Communism, Communism Everywhere!

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April 19th 2015
Published: April 19th 2015
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Although I never intended to stop here when I planned this trip, or when I changed my plans to avoid air travel 4 weeks ago, I'm glad I did. My first visit to Bratislava - 6 years ago - was a whirlwind that left a general impression but little substance. I now have that substance, and for that I am grateful.

Bratislava is not a huge town for sightseeing - most of what you'll want to see and remember is in the Old Town, which you can meander through and be done with in about an hour. I did that on Friday, my first afternoon in town. To get past all that, I wanted to use the bus and tram system, and while it's easy to use in theory, it didn't quite work out that way when I went out and about. You can use their website, and it will tell you how to get from point A to point B, provided that you know the name of the stop. I was able to find them after a while (and from remembering what I had seen on my walking through town), so I could find where I needed to go and when. "Take bus X to stop Y" is easy enough. But "Take bus X to stop Y, then change to another platform for bus Z" was more than I could do, unfortunately. Take the Zoo, for instance. It was a straight shot from my bus stop to the Zoo, so that was pleasant. But next, I wanted to go to the Slavín WWII Memorial - that's where the bus change took place. I was able to get to the changing place, but once there, I was at a loss to find the place where bus Z left from. I walked all over that area, but it just wasn't there. As a result, like so much of this trip, my plans had to change.

The Zoo was pretty good, and I think it was even bigger than the one in Zagreb from last weekend. It felt like it was, anyway. I think I'm going to have to start going to more zoos. But the thing about the Bratislava zoo is that they have a Dino Park, and yes, the dinosaurs are real. They aren't alive, but you can reach out and touch them, and they make sounds and move. Most kinds of dinosaurs that you hear about as a kid are there: T Rex, raptors, stegosaurs, triceratops, iguanadon, and my personal favorite, the ankylosaurs! Several of the kids actually got frightened by some of the sounds the animals were making, or by the appearance. Honestly, the herbivorous dinosaurs made sounds that were more like someone's stomach churning than anything else. The carnosaurs made ferocious sounds, as one would expect. I had a great time just in that part of the zoo. As far as the rest of the zoo goes, it's like you would expect. I guess the white tiger was pretty cool. And I found another red panda, but it was asleep on a limb for the entire time I was there. Bummer.

After the Zoo, I had intended to go to the Slavín memorial, but like I said already, I couldn't find the right bus to get me there. So I settled for a castle. Six years ago, Cassie and I made the trek up the mountain to see this thing, only to be denied because they were renovating it. No signs or anything, except at the top gate. This time, I found out that it was open, so I made the climb. And I was rewarded with some great views of the entire town.

Next, I had hoped to find some good food in the Old Town, but my wallet started talking to me, and I decided it was time to hit up a grocery store instead. After this change of plans (instead of going to Poland, that is), I'm out about $50 from the train tickets that are non-refundable, so sometimes you gotta sacrifice. I did get some good rice pudding, though. I bought locally-produced sliced meat and a block of locally-produced cheese. Neither one really struck me as amazing - the meat was ham, and I'm not really a fan of eating sliced ham without it being on a sandwich.

This morning, I decided I was going to the Slavín, and I was going to make it there or die trying. I walked. It was about 30 minutes on foot from my hotel, but I was able to see some of the more modernist - mainly communist-era - buildings along the way. I've uploaded some of the pictures, and I think it's pretty easy to tell what's communist and what's not. Alas, the Slavín is a Russian war memorial atop a hill overlooking the city. It was built after WWII by the communists, so it's pretty interesting. There's a Russian cross as well as the individual gravestones of Russian soldiers who died while liberating the city from the Nazis. The top of the big statue is actually a Russian soldier carrying a flag while crushing a swastika under his boot. I also got a good panorama of mainly the newer city while I was up there.

After the memorial, I wanted to take one last walk through the Old Town, since I've gotten to know it so well over the past 3 days. I also wanted to find some more of that bryndza - that was the sheeps-milk cheese dish I had had on my first night in town. The walk back down was a meandering one, for sure, but I got to see some more residential areas. I also got to see the Grassalkovich Palace, which really gets skipped over on tourist manuals here. As I approached the palace, though, I walked down this fantastic street lined with multicolored baroque-looking buildings. It was a thrill, really, to walk down that street, named Tolstého. I'll definitely make sure to head down there next time I'm in town again.

I walked around the Old Town, looking for a new place to find some bryndza, and I found a place. It was in the sun - even though it was mid-50s F here today, the sun was amazing. Yesterday, it was sooooo windy. Anyway, I ordered a drink and was ready to order my much-anticipated bryndza when the waitress said that they had run out. Apparently, so many people had stopped by earlier that they cooked all they had. That really was a sad day. I settled for a pork schnitzel and fries. They were delicious, don't get me wrong. But there's something about looking forward to something and then being denied, whether it's food or any other facet of life. While downtown, I did run into a rugby team - or was it 2 opposing teams? Some were in red, some were in blue, but they all looked like they knew each other and were having a good time at the Scottish Pub. Then there were these girls in American football jerseys walking around - they didn't speak English, so I don't know what was going on. There was also a roving band of Hare Krishnas singing and playing music. They looked like they were having a good time, too.

After that, I walked back to my hotel, with a stop on the way in a Tesco Express for a little desert. They really know how to make mass-produced rice pudding over here. America, we need to get on that.

On a total side note, I'm getting more and more concerned about how long this computer will last. It's prone to overheating and then shutting off on its own - which is why I bought a new hard drive a year and a half ago, but then 5 months later, it started doing the same thing. That's when I bought my all-in-one computer, which I normally use for everyday work. But it's a little big to lug around Europe for 11 weeks, so I settled for this. It's been a trooper so far, for sure. I really only need it to write my paper (which I've basically done) and post pictures, which is an ongoing process. When I was watching "Viking" on Friday night before I went to sleep, the dang thing overheated twice during the show and shut itself off (this was the problem that led me to try and fix and then just replace this thing). Luckily, I've got the iPad I can watch videos on. But it's become more and more unstable as the trip has progressed. I believe tomorrow is the halfway point of my trip, so let's hope it can hold out! I've been backing up all my pictures on the external hard drive as well as posting them to facebook, so at least I won't lose them if this thing bites the dust for good.

Speaking of the halfway point, that's kind of weird for me. Sometimes, I feel like I haven't been gone but a week or two, and then other times I look back and think, "Morocco was only 3 weeks ago? It seems like months!" I've been travelling for right at a month by myself, and it's starting to get a little irksome. I'm glad to have the company of Erica - and Mrs. Cunningham for a couple of days, too - starting on Tuesday. I've got 39 days left, and 21 of them will be solo days - though it's getting broken up with the trip to Germany and then back to Italy again, this time with Eno! I'm a pretty big introvert, so you would think I would be loving the alone time. On some level, I do, but I also look forward to being with people I know. I'm definitely learning more about myself on this trip, for sure.

My hotel has been hit and miss. Yes, the room is large with a high ceiling. And the bathroom is wonderful and spacious. The wifi is fast and reliable. And the breakfast is decent. But the bed is hard. I mean, it's probably one step up from a sleeping bag on the floor. And there are no blackout curtains. The windows have thin metal blinds and there's a sheer white "curtain" over the whole thing. These provide little darkness in the morning, when the sun wakes up around 5:30AM. I'm on vacation! I want to sleep until noon if I so desire! But when I wake up and see all this light, my body turns against me. I've felt more tired this weekend than I have in a few weeks, and I'm pretty sure it's because I go to bed at my regular hour but wake up at ungodly times. So I've decided to try and turn in earlier tonight. I've still got to pack and probably will take a shower, too. I may even be in bed by 10PM - maybe I can expect 8 hours if I do? At any rate, I've got a train to Germany tomorrow morning at 8AM, so I'm going to get some rest for that.

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19th April 2015

Looking forward to having you around for a bit!
I got some Vanilla Coke for you and am doing a bit of straightening up tonight and tomorrow. If I've got the time, I may try to make some sweet tea. Let me know when and where you will be arriving!

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