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?