Saturday, May 20, 2006

I'm Cashed

I am at the end of my blogging rope, which neatly coincides with my departure from Slovakia. After this weekend I will be embarking on a multi-country, credit score-destroying trip for much of June, which should take me to the Primavera Festival and the Trevi Fountain . Maybe I'll even get to meet this guy.

All of this is exciting, but it's hard to leave my new home. I'll miss some things a little, and I'll miss some things a lot.

Things I will Miss a Lot:

The People-
Everyone here in Slovakia has been very welcoming, and I have made many life-long friends who I would bail out of prison, in most countries. I don't want to turn this into an acceptance speech, so rest assured that if I know you, and you lived in Slovakia for any amount of time in the last year, you are one of these friends. Thanks for being so friendly. And I'm very lucky that the friend I would miss the most won't be missing at all.

Another group of people I'm really going to miss are my students. They put up with my lightning-fast slur-mumble, and didn't even groan when I assigned over a hundred pages of reading for one week (although there was some in-mouth vomiting). They're super-smart, ultra-nice, and just all-around excellent. These are just some of my favorite students, there are many others:

I'll miss them a ton, but hopefully they'll keep in touch, maybe with news of their occupying the administration office. That would be cool.

The department secretary, a life-saver, she would go out of her way to speak in little English phrases in order to help me out. She was also an almost limitless supplier of tape, which came in handy. A real trooper, I hope that some day she gets her own department, where people will get tape for her:

So creamy. A friend when you need one. And the little pieces of burnt bacon! I am choking back tears as I write this:

I also must give a "shout-out" to the one thing that really made all of this possible, my camera. I planned on taking a picture of my camera and putting it here, but it proved to be difficult due to our universe's current, and arguably unfair, rules of physics. Nevertheless, you can imagine my camera as a plastic, trustworthy and Japanese companion which went everywhere with me and never let me down. It has many buttons that I don't understand, but that's OK, because we have our whole lives together. God bless you, Sony HSC.

Apart from all of the whining, I enjoyed making this blog, and I now have a photo-diary of my time here. It also gave me a good reason to take pictures of my food, which makes everyone in the restaurant uncomfortable, which I enjoy. Therefore, I plan on possibly continuing this activity, on a different continent and at a different site. I think I will focus solely on things I eat, which means I will probably never actually post anything. But who knows.

For those of you who read this, thanks, it made my year. If you are traveling to the SK, and have any questions, this site will not help you, but feel free to e-mail me. Take care of yourselves, and each other. And your pets.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Summer Comes to Presov

After almost eight months of snow, wind, rain, snow, rain, and unpleasantness, the summer has finally arrived. Today it is sunny and mild, which I've been told only lasts for a couple of days before it becomes unbearably hot and humid, so I should be outside right now, but I have a duty to you, the reader (AKA Grandma).

The big symbol of summer's arrival in the east is the opening of the outdoor cafes on the main street:

These cafes are pretty cool, and people just basically sit in them and drink beer from lunchtime until they pass out and are unceremoniously dumped onto the street. I don't know if this ever happens, but it certainly adds to the narrative theme I am trying to fabricate here.

If I had to choose a favorite outdoor cafe, or "terrace" as the locals say, I would go with this one:

This place is really no different than the others except for the fact that its name clearly suggests that it serves some type of food, perhaps even steak, but when you go there during lunch they tell you that they don't serve food, while a group of people eat steak right in front of you. So basically, they offer superior service.

Another seasonal event is the graduation of the high school ("gymnazium") students. When their classes come to an end, before their big exams, they get into suits and dresses and walk around the city center, banging on cowbells and asking people on the street for money. It basically looks like this:

Also, the kids go into different stores and try to get the owners to give them cash. If the store forks it over, they become something like the financial patron saint of the class, and get to put these nifty signs in the window:

I don't actually know if this is what happens, I just pieced a theory together from the observations I made while eating ice cream. If someone wants to write in with a comment correcting my facts and telling me that I'm a lazy internet user, please don't, as it will cripple my e-self esteem.

And of course people are eating lots of ice cream. People of all ages, sexes, races and political orientations eat ice cream here all day, every day, all the time:

I realize that this last lady is clearly not eating ice cream, but I'm trying to illustrate a point, so back up off my proverbial e-grill.

I've eaten more ice cream here than I have in the last ten years, and I don't even like ice cream. Pretend that you lived in a society where everyone walking down the street, at all times, is holding an ice cream cone. First, you don't want to be the only one not holding a cone, which would expose you to public scorn (and a possible trip to the Shame Cage). Also, when everyone is eating ice cream, and most people don't seem to be suffering from morbid obesity, you start to believe that you too can eat ice cream every day, all day, and not end up in the ground at the age of 38.

I've fallen victim to this line of thinking, and am therefore getting very tired of ice cream. I've considered inventing a fake ice cream cone which I could carry on the street, but that would be dishonesty, which is not my policy.

And there are people! People are now everywhere, all the time, in the center. It's like Grand Central Station, but with ice cream and in Slovak. Here's people pictures:

There was even a person who looked exactly like David Cross of "Mr. Show" fame, which was exciting:

And of course, someone kicked in the telephone booth again. 2 Wycked!:

So, typically, once the weather finally starts getting nice, and the fun really begins, I have to leave. I've only got about another week here before I'm basically gone for good, so I will try to post one more thingy, chock-full of sentimentality, with some of it even possibly being sincere. And after that, I will have blogged myself to death, and can rest. Enjoy the weather!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Animals of the Balkans

I thought it would be prudent to take most of the animal pictures and put them in a separate post. This way, you can have a concentrated dose of Balkan critters:

Serbian Horse- Serbia

Dog with Firm Buttocks- Belgrade

Stank Cat- Dubrovnik

Cat Who Wouldn't Just Let People Eat Their Food- Mostar

Small Bird Under the Table When I Was Eating a Salad Due to the Fact that I was Suffering from Indigestion Due to some Questionable Mussels the Previous Evening- Road to Split

Brown Dog from Split- Split

Brown Dog from Split and Enemy/Potential Mate- Split

Plastic Horse Who Is In Fact a Ride: Split

Dead Food- Split

A Slug- Plitvice Lakes National Park

Albino Dog- Dubrovnik

Buddy and Buddy- Dubrovnik

Predator- Dubrovnik

Prey- Dubrovnik

And that pretty much was my Spring Break, Balkans style. If anyone tells you the Balkans are not safe, or no fun, that's bullcrap, so be sure to go before you're dead.

Hungarian is Hard

We spent some time in Pecs, Hungary, and Budapest on the way home. It was great, I love Hungary, but I would like to focus here on how intimidating the Hungarian language is.

Below are some examples of the Hungarian language that I ran into. They are by no means the most insane, but were instead chosen for the fact that they are typical of an average Hungarian statement (I think). As a fun exercise, when you find the time, go down this list and attempt to say the sentences you see. Then pretend that you are very hungry, or about to be thrown into a Hungarian prison, and try harder:

Now for fun, check out this excellent BBC site which can teach you some basic phrases in Hungarian, along with providing in-depth and really cool lessons in Spanish, French, German and Italian.

I don't really have anything else to say about Hungary, ever, except that I really like it. If you ever go, be sure to take me with you.

Croatia Part II- Zagreb and a Bunch of Waterfalls

And then we went to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb.


Zagreb isn't known for being beautiful like the coastal cities of Dubrovnik and Split, but it really isn't Zagreb's fault, as it isn't on a coast.

I think it definitely has its charms, with a very nice city center. However, we didn't stay in the city center, but on the outskirts at the Hotel Omladinski:

The place is a student dorm, with the usual hung-over students aimlessly wandering the halls wearing flip-flops with socks. I can't say I really enjoyed it, but we didn't stay long, as the city center beckoned.

So here is the center:

It's basically a large square with a bunch of outdoor cafes and shops. It was very busy the day we were there, and the weather was nice. The central feature of the square is this statue of an important person on a horse:

This statue is the work of a master, who took the time to render a beautiful and anatomically honest piece of work for the people:

Another statue was the "Old Lady with Cheese on Head", which is placed outside the market where the old ladies sell cheese. I assume this was intentional:

As I had been awake at this point for almost an hour and a half, I started feeling hungry with the kind of hunger that your average Corny Bar (a bar of sugared corn, husks removed) cannot satisfy:

But what to eat? At this point I can recommend the local Zagreb tourist guide book, "Zagreb in your Pocket", which you can pick up for free almost anywhere (well, almost anywhere in Zagreb). This little guide revolutionized the genre by both not taking itself too seriously, and by actually being funny. For instance, check out this review of the Maharadža Indian restaurant, where we ended up:

Maharadža is a place that brings us tears of joy every time we re-discover it, for it's so dam good it feels like the first time every time! With an impressive array of Indian options including a number of superb curries, the cooks know how to satisfy your tummy bored with same old crap. It's well spiced and will have you sweating in no time. The interior gets you into relax mode immediately.

I found this advice to be on the nose. I also liked the review of McDonald's, with it's ode to the fry:

The tram was crowded and a generous scent of unfiltered human body odour pervaded into every crevice. Just then some jerk with a golden-arched to-go bag entered the car. The smell of pure fry immediately overwhelmed the stench and quickly had everyone in the car salivating to the floor-boards. That, dear friends, is the freakish and almost terrifying power of the McDonald's french fry.

So here is the Maharadža:

For those keeping score, I had the chicken:

And off we were, walking around the town for the rest of the afternoon. I saw this guy in the square:

I walked through a nice park:

In which the homeless were being harassed by the fuzz:

I saw an old jeep:

I learned a local law:

And I found a good name for a band:

Zagreb was fun, go if you are within a 20-mile radius. Next, it was waterfall time!

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park is an extremely popular tourist destination, where you get the opportunity to walk around a beautiful environment filled with ducks and waterfalls, and then if you are lucky, you can take pictures of the ducks and the waterfalls:

The trail we took is supposed to take about four hours, but we got it done in five, mainly due to the fact that we got stuck behind a gigantic tour group of retired French people:

Some of my French companions didn't realize that the group was their people (and could speak French), and perhaps due to some cultural attitudes towards such a group, made disparaging and audible comments about their speed.

Then, when the aforementioned companions realized that they had been heard, and were in danger of being beaten by very sensible shoes, they suggested that we run away. We did, but the tour group caught up to us at the boat ride across the lake. Thankfully the retirees were merciful, and only scowled at us, which we deserved:

And then it was back to Hungary, headed towards home. This vacation was quickly coming to an end, and a sad return to my 7-hour work week was looming large...