Žilina is a city in Slovakia.
I lived in Žilina for a few months while volunteering at the Stanica arts center. It was a place my school had visited for cross-cultural comparison reasons, and I ended up falling in love with it. There is such a lively youth scene, and the events that go on at Stanica are unlike any other arts space I’ve ever seen. What’s more impressive is that the program is incredibly successful, and fully funded. You don’t see stuff like that in the US.
I had an awesome flat while in Žilina, and lots of fun, new Slovak friends to hang out with. I got to try halušky, which is like the Slovak version of macaroni and cheese, and drink Kofola along with some great Slovak beer. My views included the Tatra mountains in the distance, which were the first snow-peaked mountains I ever saw.
Žilina is a hidden gem within Slovakia. Not many tourists go there because it’s A) not advertised widely and B) it’s about two and a half hours from the capital of Bratislava, which is basically the only place people go in Slovakia (well, maybe Kosice too). But there is so much to experience in Žilina and I would recommend it to any traveler looking for a change to Eastern Europe. I love Žilina and always will!
I started off doing dishes next to the bar where Nika served the booze-hungry crowd at Stanica. It was the only way I felt I could help – clearing out cups and mugs so she could faster sell liquor.
“I need to take a break,” she told me. “Will you watch the bar?”
There was a line of customers out the door, waiting for a drink. That’s how I started bartending.
Bartending was fun because it kept me busy, but also, it involved all of my friends. Dušan, Ints, Nika and I would all take turns providing beer or Kofola or shots to the hoards of people who wanted to get drunk after some art show or some concert at Stanica. I learned the Slovak words for different drinks and learned to make change with korunas.
I could have stayed there my entire life.
Soon, I began running the bar all by myself. One time, Dušan was with me, and it started getting busy, so he began doing the dishes along Nika’s daughter. I loved that little girl, she was curious and would hang out with me when everyone else was busy. She loved my computer and we’d make funny faces and take photos on it. She was great.
Dušan is one of my most favorite people in the world, and this photo is partly why. I don’t know what he was saying to her in Slovak, but it was funny, because both of them were laughing as they washed the dishes. Dušan doesn’t know how great he is, and I wish he did. I know he loves Slovakia, but I wish he would come to America, because, being an insanely talented photographer, he’d thrive here. He’s kind and resourceful and good with kids.
This is one of my favorite photos from Stanica.
It’s been snowing lately on Long Island! Not very much which is good, because I am not generally a fan of snow, but just enough to make it seem wintery and pretty. It covers the ground with fluffy whiteness but not enough to make that nasty gray-brown slush once the cars run over it.
If you travel in the winter to a place that experiences the same seasons as you, chances are, you’re going to encounter a little bit of snowfall. Sometimes, it’s charming. Sometimes, it’s horrendous and screws up your plans. I’ve lived with snow my entire life, but I have to admit, one of my favorite things is watching someone who lives in a warm place experience snowfall for the first time in their lives. It’s really cute and makes me remember how excited I used to get when I was a kid, watching the first flurries fall.
Write about snow.
Below you can read an vignette I’ve written as an example, to get you started. Feel free to leave your story in the comments section, or send me an email and maybe I’ll feature yours next week!
I remember walking down that one, gritty asphalt road to the Ghanaian market that sold everything. It sold everything, but I don’t know who to – it seemed like everyone around me had no money to buy anything. I guess because they would always ask us for money, I assumed they didn’t have any of their own. I’m also sure that the market stall owners inflated their prices for us too. But even so, everything was cheap to begin with. I really don’t know who was buying those things in the market, but somehow, profit was made.
People cooked things in the market. I often bought roasted sweet corn from a small, thin boy with skin the color of cocoa powder, sitting behind a makeshift grill. He wore orange flip flops. People cooked things using flames, and coal – that’s what made the smoke, made everything smell like a camp fire. Sometimes you could get an omelette; if you were “on the go” they found a plastic bag for you and slid it inside.
Everyone cooked over an open fire in Ghana. Microwaves don’t exist. There are no stoves or ovens, except those made from clay. You might be able to find a hot pot or a small range, but why bother? You can boil anything you need over the flames. Everyone else does, and it saves on electricity.
In Slovakia we made a fire to commemorate special anniversaries of Czechoslovak history. An eternal flame, supposed to signify the determination of Slovaks during the troubling time of Communism, but with this generation, no one really cared about it so much. We roasted Eastern European marshmallows over it and toasted bread and onions on the logs. My favorite sweater, the sweater I wore all the time in Slovakia, always smelled like singed wood. My favorite sweater kept my favorite smell.
We stayed in the Jizera Mountains during our last week in the Czech Republic, at a small pension made up of two cabins. It was bare bones but comfortable – the toilet gave off a raw sewage scent but what did you expect from a rural, former Communist town? The whole complex was heated by wood burning stoves. I sat near the largest stove, in the dining room, uploading four months of photos onto Sarah’s computer. She was making a slide show.
I started to cry.
They made me go with them on this hike to the abandoned castle.
No, they didn’t make me – I chose to go. I chose to go because it would be me, Sylvain and his friend Tony (both French expats), and Ints. Just us four. No one else was around so they thought it would be nice to treat their new American friend to a worthwhile experience – exploring Lietava castle. I thought it could be somewhat romantic, a daring adventure that would draw Ints and I together in some adrenaline-pumping way.
There is only one problem, however; I am desperately hung over.
It is a combination of terrible things – it’s freezing outside, I’m dehydrated, the men are more physically fit than I. They race to the top of an outcrop as I lag behind, struggling not to vomit. In true French fashion, they have the audacity to smoke cigarettes during their short break, watching me trudge through the snow.
“That’s it,” I say once I reach them. “I can’t go on anymore. You guys go ahead to the top. I’m totally done.”
They look around, confused. “But…we’ve already been there,” Sylvain replies.
I sit in the snow, defeated. The view from this ledge is something to behold, and I appreciate this little pocket of Slovakian beauty to this day. It would be cool to get to the top and explore the ruins – I’ve never been that close to an abandoned castle before, much less a Slovak one – but today it’s really, really hard.
“I seriously can’t walk anymore. I’m going to throw up.”
Ints shrugs. “No big deal. We tried. Let’s go to a pub and get fucked up.”
The men take one last drag and we head down the hill.