Exciting news, winter wonderland, carnival festivities and other bits

Male Karpaty in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Every week I plan to write here on the blog, and most weeks time goes by faster than I can catch it. Things have been busy here because, as I announced on Facebook…I’m writing an ebook!

It will be an ecookbook about Slovak soups and stews, full of bowls of comfort and notes about life in Slovakia. We’ve been eating a lot of soups and stews lately. As a cook, I don’t mind because they are easy to throw together. And my kids haven’t complained yet.

I’ve set the launch date as March 13…soon!

If are on Facebook, follow my Almost Bananas Facebook page and click ‘all posts’ under notifications. I’ll be sharing bits of the book as it is coming together and asking for your input. Here’s a Facebook video of me behind the scenes, complete with twin “helpers”. If you aren’t on Facebook,  you can see the video here.

To catch up on 2017, I’ve got mostly a pile of photos to share. 

Sledding in the fog in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Winter – good or bad?

I am one of those annoying people who likes winter, a proper winter anyway. To me, the ideal temperature is about -10C (14F), with plenty of snow and blue skies. I admit that I do not have to shovel a driveway or sit in a cold car every morning, which may have something to do with it. But I love the light, the brightness that snow brings, and the possibilities for fun outside, whether sledding, building forts, or just the muffled silence.

Male Karpaty in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Winter in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Contrast this with fog, -2C (28F), and bitter winds. I will admit that the ice building on the trees as the fog freezes is pretty, but it’s not exactly inviting to go outside. Humid cold just goes straight to the bones. And I so miss the sun after weeks of long grey and brown cloudy winter days.

Freezing fog on trees, Slovakia - Almost BananasA sample of fog freezing onto trees. Dangerous stuff.

Fortunately we’ve had a pretty great winter – enough snow to go sledding where we live is a big win. A couple weeks of -10C (14F) mornings, sun, and a (thin) layer of snow were good enough for me to declare it a pretty great winter, especially compared to the last few years.

Sledding in Slovakia - Almost BananasExpectations for ‘enough snow to go sledding’ are low.

We had one morning of fluffy snow, which melted a few days later when it warmed up to 8C (46.4F).  Knowing warm days were coming, I went to and snapped these all on one walk, meeting a friend who was out enjoying the same. Unfortunately, after the snow all melted, it got cold again but sans snow.

winter 2017 (20 of 20)
winter 2017 (19 of 20)
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winter 2017 (13 of 20)

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winter 2017 (8 of 20)
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winter 2017 (4 of 20)

Most people don’t like the snow here, partly because of driving. Highways get plowed right away, with main roads somewhat behind, but the side streets – well, you might be waiting a long time for a snowplow. They just wait until the snow is packed down enough and then they don’t need to plow it anyway.

Carnival Season

From the end of the Christmas season (January 6) until Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) is party time, including formal balls, costume parties for children, ‘burying the bass’ (saying goodbye to music), deep fried sweets, and parading the streets dressed up. In Slovak this time is called Fašiangy (fa-shi-an-ghee), and I wrote more about it here, including its history.

Fasiangy in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

fasiangy krizovanyRinging bells and causing a ruckus in the streets. And so then people give them money.

We went to one formal ball this season with some friends. Something that I particularly noticed,  after being in Canada this summer, is that young men here still know how to partner dance. While in Canada this summer I went to a couple dances and the number of men under 50 who could dance was frankly abysmal. The ones who could were jealously guarded by girlfriends. My brother, who is a great dancer, is always in high demand. Seriously men, learn how to waltz or two-step (to say nothing of swing or tango) and you’ll be a popular guy with the ladies.

Ball in Slovakia - Almost BananasYoung men waltzing. How novel.

A highlight for our family is the Starosvetská Fašiangová Zábava, a folk-themed family dance. The kids dance, run around mostly unsupervised, and stay up till midnight. Adults chat, eat, dance, eat again, drink, and dance some more.

It seems so symbolic, the boy absorbing the sound wall of his heritage.
winter 2017 blog (6 of 6)The cimbal band. A cimbalom is the Slovak style of hammered dulcimer (the little table).
winter 2017 blog (5 of 6)Midnight snack. I know, this doesn’t look great. But I thought it was wonderful that they served beef tongue too.
winter 2017 blog (4 of 6)
winter 2017 blog (3 of 6)These girls spent most of the night watching their skirts twirl.

Folk themed dance in Slovakia - Almost Bananas

After the band packed up and most of the people had left, the last folk music diehards stayed on, the younger ones still playing music and dancing. The musical talent and knowledge (the number of songs they know) is truly inspiring.

The only problem was that this year the two dances were on consecutive days and I may have stayed up till the not-so-wee hours of the morning two nights in a row, which was not conducive to productivity for the next few days.

It may or may not be 3:30am…

You can see many more dance photos on the Almost Bananas Facebook page and videos on Youtube.

Other odds and ends

On January first, some people still go and light candles at the cemetery. I happened to go for a walk after dark and the fog and candles made for a mysterious atmosphere.

catching up phone (3 of 14)
catching up phone (2 of 14)
Foggy night in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

The castle in my town has so many moods, depending on the weather. I still find it slightly surreal to have such a picturesque castle looking over us.  If it sometimes feels like I’m in a fairytale, maybe it’s because I am – all the outside castle shots in this fairytale that aired on Christmas Eve look somewhat familiar.

catching up phone (13 of 14)
catching up phone (10 of 14)Many sledders come from the nearby city to go sledding and, while it’s picturesque, I’ll tell you a secret –
there’s actually a better hill for sledding here.

Smolenice castle, Slovakia - Almost Bananas

I’ll leave you with last one fun tidbit. I had to go into the city for a day with the twins and we went in this old style elevator. I remember the first time I went in one when I first came to Slovakia. I wasn’t sure it was safe – I think I could see daylight through a crack. The thing with these elevators is that the doors to different floors have to be closed for it to work. So if someone left a door cracked open when they exited, then tough luck if you were on the ground floor with bags of groceries and 18 flights to climb, as one student told me.

Do you like winter?
What have been your highlights so far this year?