The Way It Used To Be - Chapter Fourteen: Tatranská Lomnica


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Published: May 28th 2008
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Štrebské Pleso anchors the west end of the Tatras rail line while Tatranská Lomnica occupies the other. Both have cable cars take hikers to trails located at higher altitudes. While a nine hour march along a mountainside did not appeal to me, I made a half day of it and hiked about two hours. On the way, I scooped up Midori, from Niigata, Japan, and convinced her to tag along. She is a student studying Slovak. Odd, isn’t it? A Japanese girl studying Slovak?

The ride from Tatranská Lomnica up to Skalnaté Pleso presents graceful views of the forested slopes below, and at times, the peaks above. It is imperative to beware of the weather, however. My time in the Tatras has taught me that on a mid July day, a nasty, pelting rainfall can develop out of nowhere and obscure villages, mountain summits, and valleys from view in a matter of a few minutes. When once sunny and around 70°F as you go in for a quick lunch, it is very common to pay for the check, step outside, and find that only a few hundred yards above, it is snowing and the sleet is coming your way.
Skalnaté Pleso is but a stop on the ski lift. Another gondola takes visitors to the actual peaks of the Tatras. Nevertheless, the cloud cover was so thick at the time, the cost in money and time would not have justified the effort. From the small lake at Skalnaté Pleso, it is still a crowd pleaser to see the red cable car disappear high into the soupy mist.

Midori and I took the car down and continued talking about Japan, her language school, and whatever else we could think of. At the bottom, figuring that would be the end of our time together, I suggested another trail, itinerary, or lunch perhaps, to keep her company. This was of little interest to her.
“Well, do you want to meet up later, then?”
“Yes. But I prefer to go to a café now. You can go ahead, but I like to have beer.”
Wow. “Uh…me, too.”
“Maybe you want to come with me and drink beer instead of hiking in afternoon? OK with you?”
My mouth dropped open in pure joy. I was in love. Here was a cute Japanese girl, teddy bear cute, whose only desire for the rest of the day was to taste the variety of beers Slovakia had to offer. And she wanted me to join her. I immediately envisioned my backpack and rearranged my belongings to see if I could get her to fit inside. Surely, if I fed her, watered her, and let her out twice a day, I could keep her for myself.
For that day and the next, we toured during the day, made stops along the way for meals and drinks, and we made a worthwhile pair until she had to head back in the direction of Bratislava for her language courses.


Bidding Midori farewell at the station, I turned to see a man at a park bench gazing at a laminated card with Slovak expressions lined up on one side and their English equivalents opposite. I noticed him earlier, clearly an American, struggling with the agent at the ticket window. I couldn’t resist, so I plopped down next to him and started up.
“How are you handling the language?”
“Nothing I have ever seen before.” He then sputtered out the phrase for I do not understand. I confirmed that he was doing well. Expectedly he asked about me, where I was from, the number of days in the Tatras, etc. He was happy to see me. The first time by himself, I was a comfort to him, kind of a security blanket.
“This is my first time out of the U.S.” Indeed it was. His name was Justin, in his early twenties, and from the Dallas area. It intrigued me to talk to him because he was in one sense clueless to his surroundings, yet entirely sensitive to all the basic differences between Europe and the United States. I am talking about differences I no longer perceive, having been to the Continent countless of times. He sees how small cars are. Drinks come without ice and you can forget that free refill. There is no such thing as a superficial “How are you?” Even for him, he must rethink train schedules, as they are given in a twenty-four hour schedule, not in the twelve with an a.m. or p.m. affixed. No one cares how old you are if you drink alcohol, as long as you behave. Everyone walks. Few people are overweight. Service is terrible and unfriendly. OK, the service thing still irks me.
Justin reminded me of what it was like when I came to Europe for the first time. So, I tried to clue him in on the toughest challenge: people’s mentality. He listened attentively and before we knew it, our trains arrived, but were headed in separate directions.
“Where are you off to?” I asked.
He butchered the name of Tatranská Lomnica. It was almost impossible to determine what he wanted to say. I did not fault him. He tried so hard to be accurate, and I could manage his meaning in spite of a thick Texas drawl.
“Ah, I have already been! What do you have planned?” He did not know precisely. He was winging it.
“Some hiking and I want to go to the very top of that mountain. You know the one.”
“Lomnický Štit?”
He nodded. Yeah, that one.
At this point, I stuttered and fell silent. I hid my disbelief and concern, for I am sure Justin has had to tolerate so much patronizing and superficial acts of apprehension in the past. But I just did not think he was in any condition to tackle such a feat. Those mountains do not welcome anyone with tulip-lined footpaths. Yet, who am I to tell anyone what to do? But Justin is a confident man, does not see himself as different, and goes on his merry way regardless of the stares of others.
We boarded our separate trains and agreed to meet up later. I jumped aboard. He did the same on the other platform, hesitated, climbed up, and grabbed a seat.

At the lobby of his hotel, I greeted him with a warm tap on his shoulder and we went for pizza. Justin undeniably reached the summit of Lomnický Štit, and he hiked for a while on the trails. Almost never having left Texas, his eyes lit up as he recounted the gondola ride, slopes, and view of the valleys. “Oh, I saw glaciers! And snow in July!” The whole experience amazed him.
Yet, his amazement of me paled in comparison with mine of him. On the brink of tears (and this does not happen often) I held on to his words, his story, and his fascination with what he had seen. For him, he may as well have gone to Jupiter. I was beyond astonished with him. Then, he told me about jumping off bridges into rivers, canoeing, and other thrills all strive to achieve.
I looked at him in disbelief, but I knew he was telling the truth. The bridge story was the best. “A lot of people gathered at the edge to watch me. I am not hard to spot, of course.” He grinned as he recounted the splash he made into the river.
No, he is not hard to spot. Justin has not a single arm and only one leg.
The next time I am not up to a little more exertion to reach a summit, physical or otherwise, I will think of Justin. With one leg, this man hiked in the Tatras. He finished his meal, put on his prosthetic leg, and he was off. He invited me to meet up with the rest of the group with which he was traveling. He was busy and had places to be, you see.


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