Jan 21, 2009

Slovakia - service not included...

We arrived in Trencin at around midnight on Thursday 15th January to lots of snow. The town is a sprawling area formed around a hill on the top of which is a large 14th century castle and church. Our hotel, which was very close to the top of the hill, had large rooms which were warm and comfortable.
On Friday, Jill and I and all the children and grandchildren made our way up to the castle to explore. The cobbled path to it was steep and long and covered in slushy snow. We had a tour of the building and the view over the city from the main tower and battlements was amazing. Coming down was a little exacting as some of the slush had frozen due to a change in the temperature in the two hours or so that we were wandering around the place.
In the evening we all decided to have dinner at the hotel to save going out in the cold to eat in the town. Whilst the food was good and reasonably priced the service was slow. It seems people in Slovakia don't complain about poor service because, if they do, it is usually ignored as the customer is seen almost as an inconvenience. We ordered our food at 6.30pm and the first meal arrived at 7.20. The other dozen or so meals eventually arrived over the next hour and a half. At 10pm Matthew and Lenka, and those guests who had gone to Bulgaria skiing with them, arrived at the hotel. They had had a three hour journey to the airport in Bulgaria, a two hour wait, a two hour flight and then an hour drive to the hotel - so they were tired and hungry, but no food was available as the chef had finished cooking by then.
On the Saturday we all went ice skating at an open air rink in the centre of town. I managed to do some skating with Sarah, Kirsty and Christian and the grandchildren. I hadn't skated for around twenty years, but it eventually came back to me. Afterward we all went for coffee and hot chocolate - and, I am told, the chocolate was literally melted chocolate.
That evening was Matthew and Lenka's marriage celebration at a large restaurant just up the hill from the hotel. As we all waited the owner of the venue, a thick set man, sporting a shock of black hair, beard and black leather jacket said a few words of greeting before Matthew and Lenka sipped from a glass of brandy and cut their way through a huge sheet with two hearts painted onto it. Then they led guests into the building. There rooms were decorated with huge chandeliers, candles, mirrors, flowers and tables and chairs with light green lacy material on them. Apparently the cost of a reception here is reasonable until the customer is told that if they want what they see - in terms of decoration - everything will be extra - and not to have these extras would make the room rather bare looking. (I wondered if the owner had been trained by a budget airline) The meal, Slovakian soup and a main meal was very well presented and tasty, but, by virtue of the three teenagers serving the 67 guests, again the service slow.
Lenka's mother read a speech in English to welcome us all and she did it incredibly well considering she is not familiar with the language. Slovakian traditions are a big part of the celebrations and Matthew and Lenka had to start by eating soup from the same bowl to signify 'sharing' in their marriage. Later a plate was broken on the dance floor and Matthew and Lenka had to sweep it up - again to signify the partnership responsibilities of the marriage. While they were trying to sweep up the mess members of the family were being encouraged to kick it further away from them to make the work harder. I think this element of the tradition was to imply that relations can cause problems in marriage! Later, as we ate some of the delicious cakes that Lenka's parents had supplied, two women dressed as gypsies (one was supposed to be heavily pregnant and had a rag doll in her arms, the other was dressed as her father) came into the room and started shouting at Matthew. The pregnant one was accusing Matthew of being the father of her children and he had to publicly pay her to go away. I wasn't sure what tradition that was to signify, but it had all of us in fits of laughter.
Then at 10.30pm there was a problem. A large amount of money had been placed with the owner to allow guests to have drinks at the bar after the meal - during the meal there were many bottles of wine on the tables. The owner said not only had the money been used up by the guests ordering at the bar, but that it had gone over by £200 and he wanted the money. The guests were more than a little surprised as the people hadn't been ordering that much from the bar - and to have consumed the money so quickly would have meant every guest having around ten drinks in an hour and a half. When asked for a breakdown of the bill the man couldn't supply it. The guests, especially the Slovakians were becoming angry at the situation and a few minutes later the owner said he'd made a mistake and there was at least £100 left behind the bar. From then on guests were keeping notes of any drinks they had from the bar to ensure the man had no chance to make any more 'mistakes'.
Around midnight, Lenka's parents had arranged for bowls of beef strogonoff (which was delicious) to be brought into the room and everyone began eating again. The food seemed never ending.
The next day when the bill was being settled the owner said someone had broken a candle holder and that he had to spend more money on staff than he originally planned and ... guess what? This came to an extra £200 - so, I guess he got his 'pocket money' after all, but I gather word of his dealings with a large local family is spreading round the town very quickly.
We visited a small Mall in the town before we made our way to the airport at Bratislava to come home. I have to say the whole four days was a wonderful family experience enjoyed by everyone.


annie kelleher said...

sounds like a wonderful trip!!!

boxofficegirl said...

Glad you're back safe and well and that you didn't get into fisty cuffs with the restaurant owner, who quite frankly needs a good talking to.

john white said...

Hi Annie, yes, it was excellent.

Hi Boxie - Talking to?? lol.
The Russian Mafia is into those areas and rumours abound. I think the fisty cuffs would have been Uzis at forty paces!

Selchie said...

Yum all that eating sounds fabulous.)

Lovely to have you back. Looks like you have sorted out the date problem.)

Happy day,


john white said...

Hi Selchie,

Yep, sorted the date thing - I swapped it for a particularly nasty Slovakian flu virus! About to crawl back to bed.

Selchie said...

Oh dear, poor you(, hope you feel better soon).

ed said...

Hope you feel better soon mate. Sounds like the trip was a real cultural experience!