Newman!

Trip Start Aug 20, 2012
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Trip End Sep 18, 2012

Flag of Slovakia  ,
Friday, August 24, 2012

Wednesday (8/22), I had to face one of my demons of yesteryore.  That Beelzebub's name (curse it!) is the myriad of train stations / connecting rails known as Vienna/Wien/Vieden.  For 15 years, I have not returned to Satan's lair.  15 years ago, as I was backpacking through Europe, I had to connect through Wien at least 3-4 times.  2-3 of those times, I remember being confused of which stations for connections, and likewise, being confused of the German names for cities that were often entirely different than the English names I had known.  

The Vienna train station(s) was my Newman (insert Jerry Seinfeld imagery of clenched fist and teeth, muttering the words of his obnoxious postman neighbor, Newman, here).  No matter how many times I tried to beat it (15 years ago), the Vienna train station always won.

My battle began in Zagreb and I was set to catch a 07:25 train (with two connections and three different train stations, all in Vienna) en route to Bratislava.  Familiarizing myself with the itinerary as I settled into the 6 hour train ride to Vienna, I saw that one connection estimated the time from one train's arrival to another's departure as 4 minutes.  I found myself sprinting down the platform in order to make my train within seconds of its departure.  My second connection estimated the walk between the two stations to be 10 minutes, leaving one full extra minute before scheduled departure.  I battled those odds and also won.  My demons conquered (for the time being), I arrived in Bratislava after 8 hours.

(On my trains, I met several other people - Gregor and Maya were an interesting couple from Maribor, Slovenia who were just returning from a 2-week biking trek along the Croatian coast.  As I entered Austria and came closer to Vienna, there were about six different students who shared my car all returning from the summer holiday ready to begin studies again.  While I don't have any pictures to share from the train journey, the Slovenian and Austrian countryside is incredible to see by train - winding through the Austrian Tauern Mountain Range is breathtaking.  The adage of  "the journey and not the destination" is certainly true by rail through Austria/Slovenia.)

I digress... Bratislava.  Bratislava (more than Zagreb) is apparent that it is a "castle" city.  The Old Town feels like it is the fishing/trading village on the River Danube under the shadow (literally and figuratively) of protection from the Castle looming up the hill.  Like Zagreb, the nightlife street culture is overflowing with people, cafes, vendors, and beer.  I'm not sure of an Eastern European fascination for Irish pubs, but there are plenty of those too.  The drunken British bachelor parties seem abundant, but sharing a few drinks with a guy in a one-piece gold body suit and orange wig who has no shame has its entertainment benefits too.

My Wednesday arrival, I wandered the Old City and had a great dinner and beer at a place called Alchymista (Alchemist) which was aptly named for being in a building that formerly served as a 17th Century Alchemy Lab.  Thursday (8/23) I awoke feeling fluish (heat? travel exhaustion?) and needed to sleep it off most of the morning.  My afternoon I made up for the slow start by hiking to the top of Castle Hill and seeing Bratislava Castle (which served as the seat/home of Hungarian Royalty while the Turks occupied Budapest), the Slovakian Jewish Culture Museum, the Presidential Palace (and its impressive changing of the Guards), the Monument to the Slovak National Uprising (honoring the Slovak partisans who fought Nazi fascism in WWII), and more wandering through the Old Town.  Friday, I leisurely enjoyed brunch in front of the Slovak National Theater.

There is so much history in this region of the world that I find myself - a confluence of the Austiran and Hungarian Empires, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, attacks from the Third Reich, Soviet Communist History, Croat-Serb-Bosnian Civil Wars, and the horrific genocides of the 90's.  I feel that I need to devote a future entry purely on my struggle to understand and relate to the history and the people that make up these nations.  It is a dialogue of human nature as a chapter in the fables of reconstruction (shout out, R.E.M., what's up!) of the history told by the victors.  As difficult as it may be for me or any individual to come to terms with this reality, this is the reality of these beautiful countries I am now visiting.   

I leave Bratislava early tomorrow morning (Saturday, 8/25) in order to return to Zagreb where I'm meeting my friend who is joining me on the next 9 days of travel.   

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