Our American friends, Syd and Deb, visited this past week. Syd mentioned in passing the unique perspectives we will take back to the United States some day. He’s right – I hope. These perspectives won’t relate to the social benefits infamous in Europe or universal healthcare or the incredibly practical features of the man purse. We plan to tuck into our suitcase a renewed focus on friendship – and the priority friends should have in our lives.
Last weekend, we returned to Bratislava. We enjoy the old world charm of the cobble stone streets; a lazy cup of coffee nursed on the main square; and the stick to your ribs Slovak cuisine. However, more times than not, we return to Bratislava simply to visit friends.
Sunday we biked through Austria. We arranged to meet Igor and Vlasta. They had invited a family of mutual Slovak friends to join our ride. I love to bike from Bratislava into the farmland, vineyards, and villages of eastern Austria. The more the merrier.
Our US friends and our Slovak friends quickly bonded. We made no attempt to recreate the Tour de France. We cruised more like I picture Julia Child biking through France: 10 minutes of leisurely pedaling then coffee; 15 minutes further and a stop for beer. As Igor sometimes says, “I bike for strudel.” And we did. In seven hours of biking, the team logged perhaps 25 miles. Deb and I broke off mid way and spent a few hours in the Al Capone pub nursing drinks. It was biking as it should be.
Over the course of the ride, plans were agreed for the next day. Pat,
Syd and Deb would meet Vlasta, Igor and their son Gregor at the music shop around noon. They erased Vienna from the Monday agenda and penciled in lunch. During dinner Monday night, they relived the day for me – a three-hour meandering through politics, world events, classical music, and how to make Pat’s English a bit more understandable to the non-English speaker (“Seriously dudes, I’m on it and I’m gonna nail this.”)
Slovak visits begin with a shot. This day started with, as Syd recounted, “the best rum I have ever tasted”. Lunch followed in a nearby restaurant and the visit concluded back in the shop over a glass of wine. Nearing three o’clock, Pat asked Igor to call a taxi to drop them in the higher reaches of Bratislava to conclude the day with a bit of sightseeing.
Igor responded by taking the 20 minute tram ride back to his house to pick up his car. A taxi was out of the question.
At one point, the group bantered about the idea of repeating this day again tomorrow. Ultimately, Syd and Deb decided to visit Vienna. But it was a surprisingly difficult decision.
Igor and Vlasta own the music shop – and they are busy. But they possess a gift of making each person feel important – valued. And they structure a life which allows friends to take center stage.
So when that day comes and we pack our suitcase, the first item will be a reminder of the priority friends should play in our lives; the ability to make these friends feel special, unique and cherished; and the realization, as Igor once said, that “Work will always be here. But friends stop by only once in a while.”