I’m writing this from my bed in Vienna. It’s just before 5:00 AM and I’m completely shot, racked with endless jetlag and a vicious bike path beating at the hands of my Croatian buddy Damir. He had made arrangements to get me a rental bike and rode it over to our apartment in the 20th District. Of course, he rode it along with his own bike, which was kind of a feat, riding one bike through city traffic while guiding the other one alongside
“Go for a ride now?” he said.
“Sure,” I said. I changed, fiddled with the saddle, and off we went. A nice one-hour spin would be a great way to finally start getting ahead of the jetlag that I couldn’t shake.
“How far today? 120 km? 150?”
I gulped. “Uh, how about 80?” I countered, which was a solid 40 km farther than I wanted to go. My legs felt leaden, the frame was way too big, and we still hadn’t bought groceries to stock our apartment with.
“Ja, 80 km, gut,” he said, slamming it into the big ring and whipping it up to about 23 mph, which was a problem because we were going straight into a horrible headwind.
“This,” I thought, as I remembered not having eaten lunch, “is gonna fuggin’ suck.”
A lovely barfy morning
It had all started so innocently and good. I left our hotel in Bratislava at a quarter to five for an early morning stroll. There is a 10k loop along the river, over to the other bank and back, where you cross a couple of cool bridges and get to enjoy the unspoiled scenery of Bratislava.
However, 5:00 AM on Sunday is still full-bore party time, as the bars don’t close until five, the private clubs until seven, and the buy-your-own-and-keep-drinking-in-the-street doesn’t stop until you do.
Several of the people who had stopped were lying on the stone pavement in front of my hotel, empties littered about, and one lovely young girl squatted on her haunches dry heaving, long strings of spit dangling from her lips as she contemplated a pretty puddle of puke and all it contained.
All the way to the river people were singly staggering, or prostrate, or singing, or grimly clutching a bottle, daring it to be empty. Society’s carrying costs for booze are high, here as much as anywhere else. The trash cleanup alone must be massive, to say nothing of the social and medical implications of so much hardened drinking by so many people. This, however, is what tourism is really all about: Eating too much and drinking too much while you buy shit in strange places that you could get on Amazon for a lot less.
Away from the madding crowd
The nice thing about Bratislava is that you don’t have to go very far before you are all alone. Less than a kilometer down the river and it was completely devoid of people, the only sounds being gulls and terns fishing in the Danube. The sun hadn’t yet risen but everything was covered in the prettiest, softest pre-dawn light.
Since it has no industry to speak of, and since hardly anyone has a car, the air in Bratislava is spectacularly clean. You forget the carrying cost to your lungs of a society hell-bent on cars and the filthy burden it imposes on something as simple and necessary as breathing. The public transportation in Bratislava consists of buses and trams, and the much of it is aged.
Yet with much of the infrastructure dating back to the communist era, it still has better, faster, cheaper, and more efficient public transport throughout the city than anywhere in all of Southern or Northern California.
I finished my walk and got back to the Old City which had been commandeered by street crews and the few early morning tourists like me. I stopped in at a liquor shop for a quick cappuccino, and a drunk dude nursing his giant can of beer stopped me.
“You don’t look Russian.”
“Thank you, I guess.”
“Where are you from?”
“Were your parents white people?” he asked.
I kept on walking.
Back to the bus station
Woodrow and I got cleaned up, breakfasted, and went down to the main bus station. We had booked return tickets to Vienna on FlixBus, whose competitor was RegioJet. There were RegioJet signs everywhere, and all the cigarette stands were selling RegioJet tickets, but there was nothing for FlixBus.
I went up to one of the tobacco stands to find out where the FlixBus stop was, but there was a big sign that said: NO INFORMATION HERE ABOUT FLIXBUS. NO FLIXBUS TICKETS. REGIOJET INFORMATION AND TICKETS ONLY.
I went over to another tobacco stand and bought a bottle of water, using Slovak for only the third or fourth time in as many days. The lady handed me the water. “Where is the FlixBus stop for the 9:35?” I coyly asked, figuring that the purchase would worm it out of her.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Do you want information about RegioJet?”
Woodrow and I picked a random bus stop that said “Blaggus Bus” and waited. People started to accumulate. A trio of rough looking dudes came over to us. “You going to Vienna?” one of them said in broken German.
“Where do we get tickets?”
“FlixBus or RegioJet?” I asked, already knowing that this was the key to getting around at the Bratislava main bus station.
“What’s the difference?”
“RegioJet is everywhere. You can get tickets over there.”
“What is this FlixBus?”
“You have to buy your tickets online. And no one knows where the bus stop is.”
“You taking RegioJet?”
Now he was really suspicious. “How come you taking FlixBus you don’t know where it is?”
“Bad purchasing decision,” I said.
They shrugged and went off to the RegioJet ticketseller.
After a while we started getting really nervous, but then the FlixBus showed up, only it was called BlaggusBus. So we took the Blaggus/FlixBus to Vienna. Which is, more or less, when the adventure really began.
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