I have been thinking about our life here in the middle of a small country in central Europe, which will be five years on 31 August.
It has been suggested we moved to our end-place precisely because it is isolated.
It’s hard to get friends and family to visit, we’re ‘too far away.’
We couldn’t end the move in our country’s capital, Bratislava only 45 minutes from the Vienna airport, no. We had to add another two hours onto the road trip to get to the middle of the country. At least that trip is on an expressway. But we couldn’t stop there either, no. There is another half-hour winding around hairpin curves into a very old mountain range, not unlike the Appalachians, beaten down and eroded over half a billion years to gently rolling and accessibly walkable hills. These are the Štiavnica Mountains.
We are, literally, the last house on the left on our little dirt road, on the outskirts of our village of Saint Anton (Svätý Anton). The road turns into a woodland path at our property edge. We don’t see many people up here, expect perhaps in mushroom-hunting season (coming up), so it’s usually pretty quiet.
We know most of the people in our neighborhood now. We wave to all of them whenever we drive by.
They (almost) all wave back and smile at us too these days. We probably don’t see them gently shake their heads, still smiling, and thinking: blaznivý američanki (‘crazy Americans’).
A very foreign language
Scott’s pretty proficient in the Slovak language now. He reads three newspapers and listens to the Slovak news on the radio and TV, so he knows what goes on.
‘Course we still can’t understand the local village PA announcements, but then again, our native speaking friend Silvia can’t understand them either – it’s like being in an old bus station or in the subway – the sound is so garbled you don’t know what they’re saying.
I’m taking lessons again too and gaining a little better understanding.
Our teacher, Silvia, has been instrumental in our learning the language.
Our cleaning lady, Iveta, helps me too and she enjoys learning some English along the way.
Scary goings-on next door
The idea of living next door to a country not in NATO (Ukraine) and infamous for the worst nuclear accident in history (Chernobyl), not to mention the current unconscionable actions Russia once again is perpetrating against its ex-Soviet puppet state, isn’t an easy thing for many of our friends and family to get their heads around.
I am so much more aware of human events living here than I ever was in the U.S. or even in London. It is with a very different perspective that we live our lives here.
And Russia wouldn’t dare take their aggression into NATO territory. Who knows what their leader is thinking, though.
We do miss some things from the big city
Because we spent most of our lives – both before and after we met – in metropolitan areas, we still need a big city hit every so often.
Scott goes to Budapest; I go to Bratislava or Vienna. (One of us stays home with Sisi, giving the other a break from us both).
We have our big city shopping must-visits: Julius Meinel in Vienna, Culinarus in Budapest, where we can get pretty much everything we can’t find in our part of the country.
That’s for cooking stuff.
We both miss world-class restaurants, especially world-class seafood restaurants. Being a landlocked country, it’s hard to find fresh fish that doesn’t swim in a lake or river here in Slovakia.
I miss dryer sheets. Few people have a dryer in their house or flat. So it’s just not on the local market’s radar. I’ve recently found I can buy them online from Amazon.co.uk, but it’s expensive: $20 for a three-month supply if you include shipping costs.
Retirement from work: a big adjustment?
I no longer have to be prepared to fly anywhere when a client summons.
I no longer have to get up at 4 a.m. to catch the first flight out to another country.
I no longer have a British Airways Gold Card.
I no longer can afford a business class ticket to the U.S. every year (I’ve used up all my miles).
I no longer have to cater to the whims of clients or bosses.
I just have to cater to the whims of a high-maintenance husband and dog.
What a tough adjustment.
Lots of time on my hands, but where does it all go?
I read a lot of books, Kindle is never far from my person. I’m getting back into Sci-Fi (Evan Currie is my current favorite) and I’m loving the discovery of new authors (to me, at least). My oldest brother John is also a prolific reader and he turns me onto some great story-tellers he’s already read: Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher…. My friend Arlye turns me onto literature.
One of my hobbies is IKEA. I love to assemble IKEA furniture. I’ve been told I can’t use the word, ‘build’ because I’m only assembling. There are more than 25 pieces of furniture in this house that I assembled. This doesn’t include our all-IKEA kitchen (I had the pros do that.)
And I cook now.
Oh boy, cooking.
Scott has given me confidence to join him in the kitchen.
Well, not exactly ‘join.’ More like ‘my night to cook,’ and ‘his night to cook.’
Of course we support each other, and there are things I do no matter whose night it is. . . rice for instance; fresh bread crumbs from bread I make; hamburger buns; cowboy beans…
We have a terrific collection of perennial herbs in the garden: thyme, oregano, chives, sage, mint. We supplement the herb garden each year with parsley, coriander, rosemary, basil: the ones that don’t survive so well through the winter.
I just made a paste for a flank steak Scott will grill tonight. I made it from fresh herbs he just picked. That gives us a real sense of triumph we never had before.
I’m getting into the Asian stuff, too: Thai and Indonesian so far. We are lucky we can find rice noodles, oyster sauce, fish sauce and fresh ginger pretty easily; but not some of the more hard core things in authentic Thai food, such as Thai hot basil. I told Scott we have to find seeds so we can grow it next year.
For the first four years, we thought we couldn’t get baking powder here. I was making it from cream of tartar (my British friends would bring along) and baking soda. Then our friend Silvia here explained how they package baking powder in the local shops: sort of like dry instant yeast.
That’s happened a couple of times, us just not knowing how to look for things. Then we finally find it.
I haven’t yet answered the question, why. For me, our retirement place reminds me a lot of the Jackson Hole family place Dad bought back in ’72. It’s where we buried the folks (in the local village cemetery) and it’s where Scott and I got married.
I prefer to share my retirement place with my husband so we took my share my parents’ estate to retire here.
We still pay taxes in the U.S. and in Great Britain: our retirement investments are all in the United States, and I draw two modest pensions from the U.K. where I worked for 10 years.
But we pay for full medical coverage here, and it costs us about $125 a month, for the both of us. This includes dental, and ophthalmology as well as surgery, doctor visits and hospital stays. Scott has high blood pressure and he takes a full cocktail of meds every day. He pays about $15 per month for those.
I don’t want to think what that would cost us in the U.S., since we are retired now.
It has been a dream of mine since my first trip to Europe in 1960 to work and live here.
I am living the dream.
I am proud to be an American. I am proud to be a dual citizen of Great Britain. I pay my taxes to both countries and I pay taxes here too.
But we’re having so much fun on this adventure of ours, I can’t imagine going back.