19th June, Sunday
Bratislava near nine, Sunday night. I’m in a café, the Papillon, off Hlavné námestie, the main square in the old town, with a pot of tea. The kitchen’s closed but there’s a terrific downpour outside and I’ll have to wait until it stops, to find food, which will most likely be of the fast variety. The Earl Grey (“Early Grey” on the menu) is nice, actually, and I wasn’t that hungry to begin with but must eat something before bed. Up early, I’ll go around the Stare mesto (old town) again and maybe get into some churches. At the Hotel Tatra I managed to sleep a couple of hours in a big room. It’s a four-star and makes a change from the box room at the Strasser in Graz (Austria).
The Schlossberg hill is a genuine attraction in Graz and I’m glad I checked the city out but there is something in the tone of the passage in the Rough Guide, just before the reference to the UNESCO status of the centre, which itself is almost dutiful, that suggests the writer wasn’t impressed either. There are no quays there, despite any such street names, as both banks of the river are thick with trees, in an unkempt way. There are no lamp posts either. The street lights hang from criss-crossing wires that turn up in every photograph. Smooth Criminal has come on the Michael Jackson CD here. I can move on. That song always puts a pep in the step.
11pm bed. I headed back around ten, through the rain which had eased a bit at best. It’s unlikely to be a whole lot drier in the morning. I got some novädzi gúlaš at a place near the Papillon where a young-ish American with long hair slicked back behind his ears was wearing sunglasses. On a rainy night. At an unlit table. He ignored both waiters who thanked him as he departed.
I passed an English stag party near Michael’s Gate. A couple of them were shirtless on a rainy night, outside a pub. Some of the trams made an eerie, whistling sound in the wet. The wheels were whining.
20th June, Monday
On the plane, a baby has just stopped crying. Now it’s off again. I got f*cking soaked this morning, trying to get some more Stare mesto photos. Vytáte do Bratislave. Welcome to Bratislava. It started so well, when I was peering through tall railings at the presidents of Switzerland and Slovakia inspecting a guard of honour at the palace.
On the far side of this row I can also hear a young American couple. As soon as I got aboard I could hear the fella tell the wan that French contained a lot of German. Non. The breakfast room at the Tatra was a large hall that could take any large wedding reception. In a break in the rain then I headed off in the short blue plastic mac but it was no use in the next deluge. I had no time to take shelter.
I had to get back to the hotel to check out at eleven. I decided not to change any clothes and I got a taxi to the airport. My Polish pal from the flight out was standing outside the terminal, with his Slovak relation (M.). He called me over. As I stood talking to them I knew I’d have to change something. The t-shirt had to go but I decided against putting on the pair of shorts because who knows what Dublin will be like? By the time we got on the plane my pants had dried, anyway. The row in front is all fat gypsies – the American girl even tapped a gypsy kid who appeared from somewhere behind, with a camera, to tell him they didn’t want their pictures taken, even by accident (girl, get over yourself) – but the row in front of the gypsies is a young family of Dubs who quizzed an unenthusiastic steward about chicken nuggets (“No”) and food allergies (“Just cheese then”).
Passing through security earlier I found a young Slovak beard wasn’t happy with my little toiletries bag. The elastic band wasn’t good enough for him. He said he wanted a re-sealable bag, which my one was, originally, but I just told him to dump it if it meant hassle (for me). Then he told me to take off my shoes. I was only carrying wet socks. Then he asked about my pockets. No one had ever told me to put my little credit card holder in the tray but this f*cker did. When we got through, my Polish pal told me they were bad in Slovakia for hassle like that and added he always got quizzed, going in and out.