Thursday: 14 May 2009
Bratislava/Vienna Airport is relatively smaller than I could have imagined and upon arrival I had no clue what to expect; between the movies Euro-Trip and then on the other spectrum Hostel, I would have to say I was a little nervous. I got a tram ticket from a young man at the information desk along with directions on how to get to Old Town Hostel preferably with as few problems as possible. Take bus 61 for 12 stops then switch to tram 205…alright now to keep track of twelve stops along the way. As I got off on the switch over there was a teenage girl trying to sell a stolen camcorder for I believe a cheap price and she whispered and showed the merchandise as she made her way among the crowd of locals waiting for their tram to arrive. I board tram 205 and patiently wait for my stop and finally upon arrival I began walking around in the dreary city looking for the Old Town; the name of the hostel where I would be staying during my visit to Bratislava. You cannot visit a city that is suppose to be the site of the murder horror movie HOSTEL and not stay in the local hostel. But if you mention this movie to the locals they are not to happy about it since it was actually filmed in Prague; to top it off the city looks nothing like the movie and is much larger then portrayed in the film.
As I wondered aimlessly around I was stopped by a very kind Slovak woman who assisted me in the right direction. She also told me how four days in May every year is famous for raining each year no matter what and I happen to be traveling through Bratislava during this time. Even with her guidance I got lost a little more and found an internet café to check my Facebook and e-mails as well as my Couchsurfing account. With further assistance, I finally found the hostel, checked in and met my three new room mates; a Turk, a Kurd and a Canadian. Then deciding to head out to explore the city…Peter agreed to come with me to keep me company since we were both traveling alone. Peter is a young Polish guy from Canada who was visiting family in Europe after volunteering in Africa. We walked around the city and up to the castle which held beautiful views of the horizon. The elevated castle overlooked the UFO Bridge and Dunube river, church steeples and the old town as well as the taller more modern buildings spread about.
After our explorations we decided to eat a customary Slovakian meal in a traditionally decorated restaurant. Winding steps to the basement below, live music, large tables, animal skins and the smell of delicious foods. Pivo, sour cabbage soup, pirogues Slovak style with a very thick dough; meet stuffed dumplings with sweet sauerkraut; a delicious meal to satisfy anyones appetite. Afterwards we had a couple drinks at the Havana Club…Ricky Martin and Shakira, Reggaeton, Pina Coladas and Mojitos; not to be expected as the hot spot in the old town of Bratislava.
Friday: 15 May 2009
10:30 am and I was actually up and getting ready to check out before 11 am and hit up the town on this much more beautiful day. We began the day in search of a large cemetery that seemed to be close to the hostel that took up several blocks but still seemed to be desolate. We walked around the walls that surrounded the cemetery looking for the single entrance; stands with flowers, fruit and other items for sale, parks filled with people enjoying the warm sun and finally the entrance of this beautiful cemetery. Tombstones designed with melancholy angels, beautiful reflections of art and depictions of their faith in Jesus; dating back to the 1800s and having three or four names marking one plot. Iron and slate, fences and flowers, elegance and simplicity; a variety of markers for those who are deceased but I also noticed there were not many buried here after the 1950s.
Bratislava is a completely different city when the sun is out and the people taking advantage of this lovely weather conditions. We picnicked out front of a cafe and bridal dress shop; loafs of bread with swiss cheese spread and pepperoni, pepper flavored cottage cheese with chocolate mousse for dessert. Exploring a new city is such an adventure especially when you find something off the beaten path. Strolling through the streets is exciting as you look for the different statues to pose with. The paparazzi, men at work, silver man with a top hat in hand, a soldier relaxing and two teens just waiting for the post.
We went to the National Museum where they had numerous exhibitions including one about India, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet called Sangria. Numerous beautiful pictures that depict tribal and cultural elements that comprise yet another distant world that I wish to explore. We also had the pleasure of learning about Jan Palach and the geological structure of Slovakia. It was a great insight into issues of the past and controversies about the soviet invasion of those who lived in Czechoslovakia, Charta 77 and demonstrators in the streets of Prague. Jan Palach died after setting himself on fire in Wenceslas Square in Prague, Czechoslovakia on 16 January 1969 in protest. Many others committed suicide in the same way afterwards and it was interesting to read about the views of protesters and what the country was going through during the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe during the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Discovering old churches with boarded up windows and paintings in their place, walking along the bridge to reach the other side and marvel over the views of the castle, walks along the river taking in the deserted buildings covered in graffiti. Imagining riverside clubs or beautiful homes in the place of these abandoned buildings is effortless as many appear to have great potential. The progression of the city is obvious but signs remain that there is still more work to be done.
At days end we returned to the hostel and used the internet, played foosball and prepared to depart this Eastern European city as well as country. Night train to Krakow, Poland! Departure time 21.50pm.