Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Behind the Iron Curtain, Part 2

Continued from yesterday's post--we had just checked into the Hotel Europa in downtown Kosice, Slovakia.

We slept uneventfully that evening after using the hotel's community showers, which we had all to ourselves (as it seemed there weren't many customers there that November evening). The next morning I awoke early and anxious to explore, so I headed out on foot to explore downtown Kosice and to get some Slovak currency. It was a brisk November morning, pedestrians moving quickly to their destinations. And all so exciting and exotic.

We then walked over to the train station to buy my train ticket to Austria (the language barrier was problematic), and then to a travel office to buy Suzanne's plane flight to Bratislava two days later, where she could then take a bus across the border to Vienna to meet me. Finally, we took a bus to the Hertz office and picked up our rental car.

Leaving Kosice we were struck by the extensive blocks of large concrete apartments ringing the city, a certain product of the Communist regime and architecture. But we found the road system surprisingly good vs. what we expected, and tolerable traffic. We drove to Kalusa to check our accommodations for the night. Here we had more luck communicating, as the receptionist spoke German, as did I. This was a resort area so German tourists were common. Still, the place was rather vacant--no tourists in November.

We continued on to Poruba, one of Suzanne's ancestral villages. We stopped at the church and looked around. An elderly babushka approached us, and Suzanne managed to communicate the name of her great grandmother, and the lady walked us to her distant cousin's home.

Poruba Greek Catholic Church.

Typical village street scene.

We were welcomed most graciously by these distant relatives, language barrier and all. It was clear they lived a harder life than us, as our peers had the physical appearance of our parents' generation. Fortunately, one of the younger cousins spoke some English, so we got by.

The younger generation was just starting to learn English, whereas the older generation learned Russian, since their country was allied to Russia. And German was also spoken here and there, much more so than English.

We then drove through more villages to sightsee, coming right near the border with Ukraine. We stopped at the train station to scope out where I would need to catch my 5AM train the next morning. Good thing we did because it was difficult to find, and a stranger had to help us out. In the process I was unable to start our car. Turns out the theft prevention system had locked out the ignition somehow, but we got it going after a bit of a scare.

That evening we drove to Humenne to visit relatives on Suzanne's grandfather's side. Once again the people were so welcoming and gracious, and Suzanne was invited to spend the following two nights with them so she wouldn't be alone at the hotel. Her cousins continued to be wonderfully gracious hosts the next two days.

We had a horrible abbreviated sleep that night, as some neighbors to the hotel were having some kind of party, and there was loud music playing until the wee hours. We arose around 4AM for my trip to the train station and, to our horror, all the doors exiting the hotel were locked. Fortunately, the receptionist awoke and let us out. What would people do in case of fire?

I had a long 11 hour train ride across Slovakia. It was interesting seeing all the people, villages, and scenery as it passed by. It seems all the train passengers, as well as plane passengers, or pretty much anyone else in the country had a bad case of body odor. Do they not have deodorant, we wondered. Or just different standards of hygiene. I did see remnants of the old Communist system. For instance, each train station I passed had old or shabby looking guys in uniform standing on the platform, as in this moving shot.

Crossing the former Iron Curtain border into Austria was like night vs. day. The train compartment was immaculate and modern, the employees spiffy, and English spoken everywhere.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Great memories. We weren't alone in Hotel Europa. I came out of the shower to meet a man just coming in!