Somewhere in Eastern Europe – Part One

By Miranda Metheny

We had the name of the town where we were staying that night, and not much else.

No phrasebook, no vehicle and no real idea of how we were going to get from Krakow, Poland to Poprad, Slovakia. Based on some Internet hearsay, we headed south to the winter resort of Zakopane, where there would supposedly be a bus line for Poprad…

We turned the camera off when the driver stopped the bus and gestured to us. “Łysa Polana!” he said. As far as we could tell, this was our stop.

We grabbed our bags, hopped out and watched the bus drive away, leaving us in the middle of nowhere. Pine covered mountains rose all around us, disappearing and reappearing in the rain and the fog. The only sound was the rush of a nearby stream.

I guess this is what they call "off the beaten track".

We stood around for about fifteen minutes, hoping a bus would show up. Or someone who spoke English or German. Or really, anyone or anything at all. But nothing did. We had gotten ourselves into this mess, and now we had to find a way out of it. We thought back to what they had tried to tell us, back in Zakopane. So, we’d reached Łysa Polana at least… we were halfway there. After that, the man had made a walking gesture with his fingers…

We looked doubtfully down the road, paved with a sort of gravelly asphalt soaked black with rain. It didn’t look like a well stocked and staffed bus station was waiting for us around the bend, but we didn’t have any better ideas. We started walking.

Full Disclosure: It wasn't very far.

And we walked all the way across the Slovakian border.

In Slovakia, there was a little roadside cafe and a man leaning against a little minibus, with a sign in the window that said “Poprad.” We negotiated a price with him in German, headed off and suddenly everything seemed easy again!

By the time we finally arrived in Poprad, part of me wanted nothing more than to curl up in the hostel bed and sleep… to be, for a few hours at least, in one piece and in one place. But every hour is precious when you’re on the road, and giving in to exhaustion (mental, physical, emotional or all three) just isn’t my style. We locked up our stuff and pushed on, to the historical town of Levoča, where we were greeted by rain so hard it rendered our umbrellas useless. We took refuge under the porch of the old town hall and in St. James’ church, only partly caring that we were looking at the highest wooden altarpiece in Europe.

And then it was dinner time, and if I’d known what was waiting for me all day, I wouldn’t have complained about buses or rain. First, thinking to save money, we thought about going to the snack-bar looking place across the plaza — at least it was in out of the rain. The other restaurant we could see looked fancy and we were sure it would be out of our price range, but we looked at the menu anyway.

“Um,” I said, looking at fifty cent appetizers and three euro main courses, “I kind of think we can afford this.” Gleefully, we ordered like queens and ate like pigs. We each ordered a drink, a soup, an entree, a side dish and a dessert. I ordered the oddly named “Cheese Barbecue”, a vegetarian dish of grilled Slovakian cheeses and mushrooms and fried dough. It was fantastic, but what stole the evening was my humble side dish of potatoes.

These potatoes are seriously in the running for the best food I ate the entire year in Europe, counting Spanish churros, Italian pasta, Basque pintxos, whatever...

I don’t know what possessed me to order them. I don’t even like potatoes very much. But they were so impossibly delicious, hitting every taste bud with just the right note, very much potatoes but simultaneously so much more than I ever dreamed potatoes could be. I ended up neglecting the rest of my food in order to savor every last one.

In and I floated out of the restaurant on a cloud of cheese, mushrooms and salted butter. There was still some light in the summer sky, and the rain had finally stopped. With a last burst of energy, we wandered the streets of Levoča until sunset.

We were a little nervous when it came time to catch a bus back home, but we were getting better at the game. We’d learned that patience could take us farther than fretting over inaccurate printed bus schedules, and after about forty-five minutes of waiting at the station, a bus arrived to take us home. A mix of exhaustion and deep satisfaction hit us as we rode towards Poprad through the deepening dusk, as the lights of little villages lit up in the hills and mists that rose around us. Here I was in a country I’d barely even known existed, a place I’d never imagined, but what felt unreal in that moment wasn’t the world around me but myself, the little Missouri girl so far from home.

Continue to Part Two

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