It was no coincidence, that just as the telephone rang I found the box of long wooden matches, (monogrammed from the Hotel Forum, Bratislava), in the library behind a dusty set of Emerson’s Essays, high on the bookshelf. I was searching for a specific holiday collection, and when I removed several volumes, I saw the matchbox. Then and there I was transported to another time and place, decades past, a lifetime ago.
It was an amazing honeymoon, six months touring Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. The first leg of our journey, my new husband and I visited so many cities - Bratislava, Prague, Budapest, Vienna – everything was decked out in Christmas finery, so astoundingly beautiful and magical. We were in love, young, and ready to start our life together. First though, we would embark on a long journey to learn about our heritage, roots and culture, a gift from our families. Both of our parents were first generation Americans, with our grand parents and many relatives all living in Czechoslovakia. The present-day Slovakia became an independent state in 1993, after the peaceful dissolution of its federation with the Czech Republic; during our trip it was still Czechoslovakia.
After countless hours traveling by air, we landed at Vienna International, only to board a train to Bratislava, and the Hotel Forum, where we would finally have our first night together as husband and wife. About 60 kilometers, we enjoyed a lovely ride in the twilight, the sunset casting the mountains in deep tones of purple, pink and blue. As we rolled into the country of Czechoslovakia it was dark, and we were awe struck by the most outstanding feature of the city - the sight of Castle Bratislava. The first settlement traces for this castle reach as far back as the Stone and Bronze Age, and possibly even an earlier Iron Age. It is a massive rectangular building with four corner towers and sits high on a rocky ledge, all lit up at night overlooking the city below. The Danube River enclosed on both sides by the Carpathians and the Alpine massifs, flows through the middle of Bratislava; our itinerary included a cruise back toward Vienna on the beautiful Danube, but for that night, Christmas, our only plans and sights were set on each other.
The Hotel Forum-Bratislava was an ancient building – we were there long before it was reconstructed and became the modern Crowne Plaza that it is today. The hotel is right in the heart of the city, opposite the Presidential Palace, and close to Old Town. Built by French architects, Czech History states that, “it opened before the downfall of Communism, but introduced top class Western standards to the city. The former Hotel Forum was highly sought after by business travelers, as well as more demanding leisure travelers who liked top class chain hotels.” Well, we loved it! It was incredibly special and so romantic. Our room was decorated in the heavy luxury of Baroque design, with exotic silks and tapestries, glossy antique furniture and a high canopy bed that required a wooden foot stool to climb up into its downy softness. There were tall vases of flowers, chilled champagne, fruit and chocolates, and a large fur rug in front of the stone fireplace. We tumbled to that rug wrapped in each others arms; exhausted as we were from almost two days of travel we were hungry to consummate our marriage. A tender, gentle night turned into a warm and glowing morning, the sun shining through many colored panes of glass onto our naked bodies. We became one in that room at the Hotel Forum, staying there for almost a month, rarely leaving. I felt as if I was in heaven, and these were the ‘good old days’ I would recall with great joy.
The time went by far too quickly, our trip a whirlwind of adventure. We were most fortunate that the Olympic Games were held in Austria while we were there. This was a highlight of our trip, and we attended many events, enjoying the brilliant sunshine and mountain air. It was so unseasonably warm that February, the Austrian army was forced to bring in snow and bricks of ice, and packed down the slopes by hand and foot; the same warm weather problems plagued this year’s Vancouver Olympics. Another eerily similar occurrence was that those games in Austria were darkened by the deaths of an alpine skier and a luge slider during training, as were the Vancouver games. One more note of Austrian Olympic history, is that three years earlier the entire US figure skating team, several family members, coaches, and officials were killed in a plane crash en route to the games in Prague. This loss was so catastrophic, the 1961 World Championship games were cancelled, which later had a great impact on the Winter Olympics in Austria. For us, experiencing the Olympics in Austria was an unforgettable part of our honeymoon, and one more of the many fabulous adventures we had along the way. Leaving Austria we spent weeks in Luxembourg and Brussels then ended our tour in Paris at the height of springtime.
That was all so long ago, and I am back in my library, it is Christmas night, and I have the Hotel Forum-Bratislava matchbox in my hand. I must have hung up the phone, but I don’t remember, lost in the past; the matches felt hot, full of energy and vibrations. I went to the fireplace, kneeling on the big fur rug. My fingers traced the logo and decorative cover of the box, and I remembered that holiday in front of the fire in old Slovakia, as the tears began to fall. The call had come from a friend to let me know that my first love passed away, his long battle with cancer over now, the angels taking him home on Christ’s birthday. I opened the box of matches and took one out, striking it on the hearth, lighting a single white candle to his memory, and whispered “dovidenia, zbohom”, goodbye, farewell, until we meet again, go with God.
©2010 Janice Stiles-Boults