We head west, via Slovakia
Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
26Trip End Oct 27, 2011
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More on retrospective tourism later; first we have to get out of Ukraine.
Because the crossing between Hungary and Ukraine had been so fraught, and because of the fear of lurking police, we decided to skedaddle to Slovakia
As it turned out, this new border crossing was even more daunting than the one on the way in. We twiddled our collective eight thumbs for over 3 ˝ hours before we were finally set free in Slovakia. Though there was lots of interesting but seemingly random guard activity on the Ukrainian side (see photos), the main delay wasn’t getting out of Ukraine, but getting into Slovakia. Each of the cars in the queue was thoroughly searched, presumably with an eye for cheap Ukrainian cigarettes and vodka for which EU residents would be willing to pay big bucks.
But we finally did emerge in Slovakia, back in the ol’ EU. The roads were certainly better than in Ukraine, but the grim post-Soviet patina hadn’t quite been erased. There were plenty of grim gray concrete buildings. And decaying infrastructure galore--we passed many apartment buildings that looked like they’d been uninhabitable for years
Soon it was time for lunch. We pulled off the highway at the first city of any size we came to: Michalovce, population ~40,000. Only later, through the magic of retrospective tourism, did I learn that it had been part of Hungary until the end of WW I, when the Treaty of Trianon ceded it to Czechoslovakia. At that time about a third of the population was Jewish. They were virtually all exterminated in the camps in 1944.
We parked, and Annie’s radar led us in the direction of the town square. We passed a bar and café with graphics that appealed to me. Being timid, I encouraged the others to go in and ask for a restaurant recommendation. The lovely bar tender, who was fluent in German, immediately pointed us down the street to U Švejka, a restaurant named after the protagonist of the novel, The Good Soldier Švejk (or, Schweik)
We walked up a creaky staircase to the restaurant. The dark wood interior was encrusted with drawings and sculptures of Švejk. Naturally, we posed with the good soldier (see photo). The waiter spoke good English and the menu was astounding--chock full of not only Slovakian favorites, but pasta and vegetarian options. Even tofu had found its way to U Švejka! Maybe the presence of tofu on the menu should be a measure of how far a country has come from the grip of old Soviet times.
So everyone got something to their taste—Manfred had his chicken schnitzel, Carole a lovely tofu dish, Annie some luscious potato dumplings, and I had fried cheese with salad. All were delicious. And of course the beer was Pilsner Urquell (see photo), the Czech beer that, by the way, is “the world’s first pilsner.”
After lunch, which was so cheap that we were very happy to tip about 50%, we continued our journey to the southwest, towards Hungary
Now, with retrospective tourism (involving more than the usual amount of on-line detective work), I know that this site commemorated the horrific battle of Dargov Pass, which took place between December 1944 and January 1945, perhaps soon after the Kleins of Shalanki had perished in the camps. The Russian and Slovak armies joined to repel the Nazi forces moving to the east. It was a vicious battle, with somewhere between 20,000 and 80,000 casualties! Now it’s memorialized only by a slowly decaying sculpture far across the highway, two rusty tanks, and a few piles of trash.
On a much less momentous scale, I think of how epic events in our lives also fade into obscurity with the passage of time.