Winsham, Somerset, England
Weather: Grey and raining
Sitting my bedroom back in the UK, I finally have a moment to reflect upon the last 6 months of my life in Central Europe. I had hoped to post this before I left dear Slovakia, but the last month was filled with sunshine, people, parties, goodbyes, admin and pretty much trying to squeeze something out of every moment I had left that I didn’t have a moment to sit down and think about things.
In just 6 months I experienced temperatures from -10 to +34 C, thunderstorms that shook my building, I watched the country and the city transform from a barren brown landscape to a flourishing display of colour, I visited 4 countries, including 3 capital cities, attempted to learn a new language, hiked round Bratislava, through the Mala Fatras, visited 4 unique castles, enjoyed local food and drink, taught mad 3 year olds, business execs and rude children , met some amazing people and met some friends for life. What more could you ask for?
The question most frequently asked by my students was “Why are you here?” and “What do you think of Slovakia and the people here?”
The first question was often exclaimed with great surprise when I told my students where I had previously lived and worked. They seemed unable to conceive why I would leave such a place and replace it with Bratislava. My simple response would always be “I wanted to go somewhere totally different”. That was the simplest answer and the most truthful. Indeed, I needed a new challenge and I certainly got one. Much as I loved Spain and my life there, a change was needed, so when I saw Bratislava pop up in my job search on a wet December afternoon, I googled it, it intrigued me so I applied. It couldn’t have been further from what I was used to: Teaching at 7:30 am, eating lunch at 12:00, going to bed at 10pm, running around the city, trying to gather a language that was alien to me, dealing with a fair dosage of snow are just a few things that challenged me.
Unfortunately my vocalisation of said challenges was wrongly perceived as a dislike to my environment and lifestyle. While I admit it was far from easy at times I don’t remember ever feeling a strong sense of dislike to the city or indeed Slovakia. In fact, quite the contrary, as I gazed out of my window on the train to Prague, heading homeward bound last weekend, I sadly wondered when I would see such natural beauty again. I’ve visited many places which radiate beauty, but nowhere in such an understated way as Slovakia. It’s a country who hasn’t yet realised its potential. Tourism is starting to kick off and the nation hasn’t quite decided to what to do about it.
The Slovaks? Apart from a few people who made me want to slap them round the face (but name me a country where you won’t find people like that!) I left with a very positive impression of a very friendly, altruistically helpful nation. My initial surprise at the high level of English embarrassed me as I struggled to make myself understood ordering coffee and was nearly always responded to in perfect English, was sometimes challenged by the unnecessarily rude people working in public services, but again find me a nation that doesn’t have those.
One of my greatest challenges in the early days was trying to get adults to speak in class. This, coming from Spain, where trying to get them to stop speaking is a challenge, was difficult to deal with at times. I could describe the Slovaks as a humble nation, reserved and lacking the confidence to be proud of their nation.
Bratislava handled the Ice Hockey Championships pretty well and continuously impressed me with its snow control, but my most frequent phrase was “they haven’t quite thought this through”. It seemed always that the ideas where there, but things didn’t quite get thought out. An example of which would be standing in a 4 hours queue to get into Bojnice castle. They had though to provide us with food and drink to our heart content, but failed to provide toilet facilities…
Bratislava is described as the Little Big City. In comparison to its neighbouring capitals it’s a village, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in community spirit. A student once told me that Slovakia is so small that you are hard pushed to not find someone that knows someone who knows someone you know, so you should never need to book a hotel anywhere, just call your friend of a friend of a friend. I really do get that feeling about the locals. One of the best experiences I had was a weekend I spent with a group of people I met one Friday night, who then invited me to something on Saturday, which turned into something on Saturday night, something on Sunday and something on Sunday evening. By the end of the Sunday I felt like I belonged to a family of friends and wished I had met them in my first month.
It’s really hard not to make comparisons when you move to a new culture and reminisce about how it was, would have and might have been. I have no doubt that I’ll grumble in my next location about how it’s done in Slovakia, which I could sip a Frankovka Modra, gulp a Zlatý Bažant or start the day with a Becherovka. I’ll be saying Prosim and Ďakujem for a while yet and will get into my Slovak cook book to try and recreate garlic soup in a bread bowl or dumplings in sheep’s cheese. I still have the weather in Bratislava bookmarked as a favourite, I’m still gasping at the price of alcohol and transport here and I am still fondly enjoying my photos and retelling stories.
I’ve enjoyed sharing my observations and anecdotes over the last six months. I may even continue blogging about my dear country over the summer.
Until the next time,