Slovakia’s Beautiful Countryside Set the Stage for Rediscovery of Our Heritage
By Judith Northup-Bennett
When you go back to your heritage after a couple of generations, you don’t know what you’ll find. Will it be a strange land and culture? Or, will you feel at home in your ancestral land? For everyone on the 2011 Slovakia Heritage small-group tour this September, the answer was a surprising comfort level and feeling at home in Slovakia.
Everyone made contact with family members whether they were newly-discovered cousins, family they had met before, or relatives because the families were krstny (god parents) many years before. For all, the search to piece together the stories of their Slovak family trees and roots will continue.
“In the villages, they’re still living simply and family is very important,” said Dolores Pace of Newtown, CT, who spent an afternoon with her mother’s god parents’ family, and visited the small village of her grandparents. “The language is difficult. I thought I would pick it up better.”
The trip started on September 16 in Bratislava where people were still out enjoying the street cafes and outdoor concerts without the summer tourist crowds. A day-trip to the nearby small Carpathian Mountains brought us into wine country just in time to celebrate the harvest at the lively Pezinok-Modra wine festival. We mixed with Slovak townspeople and vendors eating klobasi at long tables, and sampling the new fresh wine called burciak.
We marveled at the beautiful mild fall weather and the ever-changing countryside which set the stage for our rediscovery of food, language, music, and customs we knew as children. Our past and family histories came alive. A trip to a Levoca market reminded Rudy Popolis of Denver PA and Ben Onofrey of Ford City PA of their youthful pranks taking kohlrabi from farmers’ gardens. They said the farmers always planted extra for the youngsters who ate them raw from the garden on the way home from school. That night our group was
treated to an appetizer of sliced raw, salted kohlrabi.
Rudy liked the small group tour which was able to be flexible for everyone’s interests. Taking advantage of a crystal clear day in the High Tatra Mountains, he hiked with Peter Blazicek, our guide with Best Slovakia Tours,while the rest of the group explored the summit from the gondola.
An evening cooking session left us all better appreciating the hard work of our grandmothers to create the Slovak dishes we remembered. Everyone pitched in to cook Bryndzove Halusky from the peeling of the potatoes to the boiling of the dumplings. Our families will enjoy our new cooking skills.
Our travels took us into the Slovak heartland with non-tourist stops for Saris music and dinner in Sabinov, and in Presov where we visited the Saris Museum and met an energetic nun who runs a home for abused and homeless women and their families. Sister Maristella further inspired us by playing the age-old organ and singing at evening mass in the 1347 Church of St. Nicholas.
(If you’d like more information about the work of Sister Maristella and her Magis program contact Judith Northup-Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Finishing the trip in Kosice and southern Slovakia, Janny Paul- Onofrey from Ford City, PA summed up her experience, “I had no expectations so everything was a wonderful surprise. There’s the old life and the new life and we saw how they come together. I really liked the generosity of the people and the food. I brought food thinking I wouldn’t eat much of the food, but I liked it too much!”