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My Last Days In Bratislava

My time in Slovakia/Austria is officially up. After my trek to the border and back I thought I should continue the trend the following day, so I set off on foot in search of the two remaining things I wanted to check out – the first being a monument and the second, much like the cubby house I constructed thirty-five years ago out of removalist’s boxes, an architectural marvel before it’s time.

Given its size and beauty the Slavin monument and I had seen each other from a distance, but like the cutest girl at a party it had taken me some time to muster up the confidence to make today’s formal approach. Commemorating over 6,800 Soviet soldiers who lost their lives fighting against the Germans whilst liberating Bratislava in 1945 it is a poignant and fitting memorial of that battle. The site also includes a cemetery including multiple mass graves.

I was going to study the map, plan out a route but if you are going to get to something that dwarfs everything in the city don’t you revert to walking in that general direction until something gets in your path and reassess accordingly? My approach works better in Australia where the town planners don’t have the wrinkle caused by historical sites dotted everywhere in our major cities, resulting in the uninspiring familiar grid pattern. The grid is an unfamiliar concept in Europe, a place where every road winds left and right at least once. Whenever I thought I was near the monument, I would look around and the statue would now be behind me, taunting both me and the hamstrings. For a statue that can be seen everywhere it was somehow able to escape my gaze regularly, proving harder to catch than Christopher Skase. To add to my frustration many of the streets were dead ends resulting in me having to cover the same ground multiple times.

The statue atop the monument is some 50 metres above the ground. For an outsider it is unusual that it is located smack bang in the middle of an affluent part of the city. Double storey dwelling, double storey dwelling, site of great national importance, triple storey dwelling… but I suppose this is the way of the modern city. I did see a couple of vacant blocks with great views of the city for anybody that wanted to retire here and become bloated on cheesecake, local beers and hearty soups.

Actually you should do it, I would be able to visit and we could walk to the Austrian border together.

In the end I reached the top of hill, visited the monument and paid my respects. Afterwards I remember thinking I was glad the walk back will be downhill. On the way back I deviated to spend some time a lookout with views of the Danube and into Austria. Stare hard enough and you may be able to see my footprints from the day before?

Time to refuel with the staple caffeine and cake combo. Apple pie, for the apple farmers.

Conveniently down the street is the Radio & Television building. The inverted design of this one makes you ponder. The idea was apparently first conceived in 1967 and building was completed in 1983. Back when it was open this was a truly remarkable feat which continues to pose questions on how it defies physics some thirty-five years later. The building’s website boasts of a large organ inside but we all know if you have to boast about the size of your organ it’s probably not that impressive.

From there I did a lap of the Presidental Palace. Guards with guns out the front and a public park out the back. Across the road from the President’s lodgings was a sign confirming it was 5 degrees, this was enough of an excuse to convince me to hunt down some soup somewhere out of the elements.

Soup was sourced at a Slovak pub which coincidentally was called The Slovak Pub -Bratislava’s most prominent drinking venue, with a reputation for its heavy drinks and its heavier meals. The garlic soup was served in a hollowed out cob loaf. Cheese and garlic together in a thick soup which had me trying to calculate how I was going to attack this. Do you go at it with all guns blazing to prevent soup seeping through a soggy bread base? If you do that you run the risk of having nothing left to show for it than a dry bread bowl gazing back at you. These are computations I was trying to process to solve my wholemeal conundrum.

Throwing caution to the wind I successfully avoided any seepage and picked at the bowl in between my beer, learning from the pigeons outside. The result was I ended up eating both the soup and the bowl but was lesssuccessful with the cutlery – my first attempt at the spoon shattered two wisdom teeth. Time to head back and start packing.

Woke to a pleasant surprise on my last day in Slovakia, a phone call from Australia. It had been nearly a fortnight since an interaction with somebody was more than a smile and a couple of mispronounced words. Bags packed, apartment tidy, I braved the morning chill for one last breakfast.

Eggs benedict, a dish I rarely have in Australia (for some unknown reason). The waitress at Urban House persuaded me into having a dessert. I had a handful of change that was going to burn a hole in my pocket and before she could recite them all I stopped her at coconut cheesecake.

Took in the sights one last time on my return to the apartment. The hypnotic 1970’s era tile work close to where I was staying – not only was it a helpful landmark but it looked remarkably like the tiles on my Grandma’s bathroom floor.
Made it to the train station with plenty of time to spare and with having already pre-purchased my ticket everything was running to plan. My train was going to the Polish capital, Warsaw but I was to alight at Krakow. This should be simple but the operators like to complicate matters by using historical names and spellings of cities which does nothing but cast doubt in foreign traveller’s minds (our train to Warsaw is shown as Warszawa). Tickets are not in English and the numbers that you think relate to the platform reflect first class or second class instead. Announcements over the PA system are scratchy and usually not in English. On three occasions people travelling to Austria were bamboozled enough they started asking me for guidance on their train. Obviously news of my exploits to Austria aren’t on tips of everybody’s lips yet.
As you do I asked a nun for advice. Her English was good and she assured me that the big guy upstairs put me on this platform for a reason. Shortly after our interaction an influx of families, people with dogs and fellow tourists joined us waiting for the next train out of town. It is not until the train has departed and the ticket inspector comes by that you get positive confirmation. So far, so good.
My previous recent European train journeys have been shorter trips from Hungary where you can take up residence anywhere on the train as they are never full. As my leg of the trip was over five hours I was allocated a wagon number and a specific seat. The seat numbers do not follow any pattern. I could not find my seat 91, surely it would be near 90 or possibly 92. I found a vacant spot and took up camp in 87, next to 68 and 76. More random then the lotto draw.
The seating system remains a mystery but I managed to solve the riddle of the wagon number. I was sitting at the end of our carriage and two hours into the trip I took time out from my copy of Great Expectations to pay a visit to the toilet. Rather than having to tangle with people and use the one down the other end of our carriage I popped across in the next carriage to use the closest available. I was in there for no longer than a minute and a half, during which time the train stopped at a station. I open the door to find most of the people have left the train but was relieved when I could get a visual on my bags. The voice of a man, who is obviously not a passenger says something in a thick accent and as I am making my way back my carriage to take my seat, he uncouples the carriage where I was only five seconds earlier from the train. Any longer and I would have been rolling back to Bratislava in a toilet with my luggage headed in the other direction to Poland without me.
In their defense the train rain to schedule, to the minute and after the train was split we did stay at that station for a short time but I am glad my bathroom break was the result of too many many glasses of water at breakfast and not another pork knuckle, who knows what might have happened?
From that incident things ran like clockwork. Even found enough time and loose change to have a meal in the dining cart. Cooked by a chef as you watch. Beers, juices, soft drinks, you name it they have it on hand. I revived a friendship from my last visit in Prague. Sirloin in a cream sauce with cranberry jam and bread dumplings (svickova omacka). The chef must have been confident of the track alignment as he didn’t skimp with the sauce – the slightest indication of rough track and I would have worn it.

In summary, Bratislava was a great experience, European trains are reliable but frustrating, quirky and unnecessary complicated. Going to have a word to the driver and see if we can make a quick stop and check out these rollercoasters in the middle of nowhere.


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