Slowing It Down in Bratislava
There’s some catching up to do on my journal entry and it’s a cool and drizzly day in Krakow Poland. Perfect day to sit down at a cafe in the old Jewish quarter watching the world go by in the rain.
The pace set on this trip is a bit too ambitious and realizing that quality is sacrificed for quantity of cities I’ve laid out, I’ve downshifted and decided, for most cities, a minimum time has to be dedicated to fully (as much as four days will allow) appreciate the visits. For a while, it felt like I was “city surfing!”
Staying in Vienna was very comfortable, especially with my friend Patrick helping out with a place to stay, showing me around the town, and introducing me to his other friends. Memorable days in Vienna included smoking the hookah with apple flavored tobacco and enjoying dinner atop a rooftop of his friend’s apartment while enjoying the sunset and the vista of Vienna. Then there was learning and playing the Austrian card game called Jassen, drinking 14 or 15 bottles of wine between the four of us at Stephan’s apartment. Ouch! Enjoying the wonderful museums, and my favorite was just walking around the beautiful city and taking it all in sitting at one of the many wonderful parks throughout the city. There has to be more park benches in Vienna per capita than anywhere else in the world!
Leaving Vienna, I was advised by Patrick to take the ferry to Bratislava, Slovakia along the Danube rather than the train. At $25 for the hour and half trip to my first Eastern European city, the experience of taking a high speed catamaran was spectacular! The very thought of carving the famous Danube in a boat is a momentous experience for some reason.
Landing on the shores of Bratislava, I managed to find help in English, buy a tram ticket and found myself hiking the final 500 m to my hostel called Possonium. Checking into my eight person dorm room, I found my bearing and headed down to see the old city center of Bratislava.
It didn’t occur to me that the movie, “Hostel”, was about Bratislava. Personally, I hope more movies about how scary and backward Eastern Europe will flourish if it means keeping the crowd away from Eastern Europe and Brazil (“Turista” was the Brazilian version of “Hostel”), but the secret is out and you wonder when all the “undiscovered” places and getaways on earth will disappear.
It’s all relative. Bratislava in the middle of the OC would be a treasure, a major tourist drawl, but situated between the first tier cities such as Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, and Prague nearby, it’s more used as a transit point and garnering only a day or even a half day stop. To be frank, the other cities mentioned do have more to offer in terms of scenery and visually more stunning. Having said that, it’s Slovakia and another historical city, country, and the old center of the city is scenic and beautiful dotted with many outdoor cafes and eateries to enjoy the passing day. Bratislava is also the only national capital that borders two other nations: Austria and Hungary.
The monetary unit is the Slovak Koruny (SKK), but Slovaks will convert to the Euro next year. Most Slovaks, especially the younger generation, have some working English. Hovorite po Anglicky? Do you speak English? Dakujem or thank you and I figure that’ll keep most Slovaks happy and content that a foreigner is at least making an attempt to try and learn the language.
My heart sank when the elderly Slovakian lady at the ticket booth didn’t speak a single word of English as she waved her index finger in a windshield wiper motion. No problems. I had the whole speech prepared in Slovak and managed to ask for a ticket to Budapest on a certain date and a roundtrip fare (for some reason roundtrip to and from Budapest is cheaper than one way). I literally practiced saying it in Slovak for about 15 minutes before getting in the line. It felt like cramming for a final exam. She even smiled and apparently understood my attempt at Slovakian as she printed out the ticket and enthusiastically explained the itinerary to me as I nodded my head and went along with the flow understanding absolutely nothing she explained. Now I know how some of my students feel when I’m going over classic dynamics in our physics class.
I did notice that Slovaks were more curious about me and noted more curious stares in Bratislava than Budapest or Vienna. You’ll see the narrowest house in Europe, Baroque palaces, the Bratislava Castle, see an impressive line of old Soviet era apartments on the other side of the Danube, and the Slovaks are very pleasant, eager to help. Bratislava is a relaxing place to recover from the summer madness in the other cities andan easy day excursion from Vienna. Moving on.