Monday, July 02, 2007


I arrived back in Britain on an uncomforatble Ryanair plane on a very cloudy Friday morning. It seems strange to be back after 6 months of being away.
As I returned to see how my home town of Camberley has changed, I found that it had changed very little. The same shops still remain empty and disused as they were two years ago. The Litten Tree pub, which want bust after about 2 years still remains shut with the same half full wine glasses left on the tables.

There have been many essential changes. We have a new prime minister, Gordon Brown. Smoking is now officially banned in all public places. No Smoking signs are now in place in every single shop.
The first two weeks back in the UK have been really depressing with endless amuounts of rain, mass flooding and an increase in the threat of terror. Settling back into my native land will be a challenge in itself.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Final Reflections

It's my last week in Bratislava, so it is time to finish up and reflect on the place. Like all cities and countries there are many good and bad things about the place. On the whole, Slovakia has been very kind to me. I never thought I would survive here for more than three months, as it was an exhausting and draining experience. However, I survived here comfortably here for more than 10 months.

Ten Best things about Bratislava and Slovakia

1. The Beer (except for Stein which is probably the worst I've ever tasted)
2. The hospitality of the people: Slovaks tend to be quite generous and welcoming once you break the ice with them. I also found them very trustworthy.
3. The surrounding countryside and hills.
4. The Tatra Mountains and Slovak Paradise
5. Slivovice (a very strong drink)
6. Castle Ruins on rocky hills.
7. Old Traditions such as folklore dancing and arts.
8. Fine Caves (apart from the expensive photography pass. 300sk in dobsinska and 200sk in jaskyna driny)
9. Wildlife and Nature. Slovakia's sparsely populated country enables certain species to flourish.
10. The women. Slavic women are generally beautiful, tall and slim. (although most of the decent ones get married by the time they are 25!! Bugger!!)

Ten worst things about Slovakia

1. Rip-off taxis, banks, go-go bars and cave prices and other things.
2. Brezhnev-era architecture. Soviet Style panelled tower blocks still dominate the landscape of larger towns and cities.
3. Low Wages: The average monthly wage here is still 25,000sk (about 100 GBP a week)
4. The corrupt police force. The police will try and get black money whenever they can. A friend of mine got fined 2000sk for having a tatty passport
5. Greasy food: Slovak food is nice but usually meaty and fatty. It is a problem for veggies as some dishes are advertised as meat free, but have bits of cut meat at the bottom.
6. Robert Fico (the prime minister and dear leader who everyone loves!!)
7. Stroppy Restaurant Services where waiters have manners of goats.
8. Badly scrawled Graffiti
9. English pigs causing havoc and harassing women.
10. Local Drunks drinking Stein in Hostinec bars.

I would like to pay a special thanks to those who have supported me and looked after me in this little big country. God bless.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Most Hideous Buildings II

Hotel Spirit

The Hotel Spirit is a new age hotel in Bratislava sticks out like a sore thumb. However some people tend to love this ghastly mess. While this place might look OK in Barcelona, this is a horrible eyesore in Bratislava.

Petrinka bus station and Underpass.

This bus station is situated in a place called Lamac. Of course, it was built at a time when aesthetics were not an issue. Although this bus station is falling apart, it is very unlikely that thisbuilding will be modernised in the next ten years. There is also a very tasteful hostinec that sells Stein nearby at 22sk for a 0,5l.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some more castles!! nech sapache!!

Tematin Castle

Tematin is situated about 20km from the spa town of Piestany. The hike to this castle takes about 2.5 - 3 hours from a small town called Luba. To get to the castle, follow a red sandwich path. The nature on the way is pretty impressive. It is apparently about 600 metres above sea level and the views are impressive

Pajstun Castle

Not much to say about this one apart from the fact that it is situated near a place called Borinka - about 30 minute bus ride from Bratislava and that it is a haven for rockclimbers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wilsonic Festival

Pink Freud live at Wilsonic

As I wrote my last blog in an empty bookstore/cafe, I decided that no one was around and the weather was too good to be wasted in a cafe, so I made my way to the Wilsonic Festival close to the Danube, Aupark and the Messalina Go-Go Bar. At 500sk (10GBP), the tickets were a bargain. It was also a small but very international event with bands from the UK, Poland, Estonia and Austria.
One of the bands I checked out a Polish band called Pink Freud, whose music consisted of a hectic mixture of jazz fusion, Ozric Tentacles and Spiritualized. However, after 40 minutes of chaotic saxophones and thudding basslines, the novelty wore off.

The second to last band was a British band called Pssap. Musically, they were very creative and visual. Their music was comparable with the band Moloko. Nonetheless, they failed to impress me with their stupid ideas of throwing toy cats and ducks into the crowd. Their jokes were also pretty hideous and childish. A fellow Slovak asked me if this was a good example of good English dry humour. I said this is a very bad example. Their jokes are pathetic. Something you would expect from a sixth-form girl's band.

For me, the highlight of the evening was an Austrian band called Mimu. They were a nice artistic and chilled out act and also very tasteful, despite the projected war images.

Although I enjoyed the festival in the city, the atmosphere is uncomparable with the UK festivals. There were few people smoking marijuana and too many people taking the event too seriously.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Summer's in the City

The Slovak Summer is well away. Festivals are happening around the city. Last week saw a booze-fuelled free festival in Slovakia's student area. Young Slavs from all over Bratislava crammed the number 31 and 39 buses to drink loads of beer and dance to three Czech and Slovak bands.
The first band was HEX, which sounded like Slovakia's answer to the Cure. The second band was a typical central European ska-reggae band, which was nothing special. My spirits were only lifted when they played the Jimmy Cliff classic You Can Get it if You Really Want. The headlining act were dinosaur Czech legends, Buty, who have strummed their way from the Glory Days of the dear Communist Leaders to the present. They were a comical Prog Rock band - a cross between Zappa and Jethro Tull.
This weekend, there is a festival called WILSONiC on the other side of the danube, near Petrzalka. It will run all night and has DJs from all over the world. I'm off to check out a band called Pink Freud - a Polish band that is apparently not a Pink Floyd tribute band.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A walk in the woods.

I love the nature. I can't get enough of it. When I am in the nature, I am like a little kid who insists on seeing every tree, every gorge, every waterfall and every peak. So, after my trip to the ice cave, i decided to take a 'brisk' walk in the woods to check out Slovensky Raj's outstanding gorges and waterfalls. The ladder-filled gorges I visited were pretty impressive, but mentally and physically challenging.

However, public transport in this area is almost nonexistent, so I ended up having to try and thumb my way out of the park back to Spisska Nova Ves, the closest large settlement to Slovak Paradise. Although I have had no problems with hitching safely around Slovakia, this was easier said than done. Cars were very infrequent, so I ended up having to take a follow a 6km red sandwich path to a small settlement near Spisske Nova Ves.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cool it Down

The weather in Bratislava has been unbearably hot. Last week, temperatures got as high as +33C.The sweltering heat is far too much for me. I find it difficult to sleep and concentrate. I decided that I needed to cool down. One of the best places to cool down in Slovakia is Dobsinska Jaskyna (Dobsinska Ice Cave), which is situated in Slovensky Raj national park. All year round, Dobsinska Ice Cave enjoys cool temperatures of at least -1C. It has an impressive display of permanent ice and limestone, which makes it one of Slovakia's finest natural wonders. It looks like something from a setting of a science fiction film.
When in the cave, one can feel the cold, so it is advisable to wrap up warm. I felt my hands go totally numb for about 20 minutes, which made it difficult to operate my camera.
However, it is not that cheap. It costs 180sk for a 30 minute guided tour in Slovak and costs an additional 300sk (8GBP) to take a few pictures. Camera tripods in the cave are strictly forbidden, so don't expect to take any postcard-quality pictures. While I am used to paying extra in museums and caves to take pictures, 300sk seems a little pricey to take a few mediocre pictures on a digital camera. It is better value for money to enter the cave and buy a souvenir book with professionally taken pictures at 100sk.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lost in Translation

I was recently in a Chinese restaurant when I kept on trying to say a very complicated word in Slovak. I kept on repeating the first part of it, trying to get it right. My slovak companion could not keep a straight face when I was tryiing to pronounce the name of a Chinese dish. The first part of the dish was called Vyhonky. I can't remember what I ordered, but it was some chicken dish with black bean sauce.
I kept on repeating 'Vyhon,' trying to get the pronunciation right. I was apparently saying something extremely rude, which would normally be heard in a Go Go Bar, not a Chinese restaurant. I checked out the meaning of the word, and I apparently asked the waitress for a 'w***'
The woman in the Chinese restaurant made no comments about my mispronunciation of this word. Instead, she patiently looked at me and asked me to point at what I wanted/

Monday, April 30, 2007

Eastern Paradise: The HighTatras and Slovensky Raj

On Saturday, we took a hike into the snow-capped High-Tatra mountains. Although the temperature in this region is over +15, there is still at least 3ft of snow in some areas. Before the snow completely disappears, locals are making the most of the ski season before it finally ends at the beginning of May. Walking in the Tatras is still pretty hazardous as you have to watch out for weak snow and hidden holes. I had to dig myself out of snow when I fell 3ft into some hole.

Slovensky Raj is another national park 20km south-east of Poprad. It is probably one of the most beautiful places in the country and has some impressive gorge walks and waterfalls. The gorge walks are treacherous as it consists of narrow ladders that can get slippery. To get through the gorge, one has to tread on narrow, slippery wet plates about 20ft above the bottom of the gorge. Dalibor, my companion managed to do this single-handedly with a 1-year-old baby strapped to him in an old bedsheet.

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

The most marginalised ethnic minority in Slovakia is the Roma. Roma people are frowned upon by even some of the most liberal of Slovaks. Many complain that Roma people are lazy, do not want to work and are thieves. Some also complain that no matter what people do to help them, they won't help themselves and will continue to steal and live in squalor. A large number of Slovaks also believe that the authorities have tried to do everything to help the Roma people to get into education and work.

Farmers have even tried to give the Roma vegetables so that they don't steal from their land. Yet, the attempt to stop them stealing potatoes from farmland has failed. Many Roma still continue to steal from lands, despite such handouts.

The Roma have a poor literacy rate, as many are excluded from state schools. According to statistics, only around 400 Roma out of a population of around 253,000 have made it into university.
Eastern Slovakia has the highest concentration of Roma settlements in the country.
The settlement in the first picture is in a village called Letanovce, close to Slovensky Raj National Park. The settlement consists of shack-like houses and is surrounded by heaps of rubbish. We managed to walk through the settlement without getting any hassle. A group of 5 kids just came and hassled us for sweets and one tried to go for my pockets. When I yelled 'bugger off' they seemed to understand.
This settlement is due to be demolished by local authorities who want to protect the nearby national park and want to move the Roma to better housing. However, many locals object to the Roma being resettled into new housing as the locals feel that Roma always get something for nothing at the expense of the taxpayer.

That said, there are a few succes stories of the Roma. My accompaniment told me how he know of the first ever Roma doctor who had to get past many levels of prejudice and discrimination. Furthermore, more Roma people are setting up legitimate businesses around the country, despite the obstacles they have to deal with from their peers and society.