There are probably no two capitals geographically closer to each other than Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia, so it makes total sense to cross the border. With only 60 kilometers between them, you can pop into Bratislava in about 40 minutes by train or bus. Once in this tiny city, it is relatively easy to navigate the historic center by foot, tram or bus.
My first impression is, I’m definitely not in Vienna anymore. My second impression is, I wish I had downloaded a Slovak-English dictionary app to my iPhone before coming here because Hungarian and German are also two other languages that I do not speak and that would have been somewhat helpful here. But it’s 5pm already so I might as well make the most of whatever daylight I have left and worry about how to order food later.
Some of you have asked me what it’s like to roll into foreign cities without a tour guide, or much of any plan. And sometimes it’s like this (cue cricket sounds)…
but the trick is to keep the eyes, ears, and heart open and keep walking…
and eventually something cool will materialize:
But I know what you are really asking. Is it daunting to go where you do not speak the local language and see not a single soul that looks anything like you? Well, some 20 years ago when I started traveling abroad, I would say I was intimidated. But now, even in the most remote places, I just have to wait a few minutes before a bus of Asian tourists shows up to blend into if I suddenly feel out of place. And as much as I try to not plan a tight itinerary anywhere anymore, I’ve usually done enough homework (Internet research has leveled the travel playing field) that there are no real huge surprises. Having said that, however, after a few weeks of being away from home, I do experience tiny pangs of…oh, I don’t know, craving for the familiar? A little piece of home, perhaps?
So now you know why I took that picture of an Ikea ad on the side of the bus. I was desperate to just find anything that related to me. But let’s face it, McDo can’t do the trick when I’m feeling like this. Even if a CHANEL boutique suddenly fell out of the sky right here I’d still feel…no wait, I’d be banging on the door to let me in. Bad example. What I mean is that right here, on a dead Sunday early evening, 3.5 weeks into my trip, I’m really in need of a reminder of home.
Remember what I said about open eyes, ears and heart? Look what I suddenly spy across the street:
A picture menu! Sometimes the travel gods throw you a bone. I mentally note where this place is, just in case. But I’ve to make my way to the Nový Most bridge, a famous landmark that crosses the Danube River. There’s a flying saucer shaped restaurant here aptly called UFO that provides a wonderful view of the city:
Before I sign off here, let me show you a glimpse of the historic and modern Bratislava living in perfect juxtaposition:
Tomorrow we’ll see what hovers over the Danube. And I’ll tell you a story about what home really means.