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Monday, November 5, 2012

Stranded in Slovakia

I’ve been trying to think of a way to succinctly sum up my Slovakian saga, but I'm afraid there isn’t really a way to do that.  Just skim this if you want, you won't miss much.  I took a look at the map and noticed that the train from Budapest to Prague goes very near to Bratislava, so I decided to spend the day in Slovakia on my way to the Czech Republic.  I ended up seeing much more of the Slovak suburbs than I bargained for.  Shortly before the train reached Bratislava, we were delayed due to an accident further up the track.  After waiting for some time, everyone was evacuated from the train and told to walk through this little village until we came to a main road.  Not having any idea where I was going, I started to follow the crowd traipsing through town.  I had met an American girl, Kristin, about the age of my sons, on the train.  She was on her way to the airport to fly home, and was really panicked about the possibility of missing her flight.  She kept saying that she would be having a breakdown and be in tears if she hadn’t met me.  So I felt responsible for her.  We finally got to the road where we were supposed to wait for busses to take us to the train station.  Since Kristin thought she would miss her flight if she didn’t go directly to the airport, a young Slovak girl called her a taxi.  They said they would be there in 6 minutes, so I assured Kristin that I wouldn't leave her until I knew she was safely on her way to the airport. Well, 30 minutes later, still no taxi, and by then 2 busses (crammed full of former train passengers including the girl with the phone) had come and gone.  There were still a few folks standing there, and I mentioned that it was taking a long time for another bus to get there.  They told me that there wasn’t another bus to the train station, that the 2 that had come and gone were it.   Oops, nobody had mentioned that, not in English, at least.  Not good.  Okay, I had to “keep calm and carry on” as they say here in England, so Kristin wouldn't totally freak.   I figured if we could get a bus to the center of town, from there we would be able to get to our respective destinations.  So we took the next bus that headed to into Bratislava.  We met a young man who told us to follow him and that he would get us to the right busses for the airport and train station.   As luck would have it, the bus we were on broke down, but the young man took us to a tram and we continued on our way.  Several times we tried to explain to people that we had to leave our train due to an accident and then had to leave our bus due to a breakdown, but they would just shrug and say, “Welcome to Slovakia”.  Seriously, that happened at least 3 or 4 times!  So we got to the central transportation hub where the trams and busses meet, and the young man pointed out a bus that would take Kristin to the airport and another that would take me to the train station.  He said it was only a 15 minute ride to the airport, and Kristin had about an hour and a half before her flight which I assured her would be plenty of time in an airport the size that I assumed Bratislava’s would be.  (I hope I was right!)  Anyways, Kristin seemed to have calmed down and she thought she could make it on her own from there, so I headed off on the bus that supposedly went to the train station, armed with the word “Train Station” written in Slovak in my notebook.   I found the word on the map on the bus, but we never seemed to get closer to it.  Finally, I was the only person left on the bus, and I showed the word to the driver.  My interpretation of the gestures and sounds he made that I imagine were Slovak words, was that this was the end of the bus line, so I was out of luck.  The end of the bus line is not a bus station, you know, it’s a big bus parking lot.  So there I was.  Stranded in Slovakia.   In the snow.  Well, it wasn’t actually snowing, but there were patches of snow on the ground, and it was pretty darn cold since I hadn’t packed a coat on this trip, in the interest of travelling light (although I did have my spiffy new rain hat, that I really love, purchased at a craft fair near my UK home).   For some reason, I just rolled with it, as they say to do in Fulbright.   I think once I got in that calm mode for Kristin, I just stayed in the zone.  So I started wandering aimlessly through suburban Bratislava.   Finally……..What’s that up ahead???   Why I do believe it’s a bus stop!!!  Praise the Lord!!    My travelling angel, who had obviously been napping the past couple of hours, must have awoken, as not only was there a bus stop (why that made me so happy, I’m not sure, as busses hadn’t exactly worked out for me so far!) but there was also a young girl who spoke some English and could tell me which bus would take me to Old Town Bratislava.  I'd come this far, I might as well see the sights.   “Lo and Behold” this bus really did take me to the historic district of Bratislava!   The Old Town was really quiet, but quite nice. 
Bratislava--note snow of the roof
The Paparazzi

These church windows had been broken out, but I thought
this was a clever solution to the problem; board them up
and paint copies of famous works of art!

Cumil,  "The Watcher" at work

One of the few people on the street (actually under the street) was Cumil, “The Watcher”.  This was one of the quirkier statues I’ve seen.  After wandering around the Old Town a bit I decided to climb up the hill to Bratislava Castle, which hovers over the historic district.  I learned that this site has been inhabited since the Stone Age.  About the time the Slovak mass transit system was built.  (Kind of a snarky comment coming from an American, since we hardly have a mass transit system at all in the states, but hey, this was a long day.)   And let me add a little aside; I'm actually lucky that I didn't get hauled off to some Slovak jail for illegally riding busses and trams, because at this point I didn't have any Euros (Hungary uses forints and the Czech Republic uses the Czech Koruna, which I did have, but I didn't see any ATMs or currency exchanges before I got into the Old Town) and if you are caught riding without a ticket, you can be fined 40 Euros, but I didn't have any Euros......  so I really shouldn't complain about the transportation system, since I was riding for free.  

Bratislava Castle
Celebrating my Charge up the Hill

Not sure who this is, but it's a cool statue

The castle was really quite impressive, but I couldn't go inside due to renovations. So I headed back down the hill to look for some authentic Slovak food.  I saw an advertisement for chicken schnitzel on the side of a nice-looking hillside café, so I went inside to order some.  “Oh” said the waitress, “you want the tourist plate.”  Sigh.  It might not have been traditional Slovak food, but I have to say, it was pretty tasty.  I took off my cardigan (note to British friends,  I said “cardigan” not “sweater”, I’m learning!)  and hat and settled in for a well-deserved relaxing meal.   After dinner I continued down the slope for a little more time in the historic district.  Then I caught a bus that took me to….. Ta Da!  THE TRAIN STATION.  Yes indeedy, I actually made it to the train station, about 6 hours later than I had planned, but it was all good...... until I got on the train and realized that my beloved rain hat was still in the hillside café.   (This part is up to you;  imagine Tony Bennett singing in his most melancholy voice) 

♫ I left my hat, in Bratislava, high on a hill, it calls to me………..  ♫


  1. Wow, that sounds like quite the adventure! Poor Kristen; it's great that you were there to reassure her. You're so sweet, Cindy! Glad you liked Slovakia!

  2. DO NOT SKIM THIS POST! Even though Cindy gives you permission to do so! THIS is a great story, and one that had me laughing my way through it! Sorry, Cindy, as I know there were more tears in your version of it! And you, my friend, are a most gifted blogger! The last line of this post is timeless and classic! Again, thanks for a lovely diversion, a few heartfelt laughs, and a view into the global goings-on of our friends!


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