Na Zdravie!

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After a one-day rest back in Bari, we got up at the crack of dawn and made our way to the Bari airport to fly to Prague. Darold’s roommate from the time he lived in Australia was living in Prague and we planned to visit him as well as rent a car and drive to Slovakia to visit Darold’s relatives in the small town of Plavnica, near the Polish border.

We met up with Ermanno Pelucchi our first night in Prague.  Ermanno is from Italy and was living in Australia playing soccer professionally when Darold met him.  Darold hadn’t seen Ermanno (Darold calls him Pepe) in over 15 years.  We toured around Prague with him including having great Czech pilsner at a brewery in a monastery, visiting the Prague Castle, exploring his neighborhood and going out at night to hear some great jazz music and enjoy the beautiful city.   Basically we did a lot of eating and drinking, conducive for catching up after not seeing a friend for so many years.

After two days, we picked up our Czech-made Skoda rental car and drove 10 hours to Stara Lubovna, a town near Plavnica.  There are three different families in Slovakia that we are related to, and we hadn’t seen them in 20 years. They are related through Darold’s great grandfather on his mother’s side.  His great grandfather is buried in the cemetery in Plavnica.  He (Peter) had immigrated to the United States but didn’t really like it.  He went back to Plavnica with wife and two youngest children.  Sadly, he became ill with pneumonia and died.  One of the older children came back to Plavnica to pick up their mother and two younger siblings.  Peter’s wife had a sister, and the family in Plavnica are descendants of that sister.  Darold’s great aunt (one of the two young children who went with Peter back to Plavnica) had stayed in touch with the family and provided us with a letter of introduction to them when we made our first visit 20 years ago.

When we first met the family 20 years ago we didn’t have Google Translate so it was a lot easier to communicate this time around.  Even better, more of Darold’s relatives spoke English (since our Slovakian is almost nonexistent), plus the boyfriend of Darold’s cousin Danke (Jan) was fluent in English (and much faster than Google Translate). One thing that hasn’t changed in 20 years is how much plum liquor they served us.  I don’t think we will ever forget the word for “Cheers!” in Slovakian (Na Zdravie!).  The last time we visited Darold’s cousins, they had small children. Now they are all grown and many of them married, some with children themselves.  One cousin in particular, Lucia, had kept in touch with us via Facebook because she had studied English at university. She was six years old when we visited in 1994 and remembers it clearly because we were the first people she had ever met who spoke a different language.

This trip we visited a new whiskey distillery near Plavnica (Nestville), visited the castle in Stara Lubovna, took a river trip on the border of Poland and Slovakia, visited the cemetery to see the family graves and toured the new church they built in Plavnica.  We also ate a lot. Pirogi (potato dumplings) are Darold’s personal favorite since they are vegetarian.  However, Dante and I ate all of the other local specialties with meat including meat wrapped in cabbage, pork cutlets, cured pork and all varieties of soups. One day we went over to Jan’s parents’ house and saw his father’s hunting trophy room.  When I showed him a picture of her with a boar I had killed he was quite impressed and began serving us plum liquor at an even faster rate.  One thing you should know is that the Slovakians don’t sip their plum liquor; it all goes down in one shot.  They laughed at us when we tried to nurse our first drink.  We had forgotten that it all goes down the hatch at once! Lucia, who is getting married in October, said that when planning how much liquor to buy for a wedding you plan on a liter (a quarter gallon) of plum liquor per person.  Weddings usually last all night long with most people not going home until about 6am.  “Only the grandparents go home early – around 1am,” she said.

We had a fantastic visit with the family and they got a huge kick out of Dante who was beginning to learn some Slovakian, and who ate all of the foods offered to him with gusto.  The town had changed a little since we had seen it last.  There was a Kia car dealership (foreign car manufacturing is one of the industries in Slovakia), a new church, a new supermarket and many of the houses had new paint.  However, the town (which is essentially a long road with houses on either side – without a single stop light) had retained its charm. The mutual affection that we all had for each other was palpable and we tried to encourage them to visit us in California.  “Slovakia is a poor country,” said Darold’s cousin Stevo (through Jan’s translation.)  When it came time to say goodbye, everyone was in tears.

Returning to Prague, we took Dante to the Museum of Communism in Prague, and it was a great introduction for Dante on the subject.  It put into perspective the conversations we had with Darold’s family in Slovakia about the difference between living under Communism and the difference now.  We don’t know when we will see the Slovakian family again, but we now have a few bottles of plum liquor and Slovakian whiskey to remind us of them and our visit.

For more pictures go to our Flickr site!