Europe Travel Itinerary, 1999-2000:
This itinerary is intended to capture the day-to-day activities and impressions of our trip.
Click on the asterisks * next to the day to go to that entry.
Saturday June 3, 2000; Driving in and finding Chris: *
Sunday June 4, 2000; Driving to Eastern Slovakia: *
Monday June 5, 2000; Missing the sites in Eastern Slovakia: *
Tuesday June 6, 2000; Driving over to Poland: *
Friday June 16, 2000; Visiting with Susan & Chris: *
Saturday June 17, 2000; Bratislava and hanging around: *
Sunday June 18, 2000; The Ruined Castle at Devin: *
Monday June 19, 2000; Walking the downtown of Bratislava: *
Tuesday June 20, 2000; Day Trip from Bratislava to Vienna: *
Wednesday June 21, 2000; Staying with a Fever: *
Thursday June 22, 2000; Leaving in the afternoon: *
Saturday June 3, 2000; Driving in and finding Chris:
In the morning, we went to Vista café in Budapest and received Chris address and phone numbers. But he hadnt e-mailed them, just a note saying he was looking forward to seeing us, would mail again soon. So we sent him an urgent e-mail saying again that we needed his address and phone number because we were leaving today. On our way out of town we stopped at the enormous Auchan shopping center and became food secure, if not gas secure.
Finally left Budapest around 1:40pm and drove the M1, using the last of our valid motorway ticket. The sun was in our windshield the whole way, making us exhausted and irritated the whole way.
At the Slovak border we didnt go through any Hungarian guards. Very strange. But we had no problems this time with the Slovaks. They didnt even stamp our passports!
In Bratislava, we were struck by how unaccomodating the Slovaks were. Many wouldnt even pause in their stride when we asked for help; quite unlike in Slovenia, Romania and Hungary. Awe did manage to find one young couple who helped us out terrifically. We found the internet café we needed. Chris had sent us his info. After the café owner told us "nothing is open" in response to our question as to where to buy a phone card, we asked "where is the nearest Hotel?" From there we got a map and found a kiosk (open) where we could buy a phone card. Within a half hour wed made it to the safe haven of Chris and Susans apartment.
Chris works as a political officer at the consulate in Bratislava. They get their apartment paid for, plus a number of other perks, like being able to buy peanut butter and syrup at the embassy commissariat. Chris had a friend come over who was Slovak and we asked him if there was a region known for its traditional lifestyle (like Maramures in Romania). He said he didnt really think there was such a place, but suggested we check out some villages at the end of roads in Eastern Slovakia.
Sunday June 4, 2000; Driving to Eastern Slovakia:
A good day. Woke to all the comforts the diplomatic service can provide. Their apartment was like a tiny island of America: there was a strong shower in a warm bathroom, pancakes with syrup, a large mattress that even had box springs, and the light switches turn on upwards.
All day long we drove east with the sun behind us and a breeze coming in the windows. We read the Egypt guide aloud to one another as we drove, and then more after we stopped. Through the window all day we stopped and took pictures of castle ruins on improbable peaks with our telephoto lens.
As the evening light came on, we toured the town of Levoca. With its surviving double walls and renaissance facades, it felt quite scenic. The large gypsy community was in evidence lounging in the circular pathways of the park in front of the central church. We walked around a bit, saw the Cage of Shame, and happened into a local catholic mass being held in Slovakian. The cathedral was quite large and the beautiful evensong echoed up through its many tiered chambers.
Using a pay phone outside the city walls we called Sîrbi and reassured our family that we were fine. Drove out of town and found a camping spot where we made pasta as quickly as we could. The air was hot and we lay down to a sweltering heat.
Monday June 5, 2000; Missing the sites in Eastern Slovakia:
Woke beside the road to a dawn at 4am. The sun began making the van hot by 9am and we headed off.
The Spi castle was massive and visible from a half hour away as if it was a mountain in its own right. Kathleen actually thought it was just another ridge end at first.
The clerical town of Spi Kapula was sleepy. It was a town that was inhabited entirely by priests, monks and nuns until taken by the communists in 1948, though it has now been reinstated as a seminary. It was small and we were not questioned as we wandered through the gardens in the walled complex. Unfortunately thought, both the gothic church and the castle itself were not open because Monday was their closed day. Darn.
We drove to Presov looking for gas. Our first misstep was driving into the pedestrian zone, confusing for us because busses and taxis were allowed in, so at first it seemed natural following the busses. A cadre of three officers was very nice in imposing the fine: they wanted 300 Slovakian Crowns, but when we only had two 100s and one 500, they just took the two 100s. Then the senior officer gave us four 50 Sk receipts and the younger officers gave us directions to find a place to fill our camping gas.
Though we stopped at three places, no one could fill our gas canisters, so by the end of the day wed resolved to turn off the fridge to conserve gas for cooking. The rising heat and failure to find a gas fill and the general gruffness of the Slovakians got us to feeling pretty sour.
But the officers continued to be very nice to us. On our way back through town, we drove smack into the pedestrian district again, this time from the other side. Fortunately the same officer was there, and this time Kathleen was driving. We must have seemed the Keystone Tourists, and so he let us go with just a laugh.
We toured around Bardejov, with a lovely city center, and a man there let us sneak into the cathedral and take pictures, even though it was officially closed and pictures werent allowed. The gothic artwork was astounding in its quality. So it seemed that officials were find to deal with, but the person in the street is very stand offish.
After Bardejov, we drove north to Jedlinka, where a bizarre wooden church is the main attraction. It looked like a three part barn made from wide vertical siding with those mushroom shaped steeple decorations added on as an afterthought. When we were let inside we realized that there had originally been a more aesthetic log cabin style wall built around at least the interior worship area, but all indications were that the belfry was always designed with the sweeping lines of vertical siding coming all the way to the ground and making it look like a barn.
The peasants in the village still wouldnt smile at us, with the exception of the church caretaker, a woman who introduced herself and opened the church for us. There was an admission price list posted outside the door. Inside we found a very small space with only a single small window on the eastern side (the church itself ran north south). In the priests nave there were some notable artworks, including one showing Mary as a baby being cared for by her mother, and the other showing Mary caring for the whole world under her robes.
We slept in the small parking area just outside the church.
Tuesday June 6, 2000; Driving over to Poland:
First thing in the morning we drove back south to Bardejov and bought food and called Chris to change our plans. Wed decided to cut the trip a little shorter, since we were going to run out of gas. Just to give Slovakia its best chance, we drove south to find another village which was supposed to have a wooden church. But it too was constructed with the long vertical board siding all the way up the bell tower and connecting straight down to the ground. In this case the siding was tacked on over top of the log cabin like first floor walls, which were visible on the outside, not having been covered up like the church in Jedlinka. We didnt try to go inside.
Just as we pulled up some of the loudest music wed ever heard came on. At first we thought some bar owner had put it on for the newly arrived tourists, but then we realized that the whole village was wired for sound with speakers mounted high on poles all over. After the music an announcer came on and every adult we saw paused to listen. It was like being in a Twilight Zone episode and we had to exert mental energy to keep from being paranoid.
As we drove north we noticed that every village we passed was similarly wired for sound. We drove out though a sparsely populated crossing, and they detained us for almost an hour, taking our passports and green card off to some office for most of that time. We learned again to go with the crowd at borders.
Friday June 16, 2000; Visiting with Susan & Chris:
Had no problems at the border from Prague. We almost bought a Slovakia Autobahn sticker from a woman selling them for 135 Czech Krowns on the Czech side of the border. We waited and bought them for the same price in Slovakian Krowns, which with the relative exchange rate probably made us a quarter of a dollar. The highways were clean and we made excellent time.
Met with Susan and Chris about 2:30. Visited first in their apartment, then went to "The Dubliner," the Irish Pub Bratislava has in the center of town. Saw Chris off at the train station -- he had a meeting over the weekend in Vienna.
Went to the grocery store and then back to Susans apartment. Made stir fry on the grill, visited and read.
Saturday June 17, 2000; Bratislava and hanging around:
Woke to those amazing American accessories: the shower, the wash, automatic coffee maker, Brillo filtered water. Got out to the town around 11:30. Went to markets in town. Watched "Liar, Liar" at the house of a friend of Susan and Chris. Also watched videos of Schoolhouse Rock.
Sunday June 18, 2000; The Ruined Castle at Devin:
Chris showed up in the morning and we went to Devin, a castle whose roots as a fortress/lookout go back to Stone Age times. Though ruined, it was still impressive, and some of the most fun architecture was where we walked inside and could see the arches cut from the stone of the mountain. Renovation efforts were everywhere in evidence; especially on the older foundations, which have been clearly restored to a uniform height, making them appear as if they are waiting to be made into contemporary buildings.
Monday June 19, 2000; Walking the downtown of Bratislava:
Decided to stay in Bratislava during the day and not go out to villages. Went instead into downtown Bratislava and walked about taking photos of the bronze statues working in the manholes, dancing in the streets and leaning on park benches. Those artistic Slovaks. Dropped by in the evening to Kelly and Yacobs, Chris and Susans American-Slovakian couple friend. Shed been in Slovakia through the Peace Corps, met him and gotten married. Now they have a 2 year old and a big family debate going on as to which country to call home. Yacob just finished his Masters of Art, specializing in modern designed household accoutrements.
Tuesday June 20, 2000; Day Trip from Bratislava to Vienna:
Went to Vienna. Got cheated or abused on tickets, depending on ones perspective. Chris joined us because he and Susan felt so bad about the tickets: wed had to pay foreigner price, which made the train option much more expensive than taking their car.
Got shots at one oclock and then began having fun. We went to the art museum of Vienna and saw several fantastic paintings, including Titians and the Four Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Upon first entering the gallery we smelled oil paints, as if the pictures had just been finished by a long dead artist. Turned out there was a contemporary artist painting a copy of an obscure masterpiece.
At first we were afraid we wouldnt be able to see the Titians because of an enormous exhibit honoring one of the ancestral heroes of Austria: King Carlos. The disorganization of the guides, poor quality of the special exhibit translations, and lack of any up-to-date floor plan maps seemed at normal to us at first, since we were on Eastern Europe standards. But as we lounged in the café and realized the prices were at typical American and Western Europe levels, we became aware of the anachronism.
After the museum, we took a spin on the inner tram line, and ended up for coffee drinks at the café that forms part of city hall.
In the evening, we had our well planned, low maintenance pasta dinner. Henry took advantage of the reliable plumbing and water to take an intense hot bath.
Wednesday June 21, 2000; Staying with a Fever:
Woke up to discover that the Hepatitis shot and hot bath had given Henry a fever. At the same time a heat wave rolled in, and this took away any stomach we had for continuing to Hungary. Kathleen went with Susan to shop around a bit, while Henry stayed in the relative cool of their apartment. At night, Susan and Chris set up their portable air conditioner, a frightfully clever device that has a hose to direct the hot air outside through the window.
Thursday June 22, 2000; Leaving in the afternoon:
Still feeling a little queasy, we took our time getting ready. The intense heat had spoiled the eggs wed left in our van, so we gave the whole living space a brief cleaning by throwing out any food wed left behind. We took Susan as far as the expressway across the Duna River, and said a quick goodbye on the entrance ramp, having overshot the place we should have let her off.
On the way to the border, we expected to be able to stop at stations wed seen on the map, but they were all on the other side of the road, so we couldnt spend our excess Slovakian or use our phone card to call the village. At the border, they wouldnt let us walk out of our car to the phone booths we could see, so we didnt get to call the village at all that day.
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