08 June 2007

SE Slovakia!

Right now I'm in Vel'aty, which is down almost to the Hungarian border. For the last two days, I was close by in a village called Brehov, where there is an old Franciscan monastery. We went there, Petra and I, because her former students at the Greek Catholic high school in Trebišov needed a chaperone for their class retreat there. The monastery was built in 1775, and then maybe disbanded during the reign of Maria Theresa or Joseph II. Then, during communism, it was a place where old Vincentian sisters who could not work any more were kept, and they supported themselves by growing herbs and ginseng. The monastery was quite dramatic, as I normally find them to be.
We were with about 18 high school juniors, who were all very cool and fun to be around. Last night we had like a two hour church service because it was the feast of Corpus Christi, which usually involves a procession and it's quite impressive. We went around to four places in the village, and the town is at least half Hungarian, but the priests are not. So, the songs were in Hungarian and everything else was in Slovak. The head priest, who everyone referred to as Pater (latin), was Polish, and the three Franciscans there were on a mission, and they had this big monastery which is now used for groups like this high school retreat.
The people there were so nice, and in the evenings, we sat in the kitchen and had treats with the friars and the ladies from the kitchen, which was excellent. The one lady brought from her home in Sečovce some berries called tai berries or something like that, which were a cross of raspberries and black currants! Excellent!

I got here Monday afternoon, by taking a train from Vienna Westbanhof to Košice. Petra met me there and we took a smaller train to Michal'any, and from there we got on still a smaller train to Vel'aty. The last train is engine powered, not electric. The train ride from Vienna to Košice was beautiful, because it goes through the mountains, through Poprad and the High Tatras.

I feel so at home here. I'm eating well, like cherries off the tree, and soups at lunch and it's all so super wonderful. Today, Petra's mom and grandmother made these potato dumplings with prune (lekvar) inside, and then they're boiled, then they pour butter, poppy seed, and sugar on top. This is Petra's favorite food, and it's a good choice. We ate them right out of the pot, because then the butter stays with them!

On Wednesday we went to Kisvárda, Hungary. There, they have hot springs and swimming pools. So, you go and just kind of sit in a shallow (less than 1m) pool, there are seats built into it, and the water is either between 32-34°C or 34-36°C depending on which one you go into. This is pretty hot, if you think about how 40°C is 100°F! It's actually like one big bathtub, and it's so nice. The water is like a greenish yellow, but it's very clear. They also had a beautiful swimming pool and 2 smaller swimming pools. It was perfect weather to go, and after we got back is when we went to Brehov.
Getting across the border was interesting, though, because I have no stamps in my passport at all from this trip. We crossed into Hungary at like a local border crossing, and they didn't want to let me through because I didn't have an EU passport! The Hungarian guard was hesitant, but then the Slovak guard recognized Petra's dad, and let us through, but told us to cross back at a bigger crossing, Sátoraljaújhely (which is so fun to say). He also told us, if they asked, to say that we had also come in to Hungary at that crossing. At any rate, the stamp for Slovenské Nové Mesto is the first that I've gotten the whole trip.

So, Sunday we head up to Svidnik, and then on Thursday we go to Prešov. These are appointments for my research project, which should be exciting. We've gotten appointments, and there is some curiosity about this American who is studing museums of national minorities here in Slovakia... Hrm...

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