[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!
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?