I’ve been living in Bratislava and working as a journalist for exactly six months now, which is an absolutely baffling thought. Didn’t I just get here? Wasn’t it last week I was using winter coats for bed sheets and throw cushions for pillows during the first few nights in my new apartment? Surely it was yesterday my bottom went completely numb while sitting in the foreigner’s police waiting room, wondering if I would get a resident’s permit before the day’s end.
But, baffling as it is, it has indeed been six months. I am no longer a visitor but rather a resident and, dare a say, a local?
I usually don’t dare say local. It feels like a luxurious word, a birthright rather than a simple adjective that can be afforded to a foreigner who calls Slovakia home. Nevertheless, I got to play the part of a local a couple of weeks ago when some delightful friends from New Hampshire paid me a visit in my new hometown.
I promised these friends I would christen them with Slovak (ish) names so let this be the tale of when Carolina, Tomáš, Matúš, and Patricia came to town on their way to a Habitat for Humanity project in Krakow.
A Night in Bratislava
I met up with my fellow New Hampshirites at a small hotel tucked behind the Turkish embassy on a balmy afternoon. Though I recommended the hotel, I’ve never actually stayed there, so I was happy, and relieved, to hear I chose well 🙂
I’ve known Tomáš and Caroline since high school when I used to clean their houses during the summertime on Sand Pond, a beautiful body of water in my hometown of Marlow, NH. In high school, they were my kind bosses but now, years later, they are simply wise and dear friends.
Matúš and Patricia have been friends with Tomáš and Carolina for a long time but I only just met them on this trip. They live on Sand Pond in the summer and travel back to Connecticut in the fall but our paths only crossed in Slovakia of all places. We quickly became friends and I had a lot of fun with this delightful pair.
I gave my old and new friends a quick tour of Old Town Bratislava and watched with interest, and slight trepidation, as they tried halušky, everyone’s favorite Slovak delicacy, for the first time. To my delight, it was a hit with the New Hampshire crew!
We walked through the main square, past some lively statues and derelict buildings, and finished with a stroll around the Bratislava Castle, the crowning jewel in my neck of the woods.
The path to Poprad
The next morning we drove on to Poprad, a place I’ve never been to but was PUMPED to explore. On our way to this beautiful little town, framed by the glorious Tatra mountains, we drove past Trencin and up a rather precarious road to Vlkolínec, a remarkable, UNESCO-protected settlement.
Surrounded by bumbling green hills where cuckoo birds greet visitors with their repetitive melodies, this collection of colorful houses is a must-see. People actually live in this town and are ancestors of the families that created the quaint village years ago. I would love to live in a place like Vlkolínec though the prospect of strangers with cameras peering into my window kind of kills that dream.
But one of my favorite moments of the trip was spent on a wooden bench in the quirky outdoor bar/cafe in Vlkolínec. I savored a particularly scrumptious Magnum ice cream bar aside my friends as village chatter and melodic bird quarreling filled the air. And I realized this was one of many perfect examples of micro-perfection, a small moment of perfection that both harmonizes and disrupts the routine of life.
From Vlkolínec, we finally arrived in Poprad. The weather was cooler and the view of the Tatras was quite spectacular. And after settling into the hotel, five weary travelers were rewarded with a delicious meal at a nearby restaurant which, somehow, would almost pale in comparison to our parting meal the following evening.
The Last Supper (but only the happy kind)
We visited Spiš Castle the following morning. I’m a sucker for castles so Spiš, ancient and picturesque, was an absolute delight. Plus, I can’t get enough of castle photography 🙂
After Spiš, we went for a short walk in a protected natural area grazed by cattle and what looked like gazelle-like animals. It felt good to breath in air immune to the pollution characteristic of capital cities. In fact, I was slightly intoxicated with the wonderful feeling you get when you’re in a foreign area; everything was new and shiny and happy to make my acquaintance. It was the perfect place for a walk in the woods.
Post-hike, Carolina put her google talents to work and found a hidden-gem of a restaurant that single-handedly proves heaven is a real and indulgent place.
I should mention that my four companions were kind enough to pay for all my travel expenses, including this swish-beyond-swish dinner.
For anyone travelling through Poprad, Vino & Tapas is an absolute must. For 39 euros, you can get an eight-course meal that will absolutely blow your mind. Plus, the genius chef who made us the gold-standard meal is a woman in a male-dominant industry. How cool! Chef Zuzana, you are an angel and true maestro-dakujeme velmi pekne!!
The meal started off with a smoked spinach sponge topped with speech cheese and truffle caviar-I know my description isn’t exactly making your mouth water but if you ever get the chance to try this culinary marvel, served in a bell jar on an artisan slate, you’ll understand why we all think of Chef Zuzana as an angelic maestro.
Following the starter was the international award-winning pierogi, rabbit sausage, cilantro-cheese mousse, and chocolate lasagna. Added with the traditional wine and hilarious owner Peter who says “sex!” instead of “cheese” when taking pictures, this meal was perfect and a rare treat for a broke budget traveler such as myself. What a way to end my adventure with the newly-crowned Poprad Posse!
My time with the New Hampshire clan was short, too short, but because of them, I have pocketed so many special experiences. I can’t thank them enough for their generosity, compassion, and googling skills. I only hope they return someday soon.
In the meantime, one question remains: who’s going to visit me next?!
I’ll Be Waiting,