Many reasons to give thanks....
Trip Start Oct 15, 2007
17Trip End Dec 20, 2007
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We spend a couple of days wandering...seeing some sights, like the Communist Museum for example. It brings the communist era and the resistance movement to life with it's vivid exhibits and videos. Each day we catch up a little more and drink coffee and eat dumplings and cabbage and sausages and other Czech specialties. We plan our trip to Slovakia...apparently Presov is about 10 hours by rail so we decide to do a sleeper train. I'm a little nervous...I've never actually used a sleeper car and I can't imagine feeling safe enough to sleep in a bed on a train. I've heard all sorts of horrible stories of travelers being robbed, etc. but the reality for us is another delightful experience. Those cars are cozy and clean and feel safe to me. The only intrusion to my sleep is the series of screeching halts the train makes along the way...but I keep falling back asleep and it's the fastest and most comfortable 10 hr trip I've ever taken. Way beats a bus ride. And the real treat is yet to come...the relatives....now how are we related to them? We're about to find out....
Well I'm just blown away. Corey and I have just spent 4 amazing days with people that have the same name as us...that bring us into their family...that feed us and take us all over to show us all they can and are so eager to connect with all their heart....the reception we get far surpasses anything I might have imagined. We have traveled to visit people that spent a month with us in NY in 1968. Corey re-found them by googling them up, sent them an email....and the rest is simple...they were very happy to hear we planned to visit...but still I really didn't know exactly what to expect...
Well, it turns out that these are cousins of my fathers...and their children. They know all my relatives on this side of the world...apparently only a small fragment of the Kotlars ever made it to the US and by now there are no Slovak Kotlars left except for my generation and younger in the US. So we are taken to the rest of them, on this side of the world. . Peter, who I haven't seen since we were both 13 yrs old, and his wife Julianna, have two sons...in fact Corey is out doing some late night hanging with Tomas, the 19 yr old, right now. The other son, also named Peter, is 26 and we meet his lovely girlfriend, Lenka. Everybody has taken days off work to be with us and to tour around the Slovakian countryside with us...to share time with us. First night there, we are part of a huge dinner table full of people that are there just to meet us. I go to bed each night filled with amazement of this feeling of connectivity.
We visit Spisske Podhradie, the small town my father spent the first 12 years of his life in. I never thought I'd ever get to this town...I'd heard about it my whole life...and esp the Spisske castle which he used to play in when he was a boy. The castle is right in his backyard...of course, it's an awesome sight, all castle-like and high atop a hill, but most of all, it's incredible to me that I'm in this place that holds my history. We visit the cemetery of Spisske Podhradie (which, in fact, means at the foot of the castle), where there are many Kotlars, including my grandmother who I never met.
Peter is being an amazing host...he has organized our time so that we can fit in lots of family ...and also visit some beautiful and historic towns and churches and travel through the countryside and even see the High Tatras...the big mountains...and go way up to the border with Poland and visit the Andy Warhol museum...PLUS eat some tasty food...my favorite so far has been these piroghis in this reconstructed castle...I want to see if I can talk him into taking us back there tomorrow. I don't know if I can leave here without having one more plate of them. But what is the coolest to me is sitting with people I'm related to and talking with them....of course Peter and his sons help interpret...but most of all looking directly into each others eyes and sharing that bond...hearing one of his cousins say that she thought the family in the US was lost to them...that she never thought she'd see that part of the Kotlars again...that meeting us is better than winning the lottery...having my hand warmly held for a long time...there is such a sense of familiarity and belonging here....and I watch Corey get to know this side of her family...she was never raised w/ Czech relatives as I was, speaking another language, with doilies on all the furniture and radically mismatched floral prints all over the house...and endless dishes of food brought out to you, welcoming you as family. She gets all generations of it at once. Tomas and Peter are spending lots of time with us ..they are her generation and are as open to her as is the older part of the family.
We extend our time here by a day...that's all we've got before Corey has to go back to NY. Tomorrow we'll see more cousins up in Poprad with Peter and his wife Julianna, who is so warm and delightful. I'm looking forward to spending the day together...although I really didn't even know these people 3 days ago, I now feel like I've known them a long time. And I feel like connections have been made that will continue into the future...
On the train ride home back to Prague...another sleeper car for the 10 hours of the trip...Corey and I find ourselves speechless and so moved by our time in Slovakia; we reflect on the past 4 days and feel truly gifted by this family. This Thanksgiving we received much to be thankful for ...