Archives for category: travel

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For my youngest, this is her last week of school before the school breaks for summer. This morning, she turned to me and said, “Momma, it’s my LAST week of school. I just realized I have the whole summer ahead of me.”

And you know what, she’s right. What a delicious time of year that was when you were a kid…those last few days of school before the start of summer vacation. Where you did next to nothing in class other than watch movies and talk with friends. Recess would be 2 hours long.

The summer seemed almost endless. Long days spent at the pool, riding my bike up to the corner store to buy candy or ice cream, afternoons filled with bottles of diet Pepsi and bags of Doritos while watching Match Game.

And then, vacation would come. Like real vacation – packing up the family and heading to Martha’s Vineyard for 2-3 weeks of gloriously good times. We never went to the Jersey Shore growing up. My dad hated it. I don’t think I had ever been to the Jersey shore until I was in college. Who needed it when you could romp in the surf of South Beach.

Every aspect of our trips to the Vineyard were magical. We would always have an early ferry, so we would leave our house in the middle of the night. I remember as a child going to bed that night in giddy anticipation of being woken up at 1 or 2 am, piling into the back of our station wagon fixed up with pillows and blankets, and heading north towards Cape Cod.

Dad would usually stop at the Howard Johnsons at the Mystic Seaport exit, where we would get muffins and hot chocolate. And those next few hours in the car were blissful…the cool night air and the anticipation of the ferry ride that began the official start to vacation.

We are heading up there again this year to spread my father’s ashes. It’s really where he belongs. While this trip will be the highlight of our summer, I’m hoping there are many other trips that my daughters will cherish over the course of those short summer months.

Things like visits to Kings Dominion, hiking and swimming at Blue Hole, and a trip to DC to take part in the Truth March. Yeah, I think the summer of 2017 might turn out okay.

Oh wait…I still have to buy a bathing suit. Groan.

1The weekend when “he who shall not be named” took the oath, my girls and I were in Richmond to see yet another performance of Disney on Ice. When Dad drives the Zamboni, and the tickets are free, you just go, despite the fact that you’ve seen it a hundred times. Plus, we get a free weekend at a hotel in Richmond!

The morning before the show, we decided to take a walk. The Capitol building was right down the street, so we headed over to poke around.

20170121_092142The Poe statue? It’s just okay. Not very dramatic.

2Steps looking up towards the George Washington Statue

3.jpgSteps leading up to the Capitol. The couple at the top were flying a drone. It was cool

4.jpgDaughter #2 mugging for the camera. I was a tad panicky because she was up so high.

5.jpgMy girls In front of the Governor’s Mansion. There was lots of sporting equipment in the yard. FYI.

6.jpgThe Washington Statue…what is that little door for?

Our stroll was really nice…Just me and my girls soaking the the architecture, the statuary, and history that is downtown Richmond.

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Today a co-worker of mine sat with me to go over a few last minute items before she “left town” for the holidays. As we were wrapping things up, I casually asked where she was going. Her answer?

“I’ll be gone for six weeks.” She then rattled off a triad of envy-inducing destinations that left me wondering, how the hell is that possible for a working woman? I mean, the last time I had six weeks off I was unemployed…and there was no money for travelin’ at that time my friends.

But man, that must be nice.

I envy anyone who gets to travel – for business or for pleasure – it’s just so cool to be able to go somewhere new; to explore a new city or a part of the country you’ve never been to; and then come back home to all that is familiar.

Even something as simple as a road trip has always excited me. I drove by myself down to Florida once to visit my sister. Another time I drove to Mississippi to visit a boyfriend who was in the Air Force. Both trips were absolutely thrilling for me.

My dad would check out my car, and set me up with a AAA triptik map. As I drove down the road I’d look forward to flipping each new page of my map, and I could stop and do anything I wanted at any time. Cool water tower? I’d stop and take a photo. I remember stopping in Atlanta just to see the infamous Peachtree Street.

With the exception of my week long summer vacation each year, I almost never get to travel. The last time I was on a plane was when my dad was in a car crash back in 1999, and I had to fly out to Colorado. Other than that my family and I stick to car travel, mainly because it’s economical.

There are times I think of exploring my state of Virginia, but then I remember that my car has over 250,000 miles on it, and settle for something local…and familiar.

Sigh.

I hope one day I am able to get out there and explore again. Even driving down a road I’ve never travelled on before holds a bit of excitement for me. Where will it lead to? What will I find a long the way?

I can’t wait to find out.

 

Wedding

Blogger’s Note: photos shown are ones my brother took while visiting Czechoslovakia the ’70s, but they reflect the same customs of the wedding I attended.

Back in the early summer of 1984 I spent 3 weeks visiting my relatives in what was then Czechoslovakia. The trip was a scary one for me because I was there alone…I had no father to translate, no sisters to commiserate and joke with…it was just me and a very large language barrier.

During that three weeks I had the priveledge of attending a wedding with my cousin Jozef. Having been to a bunch of weddings in the states, I thought I knew what to expect.

How do you say “Puhleeez!” in Slovak? I would discover over the course of the unfolding hours, that a Slovak wedding is almost nothing like an American wedding.

First off, the day of the wedding was unseasonably cold for late June. It was overcast, damp, and chilly, and I had nothing fancy that would fit the bill for a wedding that was also warm. Figuring our time spent outside would be limited, I ignored the elements and wore a light knee-length dress, with short sleeves and my best pair of pumps.

I was expecting to start our wedding adventure at the church, but instead we walked to the groom’s house where we waited around with the gathering crowd until he was ready. Then, with 2/3 of the village and an oompah-pah band in tow, we marched to the bride’s house.

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By now I’m not really cold, because we are doing so much walking…but my feet are beginning to hurt just a little having walked a mile or more in pumps. Oh well, I can sit at the reception. On we go!

Side note…If you’ve ever seen the Godfather, this was very reminiscent of Michael’s wedding scene in Italy.

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Once at the bride’s house we then marched to what I figured would be the church. Wrong again! We had to keep on truckin’!

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At this point we march to the town hall which is where they did the civil ceremony, which I think had something to do with the fact that it was still a communist country when I was there. By this time I had been on my feet for at least 90 minutes and I was wondering if I was ever going to be able to sit down.

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Once the civil ceremony was completed, it was off to the the church ceremony. I was blissfully thankful to be sitting in a pew, but I have to tell you, that church was cold and damp. I was sitting, but I was freezing! I was looking forward to the reception, some hot soup and a shot of booze!

The reception took place in the village’s community center where rows and rows of tables and chairs were set up. I was poured wine and served a dish of hot soup, both of which I devoured within minutes (*burp*). The band started to play, and after another shot, Jozef and I danced to a polka.

When I returned to my seat, I was served a plate of pork roast, cabbage and potatoes. Yeeyum! Having downed that plate of food after the bowl of soup, I was feeling fine. My belly was full and my feet were starting to recover. More wine, a few more polkas….this wedding was awesome!

Then came the plate of Keilbasa. What the hell? How much am I expected to eat? I figured I’d pick at it…I needed to keep a full stomach to help me from getting too tipsy.

Word had spread throughout the wedding guests that I was the “visting American girl” and before long every Tomas, Dalek and Havel was asking me to dance. The next 2 hours was a constant whir of polkas, booze and endless plates of food. The food just never stopped coming…chicken, beefsteak, fish, more soup, pastries. This put the American wedding of “will you be having the chicken or fish?” to absolute shame.

I was monumentally thankful for every break the band took, because it meant I could relax for a few minutes. As the night was nearing what I thought HAD to be the end, I took my shoes off and rubbed my now swollen feet. I groaned as I saw the band head back to their places, ready to start a new set.

I don’t know if you’ve ever danced the Polka, dear reader. It’s a load of fun, but it’s taxing for a beginner with a full stomach. There’s lots of spinning, lots of footwork, and lots of twirling. In short, it’s exhausting, especially when you can’t even communicate with the dude you’re dancing with.

So when the father of the bride came up to Jozef and asked if I would dance with him, I jammed my puffy feet back into my now too-small pumps and danced two polkas with him. After that I smiled, put my hands up and said, “Thank you so much, but I need to sit down. My feet really hurt!”

What happened next occured so fast that I wasn’t sure it was really happening. A red-faced father of the bride was toe to toe screaming at my cousin Jozef and gesturing at me wildly. When Jozef came back I tried to ask him what was wrong, through the use of my Slovak/English dictionary, but he waved it off, took a last swig of beer and ushered me to the door.

We slowly walked home – me on very tender, very cold, bare feet. I could not get my size 9 shoes on at all because my feet were now size 101/2.

I didn’t know this until the next day, but apparently the father of the bride was highly insulted that I only danced 2 polkas with him as opposed to the entire set of 5 or 6. I guess it’s a huge honor to be asked for a dance by someone so important to the celebration.

On the one hand I was mortified…unbeknownst to me I’d acted poorly and made my relatives look bad. But on the other hand I was annoyed. Couldn’t this man see that I am obviously not aware of all their customs? Was he also blithely unaware that I had been dancing the entire night and was close to crippled when he asked me to dance?

My feet didn’t get back to normal for a few days after that. And I didn’t want to polka any time soon either. But I have to tell you, I could polka much better than I did before that wedding.

Me and cousin Stello, sophomore year, holding Little Bear Foot. Uff da, those posters alone are worth a blog post.

When I was a teenager, I snuck into New York City to go see Cheap Trick. We missed the last bus back to New Jersey and I was very, very late getting home. My father was so pissed at me that not only did he ground me, but he forbade me from participating in the school talent show.

But his punishment was all for naught. I wound up getting very sick and would’ve missed the show anyway. I think he felt really bad, because I woke up the next morning to find the most adorable bear I’d ever seen in bed a long with me – a bear mom said daddy had bought just for me.

The name on his tag read “Little Bear Foot” and I thought it was such a delightful name that I never changed it. I don’t know why, as a teenager, I would form such a strong attachment to a stuffed animal, but Little Bear Foot and I never parted ways.

He came to college with me, where in the fall of my sophomore year his nose fell off – fell off and disappeared. I searched my room for it, but that black plastic bear nose never turned up. So, not liking that Little Bear Foot could not smell, I sewed a button on in its place.

In the spring of that same sophomore year, Little Bear Foot travelled to Vienna with me. He sat on my bed at Pension Pertschy that whole semester, with the exception of when I spent spring break in Basel, Switzerland…then he was jammed into my backpack, his head sticking out through the zipper.

Yeah, that got me lots of looks and giggles at the train station.

At one point during my Vienna semester my roommates, pack of bitches that they were, kidnapped him for a few days. I mean, who does that? Ugh, I shudder to think of what vile things those girls did to him when I wasn’t around.

He then went to Czechoslovakia with me, back to Basel, and then to Luxembourg, where I flew back home to JFK.

And now he sits in my daughter’s bedroom. I’ve told them that is he belongs to me…he’s my bear, but they can let him hang with their stuffed animals. He’s matted and old – hell, so am I – but that bear and I went through a lot together. I hope he never gets thrown out or given away. I hope that one day some grandchild will hold and love just as I did – and maybe take him on a couple more adventures.

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take a Chance on Me.” – What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

This one is sort of a “no duh” for me.

My freshman year at the University of Delaware was less than stellar. As I entered into my sophomore year I realized I wasn’t very happy there. I had few friends and felt as if I really didn’t fit into this semi-Southern, über Preppy atmosphere. Remember, I’m a loud-mouth from New Jersey.

I was seriously looking into transfering when I saw a flyer in the student center for the study abroad program. You could travel to Costa Rica, London, or Vienna. That sounded wonderful to me, so I attended the interest meeting. After gathering all the financial/travel information, I called my parents and ran the idea past them.

Dad was willing to let me go, but only if I went to Vienna because it was a hop, skip & jump to his homeland of Czechoslovakia. If I got accepted into the program it was decided that I would spend 3 weeks after the semester at my cousin Stello’s house in what is now Slovakia. I was so excited at the prospect of travelling to Europe and attending school! Seeing art and culture outside of the Eastern US was a dream come true!

But I was also scared. And I got more and more scared as the spring semester drew near. There were times when I seriously doubted whether or not I should go. I was going to be totally alone for months…no trips home, no familiar faces, and let’s not forget the language barrier. I was required to take at least one German course before leaving.

There was also a problem with credits. It turns out that the courses I would be studying while in Vienna would largely not apply to my degree. So it would almost be like a waste of the entire semester, except for the fact that I would be having a life-changing cultural experience.

Lots of the other students attending the program were equally miffed about the credits not being applicable and complaints were lodged. The University was going to decide if an acception could be made, and that’s when I made the deal with myself.

If the University allowed the credits to be used, I would go. If not, I’d back out.

Eight weeks later, with a month of German under my belt, I flew out of JFK airport on my way to Vienna. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done, but to this day, the most rewarding.

Not only because of all the sights I saw, and the people I met, but because I really learned that I could stand on my own. I could manage my own money, I could make my own travel plans, and I could get along in a city where I didn’t really know the language all that well.

I came back to school a junior, and a much different person. I had travelled. I was worldly. And the folks around me? They had spent their spring in Newark, Delaware. I’d been in Vienna, and Rome and Basel.

Oh, yeah, and Czechoslovakia. I really learned how to stand on my own there.

And here’s my parting advice…if your school offers this opportunity, TAKE IT.

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Green-Eyed Monster.”

So, you know how on Facebook you can unfollow a person, but remain friends?

Yeah, I use that feature a lot. First, I use it to avoid people who constantly post nothing but inane meme’s about “Bein’ American” or “Obama is the devil! Share if you Agree!”

Oh, and it’s also really good for those people who post 12 old photos of themselves everyday, even though it’s not #TBT. It’s like, ugh – how many photos of you do I have to see back when you had a smoking body, even though you still have a smoking body?

But the folks I’ve been unfollowing lately? They are the well-travelled Facebook Friends.

These are folks who usually don’t post on Facebook unless they are in France, or Italy, or some other great vacation destination. When they are not clogging up my wall with scenes of Venice and Bordeaux, they are showing off their thoroughbreads, or their pedigree dogs, or their 4th car.

And it drives me nuts.

Am I a jealous douchebag for unfollowing them? Maybe yes, maybe no. All I know is as I sit at my desk, having spent my one week’s vacation already, and knowing I have like 46 more weeks of sitting at my desk before I get to go somewhere that will ultimately not be terribly exciting, I feel no remorse for unfollowing them.

So there.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “From You to You.”

Right now it’s 1979 and you’re in highschool – most likely 10th grade. I know it sucks right now. I know you get bullied by those horrible, souless girls from Edgewater. But you have your best buds John, and Joe, and a family who loves you, so hang in there. And while we’re back in ’79, here’s a few things to think about…

I know you think you have a fat ass, but you don’t. The 50 year old version of you would LOVE to have the ass you have now. So when Brendan D. makes that joke in history class about you needing to wear a “Caution – Wide Load” sign, smile at him sweetly and ask him how it feels to be the product of so many years of inbreeding.

Don’t ever cut your own bangs. You are going to make a horrible, horrible mistake and cut them ridiculously short.

When you stay home from dress rehearsal to watch the episode of “Little House on the Praire” where Almanzo kisses Laura for the first time, you are making the right move. After all, those school plays directed by Mrs. Marshall are always going to star the same kids she favors, and you will always, only be cast in the chorus.

You’re going to quit the volleyball team. I know it’s no fun because the girls who are supposed to be your team mates barely give you the time of day, let alone a pat on the back. I know that they get to go to fancy sleep-away volleyball camp and learn all sorts of intricate plays. But when Mary M., who knows full well that you were NOT one of her fellow campers, complains that you don’t know anything and are dragging the team down, maybe you should do something besides stomp off to the locker room and quit.

Instead, maybe you should ask her if she earned her bitch merit badge at camp on the very first day.

If you haven’t already, forget about Leif Garrett. He sucks. Tear down the 996 photos you have haning in your room and repaint. But don’t let Judy and John have access to the paint. They are going to paint a huge cock on the wall that you can still see, even though you feverishly painted over it, when the light is just right.

Keep seeing Rocky Horror. Throw rice, shoot water pistols, hurl rolls of Scott toilet paper. But don’t idolize Janet as much, and don’t bore your chorus class with your Janet “quote of the day” on the blackboard. You were a dork for doing that.

Right now you are staunchly opposed to smoking, but believe me, you are going to start, and you will smoke for a very long time. Don’t grub cigarettes from people at college parties – don’t even start. It is going to be very hard to quit, but if you don’t heed my warning, FYI – you do manage to kick the habit in your 40s.

When you are in NYC with John and Dave W., and a man hands you a flyer for a sex club, don’t read it and ask if oral sex is when you just talk about it.

You are going to Czechoslovakia this summer. When you are walking around a spa town, I think Piešťany, a man is going to walk up to you and grab your boob. Cock block that asshole. Aside from that, remember everything about this trip – keep a diary so you know what you did everyday. Later on, you will have slides of this adventure to look back on, but it won’t seem like enough.

You are going to contract an ovarian cyst. This will require surgery, and after that surgery a popular boy will hit you in the stomach during a game of ultimate frisbee in gym class. You will hate him, and rightly so, for a very long time. But here’s a news flash. He winds up being your brother-in-law.

When your sister throws a party, and lets you join in, a very cute boy, on a dare, is going to pick you up and tell you how cute you are. Try to keep a straight face…because you have a nose full of snot that is going to spray out all over your mouth and chin when you laugh.

That creepy neighbor Wayne, who watches you and your sisters while you sunbathe, is going to forceably kiss you against your will in a few years. So when he asks you inside his home under the guise of helping him and his wife move, politely refuse.

You will be in the New Jersey Miss Teenager Pageant. Learn the words for “Good Morning” in Slovak, because during your interview, you are going to get the one judge who speaks Slovak, and muttering out “Dobre noc” (good night) doesn’t fool anyone. Oh, and while you are in the front row on stage singing the obligatory lame pageant song directly in front of the judges? While you remember the dance moves, the words to the song are going to fly slap out of your head. You will smile lamely and continue dancing.

That being said, when they call out the name “Tracy” during the top 10? It ain’t you.


There you go, mini-me – a handfull of useful advice to get you through some of the tough times during your 14th year and beyond. I hope this makes life a bit easier for you than it was for me.

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A few weeks ago my family, along with my two sisters and their families, spent a week at our childhood vacation spot, Martha’s Vineyard. Although I’ve been back for several weeks, I haven’t been able to blog about it because, to be honest, the vacation was too good. I’m having trouble finding a concise, interesting way to tell the tale of our week on this stunning island.

So, I won’t. I’ll just share my photos.

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It started off miserably. When we got to Wood’s Hole, it began to pour. The Weather Channel had tornado warnings for the area. Now this was a first for me. I can’t ever recall in my 50 years of going to Martha’s Vineyard, a rainy ferry ride. Maybe drizzle, but not these torrential rains.

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Luckily the skies cleared up enough for us to enjoy a very windy, but fun, ferry ride to the Island.

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Every morning, and I’m talkin’ early, my husband and I would walk into Edgartown, split a bacon, egg & cheese sandwich from the Dock Street Coffee Shop (which I highly recommend), and sit on the wharf and watch the day begin.

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South Beach was crazy. The water was so rough, I wouldn’t let my daughters go in past their knees. But when I was a kid? I would’ve been all in that, body surfing – and getting bamboozled – until my parents made me get out.

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The kid’s favorite town was Oak Bluffs, with the Flying Horses, the gingerbread cottages at the campgrounds, and of couse, the arcade. I admit it was always my favorite town as a kid too. I could ride the Flying Horses all night long.

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July Fourth was the best.

I usually dislike the 4th because there is so much pressure to do things; things which involve impossible parking, and crowds followed by fireworks and impossible parking and crowds trying to get home.

This year was a dream. Our house was within walking distance to both the parade and the fireworks – and when you’re walking with a cup? It makes for one fine Fourth o’ July.

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Typical....

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One day we spent on my cousin’s “private” beach – a strip of South Beach that is reserved for residents only. Oh, and you have to take a boat to get there. This is hubby, my sister, her daughter and my youngest enjoying the ride.

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I think we are all in agreement that our best day was close to our last…the day we spent at Gay Head. We go there to celebrate my mom’s life, and remember her passing. Her ashes were spread here more than 20 years ago, and it’s comforting to know she rests in such a magnificently beautiful spot.

Among the nudies.

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0706151206aOn our last full day there, Hubby, my neice Meaghan, and my girls mustered up the courage to jump off the Edgartown/Oak Bluffs bridge. I did this as a kid, but now? No f-in’ way.

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Before we knew it, we were packing the car and heading for the ferry. On the ride back to the mainland, we all agreed that it was the best vacation we’ve had in a long, long time. Maybe it was because we went somewhere different for a change. Or perhaps it was because my family really gets along with each other.

I think it was also because we DID a lot of things. When we go to my dads, we spend a lot of time at his house, at the pool, talking and hanging out. But on the Vineyard? We were out and about – not letting any time get wasted.

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We all want to go back. Now. Hubby admits he looks at the photos from the trip every couple of days.

And me? I’m playing the lottery. Cause I want to go back for a long, long time.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Kindness of Strangers.”

I am reposting a blog from 2012 where I wrote about a trip from Vienna, Austria to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia.

Where I got lost.

And needed lots of help.

I got it too, from a gaggle of selfless Slovaks.

Where's Slovie?

Where’s Slovie?

Abandoned in Bratislava

As you may have read in an earlier post, I spent a semester in Vienna back in 1984. Before my father would agree to send me, he made me promise to spend some time with my relatives in Gajary, Czechoslovakia after the semester was over. The story of my trip there is a long one, but I feel the need to document it for my two daughters – perhaps it can teach them a few things later in life.

I was both excited and nervous about this excursion. I had a blast the last time I was there, but that was with my dad, who could translate everything for us. Plus my sisters were along, and we had loads of fun cracking wise at some of the oddballs we saw.

This time I was going alone – for 3 long weeks. I was hoping my German would help me some; Bratislava, the city I was initially travelling to, was a popular shopping destination for many Viennese looking for bargains. My Slovak was limited. I knew the basic salutations and “good”, but other than that my mastery of the language consisted of the words “school,” “stupid ass,” and “shit.” I had a Slovak/English dictionary and a marginal ability with charades. That was as good as it was going to get.

Planning the trip was a job in itself. I sent several letters to my cousin Stello, who I was to stay with, regarding my travel dates and mode of transportation. In addition to that, I had to acquire a Visa to get into the country. A Visa is a document which in essence gives you permission to be there. Czechoslovakia was still a communist country at that time so having this paperwork was mandatory.

The Quest for the Visa
To get the Visa I had to go to the Czechoslovakian Embassy, which was rather far from my humble home on Habsburgergaße. Trying to save money, I took the subway to Mariahilfer Straße, which the embassy was located off of. As it turns out, this was a dud of an idea. Mariahilfer Straße is about 2 miles long, and I think I had to walk 85% of those two miles. Oh well, I looked at it as an adventure. Unfortunately, I had to repeat this adventure several times. The Czech embassy is very persnickety when it comes to their paperwork, and they found several unsatisfactory elements to my documentation which had to be corrected before I was to be granted with my Visa.

One bonus to my trip up and down Mariahilfer Straße was the discovery of the baggage tote. During my pilgrimages up and down this two mile stretch of stores, I noticed many women toting their parcels on these handy metal frames with wheels. Thinking of all the baggage I had to lug from Vienna to Czechoslovakia, the purchase of one of these devices seemed like an idea bordering on genius.

The Road to Gajary is a Bumpy One
With my semester coming to a close, I sent one last letter to cousin Stello reminding him of my arrival time, date and train number. I spent my last days at Pension Pertschy gathering up my belongings, and cramming them into the suitcases and duffel bags I had arrived with. This proved to be difficult as I had bought a thing or two while in Vienna. They were fairly bulging with my belongings. On my last night I cleverly strapped them all to my handy baggage toter and went to bed dreaming of an effortless commute to the old country.

Dr. Scholls – I loved these things.

The day dawned clear and bright. It was a gorgeous day. I dressed in a purple sundress with small white polka dots that my mother had made for me, and slipped on my Dr. Scholls. I noticed that the leather strap on one shoe was tearing, but all my other shoes were packed tightly away, so I shrugged it off. The leather was thick and it would hold for the short amount of walking I had to do.

As I headed down the Graben to the subway, the cobblestones made pulling my bags difficult. The model I had bought was one of the least expensive, and was most likely not meant to hold 112 pounds worth of clothing, shoes, and mementoes. It wobbled drunkenly from side to side as I struggled to pull it up the street. After travelling the 2 blocks, my hand was throbbing and my palm was turning red. At least I was at the subway and I could ride comfortably to the train station.

Fahrschein Fuck Up
The subway system in Vienna ran on an honor system. You were supposed to buy a ticket, or a “fahrschein,” but unlike New York, there are no token operated turnstyles to go through. You simply pocketed your ticket and boarded the train. You could in theory ride for free. But you never knew when the fahrschein police were going to board the train and ask to see your ticket. In the 4 months I had lived in Vienna, I had only seen these officers a handful of times, and I always had my ticket. That’s not to say I didn’t ride for free. I did plenty of times, but it was late at night when they were less likely to hop aboard. I didn’t ride the train a whole lot during rush hour times, when they were most likely to search for fare evaders.

This might be the exact subway entrance referenced in this woeful tale

This particular morning as I approached the escalator to the subway, I realized with a sinking heart that the farschein I had bought the night before was in the pocket of the pants I had been wearing, and was now therefore was now packed securely away. The thought of unhooking all of my bags, and digging through numerous suitcases until I found those pants and that ticket on a busy corner in Vienna did not appeal to me in the least. I decided to risk it and ride the subway without it.

Roughly 94 seconds into my ride a fahrschein policeman entered the train and all the blood in my body swiftly pooled into my feet. As he approached me, I struggled with shaking hands to undo the ropes and cords that held my bags in place in an effort to locate that ticket buried inside the pocket of a pair of jeans. I heard a voice boom “fahrschein, bitte!” and looked up to see the officer looming over me. I began to explain in German pointing hurriedly at my bags that I had indeed purchased one, but had packed it by mistake and I would need just a moment to find it.

In reality, the only German I got out was something like “Ja haben Herr, ich eine fahrschein aber gekauft but I packed it like a jerk and I really never try to ride for free, I swear, and if you just give me a minute I’m sure I can find it, and I’m leaving the city today, see? I have all these bags, and I just need to get to the train station but everything is packed and I really never ride without a ticket, I swear this is my first time, and my shoe is breaking, look? see? and I’m sure I can find it just hang on a minute.”

During this panicked soliloquy I also began to cry. I must have made quiet a spectacle on the crowded subway car, because after a minute or so the officer waved an annoyed hand at me, muttered something grumpy in German, and left our car. I would’ve collapsed on the seat if there was one available. Instead I clutched onto the handrail thankful that I only had a stop or two more to go.

Treacherous Train Station Trek
When I arrived at the stop for the train station, I got off the subway and proceeded to make several wrong turns in the subway station. I realized with horror as I ascended the escalator that the train station was across 7 or 8 tracks of railroad – tracks that I would have to lug my 112 pound toter over. I did not trust my navigation skills to head back down to the subway station and attempt to find the correct escalator. I was already spooked from my fahrschein encounter, and it was getting too close to my departure time to fool around. So I began the process of hoisting my bags up and over several sets of railroad track.

The tracks of my tears

I knew what I was doing was most likely against some sort of train station policy, and dangerous to boot. But I was hungry, sweaty and emotionally drained; plus I was beginning to worry that I was going to miss my train and be stuck with nowhere to stay in Vienna. The closest distance between two points is straight across, tracks or no tracks, so I went for it. My shoe was tearing even more and was getting dangerously close to coming apart all together, and my hand was showing the early signs of a bruise from the baggage toter handle. At this point I was not in the mood to find a more appropriate path.

Walking in Someone Else’s  Shoes…Well, Riding Actually
Once inside the train station, I found my train, and boarded with a sigh. I had meant to stop and get something to eat, but I ran out of time. My stomach grumbled as the train rolled out of Vienna. A woman came and joined me in my car. We smiled at each other and I continued to listen to my walkman. After a while, she opened a box and pulled out a pair of shoes. She motioned for me to try them on. I thought this to be odd, but didn’t want to offend her, so I tried them on. They were hideous strappy things, but I smiled and said “good” in slovak. She asked me in German if I would wear them for a little while, until we crossed the border. I realized that she had most likely bought them in Vienna and did not want to have to pay the duty tax on them once we crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. I tucked my broken sandals into my bag and agreed to wear them.

Dealing with the border guards was one scary affair. They searched through everything. No amount of smiling or politeness could sway them. I do remember sticking my head out the window and smiling to some of the young slovak soldiers at the border. They smiled and waved back, but the ones required to check your belongings did not partake in any funny business.

My paperwork was in order, and they figured the shoes were mine and after what seemed like an hour, the guards left our compartment. Once we were on our way again, I slipped off the shoes and handed them back to the woman. She thanked me and offered me a sandwich, which I eagerly accepted. I don’t remember what was on it…some sort of meat and butter on a roll, but I scarfed that thing down, and it was good.

Final Destination, or so I Thought
When we arrived in Bratislava, I was filled with excited anticipation to see my cousins, who I had not seen in 4 years. I said goodbye to my travelling companion, and made my way to the train platform with my cumbersome baggage tote in tow. I scanned the crowd for a sign of Stello, but did not see any faces that I recognized. As the crowed departed, I was left pretty much alone on the platform. A small kernel of panic began to bloom in my stomach.

I decided to head to the main terminal. Maybe they had forgotten the train number and were waiting in the main lobby of the station.

Once I reached the main lobby, I realized with dismay that nobody was here to greet me. I sank down on a bench and wondered what I was going to do. I decided to just wait. Maybe they had car trouble. Maybe there was traffic. After an hour or so I decided to try and call them. Dad had given me some emergency numbers to call in case something happened in Bratislava, but I had no money for the phone. I only had Austrian currency on me. I found a train station employee who spoke German and asked for help. He took me to a director of sorts who after hearing my problem, let me use his phone. I got no answer at any number I tried.

Clang, clang, clang went the trolley

At this point the director came up with an amazing plan. I should try to get to my relatives. This involved taking a train to Malacky, and then a bus to Gajary. Why I agreed to this plan I can’t remember. With all I had been through so far that day coupled with my lack of a substantial meal, I wasn’t thinking clearly. But first, he concluded, I would need to go into Bratislava and exchange currency. I don’t recall how I got the fare for the trolley – perhaps he paid for it, but I was presented with a ticket for the trolley and a pat on the back. The director allowed me to keep my cumbersome baggage in his office, so there was that to be thankful for. I turned and headed out of the office to embark on my perilous journey into Bratislava.

Someone to Watch Over Me Slovak Style

I got off at the predetermined stop and hunted around for a bank. I found several, but all were closed. It was noon and everyone was off for lunch. This startled me because that is when 95% of you average working folk can find the time to go to the bank. I sat on a bench or wandered around in a hungry daze until the banks reopened. Once they did, I could not find anyone who A) could speak German or English, or B) would exchange any money for me. It seems there are specific rules involved with how much you need to exchange which involves your visa and some documentation from the police, which I did not have. Dejected and tired, I left to go back to the train station.

The infamous purple dress

I had reached my breaking point. I stood at the trolley stop, which was on an island in the middle of an busy road. Here I was, tanned and pony tailed, dressed in a purple sundress with white polka dots, in nearly broken sandals as cars whizzed by oblivious to my desperate situation. I felt so utterly lost and alone, that I just started to cry. A man approached me and spoke to me in slovak. I mumbled “I don’t understand,” another key phrase I had learned, and asked if he spoke German. He said, “A little.”

I was elated. Finally, someone who could help. I brokenly described my situation to him. He promptly lead me to a bank, and after much persuading with the stubborn teller, got a small amount of money exchanged for me. It would be enough to buy my tickets to Malacky and then to Gajary. He then got me on a trolley, took me back to the train station, and spoke to the director. He purchased my ticket to Malacky for me. He then sat me down on a bench with an ice cream cone. I was so thankful. He had taken control. He saw I was in trouble, and had taken the time out of his day to help me. I was so very thankful.

It was at this point I remembered my emergency phone numbers. I asked if he could try to call them to see if anyone answered. He was able to reach some friend or distant relative on the list, and it was determined they would come and get me until my cousins could be located. This was such a huge relief to me…the thought of travelling by myself to Gajary seemed as impossible as walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon.

Nice to Meet You – Please Save Me
Before long a kind looking older gentleman came to pick me up. I had never met nor heard of him before, but I was sure glad he was here for me now. As I began to leave with this friend/relative that I did not know, I thanked my rescuer profusely and said good-bye.

A meal similar to the one that I greedily I stuffed down my hole

I was taken to an apartment where I was introduced to this man’s wife, seated at a table, and stuffed with food. Boy did I eat. Salami, bread, boiled eggs, cheese, pickles, more salami and then cake and tea. Once my feast was over, the wife took me to a bedroom, handed me a flouncey, old-fashioned nightgown and ordered into bed. It was only afternoon, but I did as she said. As I laid my head on the pillow, clutching little bear foot, who traveled all over Europe with me, I cried for the 3rd time that day. But this time it was with utter relief. I was safe. Someone was taking care of me. I was asleep within minutes.

Stello Arrives

When I awoke, it was to Stello’s voice in the other room. I got up and hurriedly dressed. When I came into the living room, Stello hugged me and began to apologize for all the trouble. He said they had gone to the bus station. In earlier letters to him I had talked about taking a bus from Vienna, but after further research settled on the train. He must’ve had the bus idea stuck in his head, though because he kept saying “I one hundred percent sure you say BUS.” Once I didn’t show at the bus station, they had gone to the train station, but by then I was wandering aimlessly around downtown Bratislava looking for a bank.

The whole ride back to Gajary, Stello proclaimed, “I one hundred percent sure you say BUS.” Once we reached his house he procured the last letter I sent him and frowned when it said “train.” I felt bad for him. I was certainly scared during my ordeal, but I can only imagine the panic Stello felt knowing I was out there alone and he couldn’t find me.

I had a great time during my stay there. About a week later, Stello handed me a postcard. It was addressed to me, c/o Stello in Gajary. That’s it. No street name, no zip code, and it got to me. That’s a small town for you. It was from my Bratislava rescuer. He just wanted to make sure I was ok and enjoying my visit. He included his address so I could write him back.

I still remember his name. It was Zoltan Egry. It must be a popular name because there are tons of them when you Google it. I wrote to him a few times, and I remember hearing from him last back in the 90’s or so. I may still be alive now. He was perhaps 35 or so when he helped me back in 1984, but that’s a guess. He could’ve been 50 for all I know. When you’re 19 everyone over 25 looks ancient.

In any case, I learned a few things that day. Life can go horribly wrong. But in most cases, you can handle it. You need to rely on your smarts, and sometimes on the help of others. You may have to do things that seem impossible to you, but they can be done and done by you. I learned I could take care of myself that day.