Saturday, August 28, 2010

Na pesia zona

[In the pedestrian zone]

This post won't be about rafting either. Sorry once again... It's just, it's going to have to be a novella in itself, I have to figure out when I'll have the four hours or so necessary to write it...

Instead, I present my last few days, jam-packed as always. I wouldn't have it any other way!

I spent yesterday on Zobor (that is, the community at the base of the mountain-- part of Nitra) with what will be my third host family and Larissa, the other American Rotary girl in Nitra, who is currently living with them. It was a very nice, relaxing five hours or so. (That long? Really? I guess so...) We had lunch, played ping-pong, lounged, and played card games. Filip, the host brother who left for the Hamptons on exchange this morning (sad that I just met him! He was so great), taught me a few Slovak card games, which was fun. Slovak decks are very beautifully decorated. They differ from American ones in that they use Roman numerals, Aces are female, "Queens" are male, suits are different (the four look like bells, leaves, acorns, and hearts), and the cards start at VII. So, no II-VI in any suit. Very different! I had a really nice time with the family--they're wonderful people and they have a beautiful house-- and I appreciated getting to see where I'll live in March.

When I got back to the apartment at around five, it started pouring. It was so nice to sit at the kitchen table with Ruth and watch the rain outside. The gray sky made the red roofs more striking through contrast. We were going to meet Ruth's friends for dinner at a place called the Piano Cafe, one of the many restaurants along the pedestrian zone, so eventually we had to put on our rain gear and get the umbrella and venture out. Quite an adventure navigating the puddles in the dark! But my jacket held up nicely and I was dry when we arrived.

The cafe was fun and quirky. We had to sit in another room off the main one because the rain was so loud in the entrance room. Of course I had Kofola. What else?

This morning I decided I was going to get myself a proper dictionary. I stocked my wallet with 50 Euro, prepared to spend what I had to (on Ivan Lamos' advice--d'akujem), and went across the street to the mall, which has a nice bookstore. The slovnik (dictionary) section was huge. I was glad I had a wide selection to choose from, and I took my time comparing everything. To my relief, it was reasonably priced! I ended up getting a pretty in-depth dictionary (40,000 entries) for 8 Euro and an excellent pocket dictionary (20,000 entries) for the same price. But when I got back to the flat and had even more time to look them over, I decided I didn't actually need the larger dictionary. The pocket one is so detailed, I think I'll only need a better one if I ever decide to take up Slovak literature... So yeah, I'm going to return the other slovnik tomorrow.

And today I made up my mind to finally go to the hrad (castle). It wasn't hard to find the way there-- you can see it from anywhere in the city. At a good pace, it only took me twenty minutes to get there, and it was a great walk. It's amazing how only a few steps up a hill, you immediately start to get a huge view of the city. Everything's pretty flat, I guess, or the stare mesto's just on higher ground, anyway...

There was a huge wedding going on at the church at the base of the hrad. I don't think I'd ever known this church existed before, which is strange since it's so big-- I guess the hrad hides it?

The way up was very beautiful-- lots of statues and marble and religious iconography. You couldn't actually go into the castle, just peer through a wrought iron gate into a small courtyard, but it was enough. The view from the ramparts took in all of Nitra. Such quick gratification! Nothing stopping me from going up there as often as I like... I'm so lucky to live in such a central location!

It was the perfect temperature (for me, anyway-- pretty cool, dark sky, lots of wind), so I stayed up there an hour or so. I enjoyed sitting on one of the lower walls and watching a soccer game below. This was the same place I'd been to at night after the tea house; of course, in the darkness I hadn't seen the soccer field below. It was an adult league (maybe the city's team?) and there were some spectators in the stands who were really into it (I could hear them shouting), but unfortunately it was a pretty boring game, so I didn't watch as long as I'd planned to. Still, a fun opportunity.

And then, at six, Ruth's grandmother took us to church. Yes, on Saturday-- mass is held daily (though weekday masses are shorter), and Saturday's is equivalent to Sunday's, so you can pick whichever. We went to the church I'd just discovered today, the one at the base of the hrad. Ruth usually goes to the church that is also her school; but what I find interesting is that you go to whatever church in the city you feel like (if you're Catholic, anyway. If you're not, you've only got one church you're going to). If I understood correctly, it's not like in America, where you belong to a church, and you simply wouldn't go to another one on a random Sunday. People have their preferences, of course, but there's nothing wrong in going somewhere else if you feel like it. Interesting. Another difference, which I wouldn't have known had Ruth not told me her experience, is in confessional. Slovaks go to confessional about once a month; apparently American Catholics only stop by yearly...

I really enjoyed mass. I don't know how old I was the last time I went to church, but it was a very long time ago... And I've always been interested in seeing a Catholic mass, with the transubstantiation, etc. The inside of the church was incredibly beautiful, with arches gracefully molding into a domed ceiling that was fully painted. I liked the mass' format, with a few minutes of speaking followed by much longer periods of singing (unfortunately I couldn't sing along, of course... and no songbooks! I guess everyone knows the songs?). It wasn't just one long sermon. I appreciated the mass from a linguistic standpoint as well, since it gave me an opportunity to simply listen to Slovak (as in, no conversation required) for pronunciation and comprehension. Something else interesting: there was a digital screen with red numbers on one of the pillars up front. Usually, it's a clock, but while the mass was going on I believe it was a counter, showing how large the congregation was. I think it got to 311...

A really nice experience, and I'm excited to go with Ruth whenever she does (sometimes she goes to the weekday masses as well). Tomorrow's my birthday and Gabriel's family (this is Ruth's uncle, aunt, and cousins I met in Sklene) is going to take me up to the hrad on this train for tourists. It'll be fun!

Much love!

P.S. I realized I never explained this post's title. The pedestrian zone is only a few streets, but in my mind I consider the other nearby streets part of it... It has a certain character, and well it would, being in the stare mesto. But basically all the places I go, I get to via this network of streets. Is that enough of an explanation?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Idem na prechadzku

[I go for a walk...]

Brief introduction here. First off, sorry for the last post. I appreciate the kind comments (Dad, you can email me at AOL, I just have to respond from my Gmail account), but I'm not too happy with it-- I didn't even read it through before I posted it since I was so incredibly tired and hungry. Ah well. Also, sorry for the long delay in posting! I was gone for a while, and then when I got back yesterday Ruth didn't have internet. I didn't miss having a computer, but I dreaded coming back to one and having to spend so many hours writing the inevitable post! So here's what I'm going to do: it's out of chronological order, but this post will be about what happened after my "rafting" trip, and the next one will be about the trip itself. Okay? Pod'me!

The night I got back from rafting, it was maybe eleven o'clock at night and I was exhausted in every way. Tibor was off to Bosnia and Herzegovina the next day for an eight day "rafting" trip-- apparently, the river there is the second toughest in the world (after the Colorado). Tibor told me, laughing, that last year he spent sixty days in tents. Which made it quite clear to me that I will never have the capacity to be such a person. :)

Sitting at the kitchen table, Ruth told me we were leaving at ten the next morning for her grandmother's cottage in the country. The only thing that worried me was if I would have enough clothes--I so desperately needed to do laundry, since all my shorts and t-shirts, etc. were wet and filthy from the trip. But she said city clothes would be fine, so that was good. We were going for two nights. Light packing is a specialty of mine, so I fit everything I needed into my small sidebag. Vel'mi dobre!

The next morning, Ruth's grandma was waiting in her car for us outside. It was utter pandemonium inside the car! We were bringing Kora (the lab), Phoebe, and Roxy (latter = Yorkies) with us... which might have been okay, except babicky had two dogs of her own, Molly and Lilly! (Luckily, also Yorkies. Phoebe is mother to all of them, and more.) The advantage to Yorkies is that they're small. The disadvantage is, what they lack in size they make up for in energy. They were uncontainable, running over us and using us as springboards and climbing everywhere. A good thing about this and the journey home was that it made me so much more comfortable with Phoebe and Roxy. We're very close now. My only rule is no sitting on laps. Sorry!

It was an hour and a half drive through the beautiful countryside. Babicky's "cottage" (a house, really) was in the village of Sklene (sounds Danish), about 10 km. outside Kremnica. Ruth's aunt, uncle (Tibor's brother), and three cousins, who also live in downtown Nitra, were also staying in the cottage while we were there. Such warm, welcoming people! Really wonderful. I've met the greatest people here. We arrived around lunchtime, and Gabika (aunt) brought out big bowls of sauerkraut with bread for us. So delicious! An interesting custom: just before everyone digs in, it's traditional to say "dobru chut!", which has no real translation, but basically means wishing everyone that the food will taste good (thanks, Ruth, for the explanation). It was so pleasant to eat in the backyard-- just the right temperature with a little wind, everything green and flourishing, lots of apple trees, a cozy hammock and swing, a horse farm next door and sheep-studded hills in the distance. The perfect pastoral setting.

The subtleties that made up the bulk of the days don't translate here (haha, pun), so I'll mention that the food was excellent and then skip ahead to the tangible events. On the second day, around lunchtime, it started raining. My first rain in Slovakia! And how nice, to sit inside and watch it make everything green... Someone decided around then that it would be fun to go to nearby Harmenec Jazkyna (jazkyna = cave). I was very excited, because who doesn't like a good cave? And caves are something Slovakia's known for. The only problem was my clothes: I had skirts, blouses, a cardigan, and sandals. In my light-packing fervor I hadn't brought any "just in case" sturdier stuff. Luckily, Gabriel had a warm old coat he let me use, which was so big it came down to my knees, so I didn't see a need for pants instead of my skirt. And Ruth kindly let me use her (white) tennis shoes, and Gabika produced some socks... so I was ready to go.

Gabriel, Anka, Lenka, and I went (latter two = cousins, aged 14 and 11, respectively). It was a forty-five minute hike from where we parked to the cave entrance, all uphill, but the switchbacks were mild, the rain was lovely, and the forest we were in was absolutely exquisite, with lots of exposed rock and roots. Plus, I was happy to be getting some exercise. That coat became an oven very quickly! The view at the top was incredible: we were looking down on this forested valley shrouded in fog... and the sun was just breaking through, the rain having just stopped.

Harmanec cave itself was wonderful. After visiting Wind Cave in South Dakota last summer, I had newfound appreciation for the European approach to caves. No signs or pamphlets carefully advising one about the possible "strenuousness" of the cave walk. You just went for it! Of the 2300 meters of Harmanec that had been discovered, only 720 were open to the public (that's how all caves are, understandably). The formations were stunning. (Sorry, Wind Cave, it's got you beat on everything but boxwork.) I especially appreciated the part in the "Labyrinth Chamber" when the tour guide, without warning (well, maybe it was in Slovak, so I missed it), cut the lights. The Chamber was so-named because the first two explorers of it got lost in there when their lamps went out... I shudder at the thought. (Don't worry, they got out somehow.) I also enjoyed the fact that apparently ten different species of bats have been discovered in the cave so far. The English information packet they printed specially for me said that the bats are found in groups of 1200, which I really didn't understand... Most numerous are the Greater Mouse-Eared bat and the Lesser Mouse-Eared bat. No bats at this time of the year, though; they live in the cave in the winter, seeking a stable temperature and ideal humidity underground. It cost 7 Euro if you wanted to be able to take pictures. Of course I wasn't willing to pay that, but Gabriel got me a pamphlet which has several very nice pictures, so I'm glad for that.

That afternoon we went in to Kremnica. The weather was warm and dry, no hint of the earlier showers. Kremnica was really a gem. It didn't feel like a tourist trap, but it was beautiful enough to be one. All of the buildings were very old and well preserved. It was everything you want in an old European town: the cobblestone streets, the ancient churches, the castles... The latter, unfortunately, was closed the day we went, but we had a nice walk up to it, featuring an ornate plague column along the way (not exclusively dedicated to plague victims, I was told, but in memory of other epidemics, such as typhus). Gabriel surprised me with a nice gift, a special edition 2 Euro coin from 2009 commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia's ousting of Communism. The backside has an etching of keys in a bell: during the revolution, especially in Prague, people would "ring" their keys from the balconies. Dakujem!

Later we went for ice cream (no, not gelato). I had "green apple" flavor-- so incredibly delicious, I couldn't help wondering how on earth I'd never seen it in America. Hmm. Happy hour, which is commonly observed, was spent in a kircma (kerch-muh)--pubs, I guess you'd call them, though they open at 8 AM. I always order Kofola. It may very well be my favorite drink ever. I'm trying to limit myself to a small glass a day, but it's hard. There are tons of Kofola knock-offs as well, but as with most knock-offs, you can't beat the real thing. (Slovaks shake their heads with disdain when they see the word printed on the glass is "Hejkola" or "Cola Loca." But even the cheaper imitations are known as "Kofola.")

Another scene, which I can't remember where it fit in chronologically, but it happened: Babicky took Ruth and me to the old (1588) church outside of Kremnica. Though most Slovak churches have the characteristic Eastern-Orthodox, shaped bronze roofs, I recognized this one instantly from my Dorling-Kindersley book on Slovakia I'd read months before. It is famous not only for its age, but because right next to it there is a rock which is supposedly at the center of Europe (though DK notes points in Poland and other countries in Central Europe make the same claim). Cool, nonetheless. Take that, all you people who insist on calling it "Eastern Europe"!

So, now Ruth and I are home at the flat. Being away ("rafting", and then the cottage) really made the flat feel like home-- I had had lots of fun, but I was so glad to be back. Mila Ruthka kindly did all my laundry (and folded it beautifully... an iron could do no better). I made peanut butter cookies. They taste just the way they should, but they're not my prettiest. Ah well-- between the two, taste is definitely the more important! I read a bit, and knitted a lot. And I walked...

...Which brings us finally to the title of this post. I had told Ruth at an earlier date how awful I was with directions and how getting lost was pretty inevitable with me. So when I decided to go walking--baby steps here, the first time only to the mall--Ruth thoughtfully had me take her cell phone, just in case. But I decided I was only going to walk in a straight line. Very easy. That first time, yesterday, was my first exploration of Nitra by myself.

The mall was actually a really pathetic target, I instantly realized, as it was practically just across the street. (It's a brand new shopping center. Ruth told me that in a very short space of time they built four new shopping centers. I like the mall, in that it has nice shopping and it's an excellent landmark--which I'll get to later-- but I share in Ruth's lament that they had to build it right in the heart of the old town, tearing down old buildings to make room for it. Unconscionable.) I walked the mall a few times and then went home. The next day (that would be today), I set off for the river. I was amazed to find I remembered exactly where I had turned with Ruth over a week ago. I crossed the bridge, into the park, and walked along the river for a half-hour or so (I gave myself an hour overall). It was exciting to be in a foreign city, all alone, feeling things out, seeing things for the first time. For a city of 85,000, Nitra feels much larger. At least to me. I'm glad that many of the crosswalks are controlled--that is, they have the light which tells you when you can walk--but I'm careful to time my street crossings with other people's, just in case. A highlight to my river walk was when the nearby church bells started going at noon. They went on for several minutes, though, and I couldn't make sense of the number of rings: 8, 6, 14, 4, 4, 30... etc. After the river, I amazed myself again by finding the two universities and the other shopping center I'd passed with Ruth last Wednesday. Most people, I'm sure, would think it's really pathetic I'm considering these victories, but I'll take my successes where I can find them when it comes to finding my way!

In the late afternoon, I decided to take another walk, this time to the church. From my bedroom, and really from any photo of Nitra, three things dominate the skyline: the church, the castle, and Zobor (the mountain/hill). When you're walking the streets, and certainly from my window, it appears that the church and castle are side by side exactly. Which always sort of amazed me, that two of the three would be right next to each other. So, today, I aimed for the church, but "knew" I would be getting to both. The optical illusion still has me scratching my head. Not only are the church and castle not neighbors, they're actually several kilometers from each other. Hmm.

Getting to the church, however, was important for me in many ways. First, along the way I managed to find the one-door entrance to the large open-air bazaar (closed in on all sides, so invisible from the outside) I'd been to with Ruth earlier, when she needed to get her dad's phone fixed at the Nokia shop. That time, the car had stopped (to me, seemingly at some random place in Nitra), we'd gone in, we'd come out, and driven away again. So to be walking along and suddenly see a door and recognize it as the one... that was awesome. The bazaar itself was awesome. Sort of a farmer's market + Chinatown. What I mean by the latter is lots of booths of knock-off clothing for incredibly cheap prices. I'm totally a knock-off girl. The shoes in the mall are 60 Euro minimum... the ones at the bazaar are 8 Euro max, and they start at .40 Euro! Who cares how poorly crafted they are; for those prices, it doesn't matter if they wear out seven times and I have to replace them each time. So, I was overjoyed to find this oasis of thrift in my proverbial backyard. The mall will never get business from me.

Another important part of my church walk: Somewhere along the way, I realized what I'm sure would have been instantly obvious to anyone else, but which for me was a breakthrough: the idea of multiple landmarks. As in, I'm using the shopping center to find my way to the church, and as I walk past the church, it will be my landmark, and so on. Obvious, I know, but it was so freeing for me. Especially because, as I've said, you can see this church practically anywhere in the city. It doesn't matter where I go, as long as I'm capable of seeing the church. If I can see it, I can get to it, and from there I can get home. Wonderful.

A third matter of importance: I've now visited one of my big three! And wow, is that church big. Standing before it, looking straight up, craning my neck to see the highest spire, was awing. I was tentative about going inside, because I wasn't sure about the rules, but the door was open and I watched some man go in, so I figured it was alright. I was dressed very modestly, at least-- there were signs showing silhouettes of women inappropriately-clad with x's through them. Clear message! I didn't feel comfortable entering the main sanctuary, however, so I just stood in the doorway. Unfortunately, the front altar was entirely covered in scaffolding (not visible from the outside), but I certainly got a sense of the size, with that immense roof. My favorite thing about the church, actually, was the smell. Standing in that doorway, there was somehow a strong draft, and it carried on it this special, musty fragrance of age. There was a nun in one of the back pews (nearest the door), which furthered my sense of intrusion, so I went back outside and continued onwards.

I had hoped to get to the hrad (castle), but it was obviously several kilometers away and I didn't want to take too long and make Ruth worry. But tomorrow, it's my mission! Even though now I've already been there... *segue into next story*

Tonight, I went out with Ruth and two of her friends, Ondrej and Teresa, to a tea house. What a neat place! I need to get back there sometime, once I know the city much better (it was a long walk, which included back alleys... no hopes of retracing my steps). It was designed to be something out of the Arabian Nights: arched ceilings painted midnight blue with stars and mirror fragments reflecting the moody lighting; walls painted with what looked like scenes from Aladdin; piles of embroidered poufs and pillows clumped in discreet alcoves around low tables; ambiance Arabic music playing in the background . We had to take our shoes off at the entrance. What can you have at a tea house? Tea and/or tobacco from a hookah. (Now that I think about it, they probably had coffee too; I just never looked at a menu.) Naturally, we skipped on the "and" part of that, and just had hot apple tea-- very nice. The perfect place for hanging out with friends.

After many hours, we finally left, and we went up to the hrad, which was nearby. I agreed with Ondrej; the castle is most impressive at night, when it's all lit up (along with the church, the only two buildings that get to be fully illuminated). There was a splendid view of Nitra where we stopped, shy of the castle wall (the castle is closed at night, so we didn't actually go up to it). The notable exception to the view was the church, which was on the other side of where we were. There isn't much light pollution in Nitra, so we could see the stars and make out some constellations. It was very quiet, save the white-noise of cicadas in the pine trees. The temperature was perfect (this is at 10:30 at night), comfortable t-shirt weather with no sweating. A great night.

So, now I've updated up to the present, except, of course, the whole rafting trip, which will have to wait until later today since it's 2 AM and I've already spent way too long on this. But a few disconnected, but important, bits of information:

We're waiting on making my bank account until I start school on September 2nd (all schools start then), because making an account is free if I'm a student, but not if I'm not. I haven't spent a single dime yet. And speaking of schools, I'm not going to the school I thought I was after all, Parovske, which is very close to the flat (and right across from Ruth's school-- she goes to a private Catholic school). I have been told the other school's name probably ten times and forgotten every time; I just know it's on the hill called Kolkocina in Nitra. It's far enough away it means I need to take a bus to school, but I'm glad to be going there, since apparently Parovske was not the best to exchange students, and thus the reason for the change. This is good to know for those who have my guarantee form out there, since it is now incorrect (it's stamped with Parovske's seal). Further information: I was actually supposed to be rafting the Hron river tomorrow with my Rotary counselor and my fellow two Nitra exchange students, but my counselor called today to cancel since the forecast was rain all weekend. So I'm glad he canceled it! It would have been very fun, so that's a bummer, but camping in the rain for three days would be miserable. There will be other opportunities to meet my counselor and the exchange students. Until then, I'm going to enjoy the unforeseen opportunity three days affords me for seeing the city on foot.

My birthday is in two days! Osemnact-- it's hard to believe. Eighteen's an even more important birthday for Slovaks than Americans, in that everything happens to you. You're an adult, you can drink, you can smoke, you can drive. I plan to be doing none of the last three, but being an adult might be nice.

Much love!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Som Tu! (I'm here!)

Tak, som tu, v Nitre, a mam vel'mi rad pretoze na moj okno mozem vediet' stare mesto. (There are lots of accents on that, but I don't know how to make them here.) What to say? So much has happened in a day in a half, and since I've already recorded it in my travel diary, the prospect of writing it all out again is not appealing. Maybe I can summarize?

The flights went as smoothly as could be hoped. My flight in Atlanta was delayed two hours, but we only arrived in Prague half an hour late. The Atlanta airport, it turns out, is the biggest in the world. While on my recent layover in Portland coming back from California I walked the whole Portland airport many times, Atlanta was so incredibly huge it took me fifteen minutes of fast walking to get from the A gates to the D ones (and then I changed my mind and walked back to A to ask some Delta employee where exactly I should be going). But it all worked out. My fortune cookie from my Panda Express lunch in Atlanta said "good companions are your best luck," and so it proved true, when on my long flight to Prague I was seated next to a really interesting, neat person-- she looked to be early twenties to me, but apparently she'd just finished her masters' thesis in Forestry at Yale and now was backpacking the Czech Republic alone for the third time. Very cool.

Arrival in Prague was very exciting. Praha! At last! Ahh, the red tile roofs! First signs I was in a different country: 'Vychod' came above 'Exit' on the signs, and a vague, rather nice, smell of cigarette smoke floated around. Kind of funny, "I got told" by a Czech security officer. I went to the security checkpoint and no other travelers were around. I had only an E-ticket number and I wasn't sure where I was going to get an actual boarding pass. In Atlanta, I went to a random Delta desk and the stewardess there quickly looked up my flight and printed the pass for me. I couldn't do that in Prague, since gate C was through the checkpoint. So I went up to the window (with a sign saying "please have your passport and boarding pass ready"). "Ahoj," I said tentatively. The young, rather handsome guard glared and said very curtly, "Hello." Ouch. Shut down. I explained my problem and he was instantly irritated. "Go to transfer desk," he said. "Sorry, but where is that?" I asked. "I only repeat this once! Go back to crossroads. Transfer desk is there. Goodbye!" He was nasty, but I didn't take it personally. Thanks to him, I got the boarding pass I needed. When I went back to his desk, another one was open, and he was busy. So I went to the woman instead, and caught his eye. I waved my pass. "Thank you!" He was shaking his head and laughing.

The flight to Bratislava was wonderful in that when we reached Slovakia the thick fog finally cleared and I could see the country laid out below me. We were in a very small plane-- and there were only fourteen of us!-- so we flew relatively low to the ground; excellent for sightseeing. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. I realized I was looking at Bratislava. I had thought this, the biggest city in the country by far, would have a clear center-- lots of skyscrapers or something. But actually, what I'd mistaken for many small, red-roofed towns, were Bratislava-- it was just hard to see the connecting thread when each was entirely surrounded by fields. Beautiful fields. So many different shades of green and gold. It reminded me a bit of Japan, where there would be a mall surrounded by lush rice paddies. The fields made everything okay. Even if it was an industrial place, it would be fine, because you know that the concrete has an edge somewhere close by and after that it's green.

Bratislava airport was incredibly tiny. There was one exit, a small room with a single, inactive baggage carousel. The fourteen of us were the only ones there, and after a few minutes the baggage carousel came to life with about six pieces of luggage, a third of which were mine. Tibor was waiting for me outside the sliding doors!

We picked up Ruth's stare mama (grandma) in Bratislava, and then went out to lunch near the lake. I was completely full, left over from a big dinner (I hadn't done anything since!), so I just had Kofola while the three of them ate. Kofola is the Czechoslovakian spin on Coke. It's very interesting. It's like Coke mixed with black licorice and slightly less fizz. I'm not a black licorice person usually, but Kofola definitely works. I even had it for breakfast this morning, and that worked too. I was amazed when the restaurant bill came (complete with the waitress, who had a purse and did the transaction right there). It was only 10 Euros for the whole lunch! Ruth and Tibor had had huge platters of food, and stare mama's salad was pretty large too. Add in drinks, and in the U.S. it would have certainly been a $30-40 meal. I'm excited for the rest of the prices!

Back in the car, I was braindead. It was one of my worst dreamy states. I must have fallen asleep literally forty times, but only a few seconds or minutes at a time, and dreaming the entire time. I found myself dreaming with my eyes open. Once I turned to Ruth and asked her if she'd asked me something; she had, it had something to do with luggage, but I had thought she was asking if my father had served in the military! Unfortunately, my bad state meant I surely missed many nice views of the countryside, but they'll definitely be other opportunities for that.

We got to the apartment and I was shown my room. It's so perfect, I can't believe it. It's the perfect size, with a chest of drawers, desk, chair, and nighttable. The bed is a firm pallet, extremely comfortable. Beautiful wood floor. And a giant window overlooking Nitra! The flat is dead center, and my window faces North, where the action is. Straight out is Zobor, the 'mountain,' and Nitravsky hrad (the castle), and these two famous old churches. It's so exciting! I didn't appreciate the view for long, and went straight to sleep. That was three o'clock. I woke up at seven and decided I could sleep longer. So I did, until 11:40 PM. My messed up biological clock meant I was awake from then until 3 AM, and then awake at 6:15 (tired now), but oh well. It was so nice to be awake in the early hours of the morning to see the city at night from my room. Thankfully, this is a city that sleeps. At night it was very quiet.

What have I done since? Tibor took me to the police station. Apparently you have three days to declare yourself to the police, and then they will grant you the right to stay for ninety days while you procure a visa. Plenty of time. He is so on top of things, he's got a plan for getting the other stipulations of the Temporary Residence Permit figured out. (I have to get blood drawn from a Slovak doctor. It's really pathetic, but I'm already dreading it.) And today or tomorrow we're going to the bank to get me an account, but he's already called them and is working on it. I'm so grateful!

I was feeling unhappy at my lack of Slovak, but Ruth casually mentioned that Tibor said I speak Slovak now as well as the American girl he had last year spoke after two months here... And that completely changed my mood around. :) I speak Slovak whenever I know the words. I'm already learning a lot, but not yet from absorbing listening to people. More like, I know the words cropping up a lot and can look them up in my dictionary and then say them myself. Etcetera. I was feeling especially unhappy because my Slovak materials are so inadequate. My Slovak dictionary is unbelievable. It has the word for "sleet," but not the word for "also." Are you kidding me?? Because if you are, this joke's not funny. And I knew the dictionary was awful before I left; it was just the least-awful one there was. They were all terrible. I just feel the extent of that awfulness so much more when I need something to rely on! And my other book, the comprehensive Slovak book, is far too complicated. The section on past tense goes like this: It has a sentence that means "I went to the store." And that is it. No explanation on how that past tense was formed, no further examples ("to go" is, of course, irregular). Never mind the past tense form of the verb is so completely different from its present and infinitive forms! But Ruth gave me three books that the Mexican boy Tibor hosted last year left behind! And that makes me so relieved. I haven't studied them yet, but they are a set of university textbooks (probably the only in existence) designed for native English speakers. Whew! There might be hope yet. I want to study. I just need to be able to!

Ruth and I just had a wonderful, four-hour conversation over caj. In English, of course, but I don't feel too guilty, because we got to know each other a lot more, and that's just as important as learning the language. I'm really happy to be here. Mom, for the record, the two dogs are not Corgies after all. I don't know the name of the breed, but they're tiny with very shaggy fur. I adore them. Because they smell nice, they're clean, and they're the size of cats. :) There's another dog, a golden lab, but he only comes over at night-- he spends his days in one of their neighbors' garden--they have this arrangement so he can be free to run around like he needs to. Not much more to say currently... I did get an adapter in the airport, so that's all taken care of. I'm going out tonight with Ruth and her friends for pizza, shopping, and watching a Slovak movie (one of four to come out this year) outside as part of a several-day Czechoslovak film festival. Sounds great! I'm starving, so I can't wait for that pizza...

Much love! Cau!

Edit: I remember what I forgot to say. I don't know how often I'll be using the internet, since this is Ruth's laptop and I feel guilty hogging it. I'll post when I can! Don't email me at AOL; or if you do, don't expect a reply from my AOL account since apparenty America Online won't let me write emails in Slovakia. Who knew?