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August 04, 2005

I Stepped in Bratislava (Part 2 of 2)

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Bratislava, Slovakia:

I woke up to the sound of my roommates packing their bags and heading out the door to catch their 7 AM train to Vienna.

"Adios Ethpanolas," I mumbled from under the covers. A list of e-mails and a note was stuck in my shoe already and since I was too tired to get up, I had to suffice with a lame wave from my bed.

After another hour, however, I managed to sort myself out and get myself packed and ready to ship off for Budapest. Downstairs at the reception desk, I saw that my best option for a train was one that was slated to leave at a little before 12:30 PM. That gave me four hours to wander around, but I figured the best thing to do first would be to walk over to the train station and buy my ticket.

It was miserable out, as it had been the day before. Trudging in the drizzle to the train station, past the same motley assortment of what I was now fairly sure were Baroque-style mansions, interspersed with plenty of ugly modern office buildings, I hoped things would be a little sunnier in Hungary. At the station I purchased my ticket and, walking back to the city center for breakfast, examined it, realizing it was open-ended and good for use on just about any train heading to Budapest within the next several months.

That got me thinking. There was a certain strange charm to Bratislava. It was small and uncrowded and filled with interesting twists and turns and here I was, about to rush off and leave it, even though I was recently complaining about the difficulties involved in finding just this sort of place. Shouldn't I stick around a little longer? It could be worth it.

On the other hand, I wondered what the point was. I didn't feel like seeing any of the few small museums on hand and probably wasn't going to do anything new with an extra day. The chances were pretty remote that I would have some spectacular cultural revelation, fall in the love with place, and decide to live there, eventually settling down with a nice Slavic girl in 6-inch platform shoes --- perhaps even the one I saw walking through the town square wearing a shirt that read "What's His Face... He's So Good to Me".

I had to decide quickly, because my room would be up for grabs at 11 AM if I didn't put my reservation in by that time. Since I didn't want to get breakfast in the old town and then rush back to the hostel, I decided to drop by there first and tell them I'd be sticking around for one more night. So, in the end, laziness and hunger were the tie-breaker.

After going to the hostel and checking e-mail I grabbed some decent though strange Chinese food for lunch. I sat in a cafe for a while drinking coffee and then, when the rain showed no sign of letting up, resigned myself to a walk through the town square with my camera in order to grab a few photos.

The "Cow Parade" gave me a chance to get a few interesting shots and capture some of the contrast between the old buildings and the modern feel of the city. Quite a number of sleek, polished BMWs, Mercedes and Audis did the same. After decades of dull and bleak oppression (and not just by the weather), the city had the feel of Old Money now. It was all New Money, of course, but it put on the airs of having always been there.

When I was done with the cow shots, I went back to "The Dubliner," the Slovakian Irish theme pub. I was relieved to look at the menu and realize that there were, in fact, a few Irish brews on offer, not that my waitress the night before had cared to mention any of them. They were all more expensive than their Slovakian and Czech counterparts.

Sipping a beer and looking out at the rain, I was feeling quite bored. Maybe the extra day wasn't the best idea after all. I wandered back to the hostel to take a quick nap, feeling tired and figuring it would make the day pass along a little quicker.

I settled into my bed comfortably, relieved to be the only person in the room. Sadly, my peace and quiet lasted for less than 10 minutes. Soon the door flew open and a group of three dirty, grungy, crunchy, half-baked German 19 year-old piled in. Behind them were two English girls and a guy from New Zealand. They were talking loudly, practically shouting, and it seemed that the Germans, English and Kiwi had all just checked in nearly-simultaneously, though they were not all travelling together.

"Yah, we bicycled here from Vienna," shouted one of the Germans proudly, shaking his shoulder length hair back and forth.

"Yah!" agreed one of his friends.

One of the English girls was starting to say something when she noticed me turning under the covers. She promptly lowered her voice, as did the other girl and the Kiwi.

Not so the Germans, who began to throw their things around and chat noisily. I'm ripping off something Thomas Friedman wrote about Israelis in the book "From Beirut to Jerusalem," but three Germans having a chat is like nine Americans having an argument. They were seated on the bed directly across from me, bragging about their efforts to bike halfway across Europe. When I sat up and looked at them, they appeared as if they had already lapped the continent three times. Caked in mud, they were trekking dirt whereever they went. One of them was drinking "Ginseng Juice" out of a carton and spilling half of it on himself and the floor. I wondered if he was carrying any soya beans with him.

I got up and went back to the old town. There wasn't much to do but spend more time in an internet cafe working on the blog and, after that, having a few more espressos in a 19th-century coffeehouse off of the old town square.

That evening I went to "Hacienda Mexicana," a supposed Mexican restaurant next to the Dubliners. It was the most irritating all-around dining experience of the entire trip so far. I ordered a baked fish and, after forty minutes of waiting around in a relatively uncrowded dining room, asked one of the waitresses whether the cooks had even started making the dish. If not, I told her I didn't want it anymore. "I will go check," she said uncertainly. Then she vanished and didn't come back again. I saw her dart past me once or twice without looking. I tried to get another waitress to stop but she ignored me. Ten minutes later, I went over to the cashier to ask when I could expect my food. "Just a minute," the man told me. I sat back down. Ten minutes later a waiter came over with a tray of condiments. He placed them on my table and told me "Just twenty minutes more please."

I nearly blew up. "I've waited an hour already," I told him.

"This dish takes about an hour to prepare," he said.

"Why doesn't it say on the menu? Why didn't the waitress say anything? I asked about this twenty minutes ago and don't really want it anymore."

"The waitresses don't take the food orders, just the drink orders. Please wait just a little while. I am sorry." [Yeah? Well they took my order, didn't they?]

The food, when it came, was mediocre --- the baked fish was nothing a Chinese restaurant couldn't prepare in 15 minutes or less (with some flavor added in, no less). I ate it in five minutes and asked for the bill. My two drinks and dinner came to 493 Koruna --- nearly 17 dollars. Nothing was deducted as a gesture of apology, not even a drink. I left a 500 Koruna note, tipping a measly 7 Korunas only because I didn't want to wait an eternity for change. That's by far the worst tip I've left in my life.

Hacienda Mexicana in Bratislava, Slovakia sucks.

I walked around a little after my meal, taking a few more photos as it got dark. Unfortunately, the shot I most wanted to take as a representative photo of Bratislava did not come out well in the fading light: It was a view of a four-way intersection. Beautiful Baroque buildings lined all sides of the streets and a black Mercedes was pulling up alongside a bunch of crowded (canopied) tables outside a cafe. The picture, had there had been more light, would have captured the buildings, the Mercedes, the weather and the modelesque waitress, who was puffing moodily on her cigarrette and staring off into space while an exasperated-looking client, a man in a suit at a table behind her, waved in vain to get her attention.

Perhaps the shot that I took after that (which did come out) was even more fitting. The name of a cafe read:


I did some more writing at the internet cafe until just after midnight. The streets were quiet and calm as I made my way back to the hostel. You couldn't get robbed here if you tried, that was the beauty of the place. (The problem was that you couldn't get decent service if you tried, either.)

The German cyclist-hippies were all asleep in their beds when I got into the room. The English and Kiwi weren't there. I turned the lights on and banged around as noisily as I could, waking everybody up before I myself went to sleep.

Posted by Joshua on August 4, 2005 05:29 PM
Category: Slovakia

I've been in Bucharest for 24 hours and this article, which I just spotted, does not surprise me at all:

Posted by: Josh on August 11, 2005 06:31 PM

In Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.

Posted by: Josh on August 14, 2005 08:51 AM
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