John headed out this morning ready to take on his first day.
It dawned on me that I really can’t imagine doing my job in another country. I don’t know that I really understood how much the nuance matters – how to find your classroom, plug in your computer with a converter (I may have seen a spark one time when I plugged in his computer), and manage a room of students who will learn in their second language at the graduate level.
I give John a lot of credit for hardly showing any anxiety about all of this (likely how I missed that today was a big deal). All of this is to say- it was a great first day. He has no funny stories to share because it was smooth sailing.
John and Ryan are the two McCarthys who have hit the “smile for a pic” wall so there is no first day of school pic. All of us were so grateful for a great day for him. We are also appreciative of how hard he works and how little attention he calls to himself.
That being said, I was back to my very mediocre job of attempting to further learning at home. I also spent quite a while trying to create a mediocre but requested lasagna.
Our friends are back from Prague so we met up by the river at a park to run off some energy.
The big girls missed each other soooo much so they headed off for a coffee together and we are so excited to host V’s first sleepover in Slovakia.
I took the boys to Ryan’s practice and coach allowed Joe to play because so many kids were missing due to the spring break for schools.
After practice, we had to pop in to say hi to our friend Maro, who has been so kind and inviting to the kids. Today, I asked for a pic. Joe is now a giant kebab fan too.
We started the day with the same schoolwork battle, cooking and cleaning. Ryan asked to explore Devín castle in the afternoon and since it was a beautiful day, we were all game. For just $2 Euro each, we had the privilege of climbing another giant hill to a castle.
So I’m not going to lie, these climbs are physically challenging but managing 7 year-old Joe McCarthy on the top proves to be the most challenging. He loves to run and jump and tackle his brother. This means I am hyper-vigilant to prevent him from his own self!
Slovaks seem to like their environments very warm! For instance, every time we are out, most kids are in full snowsuits. Inside, we are usually peeling clothes off and our American friends coined the term “Slovak hot.” You must be prepared for it at all times- on the train, in a restaurant, etc. Since my kids are not kids that get cold, they wear shorts out in 50 degree weather.
Again, Slovaks are generally shy but when the kids have been out in their shorts, Slovak women have commented to me in Slovak but quickly figuring out I wouldn’t understand and then delivering the question “where are their clothes?!”
There are so many things that remind me of my Slavic mom and grandma and this is definitely one of them!
We had a nice night. It is always nice when there isn’t school back home and the kids can connect- this kind of contact makes them especially happy.
I planned to end the blog here today. But I think this next picture is too funny. John finished up working and we headed to the grocery store together. I am now so much smarter and bring my backpack for groceries. When unpacking, I found the missing “pizza dog” from yesterday. Ryan’s eyes lit up and asked me to heat it up. I understand that many people would be horrified by this, but meat in bread sits out in bakeries all over the place and Ryan has completely embraced this food. So, I said to myself, “when in Slovakia…,” I heated it up and it made his night. 😆
This weekend was really nice. Yesterday I discovered some great access points to the river and a wonderful park to bring the kids to.
We first visited the Old Market which is only open on Saturdays. The food and atmosphere were so inviting.
The kids’ favorite food at the market was a pancake (similar to a crepe) with duck fat and garlic. That isn’t what is pictured above.
It was a beautiful day so after our bellies were full and the backpack filled with more food to take home, we took the tram to the place along the river I had found. We spent hours there. As we were leaving, we ran into the only History professor John knows at Comenius who was there with his family. He commented that Bratislava is really just a small town- the same thing we say about Pittsburgh!
We dropped the kids at home, settled them in for the night and headed out on a date. Kristen, my friend here, does a much better job of researching many things and she suggested a Georgian restaurant for dinner. Thankfully we arrived early because as the night unfolded, we saw so many people get turned away. The food was outstanding!
After dinner we walked around Old Town. It was a great night together and the kids also had fun.
We woke up with big plans for the day. We started out by finally seeing the inside of the blue church and attending mass in Slovak at V’s request.
Then we went right to the train station to catch a train to Senec, Slovakia. It is a little town not far from Bratislava that has a wellness spa and thermal pools. The round trip train tickets were $5 Euro! The train was superb- a double decker!
Senec is a sweet little town set upon a nice lake. It looks like the town comes to life in the warm weather.
We wanted to grab some food before swimming and found a delicious little Turkish deli. John has been looking for Börek- phyllo dough with meat or cheese- for a long time. We found it! And everyone loved it!
We made it to the Aquapark. It was perfect for us. It is also so bizarre to be swimming outside in the dead of winter.
One thing we are still getting used to is the fact that everyone is SO quiet here. The pools were filled with kids yet there was no screaming, no cannonballs or fights. We were obviously the only Americans just by the (normal) volume of the kids enjoyment.
There were two young women in their 20s dressed as pirates who led the kids in games and also were DJ’ng up some music. It was a thoroughly relaxing and fun afternoon.
I noticed one woman getting out of one of the pools holding a device above her head. Diabetics can easily spot one another in the wild. Since the Slovaks I have met tend to be very shy, I decided not to approach her. I was so happy that when I passed her husband, he pointed to my pump.
We all started chatting. She has two kids that were also enjoying the pool. She told me that her kids noticed mine right away and came up to her to say- “Mom, I think they are from America!”
She has had diabetes for 20 years and is the same age as me. She lives in Senec (population of about 14,000) and doesn’t know a single other person with diabetes except her own mom who was diagnosed after she was.
It was the first time since I left the US that I talked to someone else (in person) with diabetes. We very much enjoyed each other.
We recognized how lonely diabetes is and the experience did make me appreciate my peeps with beeps back home.
Our three hour pass was up and so I went to gather our stuff…
We had time to kill before the train left so we sought out some food. We stumbled upon another great park and this restaurant.
I ordered trout which was delicious.
We made the train home and are settled in for the night- ready to tackle a week of homeschooling and John’s first official week of teaching.
Next weekend, we will visit Uhersky Brod in the Czech Republic to see my family. I am so excited for the kids to meet their cousins!
February 13th, our neighbors and good friends celebrated the life of their daughter. It was a hard day to not be with them.
She loved the sun and so to commemorate her life, we decided to hike up as close to the sun as possible. There is a part of town called Koliba and it has a giant TV tower that can be seen from almost everywhere.
When we arrived, we assumed there was an observation deck. There is a hotel inside so we went to ask. The receptionist told us that the only option was getting a juice at the restaurant.
We coaxed Joe in the elevator (he’s declared he’s never going back) and made it up to the restaurant. We stepped off the elevator into a likely 4 or 5 star restaurant in our muddy shoes and backpack. The kids were immediately drawn to the windows and the server allowed us to have a table. A couple who looked like they were out for a fancy early Valentine’s Day meal moved away.
We headed back down spending time talking about our friends back home.
Earlier in the day, I had stopped into the butcher on our block. They were so sweet to me even though we faced the language barrier. I left with fresh ground beef and pork (and way more then I thought I was ordering;). I had made soup for us and the kids loved the meatballs. I will definitely be back.
I took Ryan to his basketball practice which I enjoyed watching. There wasn’t much English but LOTS of running and footwork drills.
The kids were tired. I think his job is to run them to exhaustion for their parents? It was awesome. They scrimmaged at the end and the boys love having Ryan- offering to exchange numbers and happy to have him on their team.
Outside the arena is a kebab stand where Joe and John had already made friends with the owners. They told us to stop in. It was delightful and I have a feeling we will be regulars. Maro explained to Ryan that he is a foreigner too and he knows what Ryan feels like. He joked with him and then made him the best gyro Ryan has had in his life. (This was a pre dinner snack).
We woke up yesterday to more school battles and requests (demands?) for Valentine’s Day treats. I promised a visit to a candy store we have walked by many times. We suffered through enough work and cleaned the house together.
Then the owner of our flat and realtor came over to visit. They were delightful. Most people here will only rent a minimum of a year so we were grateful that the owner made an exception for us. After that, the kids and I headed to Old Town while John went back to work.
The candy store was hilarious.
You just never know! The kids loved it.
We then met up with John at our friends’ favorite pizza shop so far.
It was delicious. John is so much embracing Slovak food that he had their version of Halusky instead of pizza.
We had some pretty great laughs about the idea of Joe and his Uncle Joe getting Mohawks together this summer. Uncle Joe had sent us some screen shots of texts confirming that Joe indeed has his heart set on a Mohawk.
Joe keeps us all laughing.
The walk home had John and Ryan talking a mile a minute about cities. V and Joe were in deep talking about Mohawks and V getting her hair highlighted (that would ONLY BE FAIR!)
I will remember this Valentine’s Day. It was a special one. Tonight John and I will go on our first date in Bratislava while V babysits.
Something is going on at home in the states about the brooms magically standing? I don’t know but I started out the morning planning to clean the floors and my broom kept getting swiped by the kids for magic tricks and pictures.
It summed up our day- we had minimal fighting about schoolwork, V helped me to do a big (4 bag) grocery shopping trip (I got smart and put 8 lbs of whole chickens wrapped in a plastic bag in my backpack), then we cooked and cleaned. I figured converting recipes in teaspoons/tablespoons to grams was a good (and tasty) math lesson?
I couldn’t pass up whatever this roll of deliciousness was at the grocery store…
After a day of mostly peace and harmony, John came home to take Joe to his basketball practice/meeting with the coach.
Unlike yesterday, Joe’s coach does not speak English. And John was also not welcome to stay for practice. Joe was still younger than the kids but it sounded like he was able to hang skill-wise.
He left practice happy! We asked if he understood anything they said and he shrugged and said, “nope!”
The parenting difference has become very apparent here. Children as young (and younger?) than Joe ride transit all the time unaccompanied. There are no parents to be found at any of these practices – there is hands down no hovering at all that we have witnessed.
We are able to laugh at our American selves as we attend all practices and peek through windows if not invited in.
On that note, this city is incredibly safe. The crime statistics are so low and generally I have never come close to feeling unsafe (except with a few Uber drivers fast maneuvering!).
I wanted to sweep up one more time before shutting down the kitchen lights tonight and literally just turned around to find the boys….
I’m pretty sure Joe had a shirt on at some point today? 🤔 #homeschooling
Today was a refreshing difference from yesterday. We woke up, cleaned and attended to some schoolwork from the US.
We were excited to meet our friends before they set off on an adventure to Prague. Ryan asked if we could see the Bratislava castle after all this time being here. Our friends were up for it.
As things go, this would include quite a hike up.
The inside was spectacular. It has a fantastic museum dedicated to the history of Slovakia and the castle itself.
Ryan found the stairs to the “crown tower.”
This will not be our last visit to the castle!
We said goodbye to our friends and are really excited to hear about their trip to Prague!
V was invited back to volleyball so she and I headed there. Again, she managed a practice with nearly no English so well. I still don’t know the details but she is so happy to be in the gym playing her favorite sport.
The boys were invited to come to meet with a coach today at Inter-Bratislava, the same complex where the professional basketball team plays. There was a practice going on and our boys folded right into the mix. The coach speaks English and was really friendly with John. V and I finished up and so we headed over to the practice.
They were playing a game with instructions in Slovak. John and I had no idea what was going on but the boys seemed to completely understand. They also were allllll smiles. Clearly they needed this. The Slovak boys were SO kind and welcoming to them. There were so many NBA jerseys which made them feel right at home. Joe will actually come back tomorrow to be with boys his age.
The rosters for these teams were submitted months ago, so they will be able to practice with the teams and play in many “friendly” games but not for the official games. We are all so happy that the boys will be in the gym running off energy and playing with other kids several days a week.
We noticed that the Inter professional team was warming up in the adjacent arena. The practice ended early so all the boys could go. We followed the stream of people and sat front row to watch. There were no tickets? We were just happy to be at a game!
V, Joe and I left to run back to the apartment to make dinner. We heard the final of the game was 112-29 for Inter. Everyone saw a lot of dunks! This will also not be our last visit to the arena for games.
This is something John and I have said to each other every time we question if this decision was best for our kids. Today there was plenty of discomfort!
The plan was for today to be a shadow day at school before they start their holiday. The morning brought tears and no one could find Joe as we were leaving for the bus.
We made it out the door and made it to the bus on time.
We made it to school and a very kind teacher, Ms. Tatiana was waiting for us along with Zuzana, our bilingual tutor.
There were more tears and sweet compassion from our school helpers. V departed from the group announcing that she was excited for the day. I didn’t see her again until the end of the day as girls were handing little notes to her with their phone numbers. ❤️. She asked to go back to school tomorrow.
Zuzana accompanied Ryan and I tried to check on him a few times. I know she did her best to help him as best as she could. The reality is that the Slovak language is incredibly difficult and today gave us a good idea of how to help the boys especially. At the end, Ryan did admit that it wasn’t as bad as he feared.
Joe asked me to not leave his side and we started the morning right off with Slovak language class.
Slovak class was….rough. One sweet boy offered two books to Joe (also in Slovak). It was clear that the children wanted to try to engage with him but he was very overwhelmed.
The next class was English class. Joe started to warm up. The teacher is American and I was so impressed with her. I was actually so impressed with the whole class. Joe answered some questions and did a little celebratory dance with correct answers. Things were starting to look up.
The next class was a verbal English class. The assignment was for the children to draw their dream house- no rules. Joe got right to it.
The teacher had some helpful vocabulary words on the board for their houses/sentences. With the addition of Joe to the class, there were new words added to the board. Just two examples are “death traps” (these are outside his dream/aka Bull Boy house) to kill villains. The second example is “work out gym” where one who lives in his house can work towards their “six pack.” There may have been a moment where I thought I would rather not attend class with him. 😆
The handwriting of these children is immaculate. The teacher rounded Joe’s table and frankly announced, “Joe- I just can’t read your writing. But, I love your creativity.”
At this point, Joe declared that he was actually enjoying himself. Phew!
In all, it was a difficult but not insurmountable day. All three declared they would rather just come back tomorrow to keep the ball rolling. Yet, we won’t return until February 24th.
During school, I received texts from our realtor and friend Lucia that the kids could meet the volleyball and basketball coaches tonight if we were willing. Everyone agreed that yes, we would keep this Slovak ball rolling.
V and I headed off to a gym to meet up with a potential volleyball team and coach. After figuring out how to enter the gym (these things usually aren’t easy), we entered and the coach immediately asked “Do you speak Slovak.” Ha. Here we go!
The coach and nearly all the girls don’t seem to speak much English. One very sweet girl took V under her wing and helped to translate as much as possible.
I was overwhelmed with pride today. V is still just learning the game of volleyball. Today she walked into a gym full of very talented teen volleyball players and made it through a practice with nearly no English spoken. I think at her age, I might have run off the court crying. Instead, I almost cried because of how proud I was of her sticking it out. At the end, the coach asked if we were coming back tomorrow and with a smile, V declared that we would be returning!
John took the boys to the prescribed gym and attempted some conversation with the basketball coaches who eventually got the message across that he should return tomorrow with the boys. That story is to be continued….
After a day of intense Slovak, we offered ice cream to the kids. They were overjoyed. We met up at a mall 1/3 of a mile from our apartment. The great, and also difficult, thing about malls here is that you can shop for things AND groceries. Which leads to bags looking like this…
That 1/3 of a mile walk home with groceries and other volleyball essentials felt really long today.
As we round out this day, I am proud of our kids. They are taking on very hard experiences and surviving the struggles. I think we are seeing growth. ❤️
We woke up after a great night of sleep. We all agreed that the thermal baths helped us to recover from all the hiking and walking and can’t wait to visit the thermal baths/spas in Slovakia.
We said goodbye to Budapest, grateful for an amazing visit and boarded the train.
The trip felt so quick, maybe because the intense card games made time fly.
We arrived back at our apartment and had regular duties to fulfill- grocery shopping, laundry and cooking.
I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to pause my career and one thousand mile per hour life to be here. And that gift opens up space in my mind to process the little things in life here.
Everything is seemingly done with more thought and attention. For instance, no one I know has dryers. I’m so grateful for a washing machine in our flat but I must plan for 12-24 hours of drying time!
It makes me question- is this really that dirty?! At home, if the kids threw clothes in the dirty pile, I would wash it without thinking.
As I’m sure I’ve commented, there are water conscious toilets everywhere. I haven’t seen a toilet that uses nearly the amount of water we use at home.
The grocery store is a wonderful and terrifying place. Wonderful in that we haven’t ever had better butter, better bakery and more access to delicious fresh food. We have noticed very little preservatives and packaged food. The check out line is still anxiety producing even though we come prepared.
The eggs, of which we buy many, often still have feathers.
We notice that everyone (including us) frequent the grocery store. No one checks out more than 10-20 things at a time. And there are corner stores with fresh food as well. We think about how much food we are buying because we must walk it all home and up our 4 flights of steps.
We love the public transit and the train systems. In Budapest, we were able to buy 24 hour unlimited family transit passes for $10. The trams, busses and subways come every 2-5 mins and at most 10 minutes which means in all of our travels, we are never waiting long. They are clean and quiet (which leads to us shushing our kids constantly) but we enjoy traveling this way so much.
In all the places we have been, Sunday’s are so quiet. I like to imagine that families and friends are worshipping and spending quality time together. Life in general seems to be slower here- but again that could be because of our circumstances.
We will spend the day at school tomorrow. The kids are understandably nervous. We are encouraging them to keep an open mind.
We had a great second day here. People have been telling me to visit Budapest since my friend Ellen and I traveled in Europe almost 20 years ago. It has lived up to all the hype.
We started the morning by going to Hero Square.
Right behind Hero Square is City Park. It is a beautiful, big park with an ice skating rink and the Museum of Agricultural History. Thankfully, I got out of ice skating by offering over priced street donuts.
My time of asking for pics from the kids is running out.
But this park was beautiful. And there were dogs everywhere so we had to make a quick stop to greet them.
We grabbed some lunch (Ryan housed some goulash) and we wanted to walk over the chain bridge to the castle.
We promised no hills today. But….. the incline line was long and the kids loved the challenge of this hill.
At the top, we visited the history of Hungary museum and it was fascinating.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to the Budapest grand finale…the thermal baths.
There are no cars allowed at all on the island. You can take a city bus however which drops you off right at the front door!
But after just a brief cold walk outside, the most wonderful outdoor baths awaited us!
Next to this giant thermal bath is another thermal bath for lap swimming (which I did not do;)
We stayed until closing time and enjoyed every minute of it! We would highly recommend this to families visiting Budapest.
We caught the bus home, ate some more food, wished our sweet nephew and cousin, Jon a happy 4th birthday and are tucked in for the night.
We had an amazing time in the bomb city of Budapest but are so happy to head “home” to Bratislava tomorrow.
After some delicious coffee, we headed out to explore the city.
We must first give credit to Veronica who figured out the family 24 hour public transit pass. The time has come that they may understand public transit better than us.
With our pass in hand, we headed up to Fisherman’s Bastion. It was a long set of steps up to the top with rewarding views.
We decided to ascend the tower of St. Matthias and unlike Munich, the winding staircase was very narrow and steep. V thought she might need to turn around a few times and I was so proud of her for making it to the top- and for everyone making it back down (actually scarier).
After all that climbing, we had a delicious lunch.
Next, we headed to a Labyrinth where Dracula was imprisoned. This proved to be a family fail.
We decided to next head over to Gellért Hill to climb up to Citadella. The Liberty Statue sits atop the hill and commemorates the liberation of Hungary during WWII. The kids were, for the first time, declining to climb another mountain on this trip. Thankfully, our Airbnb owners guided us to the best way to ascend which included several wonderful parks.
We could not believe the views.
We stayed for a long time because we all enjoyed the atmosphere so much.
But it was time to head down to the Central Market Hall for souvenirs and authentic food.
On the way, V had to urgently use the toilety, and although we advised against it, she waltzed right into a dental office and sweet-talked her way into using their bathroom. We are impressed by these kids every day.
Our next destination was the Ferris Wheel. Ryan and I were the only takers for that one but Ryan was really excited to do it.
And the end of the night brought, once again, traditional chimney cakes. They certainly deserved a treat after the crazy amount of walking, playing and climbing today.
Tomorrow we are planning a family-friendly thermal baths and visiting the castle and parliament.