It evolved like a creature creeping out of the dark and perusing us around the snowy streets of Prague. We knew it was around, but when it was in front of us we realized we were hardly prepared. Our enthusiasm fed it, but we drifted without a map or plan out of a bus, and suddenly there it was: Bratislava.
Never have a been less prepared to be in a foreign place. The accessibility of Europe means you can go, no research, no borders, and suddenly you are in Eastern Europe watching someone bleed out on the sidewalk.
But I digress.
Bratislava is quaint and small, a tourist center surrounded by a expanse of Communist block apartments and concrete, and a beautiful view of the Danube. This is what was expected, small city, little sister to Praha, cheap and quiet and scenic. We walked out of the bus station into a washed out expanse of grey snow, wetting our toes in puddles as we searched for a tram stop. As we stepped off the tram, the view had not improved. To complicate matters, there was a man laying in the street, motionless. A car stopped; its driver got out and checked the pulse of the possible corpse, returned to his car. It was unnervingly casual, until a drunken man across the way started yelling. A women joined in, and suddenly the drunk was throwing a wallet at the inert body, yelling and cursing. We didn’t stick around to see the end of the scene.
Our hostel was a safe haven, despite the pervasive smell of cigarette smoke and possibly feet. Our room at least was private, clean. I passed out immediately, succumbing to a migrane and travel fatigue while the rest of my group explored the city, in search of ATMs and snacks. When I awoke the sun had dropped in the sky, but I was ready to give Bratislava a chance to redeem itself. Jon and I set out for the Danube, braving the growing chill to watch the sun drop into the river. The colors of the sky cheered us up immediately.
We set out into the evening, bellies full of wine. Packed ourselves full of bread and soup, we wandered through a maze of steep staircases and narrow cobbled alleys. The way wound up toward the castle, though we were trying to descend to an underground bunker turned club. It was a happy accident, as Bratislava with all of its lights spread out under the castle walls. It was the best view we could have asked for.