Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tatralandia Water Park Resort

Tatralandia in Liptovsky Mikulas
I began to panic. I waited at the bottom of the water slide for my son and he did not come out. I had slid first and he was supposed to be right behind me. As the seconds started to pass, I became more and more worried.

I ran to the top of the stairs to see if he was still there but he was gone. I ran back downstairs pushing against the people walking up the stairs and finally saw him standing in the wadding pool on bottom.

Apparently, his mat got stuck and he had to scoot all the way down the slide. It took a while for my heart to calm down but the slides ended up being the best part of the day.  

My family and I went to the largest year-round water park in Slovakia this last week, Tatralandia, and we had a great time (other than those couple of seconds of panic). I thought that my son would not get back on any slides after that. But we tried them all and he ended up wanting to slide all day.

He especially liked a slide called the "Tornado." You ride a two person raft and it shoots you out into a funnel and then slowly slings you around and around until you drop out the bottom. My legs hurt at the end of the day from climbing the stairs to ride the "Tornado" with him so much.

The Tornado Water Slide

Tatralandia is located in Liptovsky Mikulas surrounded by the High Tatras (the largest mountain range in Slovakia). The pools are heated year-round and you can swim in the pools while there is snow just several feet from you. The snow was gone when we got there but you can still see the snow on the mountain tops surrounding the pools.

One of the outside pools with snow on the mountain tops

My daughter is just learning how to swim and usually does not like water parks for too long. But she is gaining confidence with her swimming and stayed in the pools for almost eight hours straight! She is now diving under the water which is a big deal when last year she was scared to get her face wet.
My daughter loved the kid pool

Starting to swim like a mermaid

Tatralandia has 14 pools (10 that are open year-round) with salt water and thermal water. The water is supposed to have healing effects on your body and respiratory system. My wife loved the thermal hot spring water.  

The warm indoor pools. Some had salt water.
This was the off-season so there were not very many people in the park. In the morning, a bus load of students from Poland arrived and were a little rowdy. One group of young boys tried to break in line for the rides so I decided to have fun messing with them by yelling at them in English.  

It is fun speaking very quick English to the kids as they just stare at you and get really quiet. Now, if only my own kids would get quiet when I talked to them in English!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Slovak Easter Traditions...Whips and Water

How do you make sure that the women in your country remain young, fit, and beautiful all year round?  Apparently, in Slovakia you whip them with a small stick and pour cold water on them.  

I love the culture of Slovakia and find many of its customs interesting and fun.  But this one is a little unusual even for me.

On the Monday after Easter, men try to catch women to whip them with a small willow branch (named a "korbáč" in Slovak) decorated with ribbons.  The men use the whips to hit the women on the legs when they catch them.   

But the fun doesn't stop there, the men are also obliged in some parts of Slovakia to pour cold water on the women or even throw the women in a stream.

And after all this, what do the men finally get?  A slap on the face?  A trip to the local jail?  No, the women will then give them a decorated egg (or chocolate egg for a young boy) or alcohol for the adults.

The Slovak Spectator writes in one article:

“Pouring with ice-cold water belongs to pre-Christian habits,” Nádaská explains. “We know, for example, that all Slavonic tribes used to keep this habit. Water from a brook or a river was always considered “water of life”, i.e. that various positive features were attributed to it. In Slovak fairy tales, this water was even able to bring people and other creatures back to life, and this Easter tradition is based on “magic of the similar”; which means that the cold water from a brook or river, when used by a boy or man to pour over a girl, passes on its good features when touching the skin. Thus, women were believed to be made fit, rejuvenated, nimble, beautiful – all characteristics women needed in their lives.”...

Whipping is a similar case, she added. Young willow osiers were always used in western Slovakia to make the special whip, or korbáč. Willow is the first tree to get fresh new “sap of life” in the spring, and in the same way as the water, the good features of the young osiers were meant to transmit to the body of a girl or woman.  

So watch out ladies. I have my stick and cup of cold water ready for you.  But then again I am a little slow and you could probably out run me.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Slovakia Just Voted a Fascists in Its Parliament

Members of the People's Party Our Slovakia group, led by Marian Kotleba (pictured), wear black uniforms reminiscent of Nazi-era collaborators. Photo: Reuters

On March 5th, Slovakia held elections and voted a fascists party into its parliament. According to Foreign Policy magazine:
For the first time in the country’s post-socialist history, an anti-minority party with openly neo-fascist links, People’s Party-Our Slovakia, received 8 percent of the vote to gain 14 of the 150 seats in parliament. Even close observers of Eastern European politics (a rather small group) did not expect such a strong showing for the party led by Marian Kotleba, who has proudly donned the uniform of the country’s wartime fascists and has referred to Roma citizens as “gypsy parasites.” Instead, the experts had expected big gains for the established far-right party, the Slovak National Party (SNS), which has been trying to capitalize on Europe’s refugee crisis by indulging in xenophobic rhetoric. It seems, however, that many voters preferred the more extreme version on offer.

The magazine goes on to say:
 The elections in Slovakia are not just a one-off. Rather, they are emblematic of a broader trend: the far right’s growing appeal in Europe’s youngest and most vulnerable democracies.
On Monday, after it had become known that a fascist party had won seats in parliament, the first public demonstration took place in Bratislava.  Over a thousand people walked through the streets in silent protest of the fascist party and what they stand for.

Bratislava Protest March (Source: TASR)

The Slovak Spectator, an English newspaper in Slovakia, writes:

But repairing the damage these elections have done to Slovakia’s fragile democracy will take more than marching in Bratislava’s most privileged neighbourhood. It will take a long-term, nationwide campaign against extremism that visits schools, dominates media and resonates on social networks. It will require the vocal participation of many disparate groups, from sexual minorities to the church, from Roma to Muslims to Jews to mainstream Slovaks, from Holocaust survivors to the children of anti-communist dissidents. And in the end it will take many times more than a thousand people, because the true target of this protest is not Kotleba’s rabble, but the bitter, hopeless, cynical people who elected them.

The Slovak Spectator writes in another article:

Available data shows that many of voters of Kotleba’s party are young people who have never exercised their right to vote before, manual labourers and former voters of Smer party which have been at the helm of government for eight of ten past years. Just 8 percent of Kotleba’s voters said they backed the ĽSNS because of the migration crisis.
“Kotleba’s party in parliament is result of chronic social and economic insecurity, lack of perspectives and chronic lack of integrating values in our society,” Zuzana Kusá, a sociologist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences told The Slovak Spectator. “This situation has no simple or quick solution.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Taste of America: Cornbread Recipe

When I was young, my dad used to put cornbread in a glass of butter milk and eat it with a spoon. And though I don't like butter milk, I used to love it when he did that because it meant I got to eat the rest of the cornbread.

I've been missing cornbread while living in Slovakia but I just recently discovered corn meal in one of the local grocery stores and decided to make it from scratch. (Here is the recipe from Betty Crocker)

It ended up pretty good.  My kids were excited and my son even helped to make it.  My wife had to keep telling them to eat the rest of the meal as they only wanted to eat the cornbread.

There's nothing like a little taste of home. So, here's a piece of cornbread in your honor dad!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

How to vote when you live overseas

The American government bureaucracy is known to be confusing at times, but I just voted in South Carolina's presidential primary (my home state) and it was very easy...even while living thousands of miles away.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) ensures that military personnel and other citizens living overseas are able to vote.  You can visit the official FVAP website and they will walk you through how to contact your state to easily register and receive your absentee ballot.  In most cases, you are able to receive your ballot and vote electronically.

When I completed the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and emailed it to my local county clerks office (as directed step-by-step on the FVAP website), they emailed my ballot the next day and I was able to return it right away.

As you get ready to vote, you will need to make sure you vote within the allowed dates as shown in the South Carolina example below:

Even though I do not currently live in the United States, I still pay close attention to politics and want to make sure I continue to hold my leaders accountable.  One day, I will probably move back and I will be proud to say that I continued to vote even while living overseas.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Slovakia: No Separation of Church and State

Last week, I had a great conversation with a pastor of a smaller denomination here in Slovakia.  It was exciting to see his passion for Christ and the Slovak people.  It was especially interesting to hear about the barriers that a smaller denomination has in Slovakia.

In Slovakia, the separation of church and state is much different than in the United States. The state financially supports the churches based on reported membership and also requires students to either take a religion class (Catholic or Lutheran) or an ethic class (for those that do not want their children taught religion in school).

Below is an interesting chart of the top churches in Slovakia in terms of membership and the state support they received in 2014.

The first column is the church name, followed by the number of members, number of pastors/priests and the amount of state support they received in 2014.

The top five churches in terms of membership are: Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed Christian and Orthodox.  As you can see, the majority of Slovaks are Catholic and the state gave the Roman Catholic church more than $22 million euros in that year (a large amount for such a small country).

As I understand it, these payments are partially designed to make up for the property confiscated from the churches during the communist era.  However, according to a study done in 2014, a majority of Slovaks support changes to the state support of churches.

Our tax accountant is working on our taxes now and this will be my first year paying Slovak taxes.  It will be interesting to see the amount of tax we will pay and how much this goes to support the various churches here in Slovakia.  I would much prefer to have my taxes lowered and instead give this additional amount to the church or charity that I prefer to support.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Slovak with a Southern Accent

The English language is both beautiful and extremely complex at the same time.  I have had the privilege of teaching English as a foreign language to some great students (both adults and children) this year. It is great to see them excited about learning English and challenging to make learning fun and interesting.

I am reminded how confusing the English language can be when preparing their lessons.  For example, we say "I ride in a car" but "I ride on a bus."  We work "in a factory" but "on a farm."  We live "on a mountain" but "in the mountains."

There are logical reasons for why we say these things and the challenge is to recognize the confusing parts of the language and be able to explain them to the students.

I know first-hand how frustrating and hard it is to study a foreign language as I try to learn Slovak.  I can feel very good about myself while I am studying my textbook, but when I go to try to speak to someone, I don't understand half of what is said.  That can be discouraging, but it is part of the learning process with any new language.

You can take for granted being able to communicate with those around you when you speak the same language.  I miss being able to talk and getting to know people more closely because of the language barrier and this is motivation for me to continue studying.

A good friend of mine, that has since passed away, was a missionary in Brazil for 30 years. He slowly learned Portuguese and spoke it fluently after not too long of a time.  He said that sometimes he would even forget some English words when he came back to the States to visit. He told a story about trying to talk to a man in America on one return trip that did not understand him.  My friend got more and more frustrated at the man until he realized that he was speaking Portuguese and not English.

So for my US friends, if you don't understand me the next time I speak with you.  Either it is just my normal Southern accent.  Or maybe I will be speaking Slovak to you.

Cau and dovidenia!