Saturday, October 24, 2009
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Two winters ago I was a very different person. I was kinda lonely, a little confused, newly split-up from a questionable summer fling with a young art student. I was a mess, but, I had a passport. I fled, I flew to Europe.
I first spent a few weeks visiting my sister and her wee family in Ireland. It was wonderful to bum around the ancestral motherland, but I wanted to do and see more. I studied my Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring. Athens? Too hard to get to in the winter. Prague? I'd spend every cent I had on lovely Czech beer. Venice? Turns out it is the most expensive city to visit in Europe. Vienna? Hmm Vienna, home of Freud, Strauss, Klimt, Marie Antoinette and Falco, way out east, sure, why the hell not?
God love Europe, air travel if you book weeks ahead is ridiculously cheap. I found a 29 Euro flight to Vienna... or so I thought.
I hopped the train in Monasterevin Ireland , the tiny little Irish town where my sister was living. It was early, there was a chill in the air. I arrived in Dublin at about noon. Winging it, I knew what time my flight left, as to how to get to the airport, well I'd figure that out en route. There was a shuttle from the bus station, of course. Traveling on the fly, who needs planning? Not me, weeeee!
Seatbelt secured, iPod on, Lonely Planet and Moleskin at the ready, I took off. The adventure continued. A couple hours later we began our decent. I was sitting in a middle seat, I couldn't politely look out the window. I had no way of knowing what I was about to get myself into.
Like wrangled cows, we the passengers made our sober way off the plane. Into the long hallways, that only airports have, we went. My first inkling that I was in an odd spot was the strange, Russian looking words on all the signs. Hmmm I though; don't they speak German in Austria? Oh well, what do I know? Head down, follow the herd.
My brain really went pbbt when I arrived at customs. Sitting in a tiny windowed box sat a very ominous soldier looking fella, dressed in Cold War digs. He looked up, grunted, stamped my passport. Head down follow the herd. Where the hell was I? Did I get on the right plane? How come there isn't a bit of English, French, Italian, Spanish or German written anywhere? Fear was creeping in.
The Arrivals Lounge was Spartan, and relatively empty. I sat on a bench, ok man, I thought, sort yourself out. I dug out my Lonely Planet, I looked up Bratislava in the index. Turns out the Bratislava was the capital of Slovakia. YE GODS, Slovakia! I am not even in the right freaking country. What do I know about Slovakia, nothing, NYET!
Heart rate now elevated, I continued to read. Thank you Lonely Planet for suppling maps, thank you for the blurb that said that Bratislava was but a 75 minute bus ride from Vienna. All was not lost, HOPE! I might get out of this Communist Block nightmare yet.
I put the book down, I took a better look around. Upon more hopeful inspection I spied a tiny kiosk that was advertising bus tours. Hmmm, could that be the answer? I walked over to it, it was all boarded up. Feck, was there no escaping here? Up went the heart rate again. Frustrated I was about to go for a smoke, when I saw a stack of pamphlets at the side of the kiosk. By God they were English. I scooped one up, then went out for some smoking and investigating.
It turns out there was bus service from the Bratislava airport to Vienna. It was about 10:00 pm, the next bus left for Vienna at around 11:15. The question now is how the hell do I purchase a ticket, how do I take the ride? Where was the pesky kiosk attendant?
I needed Euros. I went to the currency exchange window. I asked them if they knew when the bus kiosk was going to open? The man at the window, in broken English said, soon, that I will need 10 Euros. Things were become clearer, I was going to survive this plunge into the Communist Block.
At about 10:30 the bus ticket kiosk opened. 10 Euros in hand, I was the first in line, I was ready, Vienna here I come!
Turns out that Bratislava was a very pretty little city. It was dark as we rumbled through it, but it was not as Spartan and stark as I had expected. My apologies to any Bratislavs or Slovaks that I might have insulted in this post, but damn it, I was on my way to big better places. Vienna! But she is a whole other post.