Thursday, March 14, 2002

The Wisdom of Bankomat Use

I hope you're all enjoying March. I know I am. I'm now back from Spring Break, which couldn't have been a better vacation for me. I'll give a short (well, maybe not so short) recap of the major happenings during the break. We (Marsha, Sissel, Amy, and I) left Prague on March 2nd to go to a city called Trinec on the border with Poland and Slovakia. That night we went to a concert by our friend Marek, which Jerry also played in. It was held in a packed SDA church in a small town near there. Then we spent the night in our friend Tomas's parent's flat, and then got up early the next morning to hop on the train to Slovakia.

It was supposed to be about a three hour train ride, and we were supposed to transfer trains in a city called Poprad-Tatry. Well, the train was early, so we missed that stop when it went by. In fact, we missed several stops, and when we realized this unfortunate fact, we were in a town called Spisska nova Ves. We quickly jumped off the train and tried to figure out what to do. Of course, none of us spoke Slovak, and we didn't have any Slovak money with us, so finding out how to solve our little dilemma was a bit interesting.

Amy was able to find out that a train was leaving that town in about 7 minutes to go back to Poprad-Tatry, but we still didn't have any money. Amy and Marsha then went off to find out about bus tickets, while Sissel and I looked for a bankomat (ATM machine). After several minutes of searching, I was able to find a bankomat out on the nastupiste (train platform) and withdrew 1000 Slovak crowns from my bank account. By that time, Amy and Marsha were back from the bus station, and I gave Amy the money and she purchased four train tickets for us to get back to Poprad-Tatry in time for us catch the same train to Kezmarok from Poprad that we were supposed to switch to in the first place. It worked out amazingly well.

It was important for us to arrive in Kezmarok on time because we were staying in the house of one of the church members there, and they were going on vacation that same day. We pulled into the station, and the husband (I don't know his name, or any of the names of the family members due to the extreme brevity of our acquaintance) picked us up in his station wagon and gave us a whirlwind tour of the town. He spoke no English, but surprisingly I understood nearly everything he said. Amy did all of the talking though, since she's done a lot better with the conversation aspect of Czech (The man was Slovak, but was speaking mostly Czech.) than I have.

After seeing the town and getting oriented, we went to the family's house, which was the first American style house I have seen since I've been here in Europe. It was absolutely amazing. You can't imagine how nice it was for us to realize that we would be spending almost a week in a big American family-house and not a tiny flat or hotel room. They had a basement, they had an upstairs, they had a couch, and they even had a microwave. I slept on a king-sized bed. It couldn't have been more perfect. After explaining all the ins-and-outs of living in the house (i.e. They had automatic lights in the bathroom,and when you're in the shower the sensor can't see you, so the lights turn off, and you have to open and close the shower door to turn them back on again.), the family quickly packed up and headed off on vacation.

We just hung out in the house for the rest of that day.

The next day, we didn't do anything.

The day after that, we went hiking in the High Tatras. This was the most adventurous day of the vacation. We took a train to a town called Stary Smokovec, which means Old Smokovec (whatever Smokovec means...). Then we took an inclined railway up to a higher point on the mountain and started off on the red trail. There was, of course, snow on the trail, so it was very slippery. It was beautiful though. The trail wound up the mountain through a forest and eventually got above treeline. We traversed across most of the slippery front face of one of the Tatras (with Sissel whining the whole time about how we were all going to die if we slipped off the edge of the trail...), and then arrived at a ski-resort. At that point we had travelled perhaps 8 or 9 kilometers, and nobody had any desire to hike back. Once again we ran into a problem with money. We had already spent most of my 1000 crowns on groceries for the week. There was a cable car that would take us down the mountain, but the tickets were 150 crowns each(roughly $4). There was no bankomat at the ski resort, and also no money changers. Amy and Marsha ended up changing 300 Czech crowns for 300 Slovak crowns at the resort restaurant, which is a terrible exchange rate, but we were tired. At the bottom we bought train tickets for 15 crowns to go back to Kezmarok.

This is the point where the story gets exciting. We hopped on the train that was sitting out in front of the station, but Marsha decided that she was thirsty, and we thought we had about 20 minutes before the train would leave, so she went to the nearby potraviny (grocery story) and bought a bottle of water. Well, as she was reaching the train, it began to pull away. This was a full 15 minutes before we thought the train was supposed to leave.

Bye-bye Marsha.

Amy, Sissel, and I had no idea what we should do, so we just sat there on the train and figured Marsha would be able to figure out what to do on her own. We felt bad for her though, because she had missed the train. Well, about 15 minutes later we pulled into a town and the train stopped for awhile. Then suddenly it started going in reverse. We thought that was odd, since our train was supposed to go to Kezmarok. Well, it wasn't headed to Kezmarok. It was headed back to the town we had just come from.

That was when we realized that we had gotten on the wrong train to begin with. The train we were on was a shuttle train between the ski towns. We could have stayed on it all day and not gotten to Kezmarok. When we got back to the other town, we didn't find Marsha anywhere, so we figured correctly that she had gotten on the correct train at the correct time, which is usually the correct thing to do in situations of rail travel. The next train was coming in 2 hours. Hooray for us. Stupidheads...

We ended up taking a bus that was leaving one hour later, so the wait wasn't quite so bad, but it was still an interesting turn of events. While we waited, the girls bought french fries to eat, and I bought an ice-cream bar. We finally got back to Kezmarok and there was a joyous reunion with Marsha, who had been trying fruitlessly, via hand signals and crude, yet humorous, pencil drawings with the Kezmarok train station employees, to figure out where we had gone on the train we had erroneously boarded.

The next day we decided to tour a cave. No-less-than the first cave ever to be lit by electric light bulbs. The last tour of the cave was to occur at 2:00. We took a bus to the same town where our missed-train fiasco had occured. At this point, we were running low on money again, and I suggested that we change some more money there in that town, where we knew for a fact that there were money changers. That way, when we got to the cave, we would actually be able to tour it. Well, Marsha was sure that there would be money changers or a bankomat in the town where the cave was, so I let it go.

Guess what. There wasn't a bankomat, or even a moneychanger in the cave town. Honestly, you'd think we would have learned, but I guess not. Well, the cave was a 20-minute hike up the mountain, so we decided to go up there and see if they would take pity on us with our Czech crowns. Luckily for us, they did, in fact, accept Czech crowns at the cave. And I can now say that I have actually toured the first cave ever to be lit by electric lights. It was actually a very nice cave, with plenty of stalagmites, stalagtites, and small bodies of water which I like to refer to as "puddles".

Then we went back to Kezmarok and prepared to return to Prague the next day. That basically concludes my spring break. It was incredibly relaxing, and as I've said, it couldn't have been more perfect, mishaps and all. I'm thankful that we didn't go to Spain as we had originally planned, because this trip cost roughly $75, and Spain would have cost roughly $600. Spain would have been a whole lot more stressful, as well.

Anyway, now it's back to classes as usual. They're still a lot of fun.

I'm spending a lot of time practicing classical guitar. I also got 4 books by G.K. Chesterton today (The Everlasting Man, Heretics and Orthodoxy, What's Wrong with the World, and Manalive), which I'll start to read. He is, as far as I know, rivalled only by C.S. Lewis in his logical treatment of world problems and questions of philosophy. (off the topic, but interesting to me, is the fact that I just noticed I have apparently adopted the British spelling of "rivalled" instead of the American "rivaled." Normally, I wouldn't care, and I don't expect anybody else to care either, but I've been an English teacher for nearly a year, so sadly, it apparently matters to me now)


Anonymous amy said...

Wow Marty! What fun memories! Thank you for posting your memories of our Slovakia trip. It was such a great vacation, probably the best I've ever had. "Puddle" is definitely a good word for an abnormally long game of infinite questions too. :)

Monday, February 13, 2006  
Blogger An Enlightened Fellow said...

Aha, so you're the one from Notre Dame who's been going through my archives. I was baffled as to who it could be. Long time no see.

Monday, February 13, 2006  

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