Bratislava… a place to chill

Bratislava… a place to chill

2019

26 September, Thursday

The first meal is often the simplest and most functional. Burgers and chips (i.e. fries … hranolky) at “Café Studio” on Laurinská. The first pub was Čierny Pes (the Black Dog), a proper Slovak bar where the young waiter was thrilled with the big tip. The bill for half a dozen drinks was less than thirteen euros so letting him keep the rest of a twenty was hardly the shirt off my back.

It was down the narrow cobbles of Na Vŕšku then to the Irish Uisce Beatha, which has a reassuring “No Stags” sign on the door. The barmaid (L.) was a pretty and polite Slovak brunette with an Irish ex. Pretty and polite and honest.

27 September, Friday

It’s hard to spend money here. After breakfast at “Re-Fresh” at the far end of the street below Michael’s Gate, the bright morning meant a sweaty climb to the Castle. At least the shop had a couch. I bought some postcards to justify the seat. Upon descending we stopped at a place (J. J. Darvoben) beside the cathedral. The woman smilingly corrected my chléb (Czech) to chlieb when P. wanted some regular bread to go with the toast on the platter my two companions shared.

It was in the afternoon when I got most of my photos and spotted the only English stag in town. Bratislava lacks the snottiness of most capitals, probably because it’s a relatively new one. Meandering, photo-taking, was an essay in relaxation, exemplified by the boy and girl in a courtyard playing chess with pieces almost as big as traffic cones.

The late afternoon meant a siesta. Later we ate in the book-lined cellar bar of Pod kamenným stromom (‘Under the Stone Tree’) on Sedlárska, just off Hlavné námestie. We drank again in the same two pubs as the night before. A Chekhovian young English lady with a dog was sweet to me before she left Uisce Beatha. She had already told J. that having the dog was useful for getting chatted up.

 

 

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Trenčín, Slovakia

Trenčín, Slovakia

28 September 2019

I got out of the Bratislava hotel by ten and walked up to the Hlavná stanica. The day got wet for a while. It was only a tenner for the hour on the train northeast to Trenčín. The seat numbering on the train was tricky but at least all the Slovaks seemed confused too.

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I got there around one so I had something to eat at a place called Speranza. It was the only place in the quiet old town that had half a crowd outside. A cheesy beef and potato dish on a menu entirely in Slovak ensued but at least I know words like that.

Then I went to the plush Hotel Elizabeth and checked into luxury for a night (€82 is cheap for four stars). The chap mentioned raňajky (breakfast) and bez (without) so, by way of confirmation, I just said, Bez. On the way out again, to do the Castle, I saw the Roman inscription on the rock of the hill outside the windows. There’s a back landing used as a viewing and info gallery. Carved by men of the II Auxiliary legion in 179 AD, the message was only rediscovered by a local clergyman in 1852.

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The Castle was a steeper hike than the one in Bratislava but that was also after two nights on the beer. When paying in, I found the pretty woman of the two seemed to take a shine to me, complimenting my effort in Slovak and then emerging to help scan the ticket at the barriers outside. I was already ready to melt but then saw the climb went on. And on. Still, after a cooling-off period, I did the top tower and all. Mátušova veža. The top of the castle. The narrow stairways and doorways up there proved no obstacle to the young and ignorant. Twice, when I stepped back to let someone in or out, the twenty and thirty somethings would pass my shoulder and drive on regardless.

A lone black goat was grazing on a grassy enclosure between ramparts. A Japanese couple got snapped (by me) while filming it. I’d got it too, just below where I was standing, while doing a three-sixty of the scene, but moved the camera away to give it some privacy during a call of nature.

On the way back down, I again passed the restaurant (Pod Hradom – ‘Under the Castle’) with the wedding party. I’d paused within earshot, out on the steep, damp lane, while climbing those steps and cobbles, just to listen to a Slovak folk song (kind of Jewish, I thought), which was accompanied by an accordion. There’s a big synagogue in the old town.

Back at the hotel I slept for an hour to catch up on that and then I went to the Lanius Pivovar for an evening meal: a fine steak with grilled veg for less than twenty and a couple of beers for an added fiver. I called it a night at half past nine. Wrote some notes and went easy on the mini-bar. A bath soak would begin a long day before nine in the morning, before three trains, then a flight, then a 200 km drive home.

Sopron

Sopron

2019

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25 May, Saturday

In the Rockline bar here in Sopron (pop. 63,000) I made some new friends. I got invited to join the one remaining table, once the other stragglers had gone. Like in a playground, one of the first things they asked was my age. T. said she only knew L. because L. had once interviewed her for a survey. T. had dark, kind eyes and lovely teeth. Z. the waiter told stories from his night at the Corvinus restaurant on Fő tér, the main square. I think the group expected to have to speak German to the stranger. It’s a border town, a beautiful Baroque border town, but the fact that I don’t make a dog’s dinner of Hungarian was a source of wonder.

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26 May, Sunday

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Leonard Cohen is coming calmly over the speakers at the Generális restaurant on Fő tér as a man with no arms steadily and assiduously eats spaghetti at the next table. Cohen now sings The Partisan with the angelic French chorus and the rhythm of a fluttering heartbeat. Last night P. the barman claimed Sopron hadn’t suffered too much in the war because it wasn’t on the railway line between Budapest and Vienna. It was out of the way, he added.

The man with no arms has gone, with his wife. A Thalidomide victim, with small hands. Very small hands. But he managed to smoke and drink as well, while his wife was in the Goat Church across the square.

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By his accent the man at the nearest table on the other side is from Dublin. He has gone pensive after settling up with a Danke blurted to the Köszönöm szépen from the waitress. He’s no spring chicken and now he’s off on his phone again. He seems to want to know badly if two Irishmen died on Mount Everest in the past week. They did. Will I bother telling him? He’s about to leave.

Told him. A talkative chap in need of a shave, he was in Hungary to walk from Sopron to Lenti. As well as something of his life on the buses, he told me he’d got up as far as the third level on Everest but then remembered his age (62) and had the sense to turn back and get down off it. After a pizza, a Coke, a bottle of Soproni beer and some ice cream, I too turned back and took to the bed for most of the sunny afternoon. The slight headache while sitting at the restaurant table went away and I’m keen on some rest.

A shower was taken to wake me up for dinner. A bath soak had done it before lunch. At first I went up in the lift to the Museum Café beside the Fire Tower. There I drank another bottle of Soproni, a Coke and a water while a kids’ quiz took place beside me. I didn’t sit out on the terrace. It had rained eventually while I was indoors and the free tables and seats were uncovered and wet. There’s no view out there anyway.

Afterwards I chose the Corvinus for dinner, having spotted my waiter friend downing a beer in a quiet moment on the quieter side of the building, facing the town hall. The venison stew was fine even though they threw some hash browns on the plate for trunking. I might have gone for something more expensive but hadn’t got around to taking out more forints. The 5,000 I had was enough for the plate, a beer and a decent tip for my man. The view from the table was free.

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As I left, cars were pulling up on the square and election boxes were being carried into the town hall. Those involved were all dressed up, like for a wedding.

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By half past ten I ventured out once more for provisions like water, chocolate and peanuts. There’s a small 24h élelmiszer near the Rockline on Ógabona tér. The pub was closed, as Z. had predicted, though my phone had indicated a late opening. Then again, its online presence also says “Gastropub” when all I saw there was peanuts.

27 May, Monday

At the Erhardt Panzió they have a good, varied breakfast menu to go with the basics laid out for the bleary-eyed. This means they don’t have to waste time and ingredients cooking uneaten food. The pretty young blonde with the glasses asked me if I wanted anything off it but, though bacon and eggs would normally be cool, I just said, ah nem, túl korán nekem (ah no, too early for me) and she smiled and went away.

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The next time I’ll even try the restaurant in the garden. After a chat with the same sweet girl as I paid at reception, I walked straight down Mátyás Király utca to the station and soon left Sopron.

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Bad directions from a stranger had given me the runaround from there on Saturday night. Anyway, just an hour and a quarter later, I was back in Vienna, with many photos of Sopron.

 

 

 

Tihany

Tihany

Tihany…

I was here in April 2009. Tihany village lies near the narrowest point of the eighty-mile-long Lake Balaton. The little lake behind the village (see the video below) is a geological anomaly that is 25 m higher than the real one. The stone jetty below the Benedictine abbey is on the eastern side of the peninsula. The hazy Balaton is a light, smoothie green. We had lunch below the crest of the great lake view beside the abbey (apatság) and then we got the ferry to the south shore.

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This short drone video (courtesy of Zoltán Tóth) is well worth watching.

Old Parish and Helvick

Old Parish and Helvick

This is the Irish south coast, in the nominally Irish-speaking part of Co. Waterford that centres on An Rinn (‘Ring’, which translates as headland or promontory). The road signs are all in Irish, the schools teach through that medium, but most of the people there use English most of the time. Nevertheless if a visitor wants to speak the language, he or she will be accommodated. They all know it and can show it off. In any pub or café the language can commonly be overheard.

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The Old Parish (Sean Phobal) area, it is locally believed, was the first Christian parish in Ireland, in late Roman times, and indeed this part of the south coast was the first Christian part of the island. Many of the gravestone inscriptions are wholly or partly in Irish.

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One of the roads to Helvick Head from Old Parish is known as Sea View or Radharc na mara. Helvick is a place name of obvious Scandinavian origin and the rocky shelf to which the name refers can still be seen beyond where the fishing harbour wall meets the hill.

 

Paris … Another 48 Hours

Paris … Another 48 Hours

2019

23 March, Saturday

Tired on the road to Cork even though JP was driving. The flight was a bit short for sleeping. Just and hour and a quarter. We checked into our rooms at the Verlain and went straight to St. Germain. The Bar du Marché was too busy but it was only when we sat down at Café Buci that I remembered I’d been there before. Sick in late December 2013. The tough boeuf and the sweet waitress. This time we had a couple of bottles of beer, a couple of large kirs (my vote) and a cold platter that was much more than just meat and cheese (that was JP’s vote).

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I felt immediately relaxed and refreshed, though by the time we got to the Piano Vache, via the Sorbonne and the Place du Panthéon, where the setting sun lit up the stone, I was feeling the mixture of a couple of strong drinks with the underlying fatigue. It had been a busy week.

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Anyway, the beer fridge in the Piano Vache was suspiciously poorly stocked and the chap behind the counter was really only interested in rolling dice on the counter. We still managed with what was available and P. caught up with us before dark. Different flight.

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Dinner (for me) was a pizza at an Italian restaurant JP knew, around the corner. There I quietly realized how much Italian I’d forgotten. The white tablecloth reminded me of a sinking feeling of anxiety typical at weddings but I held it together.

When we left that place, JP called an Uber and a large, pretty girl with ripped jeans and lovely North African eyes took us over to the Cork & Cavan by the Canal St. Martin. 

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There, as if by magic, I managed to locate a copy of The Cynic’s Handbook on the bookshelves.Running my fingers along the nearest volumes, I found it by touch alone. Told JP to keep it, especially as it had the pub stamp and all. Next time I’ll bring a few more copies over. We left before closing time, after all three of us ran out of steam.

 

24 March, Sunday

Up before noon in a better state than I’d feared at five in the morning. We went to Montparnasse and had lunch at Le Select. You can never go wrong there with the cheese burger and the crispy chips (fries). Lunch needed to be simple and tasty.

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Then we marched to the station to get the 14.09 to Chartres. The Paris suburbs were misty grey. The cathedral is a class apart and I’ve seen a few.

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On 16 August 1944 the Americans believed the Germans were using the cathedral as an observation post. It was about to be shelled to bits when Col. Welborn Barton Griffith, accompanied by a single enlisted man, entered the German-occupied town. They got to the cathedral and climbed to the top of the bell tower. Finding no Germans inside, the colonel returned to his own lines and prevented the shelling. Later that day he was killed two miles north of the town.

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After a couple of drinks in Le Serpente, P. and I went in. JP was in it twice before. He wandered off. When we found him again, he and I had fortifying Irish coffees in a café where a glass exploded behind the counter. On the train back I had a nap and then a job to explain all the Brexit threats to a fellow passenger, a woman sitting on a facing seat. Both she and P. had been frustrated by the locked toilets on the train. C’est difficile à expliquer, même en anglais. But she got the picture.

JP suggested we go to the Galway by the St. Michel metro, within sight of Notre Dame. He knew it from his nephew, who’d eventually got barred.  The easygoing girls behind the counter were from Toronto and Sheffield. One or two oddballs drank there, including a black American who spoke like an actor and kept calling the Canadian girl “Honey biscuit” to JP’s disdain. He wore a cloth cap, a black leather jacket and fingerless black gloves. P. stayed until midnight or so and JP and I left at closing time (2 AM).

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