Easy Listening

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
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Trip End Aug 26, 2010


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Flag of Slovakia  , Košický,
Friday, August 13, 2010

This morning I awoke to a thunderstorm and a downpour. I had been planning on visiting a nearby hilltop castle, but decided I would save that for a less rainy day. I didn't really have any big museum or indoor days left on my agenda, so I decided to head to the biggest city I had planned to visit, Košice, without really a strong reason for making this decision, other than I thought I might be able to find a movie theater there if the rain continued.

Košice sat in the southeast of Slovakia. When I visited, it was Slovakia's second most populous city, and it was an important town even during Hungarian rule when it was known as Kassa. When Eger fell to the Ottomans, the archbishop moved north to Košice. Košice's cathedral was the easternmost extant Gothic church and contained the grave of Hungarian rebel against the Hapsburgs, Francis II Rákóczi (or Ferenc II in my Hungarian entries).

My first stop in Košice was the main square, specifically something my guidebook called "the Musical Fountain". What do you think it was? I had envisioned something like the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia, where the movement of the water caused the pipes to play music. I was not on the right track.

When I arrived in town, I found the fountain without using a map. I was drawn to the correct area because I heard an instrumental version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" playing somewhere in the main square. The Musical Fountain was actually just a standard (if large) fountain with mellowed-out versions of easy-listening tunes playing from nearby speakers. I couldn't detect any synchronization between the two apart from the fountain going very low between songs.

So, that sounds totally cheezy, and it was, but I really enjoyed it. The reason for that was I had started the day kind of bummed out. It was raining again. While the rain had stopped by the time I got to Košice, it was still overcast, so I was thinking about all the terrible pictures I'd take. I sat at the fountain for probably around five songs. As I sat, my mood gradually improved and the sky began to clear. By the time "Dreams Can Come True" had motivated me to get out of my funk and wander around the square, the sun was out and the clouds were gone.

Apart from the Gothic cathedral, there were a handful of other interesting buildings and a few museums that my guidebook said were less interesting. One museum I did go into was the Archeology Complex. Located under the main square, it gave you access to the buried remains of older versions of the city. Walking through the corridors, it was hard to imagine that what was now a basement had once been ground level, but many European cities had gradually risen over time as they built on top of what was there, rather than attempting to tear it out.

My other big stop was inadvertent. I ducked into the Church of the Holy Trinity, intending just to take a peak. There was a sign in Slovakian about paying, so I asked if I needed a ticket. The woman said, no unless I'd like for her to explain some about the church. She seemed so eager that I said yes. The result was a half-hour explanation of the church's history, murals, and altars.

The unassuming church had quite a turbulent history. There was so much information, I couldn't hope to remember it all. I remember it was originally a monastery, or part of a monastery, and three monks sent to renew Catholicism in the town were killed in the building by Calvinists. The three were important martyrs for Hungarian Catholics. The church had a strong association with Hungary and a Hungarian mass was still given in addition to a mass in Slovakian. I didn't ask the woman if she was ethnically Hungarian, in case that was a sensitive subject, but I did notice her speaking Hungarian to a woman who was leaving as I entered, and my guide said she could speak Hungarian as well as English and Slovakian.

The church, or similar buildings on the same site had been severely damaged or destroyed several times over the years. Sometimes the damage was intentional. Sometimes it was just from a lack of interest, like when an occupying army used it for grain storage, which attracted vermin that also munched on paintings in the church. Sometimes it was natural, like when a strong storm blew over the steeples.

By the time my parking meter expired, it was the late afternoon. Although the weather was now beautiful, earlier in the day I had gotten my mind set on seeing a movie, so I kept my eyes open for a theater on the way back to my hotel.

The first one I went to didn't have any interesting movies starting around the time I was there. Slovakia didn't have the big megaplexes like were found in the US. They usually showed quite a few titles, but the movies shared screens so each individual movie ended up with only a couple of showings a day. The "big" theater in Košice was only seven screens, and I couldn't find that one on a map anywhere. The theater I did find had only four screens.

I left Košice, convinced I wasn't going to actually see a movie. However, I had some trouble navigating around the city of Prešov, which lay between Košice and my hotel. I don't think I could find it again if I tried, but I ended up next to a mall with a "Cinemax" logo on the outside. I went in and found two movies about to start: a kids movie I've already forgotten the title of, probably the one with the cat and dog spies, and Salt, so I chose the latter.

Buying the ticket was very easy because the agent spoke fluent English. She even helped me pick-out a seat because movies in Slovakia used reserved seats. Buying popcorn, since I'd skipped lunch, was more difficult. I wanted a medium popcorn, and the display showing the available popcorn sizes said "Medium" in English. I told the person working behind the counter "Medium" and she started making a "Mini". I was able to get her to make a medium as well with additional pointing and frowning, but I'm pretty sure I ended up paying for both bags. It was still only four euros, including a drink, so it was okay. I couldn't figure out how to get butter (or canola oil) on the popcorn either, and I'm not sure they even had that there, as the popcorn already had a light dusting of artificial butter flavoring.

The theater was pretty empty for a Friday afternoon. Waiting for the movie to start, I had a brief moment of concern that it might turn out to be dubbed instead of subtitled, but the dialog was in English. I only had problems in the sections where they were speaking Russian because the Slovakian subtitles overwrote the English subtitles. I still managed to make out enough of those parts to follow the plot. I couldn't help thinking what are the odds that a real-life Russian spy ring of sleeper agents sent to infiltrate the US over a period of decades was broken up just before a movie about a Russian spy ring of sleeper agents sent to infiltrate the US over a period of decades was released? Of course, in the movie the agents are totally awesome kung-fu ninja super spies, but in real life they were totally lame suburbanite pencil pushers. It's probably best for real life they were the latter.

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