Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One Year in Slovakia!

One year ago today, Terezia and I arrived in Slovakia, frazzled and jet-lagged, but ready to begin what would be an exciting, frustrating, fun, vexing, fascinating, and challenging year. It's kind of hard to believe that we lasted a year, which was our goal. We pessimistically figured that we'd come here for a year, not find jobs (or at least not particularly satisfying jobs), then go back to the US with our heads hanging in defeat. I'm happy to report that that's not the case.

At any rate, I thought I'd run through a quick summary of what this year entailed, because it's nice to contemplate what we managed to accomplish in the land of hruškovica and pivo.

After a brief and somewhat unproductive first week that served as our introduction to Slovak-style bureaucracy, we took off for Italy for 3.5 weeks, where we had a consistently fabulous vacation, knowing full well that it could be the last 3.5 week vacation we'd be able to take for a long time.

Siena, Italy!

When we returned, we dove headfirst into the murky sea of Slovak bureaucracy in an effort to register our marriage in Slovakia and get my residency permit. It seemed insurmountable initially, and the entire process was stressful as hell, especially when waking up at the crack of dawn to wait for hours at the charming Alien Police only to be told that it would be next to impossible to get my residency before my three month EU travel visa expired. But by Xmas, we'd worked it out, and miraculously, I was granted residency literally days before I was supposed to have flown back to the US.

Bratislava's lovely Alien Police, where we spent countless hours in line having oodles of life-affirming fun. 

Finding a place to live proved daunting, as just about every available apartment in our price range in the center of town was significantly flawed in one way or another. But we were so desperate to get out of Bernolakovo and into our own place that we settled on an apartment, which, while not ideal, is at least very centrally located and has a decent kitchen in which Terezia can work her culinary magic. (But we'll be keeping an eye out for a better place before our lease is up in December).

Then came the job-hunt, which was the most frustrating challenge of all. Countless resumes were sent into what seemed like a black hole. Even though we have experience up the wazoo, and we both speak fluent English, recruiters just weren't biting. I had an interview for an English teaching position at Empire, a language school with extremely dubious methodology that didn't give two shits about my Cambridge CELTA qualification. They wanted to hire me, but I turned them down! Any other schools who published job listings during this period seemed similarly sketchy.

Being jobless for 7+ months was particularly demoralizing for Terezia, who felt unwanted in her own country, despite having so much to offer. I should admit, however, that I didn't mind it so much myself, and I tried to take advantage of (and revel in) the time off as much as possible. 10 years at a dead end desk job will do that to you. Money was tight, but I was free!!!

By spring morale was low, and we were even seriously toying with the idea of moving to Prague.

But when Terezia spotted a job listing for a chef for the US embassy in late April, I had a really good feeling about it. Terezia was up against a gazillion candidates, but I knew she had something that doubtlessly most of her presumably Slovak competition lacked - loads of professional experience (and passion for) cooking NON-Slovak food. Having dined and worked as a chef all over the SF Bay Area, Terezia knows exactly what the discerning palettes of those demanding and well-traveled gourmands look for in food, and she can deliver it. She can cook food that's fresh and healthy without making compromises in the flavor department, and that's clearly what endeared her to the ambassador and his family. (I mean, I'm not trying to insult the culinary traditions of an entire culture, but when you look at what you're eating on a day-to-day basis, would you rather be weighed down every afternoon by a pile of 
Bryndzové Halušky, or nourished by a perfectly cooked, excellently seasoned and moist salmon fillet? Would you rather be punched in the gut by a mound of fried cheese, or pleasantly sated by roasted chicken thighs slathered in fresh, homemade basil pesto? Would you rather have a fresh salad with seasonal ingredients, or well... no salad at all? You get the picture). 

As for me, well, during winter, when I was busily writing blog posts about our short travel excursions, and epic lunatic rantings about Bratislava's intriguingly bizarre urban fabric, Terezia sent the blog's url to the editor-in-chief at the Slovak Spectator (a local English language newspaper), completely unbeknownst to me. They took a gander at the blog and apparently dug what they saw, as they soon contacted me and arranged a meeting at which they asked if I'd be interested in writing some articles about Bratislava for their upcoming issue of Spectacular Slovakia, a nice and in-depth Slovak travel magazine/guide (written in English) that they publish once a year. To say that I was elated would be an understatement. 

(By the way, the new magazine is out - look for another post on that soon).

Long story short, they were impressed enough with my articles to ask if I'd consider taking a position at the paper as an assistant editor, since one of theirs was leaving in July. I'm hugely appreciative that they decided to give this total weirdo from California a chance to take a stab at something I have always wanted to do. Of course, being a good journalistic editor is quite a different kettle of fish from merely being a decent writer, and I suppose the jury is still out on just how good of a job I'm doing. It's quite challenging, but immensely gratifying, and I'm learning and absorbing new things every week, something I'm not sure I can say about some of my previous jobs. 

I also had a fun-filled month and a half becoming intimately familiar with Slovakia's health system due to a particularly horrible back blowout! And, we got to take part last December in a zabijacka! How many people can say that?!

And finally, we did get to travel a bit, but not nearly enough. We have taken a few trips to Prague, a city that I find to be utterly awe-inspiring and drool-inducing, and Budapest, a city that has a lot to offer and seems totally alive and livable, as well as nearby Vienna, which I find to be a wee bit bland visually, but still appealing culturally. Sadly, we still have not made it to the Croatian coast (I'm dying to see Rovinj, Split, and Dubrovnik), or Krakow, a small city whose gorgeous medieval architecture beckons. And of course, we still desperately need to see Košice, Slovensky raj, and Orava in Slovakia! Hopefully next year.


Budapest!

So, I'm not exactly sure where things are headed, but life here has taken a positive and intriguing turn, and we're both curious to see where we'll go from here! Also, a thousand thanks to all of our friends and family who gave us lots of help and encouragement!

(Click here to see our sets of photos documenting this past year!)

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