A former SSR

Trip Start Apr 05, 2006
Trip End Apr 17, 2006

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Flag of Slovakia  ,
Sunday, April 9, 2006

Kalisse lives with Marek, her boyfriend, in Vienna. Originally from Slovakia, he is working on his thesis at the University of Vienna as well as doing consulting work. He and Kalisse frequently visit his home country; Bratislava (the capital) is only an hour from Vienna.

Sunday was a 12k road race that Marek entered - although sick, he hoped to finish in less than an hour. He left early that morning, whereas Kalisse, Craig, and I rode a later train. The land between the two cities is flat, mostly farmland, with dark, fertile soil. In the flat fields we saw pheasant and enormous rabbits, the size of small dogs.

Bratislava is just over the border, five minutes from the final station in Austria, and the difference between the two countries is obvious and immediate. First visible is the huge, shoebox-like government housing, an efficient home for 100,000 people. Slovakia is in the process of joining the EU, but it still uses its own currency, koruny (crowns). The city is a little dirtier, a little rougher around the edges than Vienna. The city center is equally picturesque and historic, but the surrounding areas have more recent development than Vienna - in other words, twentieth century buildings.

We arrived at the finish line about 35 minutes into the race, just in time for the first runners to approach. Despite feeling sick and running in the cold (well, cold to me), Marek finished in 54 minutes. At the finish line area, free tea and beer were available to both participants and spectators. Before the medals were awarded, the Slovak prime minister spoke. I know this not because I noticed anything special in the utter lack of security; Marek told me. While top finishers stood on the podium, about 90 minutes after the race start, an 81-year-old man, about my height or shorter, jogged to the finish line, wearing sweatpants and a Slovak ice hockey jersey. Everyone stopped to watch him finish - he waved his arms as we all cheered. After crossing the finish line, he put a towel on the ground and did a headstand. Very impressive.

After that we had lunch with some of Marek's friends and his cousin, who live and work in Bratislava. They are all engineers, so plenty of conversation for Craig, who's also an engineer. They all speak excellent English, and most have lived or travelled in the US. One lived in Los Angeles for a few months, and he told me that he was relieved and happy when the weather turned cloudy one day - all the sunshine was boring for him. I replied that he's clearly not American, that the consistent sunny weather draws most people to California.

By way of financial comparison, our total restaurant bill was about US$40, for probably 10 dishes, 4 beers, 1 glass of wine, 4 non-alcoholic drinks, and 2 bottles of water. In Vienna, the same amount of money would pay the restaurant bill for one person.

The Slovakia abbreviation is SK, used for both the country and money. Most cars have an SK sticker somewhere on the back windshield. Kalisse also has these initials, another reason why I like them so much.
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