Recently an article popped in to my Facebook newsfeed taking me back to a visit I had made to Ellis Island, the United States’ early 20th century massive immigration processing center. Photography restoration artists from Dynamichrome have unlocked the colorful secrets beneath the black and white photographs taken between 1906 and 1914 at Ellis Island. Continue reading
This summer marks 10 years since my sister and I went on an epic backpacking journey on the Ring Road of Iceland. We carried with us only the essentials which included camping gear, winter coats, hiking boots, bathing suits, travel journals, and the allotted 6kg of food per person as we’d been warned about astronomical prices at the grocery store. On our quintessential coming-of-age sister adventure, we also brought with us our hopes and dreams for the future.
I waited in the wings of a stage on a recent Saturday night. With my hair pulled tightly into a bun under a headscarf and silk flowers bobby-pinned behind my left ear, I paced on tip-toes in my character shoes and worked out some last minute kinks in the steps I was about to perform. I did not feel chatty, nor did the other dancers waiting with me. We mimed choreographed steps and sequences. I am certain some of us were wondering: Why can’t I remember these things the way I used to? Continue reading
On July 2, 2015, after a year of planning, I returned to the Muranska Planina region of Slovakia with several members of my extended family. On July 3 we visited our ancestral village Muranska Lehota and on July 4 we explored the Muranska Planina forest and the ruins of the Muran Castle, concluding the day with a surprise meeting of long-lost relatives. July 5 was the last day of our visit.
Sunday, July 5, 2015: Having agreed to meet up with our newly found relatives at church on Sunday morning, we returned to Muranska Lehota for early morning mass. We squeezed in the pews amongst the locals and easily followed the familiar, universally Catholic stand, kneel, sit cycle of the service. Continue reading
On July 2, 2015, after a year of planning, I returned to the Muranska Planina region of Slovakia with several members of my extended family. On July 3 we visited our ancestral village, Muranska Lehota, and had experiences beyond anything I had imagined for the trip. Our adventures the following day were no less magical.
Saturday, July 4, 2015: Our guide Samuel led us to the heavily forested back entrance to the Muran Castle park. Jergus, Samuel’s forest ranger friend, proceeded to lead our caravan into the park further than tourists are usually allowed to travel by car. We slowly crept up a dirt path barely wide enough for a single car, let alone Jergus’s Land Rover. There were few guardrails and many steep drop offs. So when we reached a clearing, a large lush meadow, I exhaled.
On July 2, 2015, after a year of planning, I returned to the Muranska Planina region of Slovakia with several members of my extended family. Seven of us traveled from Budapest; the rest met in Bratislava to embark from there. In all we were eighteen Americans representing three generations – could we pull this off? As the organizer of this family reunion adventure, I wondered and worried – would this journey live up to everyone’s expectations?
Other than setting dates, sending a few emails to book lodging and a translator/guide and making a rough itinerary, I didn’t do much homework. I went with all of the leads from my scouting trip in 2013. The rest I left up to fate and modest expectations. I would roll with whatever transpired. Having traveled to this part of Europe 11 times, I knew the deal. This was how I always travel.
It started with a walk in the Carpathian Mountains from my living room sofa. Late one night, I typed “Muran Lehota, Slovakia” into Google maps. Having recently discovered the many cool features of Google maps, I had been meaning to check out the village that my Grandma Pauline had once quizzed me on how to spell. Muranska Lehota first appeared as a pink raindrop upon a green and sparse landscape. A closer zoom showed a lonely highway. Another click revealed a long access road leading to a village of two streets. With a swipe of my finger, I found myself in the village via “street view”. I started a virtual stroll down the street and a house caught my eye. It resembled a house in a photo I had scanned to digital format at a family reunion. The story is that Grandma Pauline had snapped that picture of house 29 in 1981 during her first and only visit to her parents’ village. I pulled up my electronic copy of the photo, and except for a new roof and peeling stucco, it was a perfect match with the house on Google maps.
I’m happy to see that Transylvania, a place my husband and I first traveled to in 1999, is now considered to be “the world’s best region to travel in 2016” by Lonely Planet. We knew it back then. Dracula legends and connotations aside, Transylvania is a mountainous wonderland of history and nature.
In the Transylvanian villages of Mera, Buza, Szaszcsavas, Parajd, and Szek, warm, friendly people opened their homes and fed us like kings. We hiked, danced, drank wine under a full moon, swam in a salt lake, enjoyed a folk concert in a salt mine, hunted for snails with our hosts, and explored the ruins of the Bonchida castle, which has since undergone restoration. We even attended a village christening, carefully dressed in traditional garb by the family who hosted us.
I was forever touched by my first journey to Transylvania. My yet-to-be published novel “Circle of the Silver Birch Trees” draws heavily on my experience exploring this unique European destination. It makes me smile that this special place is gaining recognition in the wider world.