"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

The Slovak Files a short story from Slovakia.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first pay check. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…


“All packed up?’’ asked Goldblum from the hallway, as I dropped the last few items into my backpack. As exciting as it was to be off on another adventure, I knew this one was going to be bittersweet. Not to mention heavy, as unfortunately I’d be lugging all my stuff around. An unavoidable downside of life as a professional transient.

Taking one last look around the room, I hoisted my backpack over my shoulders and let out a deep sigh. Moving into the hallway, I found Goldblum patiently waiting with his own luggage. Glancing up, he shot me a knowing smile before grabbing his trusty brown leather jacket from the hook by the door.

‘‘Let’s go kid’’ he said, reaching for the handle.

‘‘Wait!’’ I called, heading into the living room one final time. The place looked so bare stripped of all our stuff. Those little knick-knacks and strewn items of clothing that had made it feel like home.

From the glass doors of the bookcase, our pet skeleton Cisco kept watch with a dopey grin. A role he’d performed dutifully since the day we drunkenly stole him from the Halloween party at The Dubliner. Allowing myself a wry smile, I couldn’t help but wonder what the new tenants would make of him. After all, he wasn’t David Copperfield.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

Cisco, our pet skeleton.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

Bumping along on the tram to the train station, my eyes were drawn to the VHS tape sticking out of Goldblum’s bag. It was a chunky black wedge of a thing, way too big for the pouch in which it had been stuffed. Our movie… my legacy of a year spent living, working and travelling in Slovakia. While the passing years would undoubtedly muddy the memory, I felt comforted by the fact that we’d always have The Slovak Files.

It all began with me filming a few social events on my camcorder. The first of these captured a bunch of us cheering on Bratislava’s Ice Hockey team during a match at Zimný Stadium. Soon after, I filmed some priceless footage of The Dobrý Den Man. He was Bratislava’s legendary newspaper vendor, a man who could always be seen, and indeed heard, throughout the old town. In fact, his town crier style greeting and nasal tones could be heard from streets away.

“Dooooobrý Deeeeeeen’’.

Newspaper vendor Bratislava.

The legendary Dobry Den Man.

The more material I gathered, the more logical it seemed that by the end of the year I’d have a loose docudrama of what went down. And so I began gathering clips of life at the apartment. Rich staggering around the kitchen at an ungodly hour of the morning before work. Goldblum crashed out on the sofa for one of his much-loved afternoon naps. I was also on hand to catch the pair of them boogying along to the funky beats of BBC World’s finance show Rockin’ Asian Markets.

‘‘Look at that Japanese Yen baby!’’ cried Goldblum, hips a bucking.

Then there was the day when suddenly (not to mention inexplicably)the TV got bored of life in the cabinet and decided to throw itself off the shelf. I’ll never forget Rich scrambling around on the floor in a desperate attempt to switch the damn thing off before it exploded.

The Slovak Files a short story from Slovakia

“Dude, the TV!”

When Goldblum and I arrived at the train station, Ben and The Wolf were already waiting. The Wolf was a German girl Ben had been knocking around with during our final months in Bratislava. In truth, I was a little annoyed that she’d crowbarred her way onto our farewell trip. A matter not helped by the fact that she wasn’t the most sociable creature.

Moreover, her dynamic with Ben was an odd one. According to him they were ‘‘just friends”. And yet the sexual tension between the two was so profound I half expected them to rip each other’s clothes off at any given moment.

They would also argue bitterly, getting worked up over a variety of topics. From Being a Vegan, Single Parent Families and Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War, you could always count on Ben and The Wolf to hold polar opposite views.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

Visit Sopron Hungary.

Ben and The Wolf bickering in Sopron.

Watching them do their thing was in equal parts amusing, frustrating and tiring. Nevertheless, we embarked on our Hungary trip in fine spirits, our two-hour train journey ending in the city of Sopron.

‘‘Ah, vacation’’ hummed Goldblum, as we sat waiting for dinner on a restaurant terrace. It was a fine day, the four of us basking in the welcoming glow of the late afternoon sunshine.

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The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

As the Bratislava months rolled by, my camcorder accompanied me everywhere I went. For the most part, people seemed cool with it. Even better, some folk were positively uninhibited when I pushed record, making for some memorable material. I grabbed a scene or two at The Slovak Pub, shot the various house parties across the city and secured a wealth of material from our cross-country road trip.

At some point Goldblum got involved and we began shooting scripted segments. These silly skits, tributes and in-jokes wouldn’t have made a lick of sense to anyone outside our expat bubble. But we didn’t care, we were just having fun.

One evening, at Bill & Mary’s place, we recorded a spoof scene from The Shining in which Bill drives himself crazy trying to perfect the ultimate lesson plan. Mary, in the vulnerable Shelley Duval role, shone as the concerned, tortured housewife. Which I suppose made me Stanley Kubrick. 

All work and no play The Shining.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

There was also a ridiculous game show sequence, Who Wants To Be A Minxionaire? hosted by Caroline. We even threw together a live studio audience, Myles and a couple of people who happened to be standing around. Ben and I starred as rival Minxology professors going head to head on Minx-related trivia, our ludicrous board marker goatees alone making it worth the watch.

Elsewhere, we shot a series of acts focusing on Goldblum The Butler, the Dlhé diely house servant with a skill for getting “Master Rich” and “Sir Lignon” out of sticky situations.

‘‘Excuse the interruption Sir Lignon, but I see you and master Rich have run out of beer. Should I undertake a field trip to Delvita?’’

Short story Slovakia.

The making of The Slovak Files. September 2002-June 2003.

And of course how could I forget the film’s concluding scene, where Rich, Paul and I make a Trainspotting style sprint for the bus after receiving an eviction notice from The Bratislava City Council.

Although hugely entertaining from start to finish, The Slovak Files remains a clunky, editorial mess laughable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of sound filmmaking. For me, this just adds to its charm. Furthermore, I feel the movie is highly symbolic of our ramshackle ten months in Slovakia. With the movie finally ready to be unveiled, we announced its world premiere with a house party at our apartment up on the hill.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

Veszprem Hungary

With Ben (left) and Goldblum (right) in Veszprém.

After a few days lounging around Sopron, Goldblum, Ben, The Wolf and I journeyed onto the equally sleepy town of Veszprém. Here, the lazy vibe continued, with lots of cafe lounging. Eventually, the four of us took a hike up Castle Hill for dinner and fine views over the surrounding countryside.

Encouraged by the warm evening air and our ice-cold beverages, we looked back fondly on the events of the year and shared our plans for life after Bratislava. Ben was going back to England, where he’d secured a summer job teaching Belgian teenagers at an English Language Camp.

Having only recently arrived in Slovakia, The Wolf was heading back to her teaching job in Bratislava. Goldblum would be touring Italy for a few weeks before returning to Nashville. As for me, I was a man without a plan, a deer without an eye, a Scooby without a Doo.

The Slovak Files a short story from Slovakia.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

This unresolved issue of what to do next remained very much on my mind the next day as we left Veszprém for the nearby town of Siófok. There, we settled into a small chalet on the southern bank of Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake.

I was staring out over Balaton’s still waters from a lakeside café when it suddenly hit me hard that in just a few days we’d all be heading off in our separate directions. With Goldblum napping next to me in the sun and Ben and The Wolf bickering over which sandwich belonged to who, I realized I needed to come up with a plan of action. And fast.

Siofok Lake Balaton Hungary.

Lake Balaton, Hungary.

Photo courtesy of Norbert Aepli. 

‘‘The natives are getting restless’’ muttered Goldblum, dimming the lights. Our living room was packed to the rafters with expectant cinemagoers, at least half the crowd already well on their way to tomorrow morning’s hangover.

They inhabited the sofas and our small collection of chairs. They spilled out onto the carpet, sitting cross-legged amongst beer cans, wine glasses and plates of scattered snacks.

‘‘Slovak Files! Slovak Files! Slovak Files!’’ they chanted, beating the floor with their fists.

Latecomers had to make do with a standing space in the kitchen, peering over shoulders and between heads through the open door. As a result of this madness, we decided to push the screening back half an hour. But now, it was finally time to give the people what they wanted.

Thus a huge cheer erupted as I picked my way through the assembled bodies to our VHS Player. Stooping down and only just avoiding knocking over a bottle of scotch, I held my breath, searched out the desired button and hit play.

Short story Bratislava Slovakia

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

On the 8th of July 2003 we celebrated my 25th birthday on the banks of Lake Balaton. Feasting on a giant picnic with beers from a local supermarket, I was in great spirits as rays of gorgeous yellow-orange light reflected across the water from the setting sun.

Lake Balaton Hungary.

With Goldblum at Lake Balaton.

That evening I received some gifts from the group. Goldblum gave me a Hungarian football jersey that came with a scribbled note. Dear Lig, he wrote in his spidery scrawl, May QPR prosper, Bus Minxes flourish, Štúrovos diminish and all be well with you. 

We ended up staying out late that night, well into the morning when the chilly air forced us back to our chalet. In many ways I wish the trip could have ended right there and then. But alas there would be one more strange, disconnected day to get through before we parted.

The Slovak Files a short story from Slovakia.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

The Slovak Files went down a storm! There were drunken whoops, drummed floorboards, a rattling round of applause and people congratulating me with kind words, hearty handshakes and boisterous backslaps. During a triumphant after party, we handed out several Golden Honza Awards, with Mary memorably picking up Best Actress for The Shining sequence.

The Slovak Files a short story from Slovakia.

The Golden Honza.

She seemed both pleased and slightly embarrassed to receive her trophy, a plastic doll Goldblum had skilfully transformed into a lookalike of Honza, the school’s grizzled Czech owner.

The Slovak Files

A grim discovery.

The general merriment stretched out into the wee hours, Goldblum and I ushering out the last few die-hards at around four in the morning. Shortly after, we made a grim discovery in the toilet. Somehow the lavatory had gotten completely blocked! The situation was so dire we had to call a plumber the next day.

The Tampon Incident.

The guy who came spent over twenty minutes in there, his work inducing a number of thunderous gurgling sounds amid a thousand flushes. Finally, looking far too pleased with himself, he emerged clutching several items in his gloved hands. One of which, was a tampon! Rich, Goldblum and I had to split the bill for his services and the situation became forever known as The Tampon Incident.

The Tampon Incident Bratislava.

The final day of our Hungarian adventure started out well. Thanks to Ben, I’d luckily landed a job at the summer camp in England! One of the teachers had pulled out at the eleventh hour and Ben was quick to put in a good word. Suddenly I was in, no questions asked. Consequently I was in great spirits, a wave of relief washing over me now that I knew my return to England had genuine purpose. 

In contrast, a strange and somewhat tense atmosphere had begun to descend over the group. Ben’s squabbling with The Wolf had begun to get tedious. Goldblum was of the opinion that they should stop messing around and get it on, so to speak. 

‘‘It kills me to see two people who’ve got something waste it like this!’’ he exclaimed, during afternoon beers. ‘‘Just make it happen!’’

Ben, smoking silently with narrowed eyes, couldn’t have looked more apathetic. At some point The Wolf stood up and silently left for a walk along the lake. As the day wore on, and with more alcohol consumed, Goldblum continued to press his point, this time with impassioned references to ‘‘true love’’ and other well intended but misguided sentiments.

The Slovak Files a short story from Slovakia

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

It was all starting to get a bit odd. With late afternoon melting into early evening, Ben and The Wolf decided to escape for a few hours and do their own thing. So Goldblum and I took a walk down to a local fun fair. By the time we returned to the chalet a few hours later, there was no sign of the other two. It was only then that we realised they had the key! We ended up waiting outside for over an hour, during which Goldblum grew increasingly irritable.

When at last Romeo and Juliet returned he went crazy, accusing Ben of being selfish and antisocial. I was speechless. I’d never seen Goldblum get angry, he was one of the most laid-back guys I’d ever met. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife that night. Very few words were exchanged and in the end, everyone headed off to their respective bedrooms. 

I lay awake in the darkness wondering what the hell had happened. Why exactly had Goldblum gotten so worked up about Ben and his lady friend? Was he really so angry about the key thing? My only theory was that, like me, he was feeling unsettled by what was essentially the end of a huge life chapter. With such thoughts swirling around in my mind, I barely slept.

‘‘Well kid… I’ll see you down the road again sometime’’ said Goldblum the next morning.

The four of us were assembled on a platform at Siófok train station. It had been a quiet, cagey morning of few words, not a reference to the previous evening’s fallout. Ben and Goldblum shook hands like rival politicians and there were polite hugs with The Wolf.

When it was finally time for me to switch platforms, I turned back one last time at the top of the stairs. There was Goldblum crouched down on the stone floor, static and pensive, god-knows-what going on inside his head.

The Slovak Files a short story from Slovakia.

The Slovak Files, a short story from Slovakia.

‘‘Hey Jon!’’ I called, shaking him out of his trance, ‘‘Good times!’’ He smiled and raised a hand, the green light I’d somehow needed. Trotting down the steps towards whatever it was that lay ahead, I began my long journey home.

‘The Slovak Files’ is the twelfth and final instalment of my short story series The Slovak Files.

Access my other short story collections here.

You can also check out my travel reports on Bratislava.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • Mary Phillips

    I felt/feel appropriately sad. I recognize as I write this that you took me through a series of events that gradually led me there. Big sigh. Thank you for reminding me of wonderful times with people who contributed so much to my life story. I’m sad that we’re leaving Bratislava but looking forward to the next chapters. Thank you, Leighton.

    March 22, 2015 - 12:43 pm Reply
  • Beverley

    The photo of Jon at the end summed up the sadness. Bring on the next story.

    March 22, 2015 - 7:46 pm Reply
  • dobry-dennis

    a poignant end to a fine series, looking forward to what comes next.

    March 23, 2015 - 4:38 am Reply
  • Anonymous

    He was crushed by a backpack. A backpack full of good times.

    March 25, 2015 - 8:44 pm Reply
  • natty4t

    Reblogged this on natty4t's Blog.

    March 29, 2015 - 12:23 pm Reply
  • Memo

    The constant flipping between past and present was a great choice on showing how the year kept replaying in your mind as it all came to an end. It’s kind of like how I feel when I read the series.

    May 22, 2020 - 9:58 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading again Memo. After so much tinkering over the years, these stories can finally be put to rest.

      May 22, 2020 - 10:02 pm Reply
      • Memo

        I have to tell you that one of my maxims to live by for years is that “Crisp is better than Soggy.” Good Times!

        May 22, 2020 - 11:05 pm
  • Marla

    What a bittersweet ending to your Slovakia adventures. It’s been a treat to follow along on your travels down memory lane.

    May 24, 2020 - 3:33 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoy a few of the other collections at some point.

      May 24, 2020 - 9:47 am Reply
  • kagould17

    Epic. A fitting end to a spell binding series Leighton. Good on you for recording the experience for posterity. Thanks for sharing. Stay well. Allan

    August 4, 2021 - 2:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That’s very kind Allan, thanks for seeing it through. I appreciate that it was quite the commitment as a reader. Apologies that I have been quiet of late on the commenting front. An exceptionally stressful few weeks here in Serbia. More on that in my next post, hope you are keeping well.

      August 4, 2021 - 2:40 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    I was so mesmerised reading this final instalment I couldn’t even raise my head to watch an Olympic final, that just goes to show how enthralling this Slovak series has been. Leighton. Hope the best is more bearable for you both now in Belgrade. Marion

    August 4, 2021 - 3:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for joining me on this journey Marion.

      August 4, 2021 - 3:47 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Too funny, you tell such great stories! Did you take pictures with a digital camera and then scan them all in?

    August 4, 2021 - 3:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yes that’s right Lyssy. They were all scanned and needed a lot of editing. Took several days just to get them into reasonable shape. Thanks for reading!

      August 4, 2021 - 3:48 pm Reply
      • Lyssy In The City

        I bet! I did that when I graduated high school to make a slide show and it took forever. But it’s great to have all of those memories preserved

        August 4, 2021 - 3:53 pm
  • grandmisadventures

    Excellent end to an excellent series. What a great idea to make a video of the year together so that you’ll always be able to look back on them and remember the details.

    August 4, 2021 - 4:09 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Meg! Appreciate you reading all my Slovak Files.

      August 4, 2021 - 4:56 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    That’s it … I’ve finally had to grab a tissue (and shed a tear) 😢. And I’m not the emotional type. But when it gets to friendships, I’m very vulnerable! That last photo of Jon … that’s the one where I just knew how much of a friendship you guys formed over the year! Did you guys ever see each other again? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your Bratislava series … it takes a special writer to keep me glued to the screen to read (and sometimes even re-read) a story from beginning to end without lifting my head! Take care Leighton … and thank you for your brilliant story telling 👏👏.

    August 4, 2021 - 8:59 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh lord, now you’ve even got me a little teary ha ha. Thank you for leaving this message, it is humbling. I have had a lifelong friendship with Jon. He came to visit me in Scotland a few years after we parted ways in this story. I have also been to visit him twice in Nashville. And he was the best man at my wedding back in 2008. The last time I saw him was in Chicago in 2012, so we are definitely due a catch-up one of these years. Thanks again.

      August 4, 2021 - 9:42 pm Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    Great foresight Leighton to have that camcorder handy! The friendships, relationships and experiences you let us in on are golden. I enjoyed reading each chapter.

    August 5, 2021 - 12:25 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks John, it feels good to have put this series to bed. These stories have existed in some shape or form for six, seven years now, it’s been a long journey.

      August 5, 2021 - 8:23 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    What a bittersweet ending to a raucous time in Slovakia. I think this series has got to be my favorite, as it was one I could most relate to based on my teaching experiences also in Europe. And during my early to mid-twenties. From the numerous bar/parties attended to the mishaps and friendships made while traveling, such experiences can’t be traded for anything. Those few months were more fun than teaching, to be honest, haha. Glad to have joined along for the ride, and I can’t wait to see what’s next in the travel reports! PS: did you go blond during your last few months there? That was a surprise!

    August 5, 2021 - 5:45 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Oh no you noticed ha ha! I did go blonde, I mean wtf was I thinking. My first and last experiment with a change of hair colour ha ha. Thanks for sticking with The Slovak Files for all 12 chapters, hope all is well in sunny L.A.

      August 5, 2021 - 8:26 am Reply
      • Rebecca

        Blonde does look good on you, though; makes you look distinctively German or Scandinavian! Life in LA has been chill; it’s warm, but pleasant. Summer will be pretty lax, but hopefully come fall, things will pick up speed!

        August 5, 2021 - 6:18 pm
      • Leighton

        I think you’re right about the Scandinavian feel ha. L.A. sounds just perfect. If we could trade Belgrade for L.A. right now, we would do it in a heartbeat. Here’s to the fall!

        August 5, 2021 - 6:26 pm
  • jasonlikestotravel

    Fantastic read again. It’s great that you were able to document your year there too and have a grand showing! 🙂

    September 1, 2021 - 4:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Jason! Glad you enjoyed the series.

      September 1, 2021 - 6:01 pm Reply

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