Seeing Slovakia

Much overdue we admit, but here is a glimpse of our time in Slovakia. We travelled to Slovakia by car from Austria. The feeling we had as we crossed the nearly non-existent border was a combination of pure excitement and a little bit of wonder as the countryside gave way to the cityscape of Bratislava in a place we will soon call home. We both avoided blinking as we arrived in Nitra as to not miss one aspect of the city where we will live. In some sense it already felt like we were coming home.

Our time in Slovakia was short and so it was busy! On a very practical level our time was well invested. We would go into stores and little markets to gain an understanding of the cost of living. We now know that Canadians will find food inexpensive (though the cost has increased 6% this past year in preparation for the Euro’s 2009 debut), rent is comparable to what we paid in British Columbia and electronics is nearly double. Also, we were able to see what is available in stores. Moreover, we got lost while out and about and now have an understanding of the city and where we want to live. Imagine moving to Vancouver and not knowing the difference between Gastown and the North Shore, or arriving in Toronto and having to choose between the Danforth and the Jane-Finch Corridor with no insight at all.

There was a whole other dimension to our experience in Slovakia. We got to visit the church plant in Nitra, meet with national pastors and listen to the stories of people who have grown up in a country that we have researched, but only lightly understand. Yes we have read about communism, but we never fully shared in the life it created. We listened to the stories of Slovak Christians who had to wait for weddings or funerals to hold church in order not to draw government suspicions. We had no idea that students were made to denounce their faith in writing to gain access to a university education. Even as recent graduates and newlyweds we cannot grasp what that must have been like. Being in Slovakia helped us connect to Slovak people. Our thoughts, prayers and preparations for our time there are more focused than ever before.

With the developing country of Ukraine to the east and modernized Austria to the west we were unclear as to what we expected from Slovakia, sandwiched in the middle. From our perspective, the architecture seems to be a blend of it’s neighbours. Nitra is a historic city with the old town serving as the city centre. Surrounding this centre are the communist era buildings with more modern homes flanking either end of the city. There is a great mix of old buildings designed with character, intrusive communist built housing blocks and factories, and modern looking shops and restaurants. The city, being quite compact, is bustling with people on foot, creatively parked cars and music slipping out of cafe’s.

As we made our way back to Austria and onward to Canada, we departed with a sigh. Not a sad sigh, but one that wished we could have just stayed. This Christmas season will be enriching as we are with friends and family, and our move in January will come soon, but in so many ways we are ready to call Nitra home.

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