The time came to depart the beautiful city of Vienna. (Wein) We decided that we would lunch in Bratislava, Slovakia on our way to Budapest, Hungary. Since Budapest was relatively close and we had to drive right by Bratislava anyway…we wanted to detour for a bit and check out another country. So we headed on our way to lunch in Slovakia…because in Europe…you can lunch in another country.
We knew two things before we left, we needed gas and we needed another Vingette for Slovakia. So after I maneuvered the car out of the crazy sardine like parkade and started on our way, there was a gas station just down the street from our hotel. So we stopped there to kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, once we filled up and asked the attendant about the Vingette, he informed us that you can only buy the vingette’s from gas stations on the Autobahn. So we programmed, Bratislava into the GPS and off we went. It was much easier navigating out of the city than it was getting there…but maybe that was because we already drove around the city multiple times trying to find the hotel…HAHA.
So, the GPS took us out onto the highway…hooray…off to a good start. Then all of the sudden, she wanted us to turn off the Autobahn. Reluctantly, we followed orders…the whole time repeating ourselves…”why are we listening to her?”. Once again, we find ourselves on the back streets of Austria, driving through the most rural countryside I have ever seen. Village after village after village…each village comprising of maybe a hand full of houses. After what seemed like forever I started to get worried about the Vignette situation. I wasn’t worried about getting lost, even though our GPS took us on the most outrageous routes, she always got us to our destination. My concern was the hefty fine warnings I read about…if you are caught without a valid Vingette, the fines can be hundreds of EUROS, and they are cash fines…ie. PAY NOW. As well, playing the dumb foreigner card was not an option according to everything I had read. Ignorance wasn’t going to be a good enough excuse.
So finally we came across a gas station/restaurant and we pulled over to ask someone. We went to the gas station, which was in working order, but the building was all closed up, so we walked over to the restaurant to see about getting some assistance in there. We literally stood at the front desk for 15 minutes, watching the sole waitress bust her butt in the restaurant that had no air conditioning, tons of patrons, and was clearly over 35 degrees. I truly felt for her…so we patiently waited and waited and waited. When all of the sudden, two customers stood up from their tables and approached the front. Low and behold, they were police officers…lucky lucky us. So I walked right up to them and said “do you speak English?” and one of them said a little. So we asked about the Vignette. They didn’t really know either…but they didn’t really know what we were talking about…so a couple minutes and a little game of charades later and they understood what we were asking for. (Maybe there was a chuckle here and there too) They made a phone call, then told us to keep on driving and we would see a sign that said Vignette. We were on the right track. Phew…back in the car and off we went.
Sure enough, a little way down the road we came to the Slovakian border. What a surreal experience that was…all the old Soviet check points were still standing, big abandoned black square buildings. We pull over and go into the restaurant/bar/tv room/internet cafe/vignette sales/smoking room to purchase our Vignette. Does she speak English? oh…good luck. So another game of charades, a quick transaction, a brief internet connection and we were officially in Slovakia and on our way to lunch somewhere in Bratislava.
Just to briefly speak about the border crossing here…All the Soviet check points & buildings are still intact…just abandoned now. Big, square and black empty buildings…It is both eery and amazing to be in this spot. I don’t know if anything major happened at the crossing we went through, but I know by the feeling of this place…there were hard times that were hard here.
Continuing on into town…the architecture seemed to be a polar opposite of what we had experienced up to this point in Europe. Everything was square with hard corners, it seemed like a different world. We drove around for a little while checking things out before we decided to just pull over at the next place we say that looked decent to eat at. Don’t get me wrong, the city has charm for sure…as you approach the city, you can see the huge Castle on the hill…as you drive over the bridge you cross under the UFO restuarant which is pretty cool. I believe that most of everything you need to see in Bratislava is in Old Town which we did not make it to.
After driving around for a bit, we had an uneasy feeling. I don’t know what it was…but I felt somewhat unsafe there. I can’t put a finger on what it was exactly that made me feel that way…I can be honest, I just don’t know. On average the people were very business like, business attire, clearly coming and going to work…so it certainly wasn’t that. Anyway, we drove by a pub called the Bastion Pub and decided to stop there for lunch.
We walked in and sat down. When the waitress approached us, we asked her if she spoke English. She shook her head in a frustrated way, put the menus on the table and walked away. Rob and I looked at each and shrugged our shoulders…uh oh. So we decided on what to drink and eat and we waited and waited and waited for her to NOT come back…she was serving everyone else in our area, but she wanted nothing to do with us. Until finally, the bartender came over to us. This clearly wasn’t his job, but I guess he was the only one who could speak a very small amount of English so she sent him over to help us.
The food arrived, and by far it was the best meal I had on the whole trip. I don’t even know what it was exactly…it was sort of like a Chicken Cordon Blue, but it had Chorizzo Sausage in it with the ham and cheese…and the then it was crusted in this “to-die-for” crispy potato encasing. OH MY WORD! It was so good. So good, that we needed to google how to say “Thank you” and “It was delicious” in Slovak. When our waitress came back to the table to clear our plates, she said nothing, so we attempted to say the words the best we could. Our accents must have been really really strong, or her lack of wanting to understand was really really strong, either way….we showed her the words and then she lightened up, smiled, laughed, and said “Thank you” in English. WOW, she is warm.
Once we left there, we went in search for a Bike shop for Rob. I wish I got pictures of the establishment but I didn’t so I will have to try to explain it the best I can. If you can picture the worst projects in all of North America. Just big block apartment buildings, questionable establishments on the ground floor…which almost appeared to be a sub level of the building, even though it was ground level. We climbed the stairs to the “1st level” where there were lots of stores. Then above that level, I can only image is housing, even though the whole building looks like it was once some sort of giant housing unit. So into the bike shop we go…and inside it is very clean and full of high end bikes. Totally not what we expected from the outside. We only went for the sake of going to a bike shop in Slovakia. Back on the road we go…
To Be Continued…