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Thursday, August 7, 2008

What can you get in Bratislava for $1.98?

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So I leave Austria in my side view mirrors and after maneuvering my way through the city center and getting a little lost trying to go the right direction on the Autobahn I find myself heading due east to Slovakia and Bratislava. The trip should take about an hour but I was there in 20 minutes. Doing 190km/h on the Autobahn makes time slow down considerably. Truth be known, there is nothing worth seeing on the Autobahn with the exception of your destination coming up on you swiftly. It is truly an ugly network of roads situated on the least memorable landscapes any country has to offer.


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I follow the blue signs marked “Centar” into Bratislava. What a nice city! I cross the bridge into the old (read: tourist) part of the city and I putter around. It has to be about 40 degrees (Celsius) out and I find driving up and down by the river to be very refreshing. I take a couple of turns and end up in the business sector, then a few more turns and I’m at the top of the highest hill overlooking town. I stop at a streetside stand to buy some beer but they don’t have any. Fortunately I remember that I have a couple of bottles in my saddlebags. A little warm but they do the trick.

I decide that since I’m in Bratislava I should stay in a hostel. I know the movie ‘Hostel’ was filmed in Prague but the setting was supposed to be Bratislava. I tour about the city blindly until I find a tourist center. I get a map with all the accommodations listed on it. After another twenty minutes of driving around I finally realize the street names are written on the buildings and I get my bearings. I find the first Hostel and I go in asking about prices. The girl tells me a price and I do the math. Wow that’s cheap! I go grab my luggage and I go to check in. There’s no vacancy. What the heck did was she thinking when I asked her how much it was to stay there? Perhaps I was hoping to move in next week on my all Bratislava tour of Eastern Europe? I lug all my stuff back to the bike and tie it all down. I head to the next hostel. This time I ask if there is room first... none. The next one is the same. Damn. It’s starting to get late and I need to find somewhere to stay. I get into the old part of town and I dismount my bike. Not only do I leave all of my luggage attached to the bike, I leave my helmet sitting loosely on top of it for anyone to steal. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I ride the rest of the way wearing the clothes I have on and no helmet. Sounds like a dream trip. Maybe I should give my stuff away and get rid of my solid steel luggage. I bet I could get another 10 miles an hour out of the beast.

I find a place but I want to do some price comparisons so I walk around to a bunch of places. I shouldn’t have bothered. I go back to the first place and tell them I want a room. I just need to go get my bike and I will be right back. I get back to my bike and nothing has been touched. Now to get back to the place shouldn’t be that hard. Famous last words. It takes me over an hour to find a route back. I could walk it in about ten minutes but driving? Forget about it! I’m in one way street hell and I find myself circling about the same places over and over again. Finally I make it to a place where I can see the sign of the place outside. I have to get off my bike and walk / drive it up and down some stairs and through part of a park but I make it. I check in and as I do I see that they have Pilsner Urquel on tap. I need a few of those. After about eight glasses my nerves settle and I start talking to the girl behind the bar. She explains that I’m paying more for one night’s accommodations than she pays for a month’s rent. That just makes me like this town more. The guy behind the desk grabs me and tells me I should move my motorbike inside. “It’s not the Slovaks but we have lots of Hungarians here who will steal everything”, he says in his thick accent. We move the bike indoors, I get freshened up, and I hit the town... on foot!

Bratislava is not like Prague or Vienna. It has a nice small town feel and the riverside reminds me of being a kid on the banks of the Saskatchewan River. It’s really a nice town. And the people are nice to. It’s funny, they have flags from every country flown at various spots in the downtown area so you can use them to find your way around. I decide to walk to the Canadian flag. It’s flying at a very, very, very nice hotel. I go in and the first thing I see is the Sony store. For a city where one nights hotel can get you a month’s rent they sure don’t have any deal on electronics. Prices are over 50% more than at home. Who can afford this? Right, the guy in the brand new Ferrari outside can probably afford it.

I hit a cafe and have some food and more beers. The prices are ridiculously low so I overindulge. I go to a bar and have a few more. There seems to be a bit of nightlife but I don’t have the stamina to stay out and still ride tomorrow. I go back to the room and get myself a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I check out and it’s an older lady at the desk. She’s under the assumption that I had paid already but I hadn’t and I wasn’t going to argue with her so I leave without paying. I recruit the help of a couple of young men walking by to help me get my bike out of the hotel. It went in a lot easier than it wanted to come up and I took some paint off getting her out but she finally came.

I took one last little putt-putt through town and I hit the road. Hungary was my next destination and I needed to get some miles behind me.

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Vienna Calling

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After gassing up (no pun intended) I left the town of Mikulov and headed for Austria. I pull out of town and the first thing I see are the casinos and whorehouses. Not requiring either I continue on. I figure it will be awhile before I make it to the border... oops! I just crossed the border. That was quick. It's funny. The EU has made all the border crossings into funny looking rest areas filled with currency exchange kiosks and cafes. The EU has been around for awhile now but the border crossing building are being maintained for when the next all out war comes to reestablish the need for border guards again.

The quality of the roads improve on the Austrian side of the border. There is something peculiar about the way the lines are painted though. To the untrained eye you would think that you were on a two lane road. As it turns out there is an invisible lane in the middle of the road that everyone knows about. If you pull up fast on someone they immediately get over as far as possible and let you get around. The unfortunate part of the equation is that it works both directions. Basically the middle lane is reserved for an ongoing game of chicken. The system works quite well and I was moving through traffic with very little effort. There were a couple of occasions where I found myself sharing the middle with oncoming traffic. Fortunately I could accelerate my way out of danger pretty easily.
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I could really tell I was in Austria the moment I hit the first village. Everything looked so perfect. All the houses were well maintained, with lots of flowers, and perfect yards. Driving through town was also nice because I could see everyone stop and look at me as I drove by. A couple of bikers pulled up to me at the lights and gave me nods of approval. This country loves motorbikes and motorbikes love this country. The road was well off the beaten path and wound through the country side littered with corn fields and wind farms. The weather was a perfect 30 degrees Celsius, my tunes were cranked, and life was good. It doesn't get much better than this!
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The smell of sausages and cabbages finally overcame my willpower so I stopped in for lunch. And what goes well with Bratwurst and cabbage? Beer! I wasn't to surprised to find out they sold that as well. What goes well with Bratwurst, cabbage and Beer? Accordion music! There was no shortage of that either. I sat outside on the long table eating my tubular meat and admired my bike. The beer tasted so good I ordered a couple more. The trip to Vienna shouldn't have taken more than an hour and a half but I took almost 3 hours to get there. Funny thing is that as I was driving towards the center of town my playlist decided that I should listen to Falco's Vienna Calling. Weird.
I roamed about town and took in some sights (or is that sites?). I got lost, though you can't really call it lost when you have no place to be. So maybe I was misplaced? Now up until now being on a motorbike has had a lot of advantages. You can go anywhere and park anywhere. This isn't true in Vienna. In the center if you don't have a sticker on your plate you can't park. period. Everywhere I stopped I was accosted by a local telling me to beat it. I started to find it very frustrating. I finally decided to stand my ground and not worry about it. I found a place with lots of bikes parked, found my spot, and parked. A guy cam out right away to tell me I couldn't park there. I told him I wouldn't be there long I was just stopping to have a drink and I pointed at the first place I could see that had drinks. I was in luck! He happened to be the owner of the establishment so he stopped hounding me.

Vienna is a beautiful city, but it doesn't differ very much from Prague as far as appearances and architecture. In all honesty, I found it less appealing than Prague because it was lacking that Eastern European grittiness. I can understand why a lot of people love it though. It's very civilized, clean, and there used to be a lot of culture here. If that's what you're into Vienna is the place for you. Don't misunderstand me. I will come back to Vienna one day. Just the next time I come it will be by train and I will have a hotel reservation, opera tickets, and a tuxedo to match.

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Passing Wind in the Halls of the Mighty.

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Full of pork and beer I make my escape from the clutches of Prague. A very beautiful city full of lunatics, drunks, and drunk lunatics (I include myself in that category). It's about 8:30 in the evening and the sun has set long before I leave the city limits. I'm doing the one thing I said I wasn't going to do on this trip. No, not drinking and driving. I got over that moral hurdle many years ago when I realized my hand-eye coordination actually improved with the consumption of alcohol. You should see me at the go cart track with a couple dozen Red Bull and vodkas in me. You would think I was Mario Andretti on crack. Or maybe Tom Cruise from Days of Thunder without crack!

No the thing I promised myself I wouldn't do is driving at night. A dozen beers is one thing but lack of visibility and sleep can make riding dangerous. Not to mention the fact that I came here to see the country and it's hard to do that from the highway at night. But like most things I promise myself I won't do I find myself armed with the name of a town and a map written on the back of an envelope as I make my way out into the night. The temperature drops with every kilometer I put behind me. It feels like I'm gaining some altitude and the crispness of the air reminds me of the my ride through Manning Park in Canada. I shift around on my seat and wiggle my fingers to keep myself warm. I read the road signs to keep me awake as the beers start to wear off me and the events of the day start to wear on me. I was hoping to make it to Bratislava today but as I read the distances to various places I realize I have no chance. The city of Brno (Could I buy a vowel?) is coming up and if I want to get to Mikulov I need to take the right turn. Based on my experience so far in Europe I won't make the right turn so I have to factor turn around time into my estimated time of arrival. The way I figure it, at the speed I'm going, if everything goes as smooth as it has thus far I will make the village by 10:00pm. Is that a droplet of water on my face shield? Oh no! Rain... and lots of it. By the time I make it to the next gas station to put on my rain gear I'm already frozen and soaked. This sucks.
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I fill up with gas, and start going through my bags looking for my gear when I realize I'm shivering so bad I can't open the zipper. Perhaps I should go inside and warm up? Coffee has never tasted so good in my life. In fact I stay for a couple of more before I rummage through my stuff and get myself water proofed. I've lost an hour. I get back on the road and I find myself slowed down considerably and all those trucks I passed earlier get to see me again. It's really cold and the 100 kilometer per hour wind doesn't help as it rips at all the seams where I'm not covered. The road is windy and windy (read that phonetically as 'WHY - N - DEE' and 'WI - N - DEE') or perhaps I should say curvey with strong gusts of wind. I'm really not enjoying myself but at least the beers I have in my luggage are getting nice and cold. The paramedics will have something to drink as they scrape my dead body off the road. I take the right turn for a change but I'm moving slow. When I see the sign that reads 'MIKULOV' I am overjoyed. I made it! Now if I can figure out a way to be indoors for the night that would be a bonus. I look over my notes and make my way up the hill into town. My first turn out of the gas station gets me stopped by the cops pulling into the station. They say something to me, I point to the town and tell them where I'm going. They say something else and shake there heads. I ignore them and continue on. I realize what they were trying to tell me as I turn around at the end of the dead end street I turned up. I pass them again and wave as I see them laughing at me.

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I'm starting to worry now. Everything seems to be closed. Anna did mention that if I had problems finding a place look for an Irish Pub and ask the people inside to get me sorted. My instincts tell me this isn't true but I'm going to believe Anna. My life experience has taught me that Irish pubs are the last place I should go when I need anything that doesn't involve beer or whiskey. By 12:30 I have been up and down every street in the town and everything is closed. I breakdown and pull into the pub. A very uncomfortable feeling comes over me when I walk into the place. Something about an Irish pub in Eastern Europe just doesn't quite wash with me. I order a beer and use that change in my pocket. I empty the glass in one long smooth pull and I order another. I sit down and get myself settled down. The ride has me a little unnerved and I need to regain my composure. I have enough change for one more beer and I make use of it. This time I ask the girl if she knows of a place to stay. She directed me out the back door. As it turns out the Irish pub shared space with a hotel. Ingenious! I go to the front desk to check in only to find out that there was no vacancy. OK... time to call Anna. She won't mind. It's only 1:00 in the morning. Funny thing is, she wasn't sleeping yet. Fortunately she knew Mikulov very well. "Go down to the highway, passed the whore houses and casinos, to the gas station, across the street is a hotel that will be open."...click. OK maybe she was asleep. I follow her directions... Hold on? Whore houses? Casinos? Where the heck did she send me? Cute little town with castle and cousins cafe. That's what she said. Where in the travel brochure does it mention whore houses and casinos? Anyways. I don't see the establishments of ill repute on my way to the gas station. I go to the front desk and check in is a breeze. I'm so tired. The room has three beds in it, but I only use one. Here's the view I wake up to.
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Anna told me I had to go to her cousins cafe for a palicenke (read: crepe). I ride around the town until I find the Petite Cafe (French for small cafe).
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The courtyard was very peaceful and there were apartments all around me. I really enjoyed the setting. It's truly a shame everyone smokes so damn much.
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Now here's the breakfast of champions. Of course, to get the true experience it tastes better with a cigarette.
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After breakfast I toured about the village. I stopped and asked Jesus why he had forsaken me the evening before. I mean, it was bad enough that it was cold and dark. Why did he have to make it rain on me? Did he even know how much pain I was in? He didn't say anything. I imagine if he were to respond it would be to tell me that no matter how much pain I was in, it was nothing compared to how painful it was when he died on the cross for my sins. And then he would start reminding me about the sins I commited and then I would try to change the subject and he would be like, "Whatever, I'll see you in hell" and I would be like, "I thought I was forgiven" and then he would be like,"Yeah... about that...".
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I finally got to the top of the hill to take a look at the palace. I rode my bike around the gardens like I owned the place and I parked by the gates to take a nice photo. I'm sure at one time in history this place was gaurded against people like me.
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Now it's just a 25 cent tour. I wandered around outside the place taking in the grandeur of the place. I noticed an open door around the side and I decided to take a peak inside. As I wandered through the hallways the crepes, coffee, and beer started to catch up with me and I found myself giggling with delight as I made triumphant sounds out of my nether regions. The acoustics of the place created an echo of flatulence that resounded through the great halls within. With every turn another note from the brass section was delivered with enthusiasm. The attack of the tuba as the sound climbed the scale with a sustain and decay that lasted five strides. I was moving too fast to notice any smell, but I was sure that this dog had as much bite as it did bark. With no one around to enjoy the crescendo of my symphony I feel a bit of disappointment as I release the final note. A deep baritone sound working its way up to a tenor. One, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand, four, one thousand, five, one thousand, six. I believe I have soiled myself ever so slightly. The paintings around me look at me with disgust. Then a hand on my shoulder. It turns out I'm not allowed to be in here. The language barrier is always handy in these situations but having intestinal problems makes people want to release you from their custody as soon as possible. They walk me to the gate and ask me not to return. I never even had a chance to find out who's palace this was anyways.
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