ONE LONG ROAD TO BRATISLAVA: Part l

In life, just getting through the day, there’s not really step-by-step instructions; you gotta figure this shit out.   – Trey Ratcliff

Goats in Prague

Sometimes, it seems the world is running with scissors. Take 1969 for instance. Nixon sits in the White House and covertly attacks Cambodia without permission from Congress, then lies. Someone has actually named their baby Sirhan Sirhan, and he grows up and shoots a Kennedy—on freakin TV. Charles Manson and his brain-washed junta slay rich people in LA and are not sorry. Three hippies die at Woodstock—one, from being stupid and stuffing too much of a good thing into his veins; another, for being stupid and not realizing the pain in his side is a ruptured appendix; the third, for being extra stupid by sleeping in a brown camouflage sleeping bag in the mud and getting run over by a tractor.

In 1968, the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia; and here in 1969, a young Czech student immolates himself with fire in protest. Some say, someone on a Hollywood back-lot movie set fakes a moon landing, and their screen writer coins the phrase: “one small step for man.” Levi Strauss sells its first pair of bellbottom jeans for $6.98. The Hells Angels get hired as security for a Rolling Stones concert, and one of the Angels kills a fevered fan. And I am living in a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia.

tile roof in Prague

Today, almost five decades later, I find myself (and the world) in a similar, perhaps even more chaotic and deeper pile of kimchi. And I am once again traveling through a country that no longer exists: Czechoslovakia. In 1969, in pseudo-communist Yugoslavia while representing my college on a student-exchange program, I desired to visit Czechoslovakia—to check out its landscape, its architecture, its bridges, all those castles. Its gypsies and Bohemian coeds, maybe. And goulash. And maybe because the Czechs invented sugar cubes, possibly specifically to add to absinthe in a cool way, which I also wanted to try. But it seemed a bit risky with the commie nonsense going down at the time, so instead, I wound up crossing the Bridge of Sighs with a reason to sigh in Venice.

horsedrawn surrey in Prague

I have just lingered, perhaps a bit too long, in Prague; but it boasts everything I like in a town: walkable, Segwayable, bike-able, runnable, Harley-able, lots of interesting doors and people to photograph, lots of greenery and parks, a castle on a hill, a dearth of American fast-food signs, horse-drawn surreys, Starbucks scattered about, a history of heroes, fine eateries, a water feature, fine and plentiful outdoor art, street musicians, narrow roads made of rocks, bottled beer laced with cannabis (huh?!).

beer with cannibus

But in my mind, Czechoslovakia will always be Czechoslovakia—like Yugoslavia is Yugoslavia, Russia is Russia, Persian Gulf is the Persian Gulf, and Burma is Burma dammit…why do things have to change? And today, I desire to cruise and peruse the “other half” of Czechoslovakia: now called Slovakia.

mother & boy -Prague street

I hop a bus—a plush and comfortable Volvo affair; this is, after all, 21st-century Europe, not Bangladesh—and meander down the E50 to Brno, where I have no desire to linger as it’s the second largest city here. I’m not a “big-city” person; I grew up in a small town; I feel at home in small towns, especially small towns with an exotic or old-world flare: Aspen, Ubud, Amsterdam, Rishikesh.

The bus heads down the E65 from Brno. How would you pronounce that? (click here to find out), and stops for a break at a smallish, rest-stop restaurant with a parking lot brimming with tour buses. The nanoscopic bathrooms are so crowded, there’s a line out the door into the parking lot, both men and women. Many visitors simply wander into the woods behind the restaurant—as numerous others have obviously done before: it’s one huge, forested latrine back there in those woods. The trees and underbrush are thriving, what with so much attention and fertilizer. The bus finally crosses the Czech-Slovak border at Breclav, and meanders through Slovak savannas of barley, sugar beats, rapeseed, and windmills.

windmills in Slovakia

I decide to wander the streets of Bratislava’s Old Town—they obviously have the same penchant for naming things by their simple names as they do in Prague (Old Town, New Bridge, Castle Hill). I’m going to tell you right now, I’m disappointed—I find no Starbucks! That is not precisely why I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed now because much later when I return home, I discover I missed the Starbucks in Bratislava, because it lies on the other side of the river. I would have wandered over there in my younger days, but these days in my geezer years, I’m not as eager to see what lies at the end of every alley or across each bridge.

Shouldn’t there be a Lonely Planet Guidebook to Starbucks is all I’m saying. And just so you know, I’m not promoting Starbucks—I’m hoping they get their conglomerate business act together; I’m hoping they go free trade and lower their prices; I’m hoping they get rid of those gaudy plastic signs for their mermaid, maybe go with British-racing green on wood; I’m hoping they start playing classical music and Deva Premal.

It’s just that addiction of one form or another runs amok in my family DNA, and I’m simply addicted to that Starbucks stuff, it’s like a Starbuck monkey on my backpack. Backpack—because get this, I don’t ever sit down and drink coffee in a Starbucks when I’m not traveling. Right, never say never, but I mean it here. It is odd, I agree: an addiction only when you travel…what’s up with that?

Map- Czech REp & Slovakia area

Let’s say you start strolling Bratislava at the Blue Danube. In my opinion, someone should write a waltz called the Not-Quite-Beautiful-Mud-Brown Danube. You don’t want to drink any of it obviously, but it’s not actually polluted, like say, the seemingly-much-bluer Buriganga River in Dhaka, which of course, is bluer because it’s toxic and radiating a bluish toxic tinge (but if it’s a blue river you want to photograph, head to Dhaka). It’s just that the Danube moves a lot of mud a long way downriver from Germany’s Black Forest to the Black Sea, and is muddy.

danubemap_hdr3

The second disappointment begins when I see the Danube on my map, colored a wonderful pale blue. Strauss’s waltz “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” dances into my head and lingers—daa-daa-daa-daa-da… da-da… da-da. All those years of beautiful blue expectations dissolve into a muddled, mud-colored disappointment when I finally stand on the shore of a khaki-colored blue Danube.

island with blue sea & colorful clouds

After years of hearing the beautiful Blue Danube Waltz, this is what you expect when you get here.

UFO Bridge in Bratislava with flowers

When you wash up on the Danube’s shores in Bratislava, this is what you get. I’m not saying it’s bad, or sad, or disgusting by any means. It’s just not freakin blue. And what’s with that bridge? Such a far cry from the 14th-century, egg-yolk-mortared, stone Charles Bridge in Prague.

And this is one reason all the great sages, spiritual masters, world travelers, and a passel of travel bloggers have always said: “let go of your expectations.” They also say things like “don’t worry, be happy” and “get back in the saddle.” But we all know it’s far easier to talk about doing these things than actually pulling them off, sometimes. Like Trey Ratcliff says, you gotta figure this shit out for yourself. And perhaps the best way is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other until the smile appears. That’s what happens next in the narrow, cobblestone streets of Bratislava—coming soon in Part II.

Bratislava Old Town, colorful street

See more of Lucile’s: Photo Rehab

See more DP Photo Challenge here:   Chaos

VIEW OTHER POSTS ON PRAGUE:

DANCING WITH THE GREEN FAIRLY AT MIDNIGHT

STROLLING THROUGH PRAGUE: ONE FINE DAY—PART II

STROLLING THROUGH PRAGUE: ONE FINE DAY–PART I

Map with source  and course of Danube credit: Wikipedia

108 thoughts on “ONE LONG ROAD TO BRATISLAVA: Part l

  1. When you list those things from the 60s today doesn’t sound as bad.

    I am trying to let go of my expectations as well before going places but it is hard.

    I can understand your Starbucks pain. When on the road, sometimes you just need coffee – coffee you can trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Trenchant, funny, hitting the spot and taking you right to the spot – travelling through time and space, what more could want in a great piece of travelogue. A fine read BF. So good, I was forgetting to look at the pix. Must now upscroll.

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  3. If I have the Blue Danube Waltz stuck in my head today, I know who’s to blame 😉

    Letting go of expectations is a big one. Sadly for Bratislava, would you have loved it more if you had visited it BEFORE Prague?

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    • It could be a worse song, like that one about “call me maybe”! It wasn’t Bratislava I was disappointed in, it was the Brown Danube, I think. But for any city or place, Prague is a hard act to follow on any level!! Bratislava is pretty cool too, in its old town area, I liked it there, but it’s not Prague. Or Aspen.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Don…thanks, glad you’re tagging along. I’ve been “wanting” to write for years, just never could sit my butt down in a chair and force myself to do it. A blog is a harsh enforcer!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Can’t wait to see your Bratislava photos!
    We visited Bratislava in 2007 in the company of a friend who left Bratislava in 1968. (His son wrote a book about his father’s experience: “A Country Lost, Then Found: Discovering My Father’s Slovakia”.) We had no preconceived notions about the city, so it was a wonderful experience to walk the streets with our friend as he pointed out the church his parents were married in and all the other sights from both his youth, and his later life after the communist rule ended.

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    • Margie, oh, how very cool. I think the best way to see a place is to have a local show you around. It’s fun to see things from their perspective. I truly liked Bratislava and also did not know what to expect. It was delightful. But then, Prague is a hard act to follow, especially when you’re expecting a blue river.

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  5. Forget Lonely Planet. You should write a guide to the Starbucks of the world. It might be a best seller! For a while, we made a point of visiting a McDonalds in every city we went to, usually for a coffee or an ice cream and we decided we would “collect” Maccas when we travelled. Lately we haven’t done that – there’s just not enough time.

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    • I know…I should write it! I know some people dislike SB, but, well, I just don’t! Even in third-world grit, they offer clean comfy chairs, trustable water, and toilet paper!! Macca? that’s the OZ word for Micky D? LIke barbie?

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, Maccas is Oz-speak for McDonalds. Or is Micky D what you call it?? We feel the same way. We know we can sit down, use the bathroom for free and the coffee is usually good too. Sometimes it’s just nice to be somewhere familiar.

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      • okay, Baddie, I’ll do the China chapter for you alright? beginning right here with the 59 starbucks in one corner of suzhou. you’d love it – once when downtown i was looking for the starbucks i knew was there, couldnt find it, and saw one across the street as well. then found there was one just around the corner. and they’re always busy. a big population over here, ya know….. and im with ya, i only drink starbucks in china or when travelling…. you can always rely on it….. for a good cuppa english breakfast tea….. 🙂

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        • Right. I’ve seen like three Starbucks within a block of each other in some places. I can’t remember where now, but hey, there is never too much of a good thing is there? Tea is SB? I don’t think so, deary.

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          • Sorry to disappoint you Mr Fish, but yes, there is plenty of Tea in Starbucks in China. The SB guys know if they gonna succeed here they gotta do it in culturally relevant ways. Okay, there is a growing middle class and youth who like coffee, but tea is definitely on the menu. Not just a nice cup of English Breakfast with a spot of milk ( which I have to ask, and sometimes argue for) but green tea lattes, peach tea frappacinos… etc etc. I’ll take a photo for you next time. With my OPPO, of course! 🙂

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          • Oh yeah, what’s that old song by whathisname, Leonard Cohen, a song about a girl who serves you tea that “comes all the way from China Starbucks” or something like that, eh

            Liked by 1 person

          • and just how did you know that i had just posted that song on Chinese social media, Mr Fish?
            anyhow… you can take, all the tea in China… wrap it in a big brown box for me….. 🙂

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          • they don’t call me psychic for nothing, you know. did you hear of his passing and posted it, or you just like it? what social media did you post it on. What other sm do you use? I barely have time for this blog

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  6. Another fascinating post BF. 1969 was quite the year! Where do you come up with this stuff? Still, I guess every year has it’s special moments. 2016 is shaping up to have one tonight.
    I really like the opening photo and the carriage and the closing photo – there’s a painterly feel to them, and a softness but still enough clarity. I wish I knew how to get that.
    Alison

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  7. A great read Badfish and a map! I admit to being a searcher of Starbucks. We have a collection of cups from around the world. So in the morning we often say “Do you feel like going to Istanbul or London this morning?”

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  8. My first choice would always be to seek out a little independent café, but if all else fails a chain will do, at least you know what you’re getting, but Costa in Barcelona was ridiculously expensive! Love your photo edits BF 🙂

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  9. Brings to mind the phrase, ‘view the world through rose-colored glasses’. Maybe throw a pair of blue shades in the backpack on the next trip? The water might look better.

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  10. I actually ventured into the Czech Republic while living in Germany. As Americans, we went there to check out the crystal, which I really have no interest in, but it was a good excuse to venture in. My mom and great aunt happen to have been visiting at the time and went along. I remember being struck by the state of near poverty everyone seemed to be living in; buildings still bore bullet holes, and there were numerous prostitutes along the side of the roads. I never made it into Prague.

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    • Well, how cool is that, eh?! Was that during the communist era, or recently? I would like a crystal candle stick, but the rest of that stuff just seems tacky galore.

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      • It was ’96 or ’97. I remember going to a little restaurant, and of course we left a tip, and the waitress seemed overly enthusiastic, but quite sincere in thanking us. After we left, I thought maybe I should check my conversion because I thought maybe I had been overly gracious in my tipping. When I did my figures, we had tipped her what was equivalent to a quarter. A quarter. She had practically prostrated herself for a quarter. Of course after venturing farther into the country, I soon figured out why.

        I didn’t really go for the traditional sort of cut crystal, because I find that hella tacky too. lol They had some very beautiful pieces that were more almost more like hand-blown crystal, and I bought a few of those.

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          • Oh, tell me about THAT dang euro! The dollar used to go FAR further in Amsterdam before the euro. I hate the euro. Well, now that it’s lowered, I don’t hate it as much. Actually, I LOVE that you can use one currency in all those countries and not worry about exchanging each time you cross a border. And I want to be able to cross borders with no visa like members do, and I want to work in those countries.

            Liked by 1 person

          • the rate of exchange now is lower than before, but when you were there it was probably like 3 or 4 to the dollar, eh? Life was good then, it was good to be an American then…what happened?

            Liked by 1 person

    • Cal…well, I’m so glad you liked them. I’m actually having a difficult time writing and working and commenting and reading other blogs—actually, I’m failing at all of them!! But thanks for hanging out!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Would it help to hang out a gone fishing sign and explain that you want to focus on something or other for a little while, so please excuse if you don’t get everything read and answered? I did that once. I needed a break. And I’m guessing you subscribe to way more blogs than I do. You’re going to burn yourself out, sweetie. Maybe you need to just take a break and decide what you’d LIKE to work on? {{{Fish}}}

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, while working (and especially while grading 100 essays) it gets real tough to write, and respond and comment on other blogs. I feel guilty if I don’t, but I want to at least keep writing while I have some momentum because for decades I just wouldn’t sit and write.

          Liked by 1 person

          • This is important for you, I think. The blogs can wait. Show up once a month and just leave a general howdy and an update on how you’re coming with your writing. I guarantee no one will leave. They’ll all be here when you get back waiting with baited breathe to read what you’ve been working on. (Some may have alcohol on their breath too… Or sardines… Or cigars… Or garlic… After all, life goes on and people gotta eat and drink! 😉 ) Love & Hugs, buddy… ❤

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hey Lady (how’s the Lord?), yeah, it’s important, but you know, it’s the blog that keeps me writing. And it’s good practice. And might lead to something else later down the line. But you’re right, maybe I should try for fewer posts a month, give me time to comment and read others!?? And right, life goes on, no matter what you have on your breath!! You’re funny, you know! where do you get those emoticons?

            Liked by 1 person

  11. Great pics and I too am addicted to SB. Bathrooms are a plus. Even in California with so many homeless people, most places don’t even have them anymore, even some restaurants don’t have them and especially not available unless you’re a purchasing customer. So, I get it. They also offer wifi, which make them attractive as well.
    I bet if you approached Starbucks they’d fund your travels for their reviews. Well, I know some companies do anyway.

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  12. Hey Badfish – cup of tea in hand, back home after a long long week of work travels – and a Badfish post to read. Whilst drinking tea and looking at my favourite building. you know the one. funny thing is, figuring out this shit, day at a time, seems way difficult these days – wouldnt you think we’d be used to it, by this time? … and right, you know, that river – here i’ll say it for you, it STINKS. it is NOT the Blue Danube. It is am imposter. Sure you got the right planet? ( you know, all that bgrade movie set thing…..)
    okay moving along…. glad you got to the Bridge of Sighs once upon a time so i neednt feel bad about not sighing on the sighing bridge for you ( i wasnt anyhow.. feeling bad).. AND – WRITE that STARBUCKS GUIDE. put a few drafts together, pray to your favourite god ( who might just be called Duncan and have the form of a hermit crab…. (( and how is that dude anyhow?)) )…. and approach the starbucks owner. okay? and come back and celebrate when you’ve got the contract, alright? you can cite the number of followers as proof we will all travel to one of your starbucks location and buy a tea. or coffee. maybe even cake. Righto? toodle-ooh…..

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    • Well, yeah…just because he says you gotta figure it out doesn’t mean we can!! It means nobody else is going to do it for you, and you may be ankle deep in shit for a while before you or anyone figures this shit out. I mean, just what is a day anyway? And why did we choose planet earth this time around is what I want to know? And right…Duncan is divinely gifted! He just changed shells and came up from his bi-yearly molting session of five weeks under the sand.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think “deep in a pile of kimchi” is my favourite new expression. So much so, that I think I’ll start using it! Nice to hear Duncan’s update too… so … off to extricate myself from a pile of kimchi… then off to the local SB – for TEA! 🙂

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        • HA! Because we go to jail if we curse here, I tell my students that we use kimchi instead of sh**, and tell them if their papers are late, they are standing in a pile of that stuff…it’s one of the few things I actually teach them, that, and “don’t trust anyone.”

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  13. Expectations are normal ~ but tough when they are not met. So looks like you are off to a good start and things can only improve from here on out. Sometimes I like not reading anything about a place before getting there…that way everything is at least a surprise, good or bad. Then once I have discovered a bit and created my own impressions I am open to reading up on it.

    So strange and confusing all these countries changing names!

    Peta

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  14. I’m climbing out of the sea of despondency that was your first 3 paragraphs and heading towards the light (sidestepping the latrine 🙂 We have one in common! Or do I mean, on the common? I wrote my reply to Aydon Castle before I saw this post). Thank you for the history and geography lessons and your love of castles. I love your mother and child photo. And bridges. All bridges, really! I passed by 4 of them on the River Tees yesterday (ok, so one was a flyover 🙂 ) and they couldn’t have been more different. Looking forward to part 2 🙂 🙂

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  15. Hi bad fish 🐟
    I enjoyed the tone/voice of this post!
    Change is hard and many of those places are stuck in my mind – heck – even still add Pluto when I sing the blues clues planet song (kidding)
    And interesting. That Starbucks is your away addiction – we have some places like this and I think it is the consistency that gets us – knowing the menu and well- we also have different needs when we travel – especially with the places you go – hm
    And while I still do not care for them, I feel like I am sometimes grateful for Starbucks. Like we needed a place to give someone a small gift a couple months ago and found a nearby Starbucks that was perfect .
    Ol – enough enough enough of that talk!
    Enjoyed the 60s history so much in this post
    People are catastrophizing this week when you remind us again of this and that!

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  16. So Starbucks is your travel habit, there’s no shame in that, Baddie!! 😉 One of my travel habits is to always spray on some new perfume at an airport’s tax free store while waiting for departure.
    Actually, I often go to Starbucks abroad, too, just to make some part of the day easy and predictable (though adventure is fun, I’m getting older and am starting to appreciate comfort more than novelty). The only place I avoid that particular cafe chain is Paris – the French just make me feel so bad about it!!! (And I’m not even American!) Anyway, French coffee is the best there is, in my opinion, so a brasserie coffee is totally my cup of tea, so to speak. – As always, this post was such an enjoyable read!

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    • “comfort more than novelty”…yeah, I hear that loud and clear!! Adventure and novelty used to be what travel for me was all about. Now, I just want to know where to buy the coconuts and rambutans and get a good bowl of pasta in a place where they wash the lettuce properly. Do the French make you feel bad about going into a SB, or they make you feel bad once you’re inside and they’re serving you? Interesting! I, too, like French coffee, especially sitting at a sidewalk cafe. But the cups are much smaller. And I like to sit and sip a long time…

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I like calling all those places by those very names. I cannot keep track of the shifting borders and it is simply easier to refer to the countries as they were. Especially Burma, about which I have a strong position.

    That said, you are lucky that you are not addicted to Peet’s coffee, as I am. I don’t care for Starbucks as I believe they cut all their coffee with Robusta beans and it is harsh. But Peet’s uses Arabica and is no more expensive. Just less universal.

    As for the muddy Danube, I hadn’t given it much attention when I was in the Germanic countries through which it flows in Western Europe. Perhaps if I revisit my transparencies from those days I will see exactly that same mud color.

    Love the processing, by the way. I am addicted to processing.

    Now, on to Part II.

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    • yeah…why can’t we just call things by their proper names is all I’m saying! Are you sure SB cuts their coffees with robustas? That’s not cool, for peets sake. I’m going to write it like that from now on!

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