Slovakian adventures

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June 13th 2014
Published: June 13th 2014
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My family and I decided to visit our old home country of Slovakia this May. The reasons were two-fold: First, my daughter Alex just graduated from college here in US and all our family lives in Slovakia, so it makes more sense for three of us to go to Slovakia and celebrate there, then to bring about 25 relatives to the US for graduation and party. Secondly, it has been 8 years since my last visit so I was well overdue to see my 88 year old dad, who is in perfect shape, but at that age one never knows...So we booked the tickets via Austrian airlines from JFK to Vienna and then a short flight from Vienna to our home town Kosice (eastern Slovakia). After a long 8 hour overnight flight we landed in Vienna at about 8:10AM local time. Our connecting flight to Kosice was @ 1:05PM, so we had 5 hours to kill. No need to say that it seemed like eternity. Finally we moved to our gate about 45 minutes prior to our departure hoping that we start boarding soon. The gate was used for another flight to Bologna, Italy, with the departure about 20 minutes before ours. The agents were calling all travelers to Bologna to finish boarding as departure time was approaching. To our surprise, the departure time has passed by and they kept announcing via PA "Ms. Kukova" to come to the gate. As about 20 minutes went by and they kept calling her name (causing delays to our flight) I felt like volunteering to be Ms. Kukova, just to get the flight out. I could not believe they delayed 2 flights because they could not find this person!! We all laughed at this, commenting that even though this is the Austria, we can see that services are getting weirder as we travel East towards Slovakia. Finally they gave up on Ms. Kukova, and we could board our short flight to Kosice. We landed in our old hometown after a pleasant 50 minute flight. We were greeted by our family members and taken to my mother-in-law's apartment, where we stayed. The highlight and main objective of our trip, besides seeing our parents and siblings, was the graduate party for Alex. I booked private room at one of the Kosice's boutique hotels Golden Royal in advance via email. They offer packages for special events, such as weddings, graduations, etc. The first surprise was, that even though the package offered about 5 meal choices, we had to give them exact meal selections 5 days ahead of event, not like here in US, where each guest makes their pick right on the spot. With the lack of communication ability with our family members (email not used as widely there as here) this was almost impossible task. But with no other option we made the selections to our best abilities and placed an order. The event itself turned out pretty good, the only surprise to me was when I saw 32 Euro charge on the bill for the 10 minute use of the restaurant's projector and screen (we showed few pictures from the actual graduation). But that was the sign that we are in the "good old eastern Europe" where they charge you for every little thing. It is just funny how much we (or our expectations) changed living for so long in the US.

My next funny experience happened our second day. We went to stroll down the Main street (which is really beautiful) and I wanted to exchange some US$ for Euros. I spotted the Exchange office. Usually they have exchange rates posted right in the shop window, but this one didn't, so I walked in. There was a young lady sitting there at the desk, so I asked her for exchange rate. She told me that the appropriate person is on the vacation for 2 weeks, so there is no exchange possible... I came out laughing telling my wife what this woman told me. We just wondered what is the reason for an Exchange office to be opened if they can't do their core business for 2 weeks??? Again, welcome to Slovakia. We found another office, however, where we completed this transaction with no problem. This was another awakening moment where we realized the difference in local culture. This was actually a Travel agency, so there were 3 employees working there. After finding out that we are expats living in US, they all came for a long debate abandoning what they were doing at that moment. After about 20 minutes, my wife and I knew all kind of details about their personal lives. And this happened at all possible places, such as pedicure parlor, where I felt like being a psychologist listening to the client about her intimate family issues. I wondered if she expects me to get engaged in the conversation, but I have no qualification as the psychotherapist, so I kept quiet and communicated strictly by nodding and hoping it would be over soon. Very informal atmosphere...

Now something positive: Besides Kosice we visited smaller towns of Presov, Bardejov and High Tatras region, which are all just super charming. They all have beautifully restored downtowns with dozens of cute restaurants and cafes for sitting outside. One thing I have to acknowledge - the service in the restaurants changed dramatically - it is excellent, the food and my favorite Czech beers are not only fantastic, but also very inexpensive for our standards. Pure joy which I will miss dearly. The only pity is the situation after hurricane in the High Tatras, where they lost entire forests with beautiful doesn't look the same anymore.

After 9 days there it came time to get ready for our return trip. We wanted to check-in and get seat assignments online via Austrian airline's web page 24 hours before flight, as usual. I have to comment that they have really pitiful and user unfriendly website. Not only we had to enter all our credentials and passport info again (we did it on the way to Slovakia already), the page could not complete check-in for one of us giving us unknown error for no reason. After about 5 attempts it finally worked. Since we had a 5:00AM flight from Kosice to Vienna, we decided to get the taxi to the airport instead of asking our relatives to drive us at this early hour. And here we went again - the cab driver was an older gentleman, who didn't stop talking for one second for the entire 20 minute trip. Again we had to listen to all his family history and details, passing the village where he grew up he pointed to almost every house giving us details of who lives there and what they do for living... Even when we arrived at the airport he kept talking while we were sitting in the car, so I had to interrupt him saying that this is really interesting, but we have a plane to catch. I guess that was the last shot of local culture before we left to make sure we don't forget...

After a long day we landed safely at JFK. We picked up our car and super tired I had to deal with unbelievable NYC traffic to get back to NJ. That was the dose of the NYC culture, I presume...

Overall it was a great trip. We accomplished our mission and also had some fun with some local nuances which to my surprise changed since my last visit to Slovakia.


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