Note To Readers: The Next few blog posts are from my Slovakia backlog. I am posting them quite a few months after the fact.
It’s the last week before my Easter Break, and having arrived just this afternoon in a village known as Stary Tekov, yet again, I find myself lucky to have gotten dinner. Let me put it this way: Stary Tekov is small enough that its population demands only a single shady bar. The Co-op is closed on Sunday, and the nearest restaurant lies in Levice, some fifteen minutes away by bus and almost an hour’s journey by foot.
I arrived knowing none of this, traveling straight from Brno without stopping for lunch, and as I made my way into town, I was looking forward to a hot shower, followed by a hot meal. The first sign that this village would not be as accommodating as I’d hoped came when I went to check into the pension on the outskirts between Stary Tekov and the neighboring village of Novy Tekov.
I swear it could be a scene out of a spaghetti Western as I walk into the pension’s dining hall/reception: every single pair of eyes turns to me and the room goes dead silent. I make my way up to the counter and wave to the receptionist/barista, saying that I’m from SIDAS.
“No room,” says the recpetionista, shaking her head.
“Uh,” I say. “Are you sure? My boss told me–”
The receptionista turns to the patrons and calls out: “ANGLICKY?”
In the end, one of my students-to-be, eleven-year-old Sara, whose family owns the pension, comes to my rescue, sorting out that I’m the English teacher who’s supposed to be visiting this week, and that I’ll be coming to her school, and that they do have a room for me–leading me through a back door into the pension proper. This is the sight that greets me on the other side:
In any case, I drop off my bag, hop straight into the shower, and emerge refreshed and starving. But all my hopes are dashed when I head back to the dining hall. The receptionista is still there, and as I ask her for the menu, she shakes her head.
“Jedlo?” I try again. “Food?”
“No menu, nie,” she repeats, holding up one finger–they don’t have a menu, they only have one dish. “Sunka s zemiaky! Chces?”
Zemiaky, I remember, means potatoes. “Sunka?” I ask.
She hums in thought, before saying something in Slovak that I guess must equate to explaining what sunka is, but I definitely don’t catch it. Instead I hand her Google translate on my phone, and she types it in.
“Oh,” I say, my heart sinking in absolute, stomach-grumbling disappointment. “Ham.” It’s my turn to shake my head, “Nie, dakujem,” before setting out into the village to find something to eat.
It takes me about thirty minutes total to cross from one end of the village to the other and discover that, indeed, the only thing open is a single shady bar, and that they do not, in fact, have anything for me to eat, vegetarian or otherwise.
“Mam pivo!” offers the bartender with a laugh. I do not take the beer.
Absolutely ravenous now, I return to the pension and try my best to ask if there’s any way to get just the potatoes. “Uh… jem len zemiaky? Bez sunka?” Can I get just the potatoes, no ham?
“Bez sunka?” asks the receptionista, alarmed by my questionable meal preferences.
“Bez mäso,” I try to explain. “Nie… ne’jem mäso.” I don’t eat meat.
The receptionista bursts out laughing as the realization hits her. “Vegeterianska!”
I start laughing too. “Anó! Vegeterianska.”
“Vzyprazany syr,” she says with a knowing smile and a wink, heading back into the kitchen to make one of those. Fried cheese. I’ll take it.
And so, at the very least, I won’t be going to bed hungry tonight. As for how I’m going to survive the next week, that still remains to be seen.