New Stories for a New Year

Hello everyone! I bet you thought I’d given up on my blog, hehe. But I promise I haven’t, and I’m planning on being back on schedule with my posts now that the Holidays are over. Contrary to the title of this post, I am actually starting this post off from before Christmas where I left off- but it’ll span the whole holiday season- and hopefully not be essay length like last time!

Happy Reading!

The second week of December post-Rotary-weekend in Vienna (which I was still reeling in awe from), was somehow even more hectic than the last, but nevertheless exciting and fulfilling. I started off the week giving presentations about Canada to 10 different classes for a whole school day, in a small village outside of Banská (sorry, I don’t have pictures 😦 ). As always, I was more than happy to talk about my country, so a full day went by in a heartbeat. 

The next day I was extremely lucky to be able to welcome one of my best friends from Canada, Hannah, and her brother Alex to Banská Bystrica. They were taking a tour of Europe following her finishing Bible school in Austria, and just so happened to pass through Slovakia on their way from Poland for a visit. It was so great to see some familiar faces, and I gladly acted as tour guide for the day they were here, showing them around the best places in Banská Bystrica, teaching them a couple Slovak words, and introducing them to Kofola, Halušký, and Vyprážaný syr. We explored the town square, city park, took a tour of the SNP museum, and went to the theatre in the evening to watch a movie. The next day I sent them off at the train station on their way to Italy. I was sad to see them go, but I knew the next 6 months would fly by (they have so far!) and I will see them again in no time. Thanks for the visit!

And then, after an exciting 4 months in Slovakia with my first host family, on December 15th the time came to switch over to my next home. I was really sad to leave my first family- the Stankos- but I was eternally grateful for the time I had with them, and was/am looking forward to new experiences in my second family.

The last time I saw this view from my window

Thank you for everything 🙂

So after saying goodbye, I packed up and moved into my second house, with my second host family- Marián (my YEO) and Maria Benka. A couple details about them- They live in the small village of Ľubietová about 20 minutes outside of BB, so I’m back in more of a rural atmosphere. Their youngest daughter is currently on exchange in BC, Canada, and they have an older son- Matej- who is going to school in a different city in Slovakia, but usually comes home on the weekends. So I will have a host sibling, at least for some of the time. They also have some outside cats, which needless to say I was overjoyed to discover. Below you’ll find some pictures of my new home 🙂

(Also- as a note: only 4 months into exchange and I already have way too much stuff to take back on the plane. Oops.

View from new bedroom window

A common sighting on village streets in Slovakia

I had some more great early Christmas experiences that same week after moving. To start off, my piano teacher invited me to a Christmas concert in the cathedral in the square, which is very popular in BB since they don’t often open the cathedral for any other performances. I was lucky enough to snag a seat before the cathedral was packed full, and the concert was absolutely gorgeous- hearing choirs singing from the balcony and echoing through the church was magical.

Only the next day, my host parents surprised me with a day trip to Vienna. (I know, just a casual day trip, right? I was as shocked as well). Apparently, my host mother is taking a really high level German language degree right now, and as a result she has to go to Vienna every two weeks (for two weeks at a time) to study. So we had to make the trip anyways, and they decided we would make it a sort of early Christmas present for me. Vienna was even more beautiful the third time, and we were able to explore more during the night when the lights and colours of Christmas were all around. We explored more of the Christmas markets, ate Wiener Schnitzel (it was massive!), and explored the Mozarthaus, where Mozart composed many of his most famous works, and lived for 4 years. The words escape me to describe how cool that was. Later in the evening we basically just let ourselves get lost walking around Vienna, admiring all the gorgeous buildings and pop-up markets until it was time to go home. 3 times in, and Vienna still has not ceased to amaze me in new ways every time.

Inside the BB Cathedral for the X-mas concert

Driving into Austria- the view never gets old

Inside the mozarthaus!

My new host parents

Moving ever closer to Christmas, school ended on the 19th, meaning we were home free for almost a full month of winter holidays. To celebrate, the exchange students all came over, and we spent the evening exchanging gifts, dancing to Christmas music, and- most importantly- baking Christmas goodies. My mom sent me some of my favourite recipes from home, and though we had to improvise a bit, they ended up turning out really well! And they were gone within the next 48 hours, haha. We made shortbread cookies, coconut Christmas cake, and special chocolate layered toffee which, dare I say might’ve even turned out better than my mom’s! But of course, she had to help me understand some of the recipe, so this might not be as big of an accomplishment for myself as I’d like to think it is, hehe.

And then- Christmas! In Slovakia, it’s celebrated on the 24th, not the 25th, so we headed to Prešov (where Marian’s family lives) the day before to start the preparations. The atmosphere for Christmas is very much similar to Canada, though the traditions and food may be different. Mostly the day is about being together with family and being thankful for everything you have been given in the year. I had a lot to be thankful for, that’s for sure! The big event of Christmas Day was undoubtedly the supper, which in Slovakia is pretty interesting. We started off with traditional Christmas wafers, with a cross of honey dribbled on top and a full clove of garlic to wash it down! My host father also painted a cross on me and my host brother’s foreheads with honey, which I’m still not sure was entirely tradition but perhaps my host father being funny, haha. After the wafers we had cabbage soup with klobasa sausage and mushrooms- definitely my favourite course of the meal! Following that it was fried carp, potato salad, and baked sturgeon. The old tradition (still practiced some places today) in Slovakia was to buy the carp a few days beforehand and keep it in the bathtub- sort of like a pet- before killing and eating it on Christmas Day. Much to my relief, the bathtub was empty when we showed up on Christmas Eve (yes- I actually checked) and the carp instead came from a store.

Despite already being stuffed (we didn’t quite follow the tradition of fasting the entire day beforehand- too many cookies and cakes lying around, lol), we ate dessert which consisted of poppyseed dumplings and tea, and finished off with more mini cakes and cookies afterwards. I think it goes without saying that I gained a bit of ‘exchange padding’ after this day, haha.

My host grandmother’s Pre-supper video. The only sort of group photo I got from our meal (sorry mom!).

Christmas wafer + honey and garlic

Cabbage soup!

The main course/s

Poppyseed dumplings

Continuing with tradition, after supper we headed to the living room to open gifts. Since I was the youngest it was my job to dole out all the presents under the tree before we started opening them. I gave my host father the Canadian oven mitts and apron I had reserved for Christmas gifts, and in exchange I received a new jacket and gloves with BB’s hockey team logo on it from him and my Rotary club- since me and the other exchange students frequently go to hockey games on the weekends. I wasn’t expecting any gifts so this was a really nice surprise- I have been wearing the coat a ton ever since! Also a highlight was opening the cards and box of Canadian snacks my family sent from back home, as well as a hand painted picture of our farm back home that my sister sent. I really missed my family and the craziness that I’m sure ensued over Christmas, but little things like that made them feel just as close even though I’m halfway across the world. At the same time, I could not ask for anything more exciting than to experience a completely different Christmas in a new family and culture.

That night, I went to a catholic midnight mass service with my host father, as he goes every year and I thought it would be good to take in one more family tradition- despite being really full of food and wanting to sleep, haha. It ended up being really nice, and I was glad to get to experience something else I had never done before.

December 25th was mostly a day to relax, eat more food, and spend time at home, so I don’t have any new photos or stories from this day. However, on the 26th we had digested enough of the food to get ourselves up and out of the house, and went to explore a nearby castle. We hiked for about an hour to Sarišský Hrad, then spent a few more hours exploring the castle complex and ruins, and taking photos. My host father explained that when he was younger, he would come here with his friends to ‘hang out’ and play on the castle ruins. This was before the castle began undergoing restoration some 25 years ago. It was really interesting to think that even though this castle has been here for hundreds of years, it was only a couple decades ago it’s significance was really noticed and reconstruction began.

And that marked the end of Christmas! We headed home the next day, and much of the next week was spent relaxing, spending time with friends and the other exchange students, and of course- sleeping.

However, near the end of December we went to the mountains for skiing for the first of many times. My host family lives only a 45 minute drive from Jasná-Chopok, the biggest ski resort in Slovakia and one of the biggest in Central Europe. It’s located in the Low Tatras but has gorgeous views of the High Tatras- on a clear day you can see practically halfway across Slovakia from the top of the mountain.

My host family normally goes every weekend skiing during the winter, but since we were on vacation it meant we had plenty of time to go more than once in a week. We ended up going 5 times between the 29th of December and the 12th of January, meaning I had plenty of time to start learning how to properly ski on mountains. I’m still not even close to proficient, but every day I’m learning and getting a bit better. And even though I’m falling a lot, I’m still having a lot of fun!

Between days of skiing, we celebrated the end of the year, and the start of a new decade! New Years was pretty laid back, spent at home relaxing and doing a bit of house cleaning. I actually didn’t mind this, especially since my legs were at that time pretty dead from so much skiing. In the evening, though, we had a really nice New Years supper with Sam and our Rotary Club president, who we had invited over. After a quick tutorial from Marián, I actually did most of the cooking for this meal (Wiener Schnitzel!) which was pretty cool.

I think I’m starting to take after my parents, because despite my best efforts I was in bed on New Year’s Eve before 11 PM, haha. I still woke up at midnight though, as almost every house within a 5km radius of us began shooting off fireworks. It was really cool but also a bit unnerving, as some of the fireworks were going off alarmingly close to our (and others’) house/s. We finished watching the fireworks, made a toast to the new year, then headed back to sleep. Bye Bye, 2019!

And that’s a wrap- almost! I think this is a good place to end this post since another dozen things have happened since New Years and it would take way too long to write about them. However- I do want to highlight a couple more new/favourite foods I’ve forgot to mention that I had during the Christmas season, since by this point you know I eat a lot of it, and enjoy talking about it 😉 My second host father also happens to be an excellent cook and is continually teaching me/letting me help make meals with him. I really look forward to it every day, especially since we make a lot of Slovak foods I wouldn’t normally be exposed to or learn how to make. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be able to bring some recipes back to Canada!

1. Krupica- A simple and sweet dish made with milk, sugar, butter, corn meal, flour, and topped with cinnamon and vanilla sugar.

2.Šúľance- Special long boiled dumplings, topped with nuts, poppyseed, butter, and ground sweetbread/biscuits.

3.Žemlovka-(previous 2 pics). Probably my favourite sweet meal in Slovakia so far. This is actually made by cooking a bunch of bread that’s gone stale in egg whites, and layering it with apples, cinnamon, tvaroh (like dried cottage cheese curds), raisins, and topped with merengue and blueberry syrup.

4. Plnený Langoš- A traditional fried potato-dough pancake, filled with- you guessed it- garlic sauce.

5-Koláčik! Though gingerbread are also very popular, these small assorted cakes are the equivalent of Christmas cookies here in Slovakia. These are also the culprits for the ‘exchange padding’ I was mentioning earlier.

Ok- now I’m done talking 🙂

Hope everyone had a great Christmas season, and that the new year is off to a productive, safe, and enjoyable start for everyone near and far. See you next time!

~Graydon

3 thoughts on “New Stories for a New Year

  1. I was waiting waiting waiting for your next post hee hee. It still all sounds so wonderful Graydon…all the new things you are experiencing. The photos from your skiing are super and I can’t imagine being up there in all that beauty skiing. We will have to have you cook us a meal when you return…Uncle Royce would love the Wiener schnitzel!

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  2. What a wonderful year so far Graydon and a fabulous start to 2020. I love reading about all your experiences!! Your mom shared her birthday video of your piano piece….absolutely amazing. You are so talented. Here’s to 2020 and more of your blogs

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