Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | November 6, 2011

A long road trip — and lots to tell

I’ve learned something about myself: I can’t travel and blog at the same time.

Melody and I took off more than a week ago for a loooonnnnnngggggg road trip. We logged well over 1,200 miles, saw some amazing cities, connected with the sweetest Woleman (different spelling, same family) relatives in Slovakia, luxuriated with the locals in a neighborhood warm mineral bath in Budapest, and avoided numerous auto accidents on the city streets of Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia while losing and then finding our way around.

It was exhausting, exhilarating and profound. In between the cities, we traveled highways and mountain roads, navigated road repair and a smokey haze that extended from one end of the trip to the other because farmers were burning the stubble from their fields. I’m a city kid so I didn’t realize that this was such a common practice. But the negative (in addition to making the air hard to breathe) was that it obscured our view of some of the beautiful landscape that we traveled. Our trip was planned around our school’s fall break, but it coincided with the always intoxicating views of foliage changing from green to various shades of yellow, rust, orange and brown.

There’s too much ground to cover to go into great detail right now. But I wanted to jot down a few of the highlights so I didn’t forget them before moving on to bigger and better things (like the arrival of our daughter, Jenna, in less than two weeks!!).

— The drive through the mountains of eastern Serbia. Beautiful. Rugged. Dotted by small and under-developed villages. But charming.

— Belgrade. Frenetic, urban, sophisticated and funky. Some beautiful vistas (from the Belgrade Fortress, built along the Danube). And one really memorable meal — and a bunch of sweet moments. It’s an arts-loving town and it’s got a young feel to it. In a New York East Village kind of way.

— Slovakia and relatives. I’m half Finnish (mom’s side) and half Slovakian. It’s a fact we didn’t have great knowledge of early in our lives (my brothers and I). But (long story short) we discovered our distant relatives on this side of the pond more than 15 years ago and I got the chance to meet them on their turf for the first time this week (my Mom, Melody and Jenna, and my Mom and Dad had made separate trips there). As luck would have it, one of my relatives, Martina Wolemanova, is an English teacher so we were able to communicate easily with her family in Trnava. The second night, in the village of Sekule, we gathered with more relatives (Ludwig and Alana and their kids and extended family and friends). Not a lot of English spoken that night, but a lot of love and affection shared (along with a lot of vodka, tequila and Slovakian beer).

— Budapest. We were invited to stay by friends of Laurie Hertzel, one of my dear former co-workers. David and Sue Spencer have been living abroad for more than a decade and they gave us the low-down on their lifelong adventure. They also gave us the run of their house. Two more generous, warm and interesting people you couldn’t find. After enjoying an evening with them, Melody and I struck out on the city’s vast public transportation system the next day and rode, walked and took in as much of the city as we could on two feet. Lots of little moments, but a big treat was heading to what is more of a “locals” public bath. These are the “thermal” or “hot springs” baths you hear so much about — the Turkish baths. The place we visited was not luxurious but it was vast and welcoming. With many indoor pools and two massive outdoor pools. We soaked and reveled in the 38-degree C waters (that’s about 100-degrees Fahrenheit) for a couple of hours and then headed out to dinner. But we’ll definitely head back to Budapest — and to that thermal bath.

— Our last stop was back in Bulgaria where Melody and I enjoyed a night in a nice hotel and dinner at a Russian restaurant during which time I, um, over-enjoyed some of what makes Russia famous. I struggled to right myself for the trip back home. But here I am, typing away while doing laundry, a satisfying home-cooked meal in my belly. We’re home and happy for that. But there are still miles and miles more to travel in this vast world of ours. We’re just scratching the surface right now, but it feels good to scratch that itch.

Taking in the memorial to Pavol Demitra in the small town of Trnava on All Saints Day.

Mark Wollemann and Rudolf Woleman bonding with special “medicine.”
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Responses

  1. Mark! Just think, you’re almost Czech. I think we bathed in the same waters in Budapest. Is it in a park? Your trip sounds glorious. It will probably snow tonight in St. Paul. I’ll swing by and look at your sidewalks.

    • Yeah, in a park … Near the end of the orange train line. Lots of regular people, some guys playing chess in the pool, a long sauna downstairs …

      As for snow, we’ve seen some in the mountains, but we know we’ll get our taste. Just not a minnesota winter. Tenants are down for shoveling, so hopefully they get it done.

  2. so glad you got to meet spencer! did his mustache scare you? man, i can’t believe i’m going to be so close to both of you in two weeks and not have the opportunity to see anybody. 😦

  3. ps i like that second picture. you both have dimples!


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