Croatia: Zagreb & the Lakes and Waterfalls of Plitvicjka Jezera

Zagreb Market - Croatia

While beautiful, Croatia is still lacking a decent internet system. At least as far as I could tell. The connections that I did find were slow and the internet cafes were exceedingly expensive. As a result, it’s been a long while since my last update and I have a ton to catch up on. I’m currently hunkered down in an internet cafe in Florence waiting to connect with a friend. So hopefully, with a few hours to spare, I’ll be able to get caught up. At some points the post may wander a bit as its been a lot longer than I would have liked and some of the memories are not as fresh as I wish they were. I’m going to break Croatia into two posts. This one & one that will immediately follow it as I have a hunch they will be lengthy.

Zagreb Continued

After exploring the town I returned to the hostel where I relaxed for a while. During that time I socialized with one of the two owners. Our conversation roamed all over the place from the running of the hostel, the economic rebirth of the town, the war, women and travel. Eventually I mentioned that I was hungry and he was eager to show me a local eatery. He tossed up the good ol’ ‘Be back in 5′ sign and off we went through a light rain. The meal was from a small stand in a shopping center. It took a few minutes to get our food as there was a line eagerly waiting to place their orders. What we got was an odd mix between a hamburger and a gyro…or something of the sort. Tasty, different, filling… It hit the spot.

Zagreb - Coriatia

Upon returning to the hostel I relaxed a bit and met/formed a decent group to hit up the town that night. Our host recommended a few places to go to and we set off. Before long we found ourselves filing into a tiny bar that didn’t even have the space for a proper bar, but instead had an alcove full of the usual bar goodies. We piled in and began relaxing. Shortly there after three English men piled in. All in their 30s or so, it turned out they were down on loan by the British military from the Czech Republic and were working with the local police force and military to prepare Croatia for it’s estimated 2011 entrance into the EU. It turns out that while the interior borders of EU countries are very soft, they try very hard to keep a tough external border. To that end any new state joining has to significantly beef up its exterior border, which also means demolishing a lot of the crossover. From what I’ve heard and read, in preparation, countries like Croatia have to demolish many of the bridges into their non-EU neighbors in order to create more secure strong points of entry. I can only imagine the political and economic issues that causes. One of the guys in the group ended up hitting it off with one of the guys that was part of a larger group of local students in the bar. While not appropriate to share what started their conversation…our two groups ended up intermingling fairly quickly. It turned out that it had been a big student day and they were out celebrating. Most attended the local university and were studying art & media in some shape or form.

Zagreb Market - Croatia

Before long they grew restless and eager to move to a different bar. They picked us up in tow and we followed them to the other side of the square, down a side street and into another tiny basement bar. This one was mostly deserted which allowed us to all fit inside. At this point in time our group split up a bit, both the hostel and the local group were large enough, and the mixtures odd enough that we all found various sub groups we had more in common with. I ended up joining a small group at one of the tables. Three girls and one guy, who I at first had actually mistaken for a girl. They ended up being extremely friendly and a bit more down to earth than some of the others. One of the other hostelers, a tall Kiwi also joined us.

We got acquainted, ambled through conversation and drank for a bit before they got antsy and decided a club would be a fun idea. We touched based with the others from the hostel, then split off from the main group. The six of us made our way across the old town to a local nightclub. They got us in free, we looked around and left almost immediately after. The club itself would have been ok but it was packed. Not in a fun busy sort of way, but more like sardines in a tin, or perhaps even more accurately white fish in a smoker – as it was again a small basement club that allowed smoking which made it almost impossible to breathe. I continued talking to one of the girls that I was getting along with especially well – Diana was her name – as we wandered slowly back toward the center of town. We took some playful guff from the one Croatian guy in the group before eventually ending up back at the square. There one of the girls decided she was calling it a night which meant the rest were joining her and an end to the festivities. The mother hen collected her chicks (which unfortunately included Diana) and they started towards home leaving the Kiwi and I to figure out what we were going to do for the rest of the night as it was still early. As Diana trailed behind the others a bit she gave me an ALU (their University apparently) pin she’d been wearing from the days festivities. The Kiwi and I grabbed some food then retired back to the hostel and called it an early night. We had an early morning ahead of us.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

Plitvicjka Jazera – The Magic Canyon

The night before most of the others had decided upon going to a set of waterfalls located a ways outside of the city. Traveling as I do, I had seen a poster of them but was fairly oblivious. I figured it was one set of small falls that while pretty were not worth the trip. My plan was and had been to leave for Split and arrive mid afternoon – but as the others talked about it it turned out that the falls were on the way (you took the Split bus to get to them), highly recommended and some two hours south of the city (almost half way to Split). Since it was along my route and everyone spoke highly of them, I elected to make it an early morning and a long day with a 4 or 5 hour stop at the Falls before continuing on by bus the remaining three hours to Split.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The morning was rough, I was feeling fairly decent but a few of the others were hurting. One had managed to pass out at/on the bar and the other had apparently (and quite comically) crawled out of the basement bar, curled up in a ball on the sidewalk and passed out. Both had been collected and made it home but were suffering the after affects. Up a bit early and energized I kicked everyone out of bed and we raced to get ready and make it to the bus station in time for our 8:45 bus. There were 5 of us in total. We got to the bus, got our tickets purchased and not a moment too soon.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The bus pulled away and we were off on a new adventure. The morning was cloaked in dense fog as we made our way south. The fog lasted a good 45 minutes before it finally burned off. The drive itself was beautiful as we twisted through valleys, past vineyards and through autumn kissed trees. There were two things during the drive that truly stood out… The first was the spiderwebs in a number of the fields. These fields were that straw-gold color of dead, wet grass stalks. Within the grass the leftovers of an old crop stood up 2 or 3 feet. Stretched between these stalks were tight lightly woven spider webs perfectly formed, coated in a light dew. They caught the light and looked like giant snowflakes. The fields were covered in them and as we drove by the light caught them as if they were little stars shining out.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The second thing about the drive that really stands out in my memory is a small town in a little canyon with a river running through it. It was perhaps, the most beautiful and picturesque village I’ve ever seen. For those of you who have seen the Lord of the Rings it was a mixture between Rivendel and Hobbiton. As we drove past it I very nearly jumped off the bus and had there been a proper stop near the city I might not have made it to the lakes for an hour or two at least. The water was a deep, crystal clear, turquoise blue.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

I cannot imagine how it deals with flood waters, but perched on the side of a hill as it was, there were small dammed areas everywhere as the water zig zagged its way down the side of the hill and through the village. It was like a tiny Venice with different architecture, quality water, surrounded by forest and waterfalls. Truly words escape me – I’ve never seen anything like it and I only saw it for the minute we drove over the bridge and past it. There were flowers, grass, the clearest, gorgeous blue water you’ve ever seen, picturesque houses, fall trees…if you don’t recall it or have not seen it google a photo of Rivendel…that’s as close as I can come to a description.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

Thirty or forty minutes later we arrived at our destination. We collected our bags and I set off immediately to find somewhere to stash my backpack while I did the tour. Luckily there was a baggage area where you could pay a small fee and leave your bag. That done we purchased our tickets and began our walk into the park which as it turns out is a UNESCO World Heritage site. After walking through the ticket area we turned a small corner and found ourselves on the edge of the canyon wall directly across from a huge waterfall.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The waterfall was a massive white mass that crashed down over gray rocks covered in red and green moss framed by the yellows, golds and reds of the fall colors. At its base there was a mangled bit of rocks with lilly-like plants, moss, and water grass. From there the fork flowed down into the main river which wound its way through the bottom of the canyon.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

The water everywhere was a pristine blue that screamed out invitingly. We snapped some photos, took in the sights and then began to walk down toward the water. The whole path is brilliantly done, in place of an ugly winding cement path, they had selected a walkway of cut wood which created a tree house look that blended in perfectly to the natural beauty. The whole canyon is a series of lakes and waterfalls. If one wanted to walk the entire thing, even at a bisque pace, it would take a good 7-8 hours. The path we selected allowed us to see all but the highest falls in 5 or so.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

Some of the waterfalls, as was the case with the first main one, are large flowing masses that drop 20-100 feet. Some are small and crash down through the moss, lilies and grass en mass all along the small natural dams. The lakes themselves are not only crystal clear but a stunning light amethyst which allows you to see deep into their centers. The lakes also are heavily populated by large schools of what I think were whitefish. The fish are so familiar with people that they school in giant schools along the edge of the lake and behave a lot like goldfish.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

In and along the water everything is green…not just a simple shade of green…but the full width and breadth of the spectrum. In the water and the falls themselves the rocks are seldom visible. Instead they are almost all covered by fallen leaves, moss, lilies, water grass, or old pieces of trees covered in a whitish blanket of silt that reminds me of natural springs. As we wandered our way along the walkway we were surrounded by falling leaves. Eventually, we came to a fork in the path, one branch wound up and continued following the water – the other split off and worked its way up through an arch back toward the top of the canyon wall.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

We took the path on the left expecting to backtrack and eager to see the view it offered. It crossed over a finger of the lake which led into what looked like a small water grotto only accessible by boat or a good doggy paddle. We walked past it then wound up a little ways at which point we were faced by another fork. The right hand side consisted of large square blocks carved out the stone that were obviously meant to be steps…though they were more like square pillars of alternating heights that scaled the 15 foot stretch to a small cave. Legs pumping we made our way up and were dumped into a small cave that looked out over the way we came. A dead end, but well worth the climb.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

We retraced our steps and took the other fork which wound through what seemed like a small cave before zig-zagging its way up and out of the hole. We turned and looked down on the falls before returning down the way we had come and continuing to trace our way along the waters edge. Every second step seemed as if it were straight from a dream. I cannot even begin to imagine the wonder and awe that the first people to discover it must have felt. Because of the early hour, it being off season and mixed weather (it alternated between light sprinkles and mixed cloud cover) there were very few people out and about. If I’m able to upload some of the photos today you will notice the lack of people. It was a dream!

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

I’m afraid that though I could ramble endlessly about the experience it would mostly just be repeating myself. So, to that end let me just say that Plitvicjka Jazera, is truly a natural wonder of the world.

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

I boarded my bus later that afternoon and napped intermittently during the 3 hour ride to Split. The ride itself was gorgeous, Autumn has been my constant companion as I head south, but during that bus ride Winter began to catch up. The higher mountains (perhaps a thousand feet or so above where I had been) had received a light dusting of snow the night before and looked incredible. From there we descended toward the water and sea level. The hills and that part of the country were rugged, treeless and consisted of crumbling stone, small bushes and the occasional river. You could see the occasional footprint of war in abandoned, bombed out, or shot up buildings here and there. At one point with the sea before us and the snow dusted mountains behind us, the sun set. The sunset was a golden sapphire, a burning orb that set red fires across the landscape and clouds casting everything in a rosy hue. The mountains picking up a blue haze and cast in that pink light were incredible. I find it a bit funny to constantly refer to the Lord of the Rings as I travel, but the reality is that in many ways I feel a hobbit traversing a great and incredible world. While many of the scenes shot in the movie were enhanced with computer generation or digitally created, what I see and have experienced is the real, raw, authentic version.

Zagreb

I arrived at 11:00 PM at the bus station. Everything was quiet. I knew that the tram stopped at 11:30 and that my hostel was located somewhere in the heart of downtown. Following my directions, I found an ATM at the bus station, got some money, then found the tram. After piecing together which tram went where, and which direction I needed to go I found the right one and jumped on board. The tram itself was an outdated old trolley. It clunked along at a steady pace and despite the presence of working speakers, the driver’s stop announcements were inaudible. As each stop approached, I would look out the window hoping to catch the stop name and then trying to figure out if it was the one I needed. Eventually I pulled up to a large square, looked out and saw something that resembled what I had written down. Between my poor hand writing and differences in the English version and the authentic Croatian version I wasn’t sure I’d found the right stop until I happened by several people speaking English. They directed me into a dark doorway and into a little yard, where I found a set of stairs that led up to the hostel. Luckily, while hard to get to, the hostel so far has been good.

This morning I awoke and began to explore the city. For this post I’m going to try something a bit different. The city in many ways reminds me of the song by America: A Horse with No Name so I’m going to parallel my writings with select excerpts.

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound

When I awoke the sky was blue with one or two puffy clouds. Compared to last night when it was in the low 40s today was probably in the 60s or so. Having come from Vienna, which is a pristine city with bright, classical architecture, Zagreb is a big transition. In comparison it seems dull, tired, and worn. After being followed by rain during the bulk of my trip the last 3 days have finally been clear and mostly sunny.

Ive been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After two days in the desert sun
My skin began to turn red
After three days in the desert fun
I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed
Made me sad to think it was dead

Zagreb is a city in a rebirth stage. As I wandered around, I was really shocked by the number of buildings that were under construction or renovation. Despite this, many are still in dire need of attention. Walking through the streets and looking at the market places and cathedrals you can tell that at one point Zagreb was fairly prosperous. Now, however, many of the buildings sport cracked paint and plaster. The fecades are worn and in some places the buildings look almost abandoned. The trams too are an odd mix. With many that have been in operation for years and other select lines that are newly acquired.

You see I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

After nine days I let the horse run free
Cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love

While apparently not hurt too badly by the war, the economic harm the war caused can be seen everywhere. As tourism and the economy recovers so too has the city. As I mentioned earlier, the city has an odd contrast between the old, worn, and damaged and the new. Most of the historic buildings have work being done, either in the form of repairs, cleaning, or re-painting. Though a bit crude, the desert metaphor seemed perfect as I see the city as something coming out of a long stretch in the desert. Cracked, near crumbling, stumbling…to add to the image many of the major historic buildings have been painted an odd deep yellow, which looks all the more grittier with the slight smog and dust covering that coats them. Now, as the city comes back to life, you can see it slowly re-hydrates. Five years from now, I think it will look a lot different and might have more draw.

Perhaps its the city, perhaps its that I’m coming from Prague, Vienna, and Munich. Either way the city itself has been fairly boring and drag. It’s definitely not beautiful and the full day I’ve had here was more than enough to take it in. That said though, there were some interesting parts. The best of which was the market. It’s a fairly unique thing in that it was apparently initially built underground, just off the city center. Later, the buildings on top of the underground section, were demolished to create a large square. The modern market now has flower stalls and produce merchants in the open air, as well as a building with fishmongers…while the underground section is full of meat stalls sporting various slices and cuts. Some are more along the lines of butcher counters back home, while others have whole hairless, gutted pigs hanging from hooks, next to smoked pig’s leg, lamb rib, and skinned rabbits. The fishmongers building is fascinating. Holding some 20+ stalls each has a wide assortment of fresh seafood on ice. Everything from bizarre looking fish pulled from the dark waters of the deep sea, to tanks full of carp. The poor carp get the rough end of things, perhaps because of their hardiness, or perhaps because of some sort of local preference, they are delivered fresh and alive. While some are then put into tanks until purchased, many are tossed onto display. Prawns, octopus, eel… take your pick. It’s a very different market than anything back home.

Not sure what tonight will bring…hopefully the city has some fun night life. It seems like most of the people that come through this part only stay a day or two (myself included) so most of the hostel has emptied out and a new batch should arrive later today. From here, it’s off to the south.

Prague Part 2, Vienna & Bratislava

Bit of time to kill before I catch my bus to Croatia, so hopefully I’ll get caught up! It’s brutal how easy it is to fall behind and I hate writing when things are not still fresh in my memory…but here goes!

Prague continued: The show and ballet I saw were both the highlights, but in general Prague is a very musical city. It was not unusual to find street performers which always livens up the experience. On the first day I explored the natural history museum. Quite a different experience than many of the others I’ve seen. The whole thing seemed stuck in time. The exhibits came in basically three different forms…the mineral exhibit, the early human artifact exhibits, and the stuffed animal exhibit. The early human exhibit was interesting, but fairly small. It consisted of a few old artifacts prior to and including the start of the bronze age and a bunch of bones. The mineral exhibit was large, but very different in feel as all of the gems were locked away in old wooden cases with viewing windows. It would not surprise me to learn that they dated back to at least the early 1900s. The stuffed animal exhibit was just that. Rooms and rooms of anything and everything they could kill and stuff…a very weird vibe to it, especially as some had not weathered well and as a result the various butchering cuts and stitches were becoming evident. The building itself however was gorgeous with a beautiful interior.

Night life – while I spent just about every night mixing and meeting people, I only spent two of the nights out at the main bars/night clubs. The first night I did a pub crawl. So far these have been a fantastic way to explore the city’s night life and meet other people. The crawl was lead by an odd American and his sister, and took us to 4 or 5 bars and clubs before ending at a night club. Both were friendly and the crowd on the crawl, despite being almost all guys, was a good group. We wandered the bars, hitting up some interesting ones, some dead ones, and some boring ones. At one point, while walking through the bottom levels of a club that was just starting to pick up, I encountered a group of friendly Nigerians selling weed and smoking it in the bottom part of the club. It struck me as really odd, especially since the people working at the club must have been aware of what was going on. Needless to say, I ended up back upstairs fairly quickly.

The second major evening out was my final one in Prague. I formed up with a couple traveling from England that were at the hostel and then set off to meet an Australian guy I had met in Frankfurt at a club recommended to me. To be honest, it was really bizarre. There were loads of beautiful girls on the subway and around parts of town, but at night in the bars and clubs they were nowhere to be seen and it was mostly tourists. When we arrived finally at the club recommended as a locals joint there was a massive line. I think we were the only 3 (4 once Brad joined us) foreigners in line. But, as we talked to the people around us it turned out the club was all inclusive so the door cover included unlimited drinks even though it cost a good bit more. We’d all hit up happy hour at our hostel and decided to check out another club instead – apparently one of the largest in Europe that was in the tourist district and a good 5 stories tall with different themed floors.

We set off for the club and after a brisk walk and quick tube jump we were there. The place was just starting to pick up. We did a quick walk through of all the floors and then because it was a bit brighter and completely ridiculous, ended up on the 3rd floor which was oldies with light up squares on the dance floor. There is nothing like a huge white dance floor with bands that lit up in different colors to the music. It was definitely fresh out of the movies. We grabbed a beer (the great thing about Prague was even at the club half a liter was only about 2 dollars US) and started dancing a bit. Before long others came out and joined us and we had stumbled into several others from the hostel including a big group of girls from the States of all places. We spent the next few hours dancing (during which I realized that the beer I had been ordering was 12%…ouch). It’s been a slow process, but I guess my ballroom stuff is finally starting to help me on the non-ballroom dance floor. Within about 15 minutes, I had two of the American girls repeatedly tell me how good I was and that they were intimidated. They would rotate intermittently throughout the night until the night club got so hot that I took my leave and headed out for air.

The Prague castle is interesting but was a bit disappointing. Overlooking the city it’s not a castle, even in the more Eastern Euro-German sense, it’s more a monstrosity with a wall stuck on top of a hill with large marshaling grounds and a cathedral in the middle. Still the view was beautiful.

On the day I caught the quartet in the small library that I loved I got out right around sunset and made my way down to the river. Luckily there was just enough cloud cover to make for a few fantastic minutes as the buildings and trees reflected on the river water and cast everything in a rosy hue.

The main Prague cathedral was pretty impressive with fresco and gold paint everywhere. They definitely were all about the gaudy look. The inner city itself was beautiful with a great mix of architectural styles. Many of the buildings had fantastic doors with a very old, medieval, almost castlesque feeling. It was also really interesting to see how many small courtyards there were and in many cases there were arches and small walkways between the streets creating a kind of interconnected maze. There is also a large astrological clock in Prague which draws a lot of tourists on the hour for a little animated show. The clock itself was beautiful…the show was dumb. It’s just a bunch of figures on a circular piece inside the clock. Two small doors open and they walk up to the window and look out as they revolve past.

It’s an odd thing how in Prague and Vienna to a lesser extent they often build right up to/around their cathedrals. They usually, but not always, still leave the public square part, but it can also be a ways away from the cathedral.

Vienna: Vienna is a very different city than Prague. Every bit as beautiful as Prague, if not more so. It still has the rural industrial feeling but the inner city is composed of large grass areas, squares, and ornate buildings. You can see the wealth that the rulers had and invested in the city in their massive palaces and buildings. While some of the buildings are gothic, most have been designed with greco-roman architecture in mind. In fact one of the main buildings (I believe it was the Parliament) is a massive building that was obviously based upon the Parthenon in the Acropolis though it also has distinctly Roman elements (two curved, sweeping walkways to the entrance). Located between the walkways is a huge statue of Athena with various figures at her feet. I believe it’s closely based on the statue of Athena that was originally located in the Parthenon. At each of the 4 corners of the building’s roof there are huge bronze chariots with horses in motion. They are elegant and beautiful.

Located in the heart of the city is the palatial area which now spreads between the city hall (a stunning gothic building) and the old palace which is now a set of classical reading rooms, modern library, set of museums and galleries. Between the two sets of buildings there is a huge park with gardens, statuary, another much smaller greek building, and large grass areas. Off to one side mirroring each other with fountain-filled gardens are two identical buildings which are now used as art and sculpture gardens. These buildings are massive and incredibly elegant.

Beyond that area are Vienna’s wandering streets. In the older parts of town each building is strikingly different though they are all based on the same uniform architectural style. Most of the facades have some sort of figure or scroll work supporting, surrounding, and adorning every window, corner, and door. On some of the buildings the null space is then painted with ornate images. The theaters and opera houses are exactly what you would expect and right in line with how i envisioned them. They fit right in with the rest of the Viennese theme.

While I would have liked to have seen a show like I did in Prague, many were expensive or playing odd pieces I didn’t have a desire to see. I did however attend an Opera at the old opera house. The ticket was 2 euro for standing space, which while a fun thing for a quick peak at the house and the show, was definitely NOT the way to see the opera. Despite enjoying the show, at the first intermission I took my leave, my legs were killing me, it was hot, the view was poor and the acoustics were marginal (we were located all the way at the back in the top). While not as small or ornate as the opera house in Prague it was definitely very impressive.

I met an Englishman who was killing some time after having plans fall through. He was staying at the hostel, but had lived in an Austrian town a bit outside of Vienna for a while a bit back. On the day I’d set aside to tour the city, he was eager to join me, and offered to play tour guide. Apparently, he’s also a fairly proficient musician (level 8 cert) and about to start a masters program in linguistics. As we wandered the city he had all sorts of fun tidbits to share. In addition to covering the bits I mentioned above, we also walked through a large outdoor market street which runs all week long. While there we were passing a wine shop selling (I believe it’s called Vino?) and we stopped for a drink as he introduced me to it. Made from the thicker parts of the wine that they sift off it is apparently only available a few times a year and because of how it ferments cannot really be exported or sold elsewhere. I tried a red, he had a white – it was a potent wine, but also had a champagne feel to it. Much thicker than wine, it would settle if you left it sitting for more than a minute or two. It had a much sweeter and juicier element as well. All around a very pleasant drink.

Later, again ready to rest our feet after hours of walking, we made our way to a small dingy coffee shop he had found during his time in Vienna. The sign looked like it was straight from the 40s and the interior was dark, musky and brown. The walls had mismatched wallpaper, which definitely came from a wide variety of mixed fashion styles and decades. (It reminded me my childhood when my grandparents would take me to the old Brown Derby for hot chocolate. This place though was much older and grungier.) In some places the wallpaper had peeled off…in others it looked as though it had burned and in others people had written all over it. The chairs and tables were piled into the place and the lighting was marginal. The place was fantastic! We made our way to a corner and ordered our coffee and rested our feet. I felt as though I should be madly writing an opera, book, or poetry.

Yesterday I decided to check out Bratislava (some of you may remember it from Euro trip) – located about 50 k (or miles I’m not sure) from Vienna. It is a 10 Euro round trip bus ride and takes about an hour and a half. Lewis (the guy I’d toured Vienna with), Sarah (A kiwi girl I bumped into in Prague and saw again here in Vienna) and I were preparing to set out when we also picked up another American (his name escapes me at the moment). We set off, caught the bus and were in Bratislava by noon with open minds and high hopes. I’d heard that it was worth a visit but not worth an overnight stay. That was an exaggeration. The city itself is an industrial mess with a skyline that is interesting only because of the number of smoke stacks. It has cheap multi-story residential buildings being built and smog. The old city itself has one or two beautiful buildings. The rest are built in a very simple, very plain architectural style that was generally bland and boring. Even the castle perched up above the town on the hill reminded me more of a Holiday Inn than a castle. We explored the city for 2 hours or so, then looking for more to see and feeling like there had to be something we were missing started looking at postcards…unfortunately, everything on the postcards we’d seen. The only really cool thing was a set of bronze statues they have built on/into the streets. One is a camera man peaking around a corner, another is a classicaly dressed figure leaning on a bench, and the third is a chubby construction worker up to his shoulders in a manhole leaning out.

Hungry and done with the city we looked for a restaurant. We’d each converted between 5-15 euro into the regional currency. For me that meant my 10 Euro got me 330 or so SK dollars. Initially we’d expected to find keepsakes, have to pay for museums etc. No such luck. Not wanting to take the hit transferring it back we looked for a restaurant with what might be regional food willing to pay a bit more than usual to get rid of the notes. The place we found must have been an old monastery or wine cellar. It was a a maze of small rooms that wound down into the earth with small domed ceilings, brick walls, and odd paintings on the walls. We settled in, ordered, then waited eagerly for food…which unfortunately ended up being nothing like what we ordered. The waiter completely messed up two of the 4 orders (I think he just didn’t want to cook the pork knuckle i was going to try) bringing us instead plates of spaetzel with goat cheese, and another with sauerkraut and bacon instead of the goat cheese. Not having the time to wait 40 minutes more for them to correct the order we made do and ate hungrily. After finishing the meal we still had some time to kill and a few SK left. Somehow we found an old lady selling a bottle of Bratislavian mead (of all things) and decided to try it. We chipped in for the 150 SK we needed for it, got 4 cups and headed down to the river (Danube i think) where we sat around waiting for our bus, reflecting on how shitty a town it was and commenting on how odd the mead was. I guess at least now I can say i’ve been there, and it only cost me 20 Euro.

Next stop Croatia. Catching the 6 o’clock bus this evening. Wish me luck!