slovakia

When You’re Homesick

When you're homesick

I watched the back of the van disappear into a cloud of winter’s leftover dust, carrying away my fiance and his extended family back to Austria where he was working, and burst into tears, the kind with great gasping sobs.

I had been living for a few months in Slovakia. Winter is not Bratislava’s finest season, grey skies, grey streets, grey buildings. I was teaching English at different companies, and so had limited contact with other people on a regular basis other than my students,  to many of whom this timid inexperienced girl was not nearly exciting as the gregarious loud fun experienced man I had taken over classes from. After the disaster of my first living arrangements, I was living with a kind but largely absent woman.

In short I was lonely, hated the city, and felt incompetent at my job. Oh, and didn’t yet speak the language of the land. I missed my mountains, being able to ask for a product at the store without acting it out, and my family.

The thing about homesickness is that, in most cases, it is our own choices that have brought us to that point. We’ve moved away to another country or a.cross country, away from the life and people we know. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so permanent when making those choices, or we’re caught up in the excitement of the moment.  Click to continue reading

Vianočné oplátky: making Christmas wafers

A woman holds oplatky, also called oblatky, as she makes them

A necessary part of Christmas for most Slovaks is the thin crisp wafer served at the Christmas Eve meal, oplátky or oblátky, depending on the dialect. Some thin wafers are sold as ‘cakes’ layered together with a sweet filling at spas all year round, but the Christmas wafers are a little different. (More about Slovak Christmas.)

I’ve been trying to get into Slovak kitchens for some time now, to publish their cooking and baking secrets for the world to know. (If you know someone willing for me to come over with a camera, send me an email!) I finally invited myself over to learn how to make oplátky from a lady who makes them in my town.  Click to continue reading

Košice Peace Marathon

Runners in Kosice Peace Marathon, Slovakia

Earlier this October I was able to travel with my husband to the Košice Peace Marathon, the oldest marathon in Europe. Inspired by the marathon at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, a Košice native returned home to organize a marathon run by 8 men. Today, over 10,000 people take part in the event with runs of various lengths, as well as inline skating and wheelchair/handbike disciplines.

We arrived on late Saturday afternoon, the city center abuzz. Tents set up displayed and/or sold various wares, the streets were lined with barrier fences, and the streets were busy with athletes, their supporters, and spectators. Small packs of Roma children ran through the crowd. By evening, more people were walking the main roads and the youth of Košice weren’t about to miss out, making me feel like an old stogy parent (some of them just looked so young to be roaming the night streets).  Click to continue reading

Slovak Stuffed Peppers (with cooking poems)

stuffed peppers blog

Instead of being baked, Slovak stuffed peppers are stewed in a rich tomato sauce for a juicy flavour-packed meal. 

To be honest, getting food on the table day after day can get to be a bit of a drag. And have you seen the amount of food kids can consume? I remember when my brother was a teen, I swear pans of cookies just got inhaled.

It’s certainly a luxury to be able to complain about the burden of cooking though. In the not so distant past, Slovaks had a handful of meals they cooked over again and were glad for it, as most of them knew the gnaw of hunger. And we know that in various parts of the world, people are starving.

But still…what am I going to cook for dinner tonight? I now marvel that my mother laid out a feast for us every evening, although as a child I didn’t think anything of it. I do remember, however, on one occasion my father went back to Japan for a visit and we ate a lot of eggs and toast (my father can’t eat many eggs).

A friend recently wrote a poem on Facebook to share her conundrum of shopping vs. putting crazy ingredients together, and it prompted a number of humorous responses with impressive poetry writing skills.  Click to continue reading

Veľký Choč: the most beautiful view in Slovakia

View of west tetras from Choc in Slovakia

It all started with an Instagram picture of a cabin in the middle of the forest somewhere in Slovakia. I decided wanted to go there, basically bulldozed my husband into going for our vacation, and we went. Well, not that exact cabin, but in the area.

Going on annual family vacations wasn’t something I did growing up. And now as an expat, it seems like vacation is either going to visit family (which is awesome and beautiful) or saving up for it.

Just being

But this summer I badly wanted to just get away from it all. Not just from the daily grind of where we live, but from noise and technology and speed of life; I wanted to get away to the woods and just be.

We found a cabin in the hills of the Liptov region and the first day did nothing else but be there – some reading, a hot dog roast, exploring the immediate area. I roamed the hill cleared by a blow-down, picking mullein leaves and flowers. My oldest came along, picking strawberry leaves for winter tea; it was one of her favourite parts of the day. With no electricity we kept our phones on airplane mode, packed water in a bucket from the nearby spring (dear mountain water, how I miss you), and basked in the not-too-hot sun.  Click to continue reading

Radler: a refreshing beer cocktail

elderflower lemon radler

Radlers are not originally Slovak, although they are now popular here. Basically, a radler is a beer cocktail, a mix of beer and a sweet drink. Beer connoisseurs may scoff, but I find radlers very enjoyable and perfect on a hot day.

Radler means cyclist in German. In many areas, cycling around the countryside is very popular, and people stop off for a drink at cafes along their journey. A radler can quench thirst without getting one tipsy, and are not as sweet as pop/soda. A radler is the same as a shandy in British English.  Click to continue reading

Heľpa Folk Festival: beautiful beautiful textiles

Putting gulky into the water

This weekend I was so fortunate as to visit two folk festivals. As I took about a million photos at each one, I’ll divide them into two posts.

Heľpa has held a festival for the past 52 years, Horehronské dni spevu a tanca, the region Horehronie days of singing and dancing. It was a wealth of folk costumes and, this year, textile arts.

I was looking forward to the trip, to take as many pictures as I wanted without running after kids or hurrying up for bored companions. On Saturday, I woke up before the crack of dawn to get an early train, and met a friend on the way to HeľpaClick to continue reading

Elderflower syrup

Elderflower syrup

There are three items that many Slovaks forage for, even if they aren’t the ‘in harmony with nature’ type of person: ramsons/bear garlic, mushrooms, and elderflowers.

Elderberry bushes with their characteristic large head of small white blossoms are a common sight throughout the western part of Slovakia in the spring, their strong scent filling the air. It’s common to see someone walking by with a basket, or even a huge bag.

What do Slovaks make with elderflowers? Elderflower syrup. I made this recipe with 2 litres of water, but most people make huge batches of 10 or more litres.

If you find the idea of fermenting elderflower wine or cordial intimidating, then this simple syrup is the recipe to try. Instead of juice concentrates, in Europe people buy syrups to make ‘juice’.  Click to continue reading

The “Lazy” of Central Slovakia

trees in autumn glory

Last fall our family went for a weekend to a chata, a cottage, in the middle of Slovakia. It was amazingly gorgeous: rolling hills with swaths of meadows, brilliant fall colours and bell ringing herds.

Farm in Central Slovakia

In most of Slovakia, houses are clustered together surrounded by fields. When she was a child, my mother-in-law had to walk 3 km to the family’s field. In some parts of central Slovakia however, family farms are spread out, sometimes solitary, sometimes in a group of two or three houses. These solitary farms in the hills are called lazy (la-zee), although other dialects have their own names.  Click to continue reading

Spring Wildflowers of the Slovak Small Carpathians

Snowdrops in Slovakia, Almost Bananas blog

Spring is my favourite season in the area of Slovakia I live in, in the west. After a grey winter, nothing sparks hope like new growth and warming temperatures. In the Malé Karpaty, spring comes on in full force. Of course, spring can lie too – this year, after a few weeks of warmth, winter returned for another few weeks.   Click to continue reading

« Older Entries