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Day 2: Bratislava

Happily, when I woke up there wasn't a bug in sight. Perhaps it had just been one freak beetle which had landed on my backpack while I was still outside, or perhaps the rest of his family simply lived on another floor. The main thing was that he wasn't bothering us and there was no sign of any other wildlife. We awoke early, mainly as a result of the Penzion curtains being as effective as a chocolate teapot, and were soon on our way back to the airport to catch the bus into the centre of town. The walk seemed ridiculously easy now that it was daylight.

I thought I had prepared well for the business of catching the airport bus, by religiously reading my Bratislava guidebook from cover to cover and even making handwritten notes of the most salient points in an old exercise book. According to my instructions, there ought to be a machine inside the airport terminal building from which it would be possible to purchase a public transport ticket.

We duly entered the airport building and began to search for the said machine. We were not exceptionally successful in this endeavour. We found a machine selling tickets for the airport parking, a machine for buying over-priced soft drinks, and even a machine that offered to wrap our suitcases in cellophane for a modest fee, but a machine which sold bus tickets was sadly lacking. The information desk didn't appear to have any personnel on duty and the bus driver shouted something incomprehensible at us when we tentatively approached what we believed to be the correct vehicle. How frustrating!

It was pure luck that we eventually spotted the bus stop which, in fairness to the airport, is conveniently located just outside the arrivals building. Having already arrived the previous day, we had unthinkingly been wandering round the departure hall. Happily there was a ticket machine at the bus stop and after that everything was plain sailing. After a short journey of less than 30 minutes, we arrived at the Hlavna Stanica which is possibly the least imposing main station I have ever seen anywhere in my life, but nevertheless very user-friendly, having signs to the left-luggage office in English. Having dumped our suitcases there, we emerged into the sunlight once more and went for a quick coffee at a nearby cafe. Coffee is, fortunately, something that it is remarkably easy to order in any language.

Suitably fortified, we set off to explore the Slovak capital. Things didn't get off to a terribly auspicious start when I nearly tripped over two pieces of pavement in as many minutes. The pavements weren't really that bad - certainly nothing to rival the horrors of Bialystok - but they were prone to a series of strange lumps, bumps and potholes which meant that it paid to give more than occasional glances in the direction of your feet.

My first impression of Bratislava was that it reminded me of Szombathely, the Hungarian town that we had visited in summer 2008. Some of old town also felt very Austrian, with its winding streets and pretty facades. If you ignored the enormous housing estates on the far side of the river, overall it seemed like a sleepy, peaceful sort of place, and non-threatening.

We soon located the main square and a maze of other little streets leading off from it. I found the town hall very impressive, with its beautiful roof of little multi-coloured tiles in the national colours, until Tim ruined it for me by suggesting that it resembled snake-skin.


One of the nicest features of the town centre was the abundance of quirky statues, dotted around the place when you least expected them. In the main square there was a Napoleonic soldier leaning behind a bench, plus another soldier standing sentry next to the town hall.


Further on we found a man with a telescope peeping round a corner and another peering up from under a manhole cover.


It all added interest to the experience, and one of the most exciting things was when we saw the UFO bridge rising up over the Danube for the first time.


We had a pleasant lunch in an Italian restaurant near Hviezdoslavovo námestie, marred only by the arrival of some incredibly mouthy Americans and the fact that Tim's goulash contained an inordinate amount of cabbage. Heading back to the train station, we retrieved our baggage and went to check into our hotel. Given the option between something very basic for €20/night or something better for €50/night, I had gone with the latter, guessing (rightly, as it happened) that we would be glad of a last bit of luxury before finding ourselves in the more basic conditions of Kiev.

The hotel Mercure Bratislava Centrum didn't disappoint and I am confident that I will never be able to afford to stay in such a nice hotel anywhere other than Bratislava.  With perfect air-conditioning and the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in in my life, I could happily have spent the entire fortnight in Slovakia. Tired as we were after our journey (and a night spent fretting over bugs), we fell asleep for several hours and it was well after five before we headed out again in search of dinner. We found another lovely restaurant, this time close to the main square, where we enjoyed a gorgeous schnitzel and chips, followed by a dessert of chocolate pancakes, all for under €30 including a bottle of wine :)

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