3.06.2008

"Children expect sweets from mother"

So my trip to Bratislava was wonderful, mostly for the reason that it was my first solo trip. While I've done a fair bit of travelling so far, I've never been really alone for any of it. So the whole time I was there I kept thinking in my head, "I'm in a foreign country, by myself." The surprise of it was kind of similar to my first time driving by myself when I got my license, I kept reaching over to the passenger seat because I couldn't believe I was really doing it all alone. I was so giddy in fact that when it started to snow outside (not little flakes like in Krakow but a big snowstorm) I just laughed and thought it made the whole trip that much better!

Not only did I do it by myself, but I decided to do it without a map. I had read the directions in the guidebook and felt fairly confident as to where I was going and how I would get there. After getting off the train and walking in what I believed to be the direction of the old town, I thought it couldn't hurt to ask, so to the next passerby I questioned; "Stefanovka Ulice ye thom, nebo ye thom" (I asked if the street I needed was to the left, or the right). The man replied in accented English, "I'm sorry, I am not from these parts." So I laughed and said "Oh, it's OK, I speak English, I just don't know where I'm going, thank you though," and then walked away leaving him looking a little perplexed. I had a pleasant walk around Bratislava, visiting the castle, looking out at the Danube, seeing the statues, almost getting locked in a bathroom (this is actually a pretty funny story, I was just turning the handle the wrong way, but I almost had a panic attack thinking I was locked in a bathroom in a foreign country and would never get out), buying delicious chocolates, eating onion soup and potato pancakes that were like little crepes, and then made my way back to the train station in the afternoon. I waited until my train came up on the board, and then went to sit and wait on the platform for twenty or so minutes. I was all settled into a bench, trying to stay warm when a woman walked my way with a great deal of luggage, having been well trained on public transportation etiquette I leapt up so she could sit. She laughed at me and gestured to the bench that we can both sit. She began to speak to me in what I later find out is Slovakian (similar to Czech, but not identical) however I told her I'm American. We found out we are going on the same train since I am going to Brno and she is going to Prague. After sitting for some time, the sign on the platform changed and did not show the information for our train. I started becoming concerned and was getting up to go look in the station when the woman points and has me sit back down as she talks to two other women standing near us and then one of them goes off to check. While we are waiting to hear what is going on I hear two men my age speaking familiar American English; "Dude, I think this is our train." "You sure it's going to Prague? Sweet." They are pointing to a train that does not in fact go to Prague but goes in the complete opposite direction, out of love for my fellow countrymen and fellow travellers, I turn and tell them that is not the train for Prague and unless they want to end up in eastern Slovakia they should not get on it. By now the lady who went to check on the train has returned and she says the train for Prague is instead leaving from platform one. I end up carrying the Slovakian woman's bags along with another woman since there was only one of her and three of the bags and when the train comes in I help her with her bags and we sit down together in a compartment where she gave me a candy bar for my help (I'm assuming that was the reason, but since she explained in Slovakian there's no way to be sure).

It turns out that the other woman in our compartment is Czech, and she speaks English. Both she and the Slovakian woman were surprised to find that they could understand each other (as I said, the languages are not identical and although they were often used interchangabley when the two countries were Czechoslovakia, younger Czechs may not understand Slovakians and vice versa) and then the Czech woman translated things into English (the multiple language conversation reminded me of earlier when I exchanged Polish money for Slovakian money in the Czech Republic). We had a rather amusing, rather fractured conversation going back and forth and both women complemented me on my Czech, which always makes me feel a little silly, because it really is mediocre and they're just being polite. After some time the Slovakian woman, who was the most bubbly Eastern European we've met so far, took out a little bag of candies and forced them upon both the Czech woman and myself (I should perhaps mention that I am 21 and the Czech woman appeared to be 25 or so while the woman from Slovakia could not have been more than 40) and the Czech woman translated that she had said to us "children expect sweets from mother." Sitting in that compartment with those two women, and carrying on what in retrospect was rather superficial conversation, I still have to consider that the highlight of the trip so far and yet another enjoyable travel experience.

1 comment:

Alison said...

What an awesome story!! Geez, where were the "mothers" with candy when we were stranded in Poland? You have obviously accumulated some good traveling karma . . . :)