(to be read preferably while listening to “Bratislava” by Beirut)
So yeah, we finally got to the Bratislava Airport. It was a dinky little thing, though it looked new. We got our bag, first one out on the baggage pick-up, which never happens to me, and headed where everyone else was heading. Once outside it was a bit of a confusing mess, with signs in Slovak only (occasionally German as well), so we didn’t quite know where to go. We decided to buy bus tickets from the machine, because everyone else was doing that and we make great sheep. There were about three bus stops, all of which only had bus numbers; no route map or destinations in sight. I chose, somewhat against JB’s will, to take the one that the most people were taking. He could have been right in that we should’ve waited and asked for directions, but my instincs were even more superright. Didn’t quit know where we were going, but I could tell we were at least heading south, which was right, and stuff started to like more city-y (McDonalds and whatnot), so it seemed right. I decided we should hop off at a certain stop that looked good, and had a map. So we looked at the map, found our couchsurfer Ľubomír (Lubo)’s street, which the map said was in our little square but didn’t say exactly where, but at least we knew we were pretty close. Got maaaaaaad lucky with that. So I asked a cop if he could direct us a little, but he said “No English. Deutsch?” So I used my limited German (thank God German 101 is all about asking for directions and whatnot) and found out more or less where we needed to go. Finally got there, ready to put our bags down and go exploring, but we had no way of contacting him because our phones don’t work outside of France and he lives in a dorm, and for some reason they couldn’t just phone him or whatever. I don’t know, Slovak rules or something. So we headed downtown to look for a hostel.
Hostels will pretty much always give you their free map, even if you don’t stay with them. People that work at hostels are just nice, I guess. So we got one of those, and marked where we were, Lubo’s place, etc. Headed across the street to some internet café, where every minute online cost about the equivalent of 2 centimes. CouchSurfing messaged Lubo, and went to the McDonald’s downstairs to eat. Yes, I am not proud to say it, but our first meal abroad was at McDo… They had a dollar menu though! For reference, McDonald’s in France is actually sort of expensive, you can’t get much for under 2 euros. Slovakia uses the euro though, and it was still under 1€ for stuff. Exciting! Went back upstairs, got some info from Lubo, and went back to his place to meet up. He was supernice and let us put our stuff down, sit down and hang out for a few minutes. He marked on our map all the important things to see, and after graciously giving us something to eat and drink and explaining that he had to finish up some homework, we were on our way into town. Saw their weird-looking radio tower
some cool gardens, the President’s crib, and the government buildings. Then we headed into the old town, which was small but really cool and Eastern-feeling. Reminded me a bit of Poland, in fact. We wandered around, taking in the sights and finding these weird little statues that they have a few of, such as Schöne Nací, and old insane person who used to roam the streets with a smile, tipping his hat and kissing women’s hands, the French Army Soldier, and, most famously, Cumil (the Watcher), here:
We wandered over to some church that looked superold, but unfortunately it was undergoing repairs and was partially under scaffolding, so didn’t make for great photos (this would be a recurring theme of our trip). Then we saw the UFO Bridge, which just made everyone downright uncomfortable. Lubo used that as an example later when telling us that Bratislava used to be a very beautiful city, before they started modernizing in all the wrong places and tearing down certain old buildings to make way for new ones. It’s like the opposite of Paris; everything there is kept intact, and there’s a separate district, city almost, even, where all the new, flashy, skyscrapers are. That is, at least, one good thing about Paris. Anyway, we hopped into a Belgian bar to get some good beer/because JB had to pee, and met up with Lubo a few minutes later outside the opera house. Lubo likes taking pictures and, despite JB’s hesitation, he got one of us in front of it. Then we headed to the supermarket. And surprise, they had even better-looking bread there than they do in French supermarkets, or even bakeries sometimes. And oh, the beer! It was magnificent, they had 2-liters of it that get you drunk if you even look at them for long enough, 6-pack one-liters, and a ton of variety (esp. compared to French grocery stores). So our purchases for the night/the next day looked like this:
plus a few other healthier things. Then it was off to dinner at this old coverted theater that’s now a bar/restaurant called Bratislava Flagship Restaurant (in English, for some reason) that served pivo (beer) and the national dish of Slovakia, bryndzové halušky, or “Potato Dumplings with Sheep’s Cheese”. It looked gross; it was amazing.
For anyone who wants a recipe, there’s one here, though it’s hard to find sheep’s cheese in the U.S. except at farmer’s markets; goat cheese might be an acceptable alternative but I’m not sure. I also usually don’t post recipes, but this stuff was exceptional. Anyway, after eating and drinking there, we went back to Lubo’s place and hung out with him and his friend Tomí for a bit. It was Thursday night, the big night for students to go out, so we went to the closeby Česká pivnica, or “Czech Basement”, a Czech-themed (surprise!) bar that was, also surprisingly, in a basement. It was a pretty cool place, and it was really weird to me to be sitting in a Czech bar in Slovakia, speaking English with a Frenchman and three Slovaks. English really is the new lingua franca, despite what that asshole in Grenoble told me that one time when he was drunk. Lubo’s friends Vlado and (I forget Vlado’s girlfriend’s name) were really cool and really friendly; actually everyone in Slovakia was. They even pay for their public transit even though it’s pretty much on the honor system, unlike the French who take it for granted most of the time. Anyway, Vlado’s girlfriend spoke French but, like a French person who speaks great English, said that her French was bad and she didn’t want to use it that much, even if she was studying it and had an actual Frenchman at her disposal. Too bad. Anyway, after a couple hours and more than a couple beers, it was high time we get back to Lubo’s place to get ready for bed. Mostly because we just decided a few hours before that it would be cool to go to Vienna the next day for a few hours, since the two capitals are the closest in Europe at 40 miles apart (not counting Vatican City and Rome, because, seriously, come on…) and needed to get up early for the bus. And lo and behold, as we walked out, it was snowing. Weird even for Bratislava at that time of year, apparently, but it was coming down pretty hard. So of course, Lubo, being camera-happy, insisted that we stop for a group shot (minus the girlfriend, in this iteration):
JB commented that we might be among the last people in France to see snow this winter, which was probably true as it hasn’t snowed here since. Anyway, we went back to Lubo’s, which was only about 5 minutes away, hung out for a few minutes, drank a couple beers, and went to sleep like little Slovak babies, ready for an Austrianadventure…