Traditions And New Places
By James Williams
SLOVAKIA -- So for the month of April it was really busy and somehow it got even faster, but a lot happened during this time and I was very busy with a lot of fun activities! I will just go along in chronological order. Starting off in April we had a school break for Velka Noc (Easter) and during this time I learned about a tradition across all of Slovakia where young men and women will go out during the day. The young men will either buy or make a stick which they can tap some of girl’s with it and talk with the girls a bit. The girls then give the guys some sort of small gift such as chocolate or if they are of age alcohol. I was unfortunately unable to participate because my host family brought me and my host brother Jakub to a few monuments and castles that day. My host family doesn’t participate in this tradition so I didn’t either. I wanted to at least see something on how it was done but I actually woke up late and we left pretty earlier. I thought it was very weird tradition but I wanted to still experience it at least once for the memories but I also wanted to respect my families wishes, so I went with the ladder. In this part of Slovakia the partici
pation in this tradition has declined a lot. Many women don’t want to participate which for me was fairly obvious why but there are still many women who still want to. They even have a verb specifically for the “whipping” of the women specifically on this day, it’s a fairly large event. But further on I had my birthday on April 4th where on this day I went out with my closest friends and had a wonderful time talking with them and then having a really nice dinner. Then the 5th my parents came to Bratislava, Slovakia and eventually to Piešťany! I spent a week with them. The first few days were meeting with my closest friends and going around some towns nearby and Piešťany! I made sure to go to places with traditional Slovak foods and showing them my Slovak skills. I explained a lot of questions they had and a lot about the Slovak culture. After staying in Piešťany for a few days we left to Žilina where we met up with Soňa and had a nice lunch and walk around her town with a short hike to a great view of Žilina. From there we continued to the village of Hrabušice nearby Slovensky Raj national park. The park name in Slovak means “Slovak Paradise” which I can totally agree with because for hikers and people who love nature it is a paradise. The views are breathtaking and the calm feel of the land is a type of meditation while walking. But I got incredibly lucky when I chose the small house that I we would stay in. Our hosts were immediately kind and generous. When my mom explained in German to them that I had my birthday recently the host went and got a bottle of wine and gave it to me as a gift. I hadn’t even talked to him and just like that. I will never forget it, It makes me want to pay it back in the future to someone else because of how it made me feel. They helped us find hikes to do in our short 2 day trip. It was overall my favorite part of my parent’s coming to Slovakia when these strangers treated us like family. For my next trips to Slovensky Raj I will be sure to try and book with this family who was so kind and generous to me and my family. But after two nights and a lot of quality time with my parents we departed back to Piešťany and eventually my parents continued on to Vienna where they went to Germany to see my brother. But my parents also met each of my host families and I was a translator for these conversations. It was MUCH harder than I thought it would be. Switching between languages was more difficult than expected and a few times I would speak to my real parents in Slovak and then my host parents in English. It was funny. I was a little surprised on how well the conversations went, I thought it would be hard to explain everything but I was able to do it fluidly, but that was a great learning experience for me. Anyways each family had a wonderful time and I am glad that each meeting went well. Moving on to mid April. I went to school and had a normal week along those lines. I went to a concert with some school friends to see a rapper from Piešťany perform, he is also my favorite Slovak rapper and it was awesome to see him perform in person, his name is Ego. Then a good friend named Antoine came from the t
own of Poprad to stay for the weekend. I showed him around Piestany and one night we had a camp fire with our Slovak friends. It was a really nice night to relax cook some špekačky (slovak sausages for cooking over a fire) and look at the stars. The next day Antoine and I went out with the other exchange students from our town for lunch then we alone took bikes and rode to a spot where we could swim! Yes in mid-April the water was still cold but very bearable. I also knew of a rope swing and we totally went off that and had loads of fun! Then we met up again with the our friends and I showed him some more of Piešťany. Then the next morning on Sunday he left and that Tuesday I would be leaving on my Rotary organized Europe Tour! EuroTour was here already! Holy crap. So on Monday I went to school and it went slower than slug. Then Tuesday morning I finshed prepping to go and got some food to leav
e and headed to Bratislava and this was the start of some amazing travels with great friends. This was a bus trip and we went from Bratislava to Paris, France. It was a loooooong bus ride. It was great to be able to catch up with everyone and that made the ride bearable. So we made it to Paris and we spend 2 nights there and 3 days. The first day we did a tour of some of the well-known parts and saw a lot of stuff there. We were all really tired from the bus ride but used our wonderful young person energy to push through and have fun anyways. We saw too much for me to remember but through our time in Paris we saw the louvre, the Eiffel tower, la sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Place de la Concorde, and more. Then after our stay in Paris and lots of shenanigans that there are too many to count but one involved me having to ask a French girl for her phone number in my terrible French, which did not work out that time but I did get a French girls number later!!! Anyways after Paris we had another long bus ride down to Barcelona in Spain! This was my favorite city! It may have not been the nicest or prettiest looking but the feel about the city was much more energetic. I also knew a lot less about Barcelona than Paris and I think that made it feel much more of an adventure. Again we spent 2 nights and 3 days there. Again everything was so fast that it’s hard for me to remember all that happened. But we saw a lot of beautiful buildings and we actually went to the sea and swam! That was a great feeling even thought there were jellyfish and freezing cold waters, we played volleyball and soccer and had loads of fun. We also saw a lot of work from a modern architect; Gaudi. His most well-known work is the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family (Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia) and that is an amazing piece of work that appears to be from ages past but it is actually still uncomplete. I would like to return when to see it fully completed. From here we took a boat to Rome. In Rome there were a lot of old things. It was amazing to think that we were in the same spots as some of these people who are know all around the world. But at the same time everything seemed familiar and it didn’t exactly feel like an adventure. But we saw the Coliseum, the Vatican, the old ruins of many buildings, and a lot of other monuments. I also had a meal of homemade pasta and damn that was some of the best pasta I have ever had. But I think my buddy Stephen Fazio still has them beat with his secret Italian recipe. From Rome we went down to Naples and Pompeii. In Naples we didn’t have a lot of time but I had to get some pizza from the original town and that was a wonderful treat. Then Pompeii and Vesuvius were both great to experience as well. Vesuvius was a little sucky because of the fog and not being able to see 50 feet in front of myself, but running up and then down the Volcano was fun. Just getting a good workout besides walking all day was a good release. I felt as if I finally achieved something when I reached the highest point we could go to that day, even through the rain and fog. Later Pompeii was very humbling to see how an advanced civilization can be wiped out by Mother Nature in such a short time. But to learn about how they went about their way of life was also interesting, I recommend seeing Pompeii. After Naples and Pompeii we went to Florence where we had a day to wander around and there wasn’t too much in Florence besides one huge and incredibly ornate church which I had no idea existed and when I first saw it in daylight it literally took my breath away. Now moving on to our last city, Venice. We arrived outside our hotel which was a stone’s throw from the beach, had dinner, and then had free time out until 23:30 the latest yet. I immediately went straight to the beach and went straight for the water. We had so much fun there. Pretty much everyone went, we enjoyed ourselves through dance, song, and good spirit. The next day in Venice we had a scavenger hunt and my team didn’t win but along the way we met v
ery nice people who helped us with answers and enjoyed their company. My team did get the most Venusian photo which in turn got this team free t-shirts!!! I was so excited when we won. We did go on the gondolas and that was a cool experience to see a new way to travel around a city. Me and a friend went on an adventure to find the ‘Ponte de Tette’ and succeeded but it turns out there are two and the people we were supposed to meet went to the 2nd one and that totally baffled us. But all in all Venice was my 2nd favorite city even with the maze of buildings that all look pretty similar and the possibility to turning a corner too fast and falling into the water. From Venice we took the bus back to Bratislava, SK and from there I took the train back to Piešťany and came home tired as an exchange student who has traveled for 2 weeks and with one final 15 hour push after a day of walking around in the hot sun. This is a very fast synopsis of this trip and I hope to write more in depth later, but I'm not sure how likely that is as I'm already extremely busy.
Also I'm sorry for not having more pictures now! This is me and Gervaise from Tasmania, the Colleseum, le Tour Eiffel, the Statue of David and finally the Grand Waterway of Venice! There are thousands of pictures I have but my phone hasn't been able to connect with my picture so I had some friends send me some! Thank you again!
James Williams is a 2017 graduate of Geneva High School. He is spending a gap year as part of the Rotary International program with a host family in Slovakia.