went back for a slumber party at Miskas. Katka went to bed soon after, but Halle, Miska and I stayed up until 4am talking. Miska and Katka got up early, around 9, I finally got up around 11, but Halle beat us all and didn't get up until 1pm! We were probably some of the few people in Slovakia who didn't have a monkey New Year's Day! Hurray for being sober! (Miska taking a picture of me taking a picture of them)

New Year's day we went to the village Svaty Kriz to show Halle the wooden church. We got a tour from Katka's grandmother, and we asked to give a concert, so we busted out some good Witt Choir christmas song arrangements. Halle sang beautifully, and I did ok. It's amazing how much you forget when you've been out of choir for 3 years! (Choreography!)

When we done touring the church, we went to Katka's house and her mom fed us. It was fun just sitting around the kitchen table listening to translated stories. Katka and her mom are hilarious! After meeting all of my friend's parents it explains everything (what makes them tick and all of their little quirks)!


At the end of December my friend Halle came and visited. I traveled to Vienna to meet her at the airport, and then she took me on a whirlwind tour of the city. (The grounds at Schoenbrunn)

First we went to her voice teacher's apartment to drop off her luggage, so we wouldn't have to drag it all over the city. Even though her teacher wasn't there, we were fortunate that the girl apartment-sitting was there, and she was willing to let us do that.

Of course we took the U-bahn all over the place, and the first real stop was the center. There were so many people there for the Christmas season, it was a huge culture shock for me! It was sensory overload to be able to understand conversations that were going on around me, and to understand all of the bilboards and signs. After a quick bite of Huehner Kabob (it's the Turkish version of gyros and so spicey!), we were off and siteseeing. She showed me Stefaner Dom aka Stefan's cathedral. (Schoenbrunn Palace)

We also did some harmless flirting with the street vendors and mimes. I guess that's what happens when you're tired from travelling. I told Halle that she needed to try some gluehwein, so we bought some from a stand. Unfortunately, it was terrible! The Slovak version, called warene vino, is WAY better! (Tree-lined lane at Schoenbrunn)

I hurried and finished my wine because then we were off for Schoenbrunn. Even though the day was gloomy and cold, the grounds were still enchanting. The long tree lined lane gave me a rather eerie feeling, but it still had a certain charm as I was imagining what it looked like in the late spring. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go visit the zoo, which is one of the first ones and one of the top zoos in the world. That's on my list of things to see when I go back! (Vienna's center)
Since the park closes early during the winter, we still had time to kill we went to see Halle's old apartment from the summer because it wasn't far from Schoenbrunn. This part of Vienna was so charming with its row houses and narrow side streets, and the people traffic wasn't nearly as congested. The street where her apartment was was absolutely adorable! It's everything you would picture living the "luxurious" European study-abroad experience. (A cathedral and Christmas lights in the center)

Halle also told me that I needed to experience coffee in Vienna, so before we headed back to Bratislava, we stopped at a little cafe and ordered wienerkaffe, which is coffee with whipped cream, and is so delicious! We were two successful American travellers because we ordered in German and paid in German without the waitress switching to speak to us in English! It was great! (Stefaner Dom)
Our adventures in Europe were just beginning. We spent the night in Bratislava, and went to church for the English service at Maly Kostol, where we got to talk to some of the foreigners and African refugees who worship at this service. Then we took an R train back to Mikulas and had fun hanging our heads out the window all the way from Zilina to Mikulas! It was cold and we probably should've gotten sick, but the crisp fresh air and the scenery were calling us!

Christmas in Liptovsky Hradok

This Christmas I spent with my friend Terka and her family in the village of Liptovsky Hradok. Slovaks have some really great Christmas traditions that I enjoyed. Terka and her brother, Rasto (aka Rusty), picked me up Christmas Eve and we drove to their house. Terka's mom had been cooking a huge meal all day long, and took a quick break to go to church. The 3 of us went to the Christmas Eve service, which was cute. Everyone was involved in the service, kind of like at home. The children of the congregation formed a choir and sang a few songs, the adult choir sang, and several people played instruments, and of course the old people in the congregation were singing at the top of their lungs! I also got to see some of my students outside of school in their "natural" habitat.

(This picture is of Krivan and the High Tatras)

After church we came back for a quick visit with Terka's aunt and her family because they live right across the street. Then we went back to their house and got ready for a meal to rival any
Thanksgiving spread. The meal started with a clove of garlic to represent the bitter times to come, and an oblatky with honey to symbolize the sweet times. This portion was followed with a loaf of potato bread to symbolize wealth. The second course was dried peas, which traditionally was also fed to the farm animals, so they could participate in the festivities. For the third course we had Kapustnica the best soup ever! It's cabbage soup, and takes on different forms depending on the region of Slovakia. This one was sour cabbage, potatoes, and forest mushrooms, which was cooked together with the meat for the main course. After the Kapustnica was the main course, which was fish, but not the traditional Christmas Carp, pork and turkey. Also served with this was potato salad, which reminded me of a 4th of July picnic, more potato bread, and the rest of the dried peas. (Liptovsky Hradok and the Low Tatras)

The 4th course was prune soup, which was made of prunes in a creamy broth. It sounded a little gross to me, but it wasn't too bad. It's not my favorite, but it was ok. All of this was followed by desert called opikance, a sweet bread pudding served with poppy seeds and warm milk and butter poured over the top. Opikance is what they call it in the Liptov region and I think in North Central Slovakia, and the name changes by the region. (Liptovsky Mikulas and Liptovska Mara as seen from Hradok)
After the meal we went into the living room and opened up presents. I got a pen with Alzbetka on it, and Terka's mom made me a little house decoration. The thing I really enjoyed about Slovak Christmas is it really is more about being together and less about what you receive from others. Christmas presents are not the main focus of the evening. Speaking of presents, it was interesting trying to explain that my family opens our gifts Christmas Eve because they know that most Americans open their presents Christmas morning. That's when I got to respond with, well my family has more European holiday traditions than American ones!
Christmas day we got up, went to church again, and then made the rounds. We went to another small village to see one of Terka's friend's kids in their Christmas play. Then we went to another one of her friend's apartments for a name day party. Eva has a name day Christmas day, and so Terka's friend was having a party at her apartment. My students Maria and Maria were also there, and it was fun to see them again. They also helped translate all of the traditional Czech movies that we were watching. It was cool because they were really good about keeping me included in the conversation. (Terka and me)
I spent the next few days of my break in Martin with Miska and her family. It was really fun! Miska's mom took us dress shopping for the upcoming ball in January. Earlier we had went around Mikulas looking for something, but weren't successful, then we went to a few shops in Martin and also didn't find anything. Then the 3 of us went to Zilina to go shopping, and it was great fun! Miska and I tried on so many dresses. Of course we tried on ugly dresses and had a lot of laughs, but both of us after a long and exhausting search, we both found gorgeous dresses! My visit to Miska's was nice and relaxing and it was fun to hang out with her parents and just chill!

These pictures are of Terka's mom, dad, grandma (starka), Rusty and me.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

My Name Day

Party at Terka's!!!

Adam, Miska, and I eating bryndzove halusky!

Adam and I making Halusky!!!

My next major Slovak cultural experience was my very first name day. Alzbeta has a name day on November 19th. Back in September we celebrated Miska's name day, where a bunch of us teachers went out for a cup of coffee and a glass of wine after school. Miska got some flowers and some other things, and it was pretty cool. Ok, so American's reading this are probably thinking, "What the heck is a name day?" Everyday in the calendar year has a name associated with it, and it used to be a law that you could only choose your child's name from this list. I don't know too much more about it, except that Slovaks bring sweets to school, and their friends take them out for a drink and buy them a little gift of some sort.
Well, for my name day, my friend Terka invited us over to her apartment and she taught us how to make my favorite Slovak dish, bryndzove halusky! It also doubled as a Slovak lesson too, where we learned the words for flour and boil etc. The picture of just Adam is him grating a potato to make part of the halusky dough. The picture of the two of us is us putting the dough into boiling water to make the Halusky. Once those are done cooking, you mix it with bryndza, sheep cheese, and put bacon on top. I would say that this dish is the Slovak version of Mac and Cheese, only it's way better!!! Anyways, so the party was Terka, Adam, Miska and me. It was so much fun! We sat around the table and chatted, and they also got me those cool sunglasses you see in the pictures.
The next day I brought cookies and brownies to school for all of the teachers. The cookies were a big hit, but unfortunately I can't give anyone the recipe because they don't have granulated brown sugar over here. Later during the day, my teacher friends came in and told me how wonderful it was to have me here etc, and then they gave me a scarf. I about cried, and I was so happy that I gave each one of them a hug! It probably shocked some of them because Slovaks aren't used to the "big American embrace". It was so great because it was the first time in a long time that I've actually felt accepted and a part of something so great!

The Rest of the Hiking Club Trips

Group shot in Ziarska Dolina, Eating sausages after an exhausting morning and Terka climbing the chimney!

Me on the rock

To finish up my entry on our school’s hiking club trips, the day we hiked Baranec, we spent the night at Ziarska Chata. We played twister and another really fun game where we had to talk with a match stick in our mouth. Some of us were more successful than others, but it was still a good time! The picture above is of Ala, Domenika, Adam and me playing twister.

The next trip we went on was rock climbing, which was cold, challenging, and so fun! We took a bus to Demanovska Dolina early on a Sunday morning, and yes, I didn't go to church that day. I also learned from this experience that hiking boots are not the best shoes to use to be climbing a rock face because it makes foot placement that much more difficult! Out of the three teachers that went (minus Nadja), Terka was the most successful. Poor Adam only made two attempts, and didn’t make it to the top of one of the “runs”. Several students went on this trip, and some who didn't go on the earlier hiking trip went to this time. Nadja also brought her daughter, Terezka, who was a little trooper. Everything was supervised by one of Nadja's friends who is a climbing expert. He provided all of the equipment, set up the courses, and was monitoring in case anything should happen. It was a great time!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hiking Club trips

At the beginning of the year, Adam and I got invited to join the school's hiking club, for a walk to the top of a mountain in the Western Tatras. We hiked to the top of Baranec, which was long, but beautiful!!!! This is a picture of all of us at the top. A good majority of the students in this picture are mine. Anyways, on the way up, I had an interesting chat with Nadja, who doesn't speak much English. She taught me, čučoriedki (blueberries) and brusnica (cranberries) because they grow naturally up in the mountains, and we were eating them to our hearts content. Our group also encountered a creepy group of Bratislava tourists. One of them, Tibor, "fell in love with me", and the rest of them stalked us girls and kept taking our pictures while we were hiking. Tibor was actually gay, but he wouldn't admit it to himself. It makes for some interesting stories, and Domenika, Ala, Vlad'a and I have gotten a few good laughs out of the incident.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Rest of Prague

So...(this is how I like to start every sentence) Prague was an awesome adventure!!! Adam, the other American lector, our Slovak teacher friend, Terka, and I all went to Prague. Terka wanted to visit her brother Rastjo (aka Rusty), and of course Adam and I wanted to experience the city. I was REALLY looking forward to this trip because I wouldn't be with homesick girls, who missed their boyfriends. It was everything I could've hoped for and more! The weather wasn't fantastic, but it was nice, a little cold, but nice. We saw so much while we were there. We saw the castle, the golden lane (where Kafka lived), the many churches, Orloj the clock tower, and many various museums. Yes mom and dad, you would've been proud of me. I spent my vacation visiting churches and museums! We also took a day and went to Terezin or Theresienstadt. It is a town with quite a bit of history. It's mostly famous for the ghetto that was there during WWII. Visiting this place was so interesting because you could feel the sadness of what happened there, but it wasn't a feeling of despair. In the museums I learned about how Jewish culture flourished in the ghetto, even through the atrocities suffered by the people. After visiting the town, I didn't feel upset and bothered like I had after visiting Dachau and Buchenwald. It was more a feeling of reverence towards the people.

The rest of Prague was great!!! We ate at Subway and had great Chinese food, which tasted so good!!!!! We also got to hang out with Slovaks and Czechs, which was great fun! I would recommend it any day!