Language Travels in the Former Hapsburg Realm
After three days in Vienna, my wife and I moved on to Slovakia. In Vienna, we had rented an apartment near the Schoenbrunn Palace. So of course we visited this famous palace. I was surprised to see how small Kaiser Franz Josef’s office and bedroom were. From there he ruled an empire of many nationalities and languages.
As long as identity was focused on church or village, and allegiances were dynastic, this patchwork of nations was able to hang together. With the rise of nationalism, not only did the smaller nations want their place in the sun, but the dominant German and Hungarian speakers wanted to impose their language. This all finally came unstuck after the first world war. Yet there is a certain unity in cuisine, and custom and geography that is still evident today. I have visited Austria the Czech Republic and Romania before, and today was my first day in Slovakia.
We stayed in a modern and comfortable business hotel called the Abba in Bratislava. It was a walk from the train station, and then a further walk to the old town. The old town was quaint and there was a lively Christmas market in the main square. That was yesterday. Today my son Eric and I drove our rented car and all the luggage to our ski resort in the Tatra mountains. My wife and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren came by train. We drove through farmland, and then forested mountain land where there had been a lot of logging. We were impressed by the quality of the roads.
I am surprised that tourism is not more developed here. There is a lot to see and enjoy, good food, and the people are very friendly.
My efforts in learning Czech have stood me in good stead in Slovakia. I can understand all the signs. This is a big advantage, since I always feel a little intimidated in countries where I do not understand what is written. Wherever I have used my Czech, whether speaking to taxi drivers or in train stations or here at our pension, people seem to understand me without difficulty, and I mostly understand what they have to say, except when they are talking quickly with each other.
I went down to the bar at our pension, and was warmly welcomed by the patrons of the bar who offered me a drink. As long as they were talking to me and speaking slowly I was able to stay in the conversation. Once they started telling stories amid hearty guffaws, fueled by the gin, beer, and wine that they were drinking, I sort of got lost. In an hour I will join them and others in a delightfully decorated Christmas dining room for my first ever Christmas eve in Slovakia. I am looking forward.
Oh, and Merry Christmas!
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