i have adventures (sometimes)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Bratislava II: The Weekendening

Content note: discussion of rape culture.

I decided to stay another night in Bratislava so I could at least spend a full day there and not arrive in Budapest in the dark. The hostel I'd stayed in was booked up for Friday night, so I couldn't extend my stay. "We're expecting a big British group," she said.
I'm really bad at recognising foreshadowing when I see it.

As it turns out, Weekend Bratislava is where all the other Europeans come to have stag parties and get drunk cheaply. I do not like Weekend Bratislava.

But I'll come back to that.

So I moved my stuff 600m down the hill to my new hostel (accidentally abandoning my tomatoes at the old one - tomatoes, you will be missed), and then set out for a day in the city.

Stuff does not get going early in Bratislava. Maybe it's a March thing, but even by 10am there was just no one really around. But with the sun shining, it was nice and pretty and peaceful.

Looking good, Bratislava (population: 3).
Looking like this guy.
"Well, I'd describe my time in Bratislava as confusing and terrifying... So I guess I'm looking for the perfect souvenir to reflect that?"
At 11am, I set off on the free walking tour, led by our guide, Dominika. I really love walking tours. They're such a great way to explore a city and learn about the history, without forking out for a bus. Plus, walking is nice.

In terms of the history, I found Bratislava a much more engaging place to visit than Vienna. In Vienna, the attractions all seemed focused on imperial history, which I find much less interesting than the later 20th century stuff.

The Man at Work. He has no cultural significance. They just put him here for fun.
That black dot is a cannonball, reconstructed from the bits of one Napoleon's army bombarded the town with.
Slovakian history seems to be an endless cycle of "Hooray, now we are independent and free from the oppressors! ...Ah, shit." From the Hungarians to the Czechs to the Nazis to the Soviets... Lots of glorious revolutions and lots of things just still being terrible. Only differently terrible.

Also, quite a lot of castles burning down in amusing ways.

Memorial at Slovak National Uprising Square.
In its contrasts, Bratislava reminds me a lot of Moscow. I guess it's a Soviet thing. This is the Church of St Elisabeth. Also called the Blue Church (or the Marshmallow, the Cake or the Bouncy Castle), for obvious reasons:

And here, directly opposite, is what Dominka described accurately - if not succinctly - as "a creepy depressing abandoned decaying hospital":

Apparently someone's planning to turn it into a hotel. That plan is not super advanced.
It makes me wonder if I would have liked Moscow a whole lot more if I'd seen it in the sunshine and been able to explore it on foot.

After the tour, I decided to visit Devin Castle, which about a 20 minute bus ride from town. Two Mexican women from the tour group were also going, so we set off together.* It turns out I really have forgotten all my Spanish, and so having me around meant awkward stilted conversations in English and many long silences when I'm sure they would rather just have been talking to each other. But I suspect we were all too polite to suggest splitting up and doing our own thing, so we were stuck with each other.

We squeezed ourselves into the bus along with a large group of teenagers on a school trip.** As seems to be the custom here, the bus was also heated to about 400 degrees, but we survived, and all piled out at the foot of Devin Castle 20 minutes later.

Devin Castle is another thing Napoleon destroyed. Bratislava really has had the worst time over the past several hundred years.
Part of the castle.
As always, posing as if I haven't yet got the hang of having hands.
The Danube and the border with Austria. (How do hands work? Where do they go? I'LL JUST HIDE THEM. THAT WILL BE FINE?)
1. No summoning spells.
2. Don't be a cheapskate. The well demands notes.
3. Keep your phlegm to yourself.
2. No montages.
We spent a bit of time wandering around the ruins (luckily sans school group), until we got tired of looking at rocks. Then my companions headed back into town, and I wandered along the river for a bit before catching the bus back.

And of course, I managed to time my leaving precisely so that I ended up on the same bus as the school group again.

Back in town, I stopped off at the Slovak Pub, which was great, and even had several vegetarian options. I'm so used to not being able to try any traditional cuisine basically anywhere, having been vegan for so long, that being able to try anything at all was quite a novel experience. 

€5 got me excellent cheesy garlic soup in a bread bowl (as recommended by Maiglin) and a lemony beer, as they had no cider. And thus I found the only beer I've ever liked. Only to leave Slovakia and lose it immediately. It was a brief but beautiful romance.

So. The foreshadowing.

My new hostel was nice. It really was. Or at least, it probably would have been nice on a weeknight. As it was, I checked into my room and found out it would be just me and two large dudes who were already drinking vodka at 7pm.


So after panicking about that for a bit, I mentioned it to the woman at reception, who immediately offered to move me to another room, which was way better and contained very nice women whose names I also did not learn. But one of the drunk guys from the first room kept appearing and harassing them, so we locked ourselves in the room while he nagged them to come and drink with him.

I have so little time for dudes who don't respect women's boundaries. So. Little. Time. 
So I told him he wasn't wanted and to leave us alone and he eventually disappeared downstairs. And I told reception that he was harassing people.

And then I spent the whole rest of the evening and large chunks of the night worrying that he would come back and give me hassle. So between that and being woken up at 2am by some noisy returning roommates (who then ALSO SNORED), it was not the restful night I'd hoped for.

I'm sad about it, (1) because I really like Bratislava and I'm disappointed to leave with such a bad taste in my mouth, but mainly (2) because I'm fucking furious about rape culture and the fact that I not only spent an evening feeling panicky and unsafe because of one entitled asshole, but that it's normal to feel that way, and the way I'm supposed to deal with it is to be careful. As if I'm the one who needs to change my behaviour. And the fact that I feel like I'm being a drama queen for even being upset about it, because hey, nothing actually happened, right?

Cis het white men, I hope you appreciate not spending all your time and energy thinking about your physical safety. Also please collect your people so the rest of us can do that too. Thx.


So hey. I still really like Bratislava. I would still recommend it as a great place to spend a day or two. Do the walking tour! Eat delicious soup! Look at rocks! Learn about all the great but mostly terrible things that have happened there!

Just maybe do it on a weekday.

Look! It's nice.
Today, I took the train to Budapest, and I've checked into a hostel that seems delightful. It's so cheap that I'm still waiting to find out what the catch is (maybe it's a cult? maybe that's why all the reviewers like it so much??).

I have four nights here, so I'm looking forward to having a slightly more relaxed few days without trying to take in an entire city all at once. And who knows, maybe I'll join a very friendly cult! With free breakfast! I'll keep you updated.

*In what I've only recently learned is a typically British thing to do, I had lengthy interactions with about five different people yesterday without learning a single one of their names. I ran into one British couple literally three times (on the tour, at the castle and at the train station this morning) and we had long friendly conversations and we still do not know one another's names.
**It's ridiculous that at 26 I'm still scared of teenagers. Particularly the obligatory one or two who inexplicably look like supermodels while all their peers are still gangly and spotty and awkward (I am 26 and still most of those things). I blame dark magic.


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