Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Back in the US!

We've been back in California for just over a week at the time of writing this, and even though we're still a bit bleary eyed and fuzzy from jet lag, and still waking up at odd hours of the night and crashing involuntarily at 8:00 in the evening, transitioning back to our old life in the Bay has so far been reasonably smooth.

Even the epic trans-Atlantic flight back home wasn't all that bad. The more of these 10+ hour flights we endure, the less grueling they seem to become.

And we're already readjusting to elements of Bay Area life that are both refreshingly pleasant (engaging in friendly chit-chat with grocery store cashiers who smile and ask how you're doing; hitting up some of our old favorite restaurants [Bratislava was sorely lacking in the restaurant department]; going to parties and not being expected to pound shot after shot after shot of slivovice or some other brain cell destroying hard liquor) and somewhat bemusing/annoying (ridiculously pricey cell phone plans; slow drivers in big cars; women [and some men] everywhere doing errands while wearing exercise/workout/yoga clothes [something that's just not done in Europe]). Either way, we're happy to be back.

A trip to Banana Blossom - one of our favorite East Bay Thai joints - on our first week back was absolutely necessary.

Saying goodbye to Terezia's family was of course very emotional, but we were nevertheless 100% ready to leave Slovakia and dive into the next phase of our life together, wherever that winds up taking us, and her family totally understands that. We'll obviously miss Terezia's family deeply, but at least they'll provide a reason to go back and visit Slovakia whenever we're able to.

But we didn't feel even a twinge of sadness as we drove past downtown Bratislava for the last time on the way to the airport. After three years we really had our fill of the place, and we're totally ready to move on. (In case you missed it, read this post for more on why we chose to leave Slovakia.)

And I don't really envision us ever really longing for Bratislava, though I'm sure we'll have moments when we'll miss certain aspects of the place. But Bratislava is a small, culturally homogenous city that offers very little of the diversity, richness, and stunning visual scenery of cities like Paris, Vienna, or San Francisco, and even though we met some wonderful people, we really felt it was the right time to leave.

But we will miss the snail-paced life in Terezia's parents' village, where we often helped out in their garden, took Terezia's dad to either of the village's dingy, smoke-stained pubs to have shots of twitch-inducing slivovice or borovička chased with refreshing pints of Slovak beer, or just walked around and gawked at the old tumble-down barns and narrow-fronted homes and fences overrun by twisted blankets of vines. Quiet, rural Podrečany was a nice retreat from grey, concrete Bratislava, and Terezia's parents were always happy to have us in their modest home, and they always plied us with copious amounts of food (and Terezia's dad's homemade moonshine).

The last two weeks in Slovakia couldn't have gone by fast enough, since, as I detailed in the previous two posts, we spent much of them in the isolated (if you don't have a car) suburban purgatory of Bernolákovo (where Terezia's brother Tony lives) taking care of paperwork and wrapping everything up.

Fortunately, moving back to the US requires less red tape than moving to Slovakia, i.e. there's no permanent residency to re-establish; you just come back and pick up where you left off, more or less.

The only major thing to deal with is that since we're currently unemployed and we have no idea how long we'll be jobless, we are required to get health insurance as part of the Affordable Health Care Act, which so far does not seem to be too big of a deal. A representative we spoke to claimed that we qualify for Medi-Cal, a state subsidized program that, while far from ideal, will at least keep us covered until either of us find a job that offers a real benefits package. So, at least there's that.

And of course, we've started the job search, and we're both hoping that the experience we've now got under our belts from what we did in Bratislava will open up some new doors and hopefully enable us to find work that's not soul-crushing or tedious.

So, while we're obviously glad that we're back, there is an element of uncertainty to the whole thing, as we have no clue how long it will take us to find jobs.

Plus, the Bay Area has changed in some fairly surprising ways in the three years we were away. Mainly, the recent tech bubble in San Francisco and Silicon Valley has driven rents up to the stratosphere, and there has been some inevitable spill-over into our territory in the East Bay, Oakland and Berkeley, two very cool towns to live in, which, until recently, were generally a more affordable alternative to the real estate insanity across the Bay in SF.

These days a one-bedroom apartment in a desirable Oakland neighborhood can run you as much as $2,000 a month - the kind of pricing typical for San Francisco over a decade ago during the first tech bubble. And even if this current tech bubble bursts, the sky-high rents would likely only level off and stagnate, rather than decrease. Getting priced out of the Bay Area is a very real fear, so I'm sure there will be some anxiety over whether or not we can make this work.

As for the blog, readers can breathe a sigh of relief as the activity here will inevitably slow down. The main purpose of this blog was to write about our experiences in Slovakia and our perspectives of the place, as well as our travels around Europe while living there. And with that big three-year adventure behind us, I'll be putting the blog on semi-hiatus. But do check back from time to time, as I'll likely come back occasionally to blather about any interesting developments in our lives or future trips to Slovakia or elsewhere in Europe (or the world), or to report on any amusing, bewildering, or depressing noteworthy political developments in Slovakia. But for now, we'll be focused on getting back into the groove of Bay Area life, and while we're genuinely excited about that, I don't think that will necessarily make good fodder for the blog.

At any rate, I really want to thank all the folks who actually took the time to read my often rambling posts and even left comments, as well as all the Russian spam bots that really helped boost the blog's page hits and overall traffic. Even though Terezia and I have complicated, ambivalent feelings about Slovakia, if anything I've written has stirred even a modicum of interest in the country, that's a good thing!


  1. Thanks for writing! I enjoyed reading your blog very much. I lived in Slovakia for 11 years before coming to the Middle East for a couple of years. Now my wife (Slovak) wants to go back, so we'll see :)

  2. Jeff, I think it was a great blog, especially for foreigners who made similar experience or even been part of yours. I'll have a shot after shot after shot and think of you/miss you both when I'll join next Podrecany party.
    Stay in touch and see you in Bay area.

    1. Christoph! Nice to hear from you - I hope you're keeping warm with copious amounts of slivovice. Actually, I hear this year in Podrecany you'll be drinking lots of jablkovica - there were tons of apples this year, but little else. At any rate, say 'hello' to Ludka for us, and maybe we'll see you in California some day. We already miss you guys! All the best! -Jeff