It is raining, when the bus from Vienna Airport drops me at the Danube in Bratislava, close to the old town. The information given by "my" hotel is widely off the mark – it takes about twenty minutes to walk from the old town to the hotel and not the five minutes indicated. Well, precision is mostly a Swiss thing or so it seems.
The next day, I'm wandering aimlessly through the streets. Whenever I'm seeing hordes of tourists, I change direction. Especially the old town is popular with tour groups who have buildings and monuments explained by local guides.
Wandering around aimlessly means: The goal of my walks is not a museum or an exhibition or a famous monument. And, since my interest in history is limited (I regard it as interesting fiction at best), my goal when wandering through the streets is precisely that – wandering through the streets, doing what I'm doing. And that, for me, is the most difficult.
I come across impressive government buildings, parks, a rather big cemetery where the tombstones (with names and sayings in Slovak and in German on them) are scattered all over the place (not in a Swiss order, I'd say), and, at a crossroads, I spot a sign that reads "railway station". I approach a woman in her forties carrying French text books under her arms. She doesn't speak French but English and says she will accompany me to the railway station for she is waiting for her daughter who sits for a Russian exam. As we walk towards the station she tells me that she's from Afghanistan, from the north, the Hindu Kush, and that she came to Slovakia in 1993 to study economics. When we arrive at the station she points to the building and says: 40 years, no innovation.
Since Bratislava is just an hour from Vienna, I expected people more likely to speak German than English yet it was the opposite, And, the ones I got to talk to, without exception, were friendly and helpful.
I see a young man on his knees taking pictures of this bike. It's his, he says, he made it. In fact, he adds, he re-made it for it belonged to a friend who did not want it anymore because it was old and broken and so he decided to re-do it, to make it new again. He has made six or seven, he enjoys making bikes usable again.
What also surprised me in Bratislava: the fantastic Slovakian yoghurt, the number of Vietnamese businesses, to be told that Czech bottled water is preferable to the Slovak variety, and that two of the hotel's TV channels were Algerian.