Lucjan, Walter and I met for a breakfast at Šariš Park. What impressed us most wasn’t the meal but
how a member of the staff was washing all the windows. She would balance on top of the chairs,
sometimes standing on one leg as she stretched and contorted herself into whatever shape was necessary to get the job done on the inside and outside of all the windows in the restaurant. By the time she was done the windows were spotless.
We got the luggage loaded and started off on what was going to be a very long day by hitting the dialnica (turnpike in Slovak) to the state archive in Košice. This is where records were kept for the Dedinky parish where my three times great grandfather, István Novotny and his sister Susanna Novotny were baptized in 1819 and 1821 respectively. We were upset to learn that although our tour group hadn’t been informed of it, the archive required at least a week’s notice to look at the records. Lucjan was told that this was because there was only one microfilm machine, though at the time no one was using the machine. I was so disappointed, the woman that was working in the office could see my disappointment, especially when Lucjan explained to her how far we had come.
Quite a bit of conversation went on and after a few minutes the woman left the office. She quickly returned with the actual book that the record would be kept in and she started looking through it. After a few minutes she pointed to a record, Lucjan walk around the desk, and again lots of chatting went on. What she had found was the actual record of István Novotny’s baptism. We couldn’t photograph the image, but we did learn that even though István had been baptized in Štefanovce, he was actually born in Stratená. This meant that we would actually be able to see the village this branch of my family had come from. We thanked the woman over and over as we knew she had bent the rules for us. Štefanovce and its neighboring town of Imrichovice were merged to create Dedinky, which means “villages” in Slovak. This happened when the area around Štefanovce and Imrichovice were flooded to create the Palcamanská Maša dam, the coldest dam in Slovakia, in 1933. I learned that there is a story regarding the names of the original villages; at one time there was only one village, a mining settlement. The Earl who ruled the area had the village split in two, one part for his son Imrich and one for his son Štefan, therefore the names Imrichovice and Štefanovce.
Walter hadn’t been adequately caffeinated at breakfast that morning and to keep him awake we wandered around the block looking for a coffee location that shown up on Google.maps. As we walked around the street I noticed that most of the other people who were out and about were giving us strange looks and staring at us. I immediately thought that like earlier in my trip my shirt was on inside out, I discreetly checked, no that wasn’t it. After thinking about it and observing the people on the street a little longer I decided that we must have been a curiosity as we wandered the street, looking in windows for coffee and speaking in English.
On our second lap of the block we noticed a small sign in a building window for coffee, even though the name of restaurant was Soup Culture. This was a chic little place that serves it soup in edible bowls shaped like coffee cups, unfortunately it was a little too early for lunch. The guys got their coffee and I had a cup of Earl Grey tea. Everyone working at the counter was smiling, at least we didn’t create a scene there.
As we drove out of town we realized that Košice is the home of the U.S. Steel Košice works, when we came upon the huge steelworks. Living in the Pittsburgh area, the former steel capital of the US, and as Walter had previously worked in the U.S. Steel’s Homestead Steel Works, he was really interested in seeing the seeing huge manufacturing area. The Košice works is the largest integrated steel producer in Central Europe and employs almost 12,000 people. It seemed that the facility just went on as far as the eye could see towards the horizon.
The trip to Dedinky took us past castles both abandoned, renovated, and under renovation, farms and small villages each with a church spire reaching for the sky. The area we drove into is called the Slovak Paradise and for good reason. It is part of the Western Carpathian Mountains and the scenery was beautiful. There are steep rocky mountains covered with pine trees, dark gorges and waterfalls. The drive there was full of steep inclines and hairpin turns. Walter and I both commented on how much fun it would be to drive our MR2 Spyder on the roads. This lead us to a conversation with Lucjan about the great twisty roads for driving throughout Europe. I was very glad to be sitting in the front passenger seat as I would have been car sick with all the twists and turns. We took a break from our ride and stopped at a lookout to take some pictures and to let our equilibrium rebalance. The view was spectacular as we looked out over the valley below us and the glimpses of the route we had been on. I climbed up a tiny hillside and picked a few wildflowers that were growing along the highway to press for a keepsake from our trip. This became the joke of the remainder trip, each time we saw a policeman Lucjan would insist they were after me for picking wildflowers.
We got back into the car and continued winding our way to Dedinky. When we got there, we weren’t disappointed by the postcard perfect village with the alpine looking homes standing against a backdrop of mountains and a huge stand of mature pine trees. We drove into the small village and made our first stop at the Roman Catholic church, an older stucco building. The exterior of the church was worn but there were roses blooming along the walkway and hanging baskets of bright red flowers suspended from the awning in front of the main door. We peeked into the interior, took photos of the sanctuary and purchased a few inexpensive postcards laying on a small table in thenarthex. As this church was constructed in 1833-1834 my family would not have been baptized in it, though they may have attended it.
It was time for lunch so we walked down a small hill and found a pizza shop, Pizza & Café Lumaro, with outdoor seating. We picked a picnic table out of the sun and away from the cigarette smokers and sat down while we waited for our order. This may have been the cheapest meal of our entire trip. We ordered two pizzas, Lucjan ordered his favorite Kofola, Walter had a Coke and since the only really cold drink that was available was beer I was “forced” to have Saris beer for my lunch. The entire meal came to something less than $8.00 US. As we were dining on our “expensive” pizza a group of eight to ten preteens sat down beside us; Lucjan and I decided later that it would have been better to sit beside the cigarette smokers then those rambunctious kids. After finishing my pizza and beer I took a quick walk to the water’s edge of the dam to get my mind quieted down. The men walked down a few minutes after me and reminded me that we had quite a bit of ground to cover that day. We headed back to the car and left Dedinky heading to Stratená.
Stratená, which means “lost” in Slovak is just on the opposite side of the mountain from Dedinky, but we had to drive around. It probably was one of the shortest drives of the whole trip, about 5 minutes.
Stratená was founded in 1723 and had an iron ore mine with a furnace in the 1860s that operated until 1927. The chapel where the Novotnys probably attended church services was built in the year 1800. In this chapel is a carving that was made by the medieval carver, Master Pavol from Levoča, of St. Mary Magdalene. The carving was originally made for the church in Spišská Nová Ves, Slovakia. Over the years it disappeared from that church and eventually ended up in Stratená’s chapel.
The village itself is in a narrow valley along a stream. On a smaller building beside the chapel is a plaque that is dated 1944. It is dedicated to villagers who died in 1944 in the Slovenské Národné Povstanie, SNP, the Slovak National Uprising. The Battle of Dukla Pass which we saw memorialized on July 9th was part of this uprising. Remembered on the plaque is the name Jozef Novotny who was born 2 March 1919. It made me wonder if this was a relative?
We snapped a few photos and jumped back in the car eager to drive the 4.8 km to our next stop the Dobšinská Ice Cave. I knew that the cave was a UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Heritage site. This means that it must have a cultural, historical, scientific or other significance and was judged to be important to the collective interests of humanity. Because of the other UNESCO sites that we had seen, and how memorable they were, I was anticipating the same for the ice cave. We pulled into the parking lot and I started to have second thoughts about the cave. The parking area was a potholed gravel lot and although it was the height of the summer season there were not many cars there. Beside the parking area there was a small wooden store that sold collectible rocks. Across a dirt road that headed up a hill toward the ice cave stood a ramshackle green building, perhaps a convenience store. We started walking up the road and on the right were a few newer buildings, mostly souvenir stands, two of them appeared to be housing, perhaps for the groundskeepers. Just a short way up the hill stood an abandoned hotel. The signs for the hotel were hanging askew, and the roof had partially collapsed. I wondered about what we were planning on visiting and decided that if this was the presentation that this UNESCO site provided regarding the ice cave, it must really be a tourist trap. I know that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way just by the look on Walter’s face. Lucjan however seemed very excited about the cave and so far, he hadn’t steered us wrong. I swallowed my doubts and tried to take his enthusiasm as a good sign.
The three of us started walking up the road and after about a five-minute walk reached a sign. It pointed left to a walkway and said that from that point there was a 25-minute walk to the cave. I knew that Walter really didn’t want to go to the cave, but I had determined that I may never be back there, we had come that far, and the only thing that I had to lose was the time to walk to the cave, that we should take a tour. Much to Walter’s chagrin I said that; you could have cut rock with the look I got from him.
We all started up the walkway and it became quickly apparent that this wasn’t just a little stroll. The incline of the path was fairly steep, and I quickly became out of breath. Since Walter’s climbing was being propelled by his anger he quickly left Lucjan and I in the dust. I know that Lucjan could have easily have kept up with Walter, but he stayed behind to chat with me, I am not sure if it was to be kind to me, or fear of Walter’s wrath. We moved at a steady pace, with me taking a breather whenever I became too winded. After about five minutes of climbing Walter stopped at a sign that talked about the path we were on and stated that there would be a total of five signs along the way. We chatted for a moment and Walter took off again, this time maybe not quite as quickly. Lucjan and I walked together, me trying to be light and bubbly, and hopefully offsetting the black cloud that Walter was casting.
We kept climbing, meeting up at another sign and separating. By the time that we reached the fifth sign Walter had burnt off a lot of his bad mood and was showing signs of tiring and of cheering up. We finished the last part of the climb together with me rambling on and on about something, anything, just to keep things light between us all. One thing that I did prattle on about was how every climb that we had made in Europe we would find out later that there would actually be a route for a car to take to the top. We chuckled at the prospect of this being the case with this climb as well.
After about 30 minutes and a rise of 425 feet in elevation we reached the entrance to the cave. We had to wait for about 35 minutes for the next tour, so it seemed like the perfect time to go to the ladies’ room. I was gone for about five minutes and when I returned the crowd for the tour had grown from six people to 20. Part of the crowd were two men who were carrying a large amount of camera equipment. I mentioned to the guys that I wondered how they would have carried that equipment up the hill. Of course, as I had joked before there HAD been a road and that the majority of the people had come up the hill in a four-wheel drive vehicle. I made a mental note to really start checking out any climbs that I might be thinking about doing.
As we waited for the tour to begin we read the signs about the cave on the walls of the entrance building. The cave had been discovered in 1870 though the local shepherds and hunters always knew of its existence. I thought this was cool as it meant that there was a very good chance that István Novotny had been there. In 1871 the cave was opened to the public and it became the first electrically lit cave in Europe in 1887. Although the information was neat to read, and entrance building was nice I still was unconvinced that this was anything but a tourist trap. Fortunately, Walter’s mood had improved greatly, and he was joking about being unhappy on the trip up the hill.
We had all carried up the hill with us light-weight jackets to wear in the cave. It was about that time that I noticed that most people had winter coats and jackets, some even having hats and gloves. I like things cool, but I started thinking about exactly how cool this was going to be.
Our tour started at 4:00 promptly. Walter and I had known that the entire tour would be given in Slovak and that we wouldn’t be able to understand much but I knew that Lucjan would share with us the important information. The gate opened and we all walked through single file. Immediately I felt a gust of refreshingly cool air. We started walking down a metal staircase and in about 20 feet entered the cave. Immediately I was taken by how beautiful it was and realized that UNESCO knows what they are protecting.
We walked along well constructed walkways, and down flights of steps. The cave which is estimated to be about 250,000 years old, had ice hallways, stalagmites and stalactites and rivers of ice which led off as far as could be seen.
After about 15 minutes of walking we were stopped on a staircase that we were climbing to allow the camera crew time to film something a head of us. We were forced to stand there for about 10 minutes and that’s when I started to get cold. I zipped up my windbreaker and pulled the hood over my head, which helped for a while. This is where Lucjan snuck a picture of the three of us. We had opted out of the 10 Euro fee to take pictures and though it was beautiful I was glad that I wouldn’t have to think about taking pictures. As clumsy and uncoordinated as I am I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on walking, not falling, and taking pictures. Plus, I knew that there were sure to be beautiful pictures that I could find on the internet.
The film crew moved on, so we followed as far as a flat platform and there we stood again. I was now getting cold, fortunately Walter stood close to me and that helped keep me warm. Our tour was supposed to be 30 minutes but because of the delays we ended up in the cave for 50 minutes. As hard as it is to believe with my aversion to warm humidity I was glad when we left the cave and headed up the steps to the summer air.
The walk down the hill was easier and much more pleasant. We took our time snapping pictures as we went. The people in our tour who hadn’t gotten rides walked down with us, though they were much faster and quickly left us behind. About three quarters of the way down the hill we were passed by the young people who were the tour guides in the cave. They flew past us, laughing and talking, it made me remember the fun days of being a teenager. By the time we reached the parking lot the tour guides were getting in their cars, I could hear them shouting to one another as they were pulling out and even though I didn’t speak the language I knew that they were all making plans for later that evening, like teens in America.
We left the Dobšinská Ice Cave parking lot and continued our trip headed towards Medzany. Again, the trip took us along winding roads and through the hilly forests of the Slovakian Paradise. Along the way we passed semi-trucks and trailers that were laboring up the hills, passenger cars and the occasional bicyclist working their way either up an incline or enjoying a long ride down the other side of the mountain.
As we came down a mountain I noticed several individuals, men, women and children, walking out of the woods toward the road carrying buckets. Just a little further down the hill there were groups of people standing along the side of the road holding out their buckets, which I could now tell had blueberries in them, in the hopes that someone in a car might stop to buy the berries. It struck me, and I commented on it, that there were very young children, maybe four or five years of age, standing and playing along the road unsupervised. We reached the bottom of the hill, maybe another 100 yards, and came upon the town of Hranovnica.
This was the only time in Europe where I felt uneasy with the people and the surroundings. Rough looking men, women and children of all ages immediately started rushing towards our SUV with their buckets of blueberries extended. Even though we were moving slowly I was afraid that we would hit someone with the car as they walked into the road to try to stop us and force us to buy berries. Betty-ski2, in her way of only complicating things, then instructed us to take a small, unpaved sideroad. Standing in this road were more people who are staring at us and I started to get an uneasy feeling that they would like to possibly rob us. As we pulled onto the narrow road Walter noticed that the route that Betty-ski2 wanted to take us on was a dogleg that would end up in the same place as the paved road that we were on. Lucjan quickly backed up and got us back on the main road where we drove past mostly run-down homes with groups of people standing around staring at us almost as if they were willing us to stop. I was quite relieved when within a few minutes we started climbing up a hill, leaving town.
I came to find out that the individuals that we first saw leaving the woods and then later approaching our car were Romani/Roma. The Romani are generally economically disadvantaged people who have been systematically discriminated against. They have stereotypically been known not to want to hold regular jobs, to live in poor areas and to not care for the things that they have. I hate to say that our exposure to them we had would only reinforce that image. That being said, I don’t believe that it is fair, however, to paint an entire ethnic group with this brush.
After passing through Hranovnica we left the area of the Slovak Paradise and headed towards Poprad which is at the base of the High Tatras Mountains. As soon as Poprad came into view it was dwarfed by the snow-covered mountains that stand behind it.
I was surprised as the city is located on a plateau and the mountains behind seem to erupt from the earth without an area of rolling hills leading up to them. I knew at that time that we would be heading away from the Tatras and felt somewhat sad that this trip to Slovakia didn’t afford us enough time to visit them.
The next highlight of the trip was being able to see Spišský hrad, Spiš Castle, which we were planning on seeing tomorrow.
Completing the circle that we started in the morning we returned to Medzany. Walter was quite dismayed when he realized after spending so many hours in the car that we were within a few miles of being back to where we had started. I tried to calm his anger, but as I have learned sometimes it is just better to let it play out. His mood quickly improved when he realized this was my opportunity to find family.
We began searching for relatives of Jozef Molčan by asking a person on the street if they knew of anyone in the town with name of Molčan. They say that they did, and they offered to ride with us to the Molčan’s home. After a short ride up the hill we stop at a well-maintained home tucked behind a fence. Lucjan spoke over the fence to a gentleman, Mr. Molčan, who opened a large gate and invited us in. He told Lucjan that we should walk around the back of the house and when we did we come upon a flower box lined deck overlooking an immaculately kept yard that stretched out past what looks like a work shed toward farm fields.
Mr. Molčan invited us to sit down and then let his wife know that we were there. She immediately brought out bottled water and cookies that looked like pretzels sprinkled with sugar for us. Walter said no thank you to the bottled water as it was sparkling and is something he doesn’t care for though he didn’t mention that. Mrs. Molčan ran back into the house and came out with the tallest two-liter bottle of Pepsi we had ever seen. As she sat it down on the table she said “Pepsi, Pepsi” with a Slovak accent and Walter gladly accepted a glass of his favorite drink. While we enjoyed our snack Mr. Molčan made a phone call and after some talking indicated that in Župčany lived a relative of Jozef Molčan, Maria Ferenc, and he offered to let us follow him to her home. We thanked Mrs. Molčan for the refreshments, especially the Pepsi, hugged each other good-bye and jumped into our car for the trip to Župčany.
During the entire trip Lucjan had been the most careful of drivers, always obeying the speed limit and following every traffic sign and rule; the trip to Župčany tested that. Mr. Molčan pulled out of his driveway and immediately was driving as if he were trying to escape from the devil. The trip should have taken about ten minutes but the way we travelling we were there in five. At times our SUV flew over bumps and went screeching around corners just to keep Mr. Molčan in sight. I am pretty sure that Lucjan was relieved when we pulled into a residential area where the roads were so narrow that could not be any speeding.
We parked in the street and walked a short distance up the road, and as we approached the gate to the yard we were greeted by Maria Ferenc, who had come running from the house to meet us. Maria excitedly invited us into our home and we sat down in her dining room where she offered us tea and cookies. Lucjan spoke at length with Maria and after a few minutes explained to us the relationship Maria had to Jozef Molčan. Maria’s father was Andrew Molčan (b. abt. 1906). Andrew and Jozef (b. abt. 1904) were brothers. According to Maria (b. 24 March 1940) Jozef and Anna Galata Molčan had a son Jozef, who died young, and a daughter Anna (b. abt 1940). Unfortunately, Maria did not remember Anna’s married name.
Maria went on to say that after World War II Jozef and Anna Molčan had moved to Slovenské Nové Mesto near the border of Hungary. We then imagined that Borbála Jaczko Galata might have moved to Slovenské Nové Mesto to live with her daughter Anna. That would explain why we were unable to find any death record for Borbála the preceding day. Maria also told us that there was a female Molčan relative that lived in Canada whose married name was Konchak.
We visited with Maria for a while and then prepared to say our good-byes. Walter went out to the car to get two of the cloth bowl holders that I had made for gifts while Lucjan went to the bathroom. I noticed that there were counted cross-stitch pictures around the room and I pointed to one and tried to express how pretty it was and that I also cross-stitched. Immediately Maria tried to give me the picture, I thanked her over and over and hopefully expressed my thanks without taking it. Again, the generosity of the family that we were visiting was overwhelming. Walter returned with the fabric bowls and we gave them to Maria. Maria left the room for a minute and when she returned she had a crocheted angel which she handed to me. She had Lucjan explain that she liked to crochet to stay busy and that she made the angel to have around for a gift. I was surprised to see that the angel was embellished with a blue stone, which is my favorite color.
After many hugs and handshakes, we left Maria and headed into Prešov in search of dinner. We made a quick cruise on a main street of Prešov and were unable to locate somewhere that we could eat quickly, except for yet another pizza shop, Redbox pizza. Of course, I was keeping track, three meals, three pizzas, it was weeks after our return home before I could eat pizza! By this time Lucjan had a pounding headache, and I was worried, I am sure rightly so, that we were the cause of it. So, we opted to eat yet another meal of pizza. I was quite disappointed that Slovakia doesn’t seem to have fast-food halusky places!
We returned to the car for what would be out last trip of the day, back to Spišská Nová Ves where we
were to spend the night. By this time it was dark which afforded the opportunity to see Spišský hrad, Spiš Castle, lit up.
It really made me excited for the next day when we had planned on touring it with Sue. When we arrived in Spišská Nová Ves it was about 10:00 pm. The town, excluding what looked like cafés was closed for the day. Every empty parking lot, most of the street , and any green space was filled with disassembled carnival rides on the flat beds of semi-trucks. We were fortunate to find a spot to park within two blocks of our accommodations for that night, the Penzión Renesance. Walter and Lucjan walked down to address that Lucjan had and I strolled up and down the street within a block doing a little window shopping. I glanced down the street towards the way the guys had walked and could see them standing outside of building knocking on a door. After a few more minutes I looked their way again and noticed that they were still standing on the sidewalk, which I thought was a little curious. I wandered a little further down the street, away from both our SUV and where the guys were standing and then I noticed hanging from one of the darkened buildings a small brightly lit yellow sign, maybe 11 x 14 inches big with large red lettering “SEX SHOP”. I don’t know exactly what was being sold there, but it made me uncomfortable enough that I felt as if maybe I should begin walking in the direction of the guys.
As I started down the sidewalk I saw Walter walking toward me. When we met he told me that there had been no answer at the door of the Penzión Renesance. Fortunately, Lucjan had a telephone number and had made a call. Though the owner had gone home for the night he had answered the call and told Lucjan that he would meet him at the door, then he would accompany us to the parking lot. Within five minutes Lucjan came down the street with the owner and we all got back into the car. Thankfully the owner was with us as he guided us through a series of small back streets and alleyways to the tiny parking lot. I was so thankful when we backed into our parking spot as it meant that we would all could put our feet up and have the time to process all the day’s activities. The owner, in very broken English, directed us up a flight of stairs, along a second story walkway that was between two buildings and through a narrow door. When we entered the lobby of the Penzión I was impressed by how stylish and attractive it was. The bad news was that there was no elevator to our room, but after travelling in Europe it was something that had come to expect. The owner took us upstairs and showed us to our rooms, ours being a lovely room with a sitting area separate from the bedroom. We quickly said our good-nights and set our plans to meet around 8:30 the next morning for breakfast. After showering I noticed for the first time in Europe Kimberly/Clark labelled products. I made sure to send pictures of the Kimberly/Clark dispensers to Andy and Gerina, our son and daughter-in-law, as they both work for Kimberly/Clark and I thought they would be happy to see them. We made sure to upload our pictures from the day and then collapsed into our beds.