29 October 2013
I backed my rental, not the newest car in the fleet, from whence the deliverer parked it and was immediately commanded by my GPS voice…”in 200 yards turn right”. In 180 yards…a more strident command, “turn right”. And so it would go, as she shepherded me out of Krakow and onto the A4 and off the A4 into rural Poland…a Poland renewed…to Poland less renewed, closer to the border with Slovakia, and finally into Slovakia, which seemed satisfied with the 18th century. I did see some wooden churches for which Slovakia is known, near the Polish border, but further into eastern Slovakia there were only clusters of houses along the road. It was different and interesting (a word I would use often) and who thought about how deep in the Chinese finger puzzle of Slovakia I was going…and how I would get out, if I had trouble with the GPS or the car?
The first real Slovakian town on my roster was Bardejov, a walled town with a long successful, commercial, religious history that invaders eventually had their way with. But it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been restored to as good or better than new…a huge cobblestoned central square, lined on three sides with small, fresh-painted medieval buildings and a cathedral on the fourth side…and a bank with an ATM, so I could get Euros (I only had Polish zlotys and Czech korunas) and buy a bottle of water. Outside the medieval part, the newer town, was a panorama of the concrete box buildings of the commissariat. And on the outskirts of town a gas station, the first I saw in Slovakia. But I gassed up just over the border in Poland. Who knew?
Then further into Slovakia to Presov, its third largest city with a long oblong-shaped central square, lined by the same medieval buildings I saw earlier, a couple of cathedrals in the middle and a decidedly depressed, spiritless feeling about it. No carousels and cotton candy and laughter here, but a populace, living with the effects of 50 years of Soviet overlordship and little industry (no political hectoring intended, but in the newer parts of town were spider webs of overhead wires for trolley cars and the dull, boxy Soviet-style buildings and an unkempt look).
Coincidently, the woman at the hotel reception desk (I stayed in Presov overnight), when I checked out early next morning, asked where I was from…“New York”. Oh, she said, I used to live there…in Sunnyside (Queens).
My Lady of the GPS, chimed in as the car fired up, led me through a warren of back alleys and out into the overcast. So began the meaningful part of the trip…to Medzilaborce, supposedly my grandfather’s birthplace.
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