Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Slovakia  ,
Thursday, November 22, 2007

I had hoped to be able to amble around Eastern Europe largely unplanned. Its cold, well away from the tourist peaks of July and August, and I had envisaged seas of empty beds and deserted attractions. But after two weekends where I fell victim to hostels being fully booked and was forced to make fast plans to head to another city, I was sure on this leg to make sure my booking extended across Friday and Saturday nights.

It is thus a little vexing that my first swing toward extra planning has landed me in one of Europe's blandest outposts. Bratislava I selected because I knew nothing about it, and in the past this has been a good selection criteria. Its not that I don't like the place, its more that I feel nothing about it at all.

On checking into the 10 bed shared dorm, I was fortunate to meet a couple of recently graduated law students from Melbourne having a last bid for freedom before the dictates of law firm drudgery. They suggested I join them for dinner - there not being a great deal of choice and there being a chance I wouldn't find it myself.

I thought they were joking. But last night - Saturday - everything was shut by 6:30p.m. and only Ye Olde Traditional Slovak Pub (the place from the first night) was open. It was full. The supermarket was closed. Its McDonalds or nothing. Lesson learned: be at dinner by 6pm if you want something mildly different (Chinese takeaway) or by 7pm for the last resort late night option. We went on to the KGB Bar, and while the conversation was diverse and interesting and the night was a good one, the bar's naming was a fraud as it had all the Soviet bearing of TGI Friday's.

I am aware my somewhat acerbic tone and cynical outlook may cause people to doubt the accuracy of my reporting, so I am going to quote directly from City Guide Bratislava on the sights they recommend for the visitor (item 4, page 10) and let you judge for yourself. To wit: "The well without water. Although the bottom of the well is below the surface of the Danube the well diggers were stopped by a 320cm thick granite slab(!)".

Deconsructing this, a well without water is, at its most basic, a hole. And its the fourth ranked sight. I was initially a little aloof and non-judgmental when departing hostel people said Bratislava was best seen getting of the morning train and getting on the evening one. But as we sit on day three, how I wish the trains to Kiev ran on weekends... (On the plus side I have got 450 pages into Bill Clinton's autobiography.)

I did enjoy a visit in solitude to the Slavin Hill War Memorial, a soaring piece of socialist realist monument work that even today leaves you with the impression that the army it commemorates is an army of supermen. Seen in the autumn, with every tree a black skeleton and the sky an even ominous grey, the effect is magnified. Again I had pause to wish the official photographer was not in Ghana, with my few attempts rarely - if ever - seeming to come out straight. I should possibly take off my mittens to take pictures but I continue to value finger warmth over crystal clear in focus memories.

Bratislava has been the warmest place yet, and day two yielded a tropical 12 degree scorcher that saw me enjoy the first day outside without mittens and beanie in the last 2-3 weeks. I think we'll survive a little bit of the European winter, but how people do it year in and year out I am finding a little hard to comprehend.

Anyhow, must dash, if I don't make it to the lunch sitting at the Slovak pub then another day of culinary disappointment awaits.

- - -

Had some internet cafe disasters. So this is late. Written at the time but couldnt add photos. Now I just lost the month's worth of photos. If we have to lose photos of any place on this holiday, I can live with it being here... :)
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