sábado, 8 de septiembre de 2012

Excuse me, do you study in Nitra?

Nitra Castle
I started to feel like a real globe-trotter. At this point I cannot believe all the things I've done this year. I was practically broken when I left Venezuela, no money at all. Recently, during a walk around New York, with two friends of mine, Andrea and Roberto; I realized how brave I was. Roberto asked me how much money I had when I left Venezuela and it was also a surprise for me, because I realized that I left my country only with $500, which is practically nothing. Unbelievable! Everybody receives what they give. I'm not pretending to be the best person in the world, but I know that life, somehow, and for some strange reason, rewarded me with the most wonderful people anyone could wish. I repeat, nothing would have been possible without the great friends I have.
There were still things to be done in Slovakia. If some of you guys did know where Bratislava was, I doubt that anyone knows where the hell Nitra is. Actually I never knew it. After spending two wonderful days in Bratislava we headed to Nitra. It's a small city, I do not know how many inhabitants it has and I did not ask either. If only in Bratislava, the capital, there are 450.000 inhabitants, I guess in Nitra there are no more than 80.000 or less.
Going from Bratislava to Nitra is like going from New York to New Jersey. The bus we took from Bratislava cost only 5 euros; it had Wi-Fi available and this time it did work! As a good Internet addict and commonly known as the Wi-Fi finder, once on the bus the first thing I did was to check my Facebook and see who was on Skype. I called home. I told my family I was on my way to another city within that country that nobody knows where it is. The experience of being from one country to another, from city to city, from culture to culture was more than great.
The half and hour trip from Bratislava to Nitra I mostly spent it online. The trip seemed very short, no traffic, no people. I was talking to Vlado while I was checking my Facebook. I looked through the window and Vlado said to me: - “Here we are” - I saw a normal and ordinary city. Indeed it was. Nitra is a small, clean, and full of students. But I don’t mean boring at all. It's a really lovely city.
Road to Nitra Castle
We arrived in a small terminal and then we had to walk about five blocks to the faculty where Vlado studies. It was cold. I had left my big suitcase in Bratislava and I was carrying only the little one. I was fed up of carrying that unnecessary staff. While walking to the faculty, around 9:00 p.m., I was getting familiar with the city. We crossed a river whose waters, despite being at night seemed very clear to me. Next day, I confirmed, that indeed the river was extremely clean and curiously full of ducks everywhere. During our way to the faculty Vlado "explained" me how I would sleep in his room; in the same college where he studies, he lives. However, he shares a room with another student. It was supposed that his friend would not be in the room those days, since he did not know English and he did not want to feel uncomfortable with me in there. So I would sleep in his bed. Everything seemed perfect. There was only something more to know; the rooms are only for students of the faculty. It is not a public hostel.
However, Vlado had made a plan; I would pretend I was an exchange student from Erasmus. It sounded complicated; what if I was asked for something specific about that program? I did not know anything at all! In addition, I do not speak Slovak! Perhaps I could have been asked in English, German, or Spanish. But the problem is not the language in which I could have been asked, but what they could ask me. We finally decided that I did not know English or German, only Spanish. We got to the entrance of the building. Some short stairs connected the front door. I began to panic; what would happen if they did not let me in? Where the hell was I going to sleep? It was too cold outside! We walked in and at the end of the hall there was this man in a desk watching who came and went. I was sweating. “Moisés, look what you get in!” I started to say to myself. The man looked up, saw Vlado, smiled a little bit, and returned to his reading. I went unnoticed that first day.
Everything was perfect until we got to the room. Indeed, Vlado’s friend was not there. However, minutes after, Vlado’s roommate texted him and let him know he was returning that night very late, and unfortunately he was going to stay the whole week. What? But where the hell would I sleep now? They had only two single beds which barely fit one person. They had no extra mattress and I did not have a sleeping bag. What was the solution? Simple! I had to sleep on the floor! Under one of the beds there was a kind of drawer, which was empty. We put several sheets and blankets and tried, in vain, to make it feel more comfortable. Actually I did not care sleeping on the floor. I was not expecting a presidential suite with private masseuse. All I needed was a roof and heating for the night. I slept four days in my new bed. But I have nothing to complain about. I could have had to sleep on the floor, but the hospitality of Vlado and his friends got the highest score. They were really nice to me. That night, Miroslav and Katarina (Vlado's friends) came to the room; and we met. They say hi to me and immediately they began to speak in Slovak. I felt completely lost. I did not understand a single word. Katarína spoke no English and it was funny trying to understand each other. We looked each other, she smiled at me, I smiled at her and then I pretended to understand what she was saying. Most of the time, Vlado served as interpreter among his friends and me. 70% of the time they spoke in Slovak and I felt exactly like Vlado two years ago in Pennsylvania when the Spanish-speakers met and he and others never understood what we were talking about.
Katarína, Miroslav and I
On the other hand, Miroslav also helped me a lot as interpreter and he did speak English with me. Moreover, apart from Vlado, he was who knew more English. I started to tell them about my trip around the world and what else I was going to visit. They were fascinated by the idea of ​​traveling and traveling and although they are close to many countries and have more opportunities than us to travel, they do not do it so often. I spent the first night in my new bed. Next morning Vlado went out to meet his mother who was in Austria and was in Nitra for a while. I stayed in the room sleeping, and later I decided to go to the mall which was just across the street. I grabbed the keys and headed to the elevator, I do not remember exactly on which floor we were. I think it was on the 7th floor. The faculty was full of students everywhere, so I looked like another student. When I got in the elevator I did not know whether to press the first floor, or the two buttons that were below. So I pressed the last bottom I saw. When got out of the elevator I did not remember that entrance. However, at the end of the hall I saw a door leading to the street. I looked everywhere and I saw no one. I walked towards the exit and suddenly someone came out from a side door. An old lady barely smiled at me and asked me something. I almost fainted right there! OMG! She realized I am not a student! I am screwed! Vlado is going to kill me! I screwed it up! The old lady repeated her question. I looked at her, smiled nervously and said: "Not speaking English, sorry". Anyway I guessed she was speaking in Slovak. I just smiled again, turned way and left quickly. I opened the door and crossed the street without looking anywhere. I knew I had screwed it up. Later I noticed I had used an exit that was not supposed to be for students. Maybe that was what the old woman was trying to tell me.
I went to the mall and walked for a while, I went to a supermarket and bought instant coffee, I need it to live! I also bought some cookies and some biscuits to eat in case of being hungry later. I was afraid of returning to the building and run into that woman again. Actually nothing happened. I went back to the building and this time I went through the main entrance. There were many students and it was not a problem to get in. The problem was the elevator: it was out of order and I had to go up seven floors. I really do not know what the problem is with elevators and me! They hate me! I came up extremely tired. 15 Minutes later Vlado got to the room and we went for our first walk around Nitra! 
The city is lovely and very rich for the history of Slovakia, since it was the first city in the nation, even before Bratislava. Nitra is a city full of college students; it has two very important and popular universities. Nitra is considered the mother of the cities. Not only because it is the oldest city in Slovakia, but because for centuries it played an important role in the history of the formation of the Slovak nation. It is also the fourth largest city in the country. It is located approximately 100 km from Bratislava linked by a highway in perfect condition without a single hole. Nitra is the first city in Slovakia that is mentioned in writings, some dating back to the year 870.
In that first walk we went to the castle of Nitra. Yes, I know another castle! I was kind of tired of so many castles and I was no longer surprised as much as when I used to seeing them in the history books and used to say “someday I will visit some of these castles”. To reach the castle we had to walk an hour or a little less from the city center. It is located on a hill from where you can see the city almost completely. This castle is an important place for the Slovak history. It was built on what was once a Slavic fortress of the ninth century.
According Vlado’s friend the first records of this place are back to the year 871. The castle resisted the Tartar invasion in 1241. And, in 1271, it was badly damaged by the attack of a Czech king. Gradually, over the pass of time, the castle was extended and its walls were reinforced. As a result of the constant renovations its original design was almost changed. Inside the castle there is a church whose tower stands dominant and it is the highest tower of the castle.
Nitra Castle at night
Nowadays the castle is the headquarters of the Archbishop of Nitra and it is not open to the public. You can only visit the cathedral, the fortifications and the courtyard, but you are not allowed to access the castle. So sad!
I just loved the castle. Despite not being allowed to enter, from the outside I could see how restored and maintained it was. The best was the church which is inside the castle. Despite it was under reparations, I could appreciate how preserved and cared it is. The paintings on the walls were beautiful and they have certainly hundreds of years. The decoration, the seating arrangements, paintings, everything was just really detailed and spectacular. We left a little before the sunset and then we walked about 20 minutes until we reach Vlado’s father’s house. I remember I took a great photo of the castle from the door of the building. It was already dark, and the castle was partially lighted up from the sides. I loved that picture! When we got to Vlado’s father’s house I understood why Vlado is so tall. His father is as tall as him and he cooked us dinner. He offered me all kinds of liquor! I almost get drunk. I drank another Slovak beer, a kind of homemade liquor that a friend of him had prepared and then we had an amazing dinner. I don’t remember the last time I had eaten homemade food. That food was simply delicious! Hospitality at his father’s house was really good. Vlado’s dad was great, and very friendly despite being from Eastern Europe, where people are usually cold. The funny thing was that he did not speak much English and once again, Vlado served as interpreter. It was the second time I visited a country where I did not know the language. It feels weird not to understand what people say. That day we returned to his faculty and, once again, I got in without any problems.
Next day Miroslav, Vlado and Katarína took me to a thermal waters spa. It is about an hour and a half away from Nitra. I do not remember the name of the place, it was in Slovak and it was very weird. The place was really nice, but kind of weird. It was a spa with swimming pools with water emanating from the earth. The strange part is that the water was salty, like seawater. We entered the place and I remember I did not pay anything because I left my stuff in the same locker than Vlado.
I put on my bathing suit and we went out. Outside it was about five degrees. The pools were extremely hot and they were located outdoors! When I went outside, it was so cold that it made me run towards the hot water, but when I put my foot in the hot water it was so hot that I wanted to get out of that water. I submerged myself slowly until my body adapted to the hot water. In the middle of the pool was another cold pool where Vlado and others made ​​me dive. I mean, I went from one pool which was extremely hot to one as cold as the fridge, and then back to hot one. All my life I thought that could not be possible because my face could twist. I did, and here I am, the same Moises. We spent only two hours at the spa. At the end we headed back to Nitra, but not before stopping at a restaurant 100% Slovak! There I had the best food ever! And it was only five dollars each.
Menu in Slovak
The restaurant had a very typical Slovak decoration. The waitresses were dressed in traditional Slavs costumes and in the ambient you could smells its folklore and traditions. I do not know the names of the dishes I ordered, since the menu was in Slovak and I did not know what the hell was written there. That’s why Vlado and his friends were responsible for asking for me. At first they were very concerned that I might not like the food. They said their typical food was very strong and most visitors were not very happy with it. But I was different. I do not know if it was because I was too hungry, but I loved that dinner.
The first dish was a kind of huge black beans. The second, and most exquisite, was a kind of pasta made of potato that actually looked like a kind of rice with cheese sauce and bacon on top. That was great! I think of it, and I feel hungry. For drink, they ordered a kind of drink made of the root of a plant. They tried to explain me what it was, but I'm so bad in botany that I did not understand. The dessert was also quite good and weird. It was the same stuff I had eaten in the previous dish, but this time it was sweet and it has poppy seeds on top! Wait! Poppy?! Is not that a drug? Well, actually I do not remember whether it is a kind of drug or not. However, if it is, then I can say I tried drugs and it was exquisite. Hahaha
We also visited a Cuban bar called Hemingway, where I first saw the value of our national liquor (The Rum). A set of some shots of Ron Santa Teresa was more than 12 euros. With that money I can buy two bottles in Venezuela. Next time I go to Slovakia, I will surely traffic rum Hahahahaha
Another funny moment during my stay in Nitra was when I tried to understand what they were saying. I thought maybe I could understand some words and my trilingual skills, plus my studies in linguistics could help me understand something. But I was wrong. It was quite the opposite. I panicked. While trying to understand what they said, I noticed a very peculiar word always came out: "Ano" (In Spanish it means “anus”)
Weird and delicious food
(Imagine my face here) Ano? Sure I heard it wrong. I tried to pay attention one more time, but I kept listening "Ano, ano, ano, ano" Oh my goodness! These Slovaks are perverts. How come can they talk about an anus so freely? Perverts! They kept talking and now I heard that word followed by some laughs "Ano, ano, ano, ano hahahaha ano, ano, ano" they only talk about sex, I thought. Are they talking about someone's anus? Mine? "Ano, ano, ano hahahaha" definitely I needed to know what the fuck they're talking about! I interrupted the conversation and asked Vlado: - "What the hell are you guys talking about? Whose anus??" Vlado and others burst out laughing. Miroslav answered me: -"<ano>" in Slovak means "Yes"! Now everything made sense! My fucked up brain did not allowed me to realize that this word could mean something as simple as "Yes". I felt like learning a few phrases in that sexist language. I wanted to learn how to say "Hello" and Vlado said to me: -"<Som Chuj>" How easy! Then I repeated the phrase and once again everybody burst out laughing. They laughed for more than 5 minutes and I did not understand what was going on. That does not mean hello! Actually that is an awful phrase. It was something like “I am a head penis” but more vulgar of course.
The following day, before heading to Vienna, capital of Austria, Vlado and their friends took me to a bar to try their national drinks. At this point of my world trip I already knew I was becoming an alcoholic. With the excuse of trying their national drinks I ended up drinking all the alcohol I had not drunk in my whole life. We went to three different bars; in the first one, we had some shots of liquor which was made of some weird roots. I remember I made a deal with Miroslav; I would drink exactly what he drank. I mean, if he drank one beer, I would drink one beer too. Eventually it was not a good deal. Slovaks drink A LOT, and they don’t get drunk! I was the guest and they treated me like such. At certain point I didn’t know what the hell I was drinking. I asked them which was their most common or national drink and they asked me it was “Absint”. Actually it is not their national drink. It is very popular in Switzerland and France. But that's not all; the funny thing is that it is 75% alcohol. Nevertheless it is practically forbidden because it is so strong that it can even cause hallucinations. Miroslav got two of those drinks and before drinking it, the bartender set fire to the edge. Then I had to drink it in one gulp. It had a taste of mint and I didn’t feel anything at first. Ten minutes later I began to feel the effects. I was no longer cold and everything around me was full of colors, and suddenly my dream of going to Mars became true! I was in Mars! I am being so exaggerated. Seriously, the liquor itself is very strong and combined with everything I had drunk earlier made ​​me feel very dizzy. I didn’t want to drink anymore, because I had to wake up at 4:30 in order to go to Vienna. If I had gotten really drunk, I would have missed the opportunity to visit this amazing city.
Vlado and I in Hemingway bar
We continued "partying" about 40 minutes more. Around 1:30 am everyone went back home, well I went back to sleep on the floor. Miroslav and Katarína took us to the entrance of the faculty. Katarína could finally say "Good bye" and hugged me. Miroslav said good bye too and hugged me.
For the last time, I got to the room and no one said anything. The elevator was already working, and in five minutes we were up almost ready for bed. I was really tired. The last few weeks had been very stressful. I had planned so many things, so many airports, buses, my luggage, and so more. But eventually everything is well worth.

Next day at 4:30 am the alarm went off. I got up. I brushed my teeth as fast as I could. Another country and another city were waiting for me...

Thank you guys once again for reading my adventures. It is a pleasure to write and know that, somewhere, there's someone smiling and laughing while reading this.

A big hug from the capital of the world,

Moisés


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