some orientating via street signs, and we just barely got back on track in time to catch our ride to Bratislava. As we boarded the diesel engine, it creaked to life under our feet not a minute after we hopped on. We smiled at our fortune and ridiculously close call, joking that the big guy upstairs was looking out for us, but little did we know this odd day of near misses and fortuitous circumstances was only going to get stranger. After a short and pleasant ride, we arrived at the main transit station in Bratislava - a drab soviet relic that was more function that form. Walking outside, we realized we had done absolutely zero research on where the hell we were in relation to the city center and how we were supposed to get there. Some short deliberation later, we decided to hop on the tram underneath the station and see if it would take us near enough to our destination until we could walk the rest of the way. With our stomachs grumbling and our heads light, the first stop on the list was a famous local Slovak Pub that serves a traditional dish called Halusky - small gnocchi like potato dumplings drowning in sheep’s-milk cheese. Unfortunately, we had no idea where this place was or how to find it. As the tram rattled on, we lifted our
heads from the map for a second to see what part of town we were in, and out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of words, "Slovak Pub," scrawled on a huge oak sign. We both looked at each other in astonishment before hurriedly grabbing our things and jumping off at the next stop. The food was amazing and the dark beer was heavenly. Serendipitous occasion number two accomplished. After stuffing our faces and draining a pint, the next item on our agenda was to catch the free sightseeing tour of the city. It didn’t start until 4pm which gave us a couple hours to wander around and get our own feel for the new surroundings. Bratislava, like most areas in this region, is an interesting mix of history and culture that spans from the Austro-Hungarian rule, through German influenced control during WWII, to becoming an Eastern bloc nation under Soviet rule and ultimately finding independence through the peaceful Czechoslovakian separation known as, "The Velvet Divorce." All of these powers left their indelible mark upon the city in its architecture, cuisine and populace. In the heart of the
metropolis, medieval forts and cathedrals of old town mingle next door to bleak steel bridges and sky piercing TV towers. It’s a clash of old and new that isn’t quite as harmonious as we’ve seen in other cities, such as Istanbul or Prague, but it definitely has its own unique charm and character. Before we knew it, two hours had passed and we had no idea where we were, nor where we were supposed to meet for our four o'clock tour. All we had to go on was the name of a statue that we were supposed to congregate under until the guide arrived. Again, we whipped out the map. Again, we looked at it hopelessly for five minutes, not finding the name or location of the statue anywhere. The tour was about to begin in the next few seconds and I looked up in frustration, only to notice the street sign was the same name as the statue we were looking for. On a whim I glanced across the park next to us, and sure as hell there was the towering bronze statue of Hviezdoslavo himself. We just shook our heads in astonishment that we somehow wandered to the exact place we needed to be without any knowledge or intention, right as the tour was starting. We sauntered over and joined up as the group began their walk around the city. The guide was very knowledgeable and gave us information about the city’s history during the war while pointing out some of the more obscure statues and sights. As the day wound down and the evening sky started to dim, we began to make our way back to the station to catch the last train to Vienna. Up to this point, we’ve been riding all of the metro lines in
Europe hobo style by not purchasing tickets due to the complete lack of controllers. It’s worked great so far and saved us some much needed funds, but, almost on a subconscious whim, something in the back of our minds told us to buy a ticket for the tram this time. It paid off because right as we reached the station, an enforcement officer got on and promptly checked everyone’s tickets. We just looked at each other in wide eyed disbelief. Today had been the day of total luck, complete chance, close calls, near misses and fortunate mishaps. It’s days like these, where no matter what happens things just seem to work out, that I can’t explain or justify, but am thoroughly grateful for during our long and difficult travels. Thank you, random chance and serendipity, for making our time in Bratislava one of ease and enjoyment. We owe you one.
After saying farewell to our new found friends in Hungary, we packed our things, set the alarm and woke up early the next day to make it to the train station on time. Wandering aimlessly through Budapest at night, we were certain our instincts and sense of direction in this capital city had been honed to perfection. What we didn't realize was the fact that Kitti had been with us through it all, taking us down narrow side streets, hopping on the right tram lines and leading us through the gauntlet of grid like avenues that encompass the city. It was about fifteen minutes before we realized we were lost, and the clock was ticking down for our train’s departure. A helpful stranger, a look at a map,