Bratislava has been very pleasant. I’m a sucker for cobblestones (and watching women in stilettoes try to walk on them) and European architecture. We were fortunate to arrive here in time for May Day, which was yesterday. I think a part of my brain is still expecting it to be freezing because I’ve just experienced summer and so now it should be winter, and my default expectation for Europe is ‘cold’.
Yesterday was absolutely beautiful weather though, and well timed as the first of May is a public holiday here in Slovakia and after walking through an almost-deserted shopping district we found most of the town in the main square, where there were bands playing, vintage cars being paraded and women in historical costumes walking around. There were also enormous queues for icecream. It was 25 degrees, after all!
We joined in an extremely well-attended free walking tour. I counted about 40 people. It did make it a bit hard on the young girl who was taking the tour but she did ok and we learned quite a bit about Slovakia’s history and culture. A few interesting facts:
The local castle had withstood Gengis Khan, and Ottoman invasion and Napoleon (an extremely impressive list, considering how many didn’t) and was then burned down by some Italian painters who got drunk and let their cooking fire get out of control about 100 years ago.
At Easter it is traditional for boys to douse girls they like with water then hit them (lightly, I assume) with green sticks. In return the girls thank the boys for this enormous privilege by giving them shots of alcohol and money. I mean wow. Not hard to guess which sex came up with this idea.
I also learned that the Velvet Revolution started in Bratislava, not Prague, which seemed to be important so I might have to do a bit more reading on this because right now all I know is that it was about getting rid of Fascism.
Lastly, witch burning was a bit thing here in the 1700’s. I guess women have it easier these days in Bratislava, maybe being hit with sticks does seem like a step up from the old days.
During the tour we met an Australian couple who had retired and were riding around Europe on a tandem bike. They have their own blog and so Luke and I have been reading it and marveling at their adventures. They’re also ridden around SE Asia and traveled to India. Incredibly inspiring – if I’d met them in Melbourne I’d probably have rushed out and bought myself a new bike already. They take a tent and stay at the occasional hotel but mostly camp. Perhaps after our Africa leg, where we’ll be sleeping in tents most of the time, I can work out if this style of travel really appeals to me.
We spent half of yesterday afternoon asleep so, wide awake, we decided to stay up and watch the last two Harry Potter movies and get them out of the way before arriving in the UK. I have to say that they’ve grown on me and I think they get better as they go on. Watching the characters literally grow up over the space of (in my time) a few weeks is interesting too. I’m now quite looking forward to going to HP World (or whatever it’s called) and seeing all the props and whatnot.
Today has been rainy and I have little to tell. We walked around this morning and went down to the Danube and walked across a bridge that has a UFO shaped restaurant at the top. WE thought about going up but went back into town and had Mexican instead. All the cheesy heaviness of central European food is starting to get to me and I’ve been eating mostly salads in Bratislava. Oh, with the exception (in Zdiar) of a pizza that was Hawaiian but also had mandarin on it. I’ve been meaning to note that down for ages. Mandarin! Picture me shaking my head at the madness of it all.
So that’s pretty much it for this part of the world, off to the UK via the much hated Ryanair tomorrow. I’m dreading the flight and dealing with the baggage (we’ve got three 15kg bags paid for but they must each be 15kgs or under, not one at 14kgs and one at 16, for example. I seriously hate this airline). I’m very much looking forward to being greeted at the airport by Matt, a friend who buttled for board at my place for a couple of years (I mean he was our butler) and is pretty much family.
I can’t wait to be in a place where I don’t have to feel embarrassed all the time about not knowing more than 2 words of the local language. Which is stupid because, really, how many people who come to Slovakia can speak Slovakian, and people here seem to speak enough English to help or point to things. I didn’t get the impression, like you do in some other countries *cough*France*cough* that people were being surly because we were foreigners. They just seemed a bit surly as a whole.
But I’ve really liked central Europe. Great history, great food, great prices, beautiful landscape and we’ve made some good friends and met some really interesting people. I’d rate it!