Monday, October 10, 2011

First Week in Slovakia continued - Life in the Country

On Thursday, we caught a 6:30 AM train to visit Terezia's parents, who live three hours away in the small, rural village of Podrecany. The last time I was there was in the dead of winter when everything was covered in snow, so it was nice to see how lush, green, and stunningly gorgeous the area is. Podrecany is in a valley containing several other tiny, rural villages, and the nearest actual town is a place called Lucenec. All the villages consist of a few narrow, winding roads lined with quaint old houses and the occasional dilapidated, falling-down barn. You can also see remnants of old castles (like in Divin) and a few well-preserved ones being renovated by Russians to be turned into hotels or wellness centers. Gangs of chickens roaming the smaller streets and people doing business in dim, smokey pubs is the norm here.

Terezia's parents, like most people in these villages, have a pretty large garden filled with potatoes, beets, carrots, lettuces, and other veggies, as well as an array of herbs and a gazillion apple, pear, plum, and walnut trees, not to mention wonderful grapes and berries. They put us to work pretty quickly, with one of our first jobs being picking apples from several trees before the rain was supposed to come. This involved climbing up a rickety, wooden, medieval-looking ladder and picking apples that were out of reach with an iron claw stuck to the end of a long, old, wooden stick. We also spent hours picking grapes (ostensibly for making wine) and collecting walnuts. What was nice about this is that just about everything we ate during our stay came from this garden, and any eggs or chicken that we had came from neighbors or Terezia's grandmother. This is exactly the kind of organic and localized food experience people back in the US pay through the nose for, but out here in the country it's just normal. The raspberries were the best I've ever had (sweeter than in America), while the apples and grapes were tasty as well!

Thursday afternoon was spent riding these dangerous and janky bicycles a few miles to the next town, called Tomasovce, to visit Terezia's starka (grandmother). We rode through these dirt paths used by tractors, with harvested corn and wheat crops on one side, and a gorgeous, tree-lined creek on the other. The scenery here reminds me of Tuscany, with the rolling green hills, and dense, lush, green, vine-covered foliage, surrounding the seemingly random boundaries of various crops, and old, broken-down, rustic fences. Given that my bike basically had no brakes, the ride was a bit scary, but still fun.

I suppose the main thing to note on this particular afternoon was that I got completely sloshed thanks in part to Terezia's dad. I've mentioned to people before what heavy drinkers Slovakians are, and given that I'm such a lightweight, it's easy to get into trouble here. After having a few beers accompanied by 3-4 shots of Borovicka around lunchtime, then having a few glasses of wine at Starka's, then having a pint and more Borovicka at the quaint local pub in Podrecany with Terezia's dad, I was definitely buzzed. But things went downhill fast when we had to return one of the bikes to Terezia's uncle Jano, who is relentless when it comes to refilling his guests' glasses. With Jano, we somehow went through two bottles of wine and a bottle of this sweet, slightly bizarre stuff that people in Slovakia love called Burciak. Burciak is basically wine taken from early in the fermenting process and then I think they add sugar. Let's just say it's an acquired taste with a sweetness that masks its potency, and it didn't help my drunken state at all. We went home, dizzy, and passed out after eating potato pancakes.

Terezia's brother Anton met us there Saturday morning and we promptly began making a large pot of goulash using some pork shoulder and tons of veggies from the garden. We cooked the goulash outside in a pot that hung over a fire pit. Later, we drove around the valley through Halic to check out the castle there that's apparently being renovated by Russians (but we couldn't get to the top of the hill to actually see it because of an angry guard dog). Words can't describe how awesome it is to drive through these narrow, winding back-country roads. Sadly, I didn't really get any photos of this. But hopefully I'll be back soon enough.

Sunday, after spending a few hours picking grapes at Starka's house, we ate some amazing duck leg, sauerkraut, and dumplings, all prepared lovingly by Terezia's mom (who is a wonderful cook), topped off with some freshly made plum upside-down cake (in which you could really taste the difference those fresh, organic eggs make!). After roaming the garden for fallen walnuts, we went with Anton back to Bratislava, stopping at the cool university town Nitra on the way back. Sadly, no photos, as it was getting dark, but Nitra is definitely a town that deserves a full day trip with its nice historical center and cool castle compound perched dramatically atop a hill.

You can see more photos from this week here

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