lunes, 27 de agosto de 2012

I am in Bratislava! But where the hell is that?

Bratislava
I was more than ready to say goodbye to Budapest. The night before heading to Bratislava, after the bar, we went to eat Hungarian pancakes one more time. I chose three different flavors, nutella, chocolate pudding and fruit and cheese. Once again I knew how it feels to say goodbye to someone I really appreciate and surely I am going to miss next day. Definitely the best of my trip to Budapest was meeting Adrienn and feeling that still, thousands of miles away, I have a great friend.
My bus to Bratislava was leaving at 6:00 am from the bus terminal in Budapest. As I mentioned, the night before we went to a Hungarian bar to drink "the national drinks". I set the alarm for 4:30 am but I was so tired that I did not listen to it and I continued sleeping until 5:00 am. When I opened my eyes and realized how late it was, I jumped out of bed and I did not even have the chance to take a shower.
Fortunately I did not stink. I started to put everything in my suitcases at any cost. I had already checked out the night before and I only had to leave the room, close the door and run to the train station. Luckily out of the building, right next door, the train station was. Here again my nightmare began "My suitcases". At this point I did not remember how much they weighed. I just know that every new country meant more weight in my luggage. It's not that I am a compulsive buyer of souvenirs, I just cannot resist to buy! When I got to the station I had to go downstairs twice.
The first time with the small suitcase and once again with the largest one. I was not asked for the train card. Typical! (How my friend Aquiles would say) If I had not had the card, then I would have been asked. The thing is that I went down the escalators. I waited for the train and headed towards the bus station in Budapest. I did not want to be late and I felt the train was going too slow. If I were late I would have lost my bus to Bratislava and that would mean losing a day and losing money. In addition, I had already lost a ticket, therefore I could not afford making that mistake again. I explain you guys, when I was in Budapest I started looking for the cheapest way to go to Bratislava. Everyone told me that the best way to travel within Europe was by train, but I don’t agree at all. Prices are extremely expensive. I found that the cheapest way to go to Bratislava was by bus. Together with my friend Vlado we found several bus companies which go to Bratislava. The cheapest is called Orange buses. However, they had no availability for the days I needed. Then Vlado found another bus company called Eurolines. It was also very cheap.
Brastislava
The trip from Budapest to Bratislava only cost me 12 euros. Then I bought the ticket from Budapest to Bratislava and Bratislava - Budapest, because in order to go to Romania I had to go back to Budapest. Otherwise from Bratislava would have been really expensive. In summary, I had to change the ticket TWICE and wasted my money. I did not plan well my departure date from Budapest to Romania so I booked the ticket on the wrong date, then I had to change the ticket to Romania from one day to another, and then I had to change it back to the day that I originally purchased it. The worst was when I changed the ticket I was fined 70 percent of the price of the ticket. It is not that it was very expensive, but in my situation, to save any euro, was important. That is how a ticket that only cost 12 Euros; actually cost me around 30 euros. Definitively those are things we have to live to understand.
Finally I reached the bus terminal in Budapest. I arrived on time! I ran towards the information booth and asked where my bus was. I went to the boarding area and there was the bus that was going to take me to this city that nobody knows where it is or what it is. I must admit, three years ago when I met Vlado, as well as Adrienn, in the same camp, and he said he came from Slovakia, I thought for a while. What I remembered was Czechoslovakia and, as far as I knew, this country no longer existed. I later learned that they spoke "Slovak" Damn! They have their own language! I felt uncultured, ignorant and uneducated.
At least I knew there is a country named like an animal (Turkey) and its inhabitants do not know if they are in Europe or Asia. I also knew about a country which in English sounds like "Hunger", but a country called Slovakia? Was it not Czechoslovakia? Hahaha I was really confused, but then I remembered that in fact there is a country with that name. It was part of another country called Czechoslovakia which existed from 1918 until 1992, when they separated and two new countries were born.
Vlado and I walking around the city
It is amazing how the world changes dramatically with every century. Centuries ago, the "cool thing" was to be the country with the largest land area of all, for instance, The Chinese Empire, the British Empire, and the Spanish Empire, among others. That which could conquer and gain more territory would show who was more powerful. Nowadays, the “cool thing” is to be small. Such is the case of Andorra. Yes, there’s a country in Europe called Andorra.
I’d dare to call it a "micro-country." This is a small country not larger than Manhattan and whose President is the French one. I never understood this. Why the fuck do you want to be independent from Spain, but you want your president to be the French? Is it better? If you want to be independent so be it. Another case is Catalunia, a state of Spain, which also wants to be an independent country. Hopefully it is still part of Spain. Another example is the Vatican, here I really never understood. A church and a square are a country? What about Monaco? and Lichtenstein? Probably, in a hundred years the “cool thing” will be not being part of anything. However, by that time perhaps the earth is so polluted that we have to emigrate to the moon and then we will be lunatics.
The truth is that thanks to Vlado, I learned a little bit more and realized that Europe is not only France, Germany, England and Italy. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, there are other countries that nobody knows, and which are waiting to be visited and have many things to show. Going to Europe is like going to the United States and when you go from New York to Pennsylvania is like going from one country to another.
From Budapest to Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, it took me around 4 hours or less. The bus I took was almost empty. There were only like 10 people. The bus was going from Budapest to Prague and it made ​​its first stop in Bratislava. Almost all buses within Europe have Wi-fi! Hell yeah! Well, they say they have. Such was the case of this bus; it offered “free-wifi” but the connection was so bad, that even Google took ages to load. Furthermore, if I use the Tablet while the bus is in motion it makes me want to throw up. So I better decided to sleep. I had two complete seats for myself!!
I took off my shoes and laid down across two seats. I felt like doing things wrong. However, I realized that I was not the only one who was doing that. Other Europeans also did it. I relaxed and fell asleep until I reached my destination. I closed my eyes in one country and when I woke up I was already in another one. It usually takes longer to get from one city to another in my own country.
The Danube River and a wonderful bridge
The driver tried to say something in English through a speaker on the bus. I really did not understand. I only got the word “Bratislava”. So I realized I was already there! I was the only one who got off there; I guessed the others were going to Prague. I took my heavy luggage which, by the way, I had to pay 1 euro extra for each one.
I had reached an old and small bus terminal, only two floors. Everything was written in another language which I did not understand either.
I waited for Vlado right there where the bus dropped me. Actually we had not decided where within the terminal we would meet. Five minutes later I even thought I was in another country which I did not know and probably no one spoke English! I looked around and I did not see any sign of "Welcome to Bratislava" or maybe there was one, but was in Slovak. Five minutes later I saw someone really tall walking towards me. It was Vlado. He is easy to distinguish; firstly because the bus terminal was almost empty, and secondly because he is so high that I can see him from far even if I am not wearing my glasses. He looked taller than the last time we met. Seriously, he was exactly just like two years ago in New York. We hugged warmly and the first thing I said to him was; Dovlado! It was a kind of joke I started in the camp where we met. His name is Vlado and if you placed a "Do" it sounds like "Dovlado" and in Spanish it sounds like “Bent”. Yes, I know, it is another bad joke. But it was good in Pennsylvania two years ago.
Something that really surprised me about Bratislava was that it was almost empty. Not only in the terminal, but in the city itself there are no people!!! Vlado told me this was because it was Saturday and during the weekends people are resting. It did not make any sense to me. I come from a place where people go to party like crazy on the weekends. People go out to party, go to the beach and shopping centers are full.
Later I understood the reason for everything; Slovakia is a small country with a whole population of 5.3 million people, that's nothing! There are more people in Caracas. We're almost 6 million, only in Caracas!!!!!! Although in our case, this is a problem, because Caracas is growing in population and less on structure. 5.3 million people in Slovakia, is really nothing. Only in Bratislava, the capital, there are 450 thousand inhabitants. That impressed me a lot!
It was the first impression I had of the city. I was used to visiting big cities which are always crowded. I come from a town that is always full. Then I moved to Caracas. Then I went to New York, a mega city, with 8.4 million inhabitants. Later I went to Berlin, a city with 3.5 million inhabitants. Later on I went to Budapest, I forget how many inhabitants it has, but I do remember it was full everywhere. Now I came to this country where the population not does even exceed the population of my hometown! It was a big difference. Definitely 450 thousand people were nothing.
Slovak Government House
After my first culture shock we went Vlado's sister’s place. Unlike Budapest, here I could find more people who did speak English. I remember a Vlado's sister’s friend took us to the apartment. It was still cold, although the winter was almost over. Vlado's sister was on holiday in England and we had the apartment for ourselves. She lives on the third floor and there’s no elevator (yes, insert here the “F” word) Fortunately, Vlado helped me with the big suitcase, and I only had to carry the little one.
We came in, walked with the luggage and took off our shoes at the entrance. It is something common that, in many European countries, people used to take off their shoes at the door and wear flip flops or go barefoot at home. It was a nice little apartment but there was not Wi-fi available! I felt my world falling apart. I could not believe it. I wanted to cry, I panicked and I wanted to run and run far far away hahahaha lol Luckily, Vlado's sister had left her laptop, which was connected to the Internet by the Ethernet, so I could return to the virtual. I am totally addicted to the Internet.
The first thing I did was call my home. I logged in on Skype and called my family in Venezuela. My aunt answered the phone. I was excited, I was in another country, another people, another culture, another world. I say excitedly - "Auntie, I am in Bratislava". Here comes the funny part, my aunt answered me trying not to sound bad: - "Good!" - By his tone that I realized she did not really know where on the map I was. I tried to explain, but hardly knew where I was. I say I’m in Eastern Europe, in the capital of a country called Slovakia. The first thing she said was – “Ah! ¿Czechoslovakia?”- Hahaha! –No- I answered. This is another country. Well, then I do not know, it was her last answer. I spoke with my grandmother and everyone was happy for me, because I was safe and sound despite being thousands of miles away from home.
Gradually I began to realize that not only my family did not know where the hell I was, but my friends either. On Skype I was often asked what the hell Bratislava was. Leomar, a college friend in Venezuela, asked me once – “Dude, excuse for being so ignorant, but where the hell is that?”.  - Hahaha! I laughed to death. I began to realize that in Venezuela when we say Europe, we think of France, England, Spain and probably Italy. I had to explain many people what Bratislava was, what Slovakia was, where it was, what language they spoke and what the hell I was doing there. This last part, I did not even know what I was doing there. Other people told me, why do not you go to Paris, Amsterdam? No, I wanted to visit my friends and that was the most important.
National Slovak Teather
That day we went out to walk around the deserted Bratislava. It is a very European city. No subway, only trolleybuses, a kind of tram. They are like a version of a tram with wheels. Added to this, there are also buses and trams. That's it. It is a small, uncrowded, clean and safe city. Through the middle of the city also passes the Danube, the same river in Budapest. Apparently this river has been very important for Eastern Europe in past centuries. It was like a kind of highway running through several countries.
After Bratislava the river makes its way to Vienna, capital of Austria, and then from there I do not know where it goes. We walked about 4 hours that first day. We went to a mall in a very fancy place in Bratislava. The mall’s name was Eurovea. On the sides of the mall there are several restaurants with tables outside where you can sit while you’re served by a sexy waitress and you’re treated like a king. The Danube flows next to the mall and the view is spectacular. We drank a Slovak beer.
Despite not being a “lover” of beers in almost every country I always tried to taste their national beers. I was never asked for identification anywhere in Europe to verify that was an adult. In contrast, in the U.S.A Everywhere I am always asked for my passport. You must be 21 years old to drink liquor in the U.S.A.
We sat in chairs with cushions and you were given a blanket if you were cold! I was calm and happy. We drank our beers and of course I logged into Facebook to update my typical status: “In Bratislava with Vlado” and I also uploaded a photo that I’ve just taken. The world was perfect at that moment. I had no reason to worry. Even when I was told, while in Budapest, that I could not return to the U.S.A on the dates I had planned. 
Sissie in Bratislava
However, the aftermaths of those days of stress were felt; a horrible and growing herpes bothered my upper lip. Despite this I learned that stress does not solve my problems. Everything happens for a reason.
We walked down a long boulevard; with banks that had a tag attached and said "Free Wi-Fi". We continue walking until we reached the city center. There were almost no people. This is something that I could never get over.
We started walking from the center of the city to a hill with a monument to the Russian soldiers who died in 1945 while attempting to free Bratislava from German troops. To reach the top of the hill where the monument is, we had to walk a lot. And I mean a lot! Going up and up and through and endless path, then stairs and finally, when I was about to faint from fatigue, we arrived.
I needed to sit for a minute. The view from up there is spectacular, magnificent. The monument on top of the hill is called Slavín and it is a kind of military cemetery. The hill is in the middle of a neighborhood of embassies and luxurious residences, near the center of Bratislava. The monument, which has been declared a National Cultural Monument, opened in 1960 on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the liberation of the city by Soviet troops. In the cemetery there are 6845 soldiers buried.
Its construction begun between 1957 and 1960 in the place where there was a cemetery field before. The place has a grand staircase, where we went through, and a garden with graves of 6.845 Soviet soldiers who died during the liberation of Bratislava. There is also a large central room with several statues, inscriptions and symbolic sarcophagus of white marble. Something also interesting is an obelisk of 39.5 meters high and its top a statue of a Soviet soldier 11 meters high by the sculptor Alexander Trizuljak. On the exterior walls there are inscriptions with the dates of release of several places in Slovakia between 1944 and 1945. The central hall door is made of bronze and no one has tried to steal it. Hahahahaha
Monument to the Russian soldiers
The monument is located on the Small Carpathians and frequently visited due to its beautiful views. The Carpathian mountain range is huge. It is the equivalent to the Andes in South America. I took several photos of the city from up there and then we began our descent into the city. We came back and continued walking the streets and looking at old buildings. We passed the Government Palace, the Slovak National Theatre, and many places. In one square I found a statue of the famous Austro-Hungarian Empress “Sisie”, which my friend Elvira loves so bad! So I took a picture, uploaded to Facebook and then tagged her.
I was really tired, the night before in Budapest I barely slept. In addition, the trip from Budapest to Bratislava and the trip to the top of the hill took off all my energy. Vlado was tired and we decided to return to his sister’s apartment. It was nearly 7pm and we were hungry, not in Hungary (Bad joke again). We took a bus back, which by the way, uses the same payment system than Berlin and Budapest. I remember we got exhausted. We ate what we had bought at the mall and watched a movie.
That night I had to sleep on the couch and the freaking Vlado slept on the queen bed. But this is not the worst. The worst is when we went to Nitra, the city where Vlado “studies”. I will tell you guys later.
I slept like never before. The next day we had another long day and a long walk. The sun came out and another day was beginning. We woke up and had breakfast. That day we had to visit the castle of Bratislava which is a very important landmark of the city.
The castle is visible from almost everywhere in the city. It is partially surrounded by the Danube. This hill also belongs to the Small Carpathians. The castle is home to some of the best collections of the Slovak National Museum; among these is the so-called “Treasures of Slovakia over time”, another historic exhibits, furniture, clocks and another one dedicated to music. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, except Mondays, when it is closed to the public.
Bratislava Castle
The first information about this castle dates from 907. It is more than 1000 years old! The castle was almost totally destroyed in 1811, and it remained in ruins until it was restored in 1953. It is huge and seems to have been built 5 years ago. The hill on which the castle is located is well worth a walk through the gardens. From the top of the hill, on the horizon, you can see the border between Slovakia and Austria and almost get to see Vienna. Next to the castle is a building which houses the Slovak Parliament since 1994. There is also an Alexander Dubcek’s bust, who is a Slovak politician very important in the history of the Czechoslovakia.
We spent much time walking around the castle. That day we walked again around the city and I admired the typical European architecture that Bratislava has. That same day, at night, we headed to Nitra, a city just two hours away from the capital and it is where my friend Vlado studies. Well, he says he “studies”.
On the next post I will tell you about Nitra, a city where I spent 4 days and I pretended to be a student from the faculty where Vlado studies just to be allowed to sleep in his room. Hahaha! That makes things more interesting and more worth the effort.

See you on the next post.

A big hug from somewhere on the planet.

Moisés

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