After Romania, Slovakia 6/98

Slovakia

06/21/98 (Sunday)

The train to Bratislava, Slovakia leaves at 10:30 and arrives at 1:30
for a price of 3500 HUFs ($17).  Our train is destined for Italy.  It
is far more attractive than the trains restricted to Romania.  There
is a dining car.  The attractive countryside we see on the journey is
littered with small farms.

There is a hotel reservation bureau at the station in Bratislava.
They at first only offered rooms at $10 per person or $20 per person;
the former was one large room for the four of us in a private house.
We continued to talk to them and finally, after making a phone call,
the place that wanted $20 agreed to take the four of us for $15 per
person.  The number one trolley took us to the center of the old part
of town (Staré mesto) within a few blocks of the hotel.  It took us
about ten frustrating minutes to figure out where the hotel was from
where we got off.

The hotel’s exterior is another in the Communist-block style, 1950’ish
modern, dull with concrete and gray with dirty windows.  Inside it was
obviously upscale, for this part of the world.  Everything looked well
cared for, the booking was done on the computer, there were
televisions (local channels only) and telephones in our rooms.  The
bath and shower were also in good condition.

We were expecting to see many restaurants on the nearby streets, per
the guide book.  But Sunday finds most of them closed.  We find one
open, offering our first glance at the cuisine.  For 44 SK ($1.30) I
got a below par but acceptable wiener schnitzel and some form of
cabbage.  An unexciting experience for all, a notch below anything we
had experienced in Central Europe to date.

Volkswagen is sponsoring a jazz concert in a small downtown plaza,
just a few blocks off the Danube.  The band is excellent and the
sounds fill the plaza.  Jazz seems as popular here as it is in Romania
and Hungary.  The buildings in the Staré mesto (there is an accent
mark on the ‘e’ of Stare) date from the middle ages.  The castle
(hrad) dominates the hill that in turn dominates this part of the
city.

This area was settled first by Celts.  The Romans added
fortifications.  The Great Moravians, about whom I have learned
nothing so far, came in around the 5th century.  I think Slovakia was
ruled by the Turks before becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire.

We found a store open and bought some yogurt, cereal and milk for
breakfast.  Food stores are spare in this area, and that this one was
still open seemed miraculous.  The store was clean, well organized,
well stocked with vegetables, lots of apples but not much in other
fruits, and generally well provisioned for a small store.  The prices
seemed low to us.

06/22/98

Hrad

The castle was burned down in 1811, reconstructed in 1954.  To get
there we took the tram.  The tram costs about $.20 per ride.  We
missed our stop (we should have gotten off on the downtown side of the
tunnel), we got to see the newer sections of town.  It was filled with
communist era block apartments.  After choosing a place to disembark
on the way back, we climbed to the summit in 30 degree (85F)
temperatures;  fortunately the humidity was low.  From the summit we
enjoyed the view of the fat Danube below and the flat countryside that
stretches endlessly outward, the undulating hills receding into a
distant mist.

There are two museums in the castle.  We did not go in either one.
One is called the Treasures of Slovakia’s Past, an archeological
museum.  The other is the Museum of History.

That afternoon I spent resting my back, still painful and stiff.

We ate dinner at a Jewish restaurant.  This is the first time I have
eaten at a restaurant so designated.  It was good but pricey compared
to most places we have eaten in ($19 for two, including beverages).  I
can’t remember what the food was like in detail, although I remember
fish on the menu.  Peggy can’t remember anything either, as I write
this in September from my handwritten notes.  There was a sink in the
dining area for washing your hands, a feature we noted in some other
restaurants as well.  The service was elegant.  They had a hotel at
$19 for a double.  This hotel was not mentioned at the accommodations
bureau.  The hotel was attractive on the outside, far more so than our
communist block, and overlooked the old town.

06/23/98

A Fine Day

After the buffet breakfast at the hotel and on the way to the train
station to catch the 9:00 a.m. train for the Czech Republic, the
ticket police stopped us.  We all had tickets.  He asked, in fair
English, if we had shown him all the tickets we had for the tram.
Yes, we had.  He said we had failed to buy luggage tickets.  What?  We
had not seen anything telling us to buy tickets for the luggage, and
did not recall seeing anything in our guide books telling us we needed
them.

Yes, there is a fine, he said.  Kay offered to buy the tickets,
pulling out some money.  Too late, he said, we had to pay the fine,
700 SK’s I think, about $20.  But after a moment, it became apparent
that is was $20 per bag, $80 total for the four of us!  I became angry
at that point.  I said that it is a bad idea to fine tourists.  They
will not come back to the country to spend their money, and will tell
their friends not to go.  He said that he had to pay a fine in
Switzerland.  If we wanted them to be treat us with respect, then we
had to treat them with respect when they visited our countries.  I
told him that the Swiss were silly to fine him for riding on the wrong
side of a road on his bicycle.  Did he want to go back to Switzerland
after his experience, I asked, and answered “No,” for him.  So why
make us not want to return to spend money in Slovakia?  None of my
arguments worked.  We had to pay him.

I wasn’t planning to go back anyway, as there is not much to see and
do.  But now I will make sure I don’t.  Not that they would miss a big
expenditure from me.

With a bad taste in our mouth but with time to spare, we made our
train.  We had changed a little too much money (via the ATM’s) so we
had to waste some at the train station.  Changing SK’s (Slovak Crowns)
outside the country is very difficult.  Peggy discovered about $50 in
HUF’s (Hungarian) in her purse that we couldn’t exchange in Slovakia.
On the train in Hungary, we were asked if we had any HUF’s left.  Now
we know why they asked.

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