Not Like the Movies

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Slovakia  ,
Sunday, August 6, 2006

At the onset of the day I arrived in Bratislava I was excited to see the city. Bratislava hadn't really been too high on my list of places to visit, but it was in between Krakow and Budapest, so it seemed like one of those 'why not' places to see. No fellow traveler had given it any ringing endorsement, at least until I caught up with Adrian and CJ who really enjoyed the place, and since I respected their opinion more than any other random backpacker, I expected good things. By the time I actually got to the city, though, I was more exhausted than I should have been. For one thing, I had had a late night out for my final hurrah with the boys in Krakow and then had to catch an 8:30 train. To make matters worse, the route I had to take was in no ways direct and in no ways convenient. In all, I had to travel on five different trains, often having to sprint from one platform to another in towns in the Czech Republic (a country that there was no need to go through) that you or I would never have heard of if they didn't have train stations. If for whatever morbid reason you're interested my train trips looked liked this: Krakow-Katovice-Buhumin (in Czech) -Prerov-Breclav-Bratislava. So by the time I reached my final destination, I wanted nothing more than to set down my bags and relax. I walked 15 minutes downtown to the aptly named Downtown Backpackers where I was told they were full, but if I waited half an hour, something might free up. I spent that time wandering the city and I was already ready to like it, walking through the Presidential Palace and toward the castle that towers over the city. By the time I came back, though, I wasn't in as good a mood since I was told no rooms had freed up and the odds that one would were slim to none. On the receptionist's advice, I headed to City Hostel, where I was likewise told there were no free beds. I was then pointed to Patio Hostel and heard the same thing. Even Orange Hostel, which I had heard bad things about and no city receptionist would send me to in good conscience was full. My mood improved none when I was still in Patio when a Scottish girl showed up and was informed that she could have the final free bed -- in a female only dorm. It was at that point, while looking at train timetables, that I was ready to pull a Plzen.

Let me explain exactly what that means. On the day I left Cesky Krumlov and went to Cesky Budejovice for the Budweiser tour I was planning on going to Plzen, spending the night and then waking up to do the brewery tour at the famous Pilsner Urquell brewery (as in the birthplaceof pilsner-style beer) in town. However, when I arrived in the town I found that most of the budget accommodation was full and when I returned to the train station to ask if there was any other option I was faced with a dilemma -- walk to the one final hostel, way out in the sticks, in a place that I didn't fully trust at night, and hope they had a free bed, or just call it a total loss and take the last train back to Prague, which was set to leave in half an hour. I decided to cut my losses and went back to Prague (on what turned out to be a nightmare train ride, but that's neither here nor there). I was just about set, we're back in Bratislava now, to grab a train to Vienna, which wasn't even on my itinerary just yet, when the amazingly nice receptionist at Patio pointed me in the direction of some student housing. It was out of town and all but assured I wouldn't meet anybody new, but it was a bed to sleep on, and an exceptionally cheap one at that. I had walked just about every street in the city in search of a bed and finally I had found one.

By the time I had set my bags down, three hours had passed since I had actually arrived in the city and I was sorely in need of food. I picked a place just out of the main square, which meant it wasn't nearly as touristy, and therefore wasn't nearly as expensive. As it turned out, I couldn't have been more happy with my choice. After I ordered, the guy at the table next to me thought I was still confused about the menu and offered to translate for me, and I politely let him help, ignoring that the menu was also in English. It was kind of stupid, but it was also what helped open the door to meeting him and the girl he was with. The goal of every traveler (at least the ones after more than just trying to get drunk in different countries) is to have meaningful interactions with the locals, and that's exactly what I got from talking to George and Kika. George had spent three years studying in Sydney, so we immediately had a common bond to make conversation. The talk quickly moved on to other topics, things that helped me get a better insight into Slovakian culture -- the split from Czech Republic, life in a Communist country and so forth. We also talked about how Bratislava is portrayed in the movies, and it doesn't nearly approach reality. There are only really two movies that have approached the city, one is Hostel, and since that's your typical Quentin Tarrantino bloodfest, it won't exactly make it on any tourism pamphlets. The other was Eurotrip, a hilariously stupid movie that does nothing more than capture on stereotypes for 90 minutes (I do have to say, even though the movie makes fun of how cheap the city is, I entered with the equivalent of 22 euro, exchanged from my remaining Polish zwaty, and that 22 euro got me through 24 hours in the city, and that includes a night's accommodation, two nice restaurant meals and a night on the town). After a few hours of conversation and a few rounds of beer, George and Kika were as keen on showing me the Bratislava nightlife as I was for them to show me. It turned out to be a fantastic night, going around, talking to them, hitting up bars I would've never found on my own and interacting, for the most part, with nothing but locals.

The next day I had to myself to play tourist until my train to Budapest in the middle of the afternoon. And it was that day where I could sort of see why people don't have much of an opinion of Bratislava. I walked to the castle, wandered the grounds and the massive courtyards, and then strolled through the Old Town, up through the square, meandering through every side street and taking in each sight, and by early afternoon I had seen everything. The old town is beautiful, and it certainly has charm, but there's only so much to it, so as much as I liked it, I could see why people would not enjoy the city. To pass the time, to be honest, I spent a good chunk of the day watching the beach volleyball tournament in town. No, don't go running to check your maps -- Slovakia is about as landlocked as a country can be. Yet, nonetheless Bratislava was hosting its own beach volleyball tournament, complete with cheesy DJs, cheerleaders and a sponsorship from Playboy, who I believe was supplying chunks of the crowd with free magazines. If nothing else I enjoyed the irony as much as I enjoyed the day. So even though Eurotrip says that Bratislava can be "wery depressing," I found it be a fine little place.
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