I distinctly recall the Bratislava train station circa 1997. Although Bratislava, Slovakia is very close to Vienna, Austria, at that time, they were worlds apart in terms of efficiency. I exchanged some cash and ended up with what I later learned was an ungodly amount of cash. Like Armenia circa 1997, the Slovak Republic was still a very cheap place to visit.
I bought a train ticket to Zilina, where my Irish friend Chris had an internship that was ending. His girlfriend, now wife, Dawn, had come from America to see him and start a semester studying in Spain. We were going to meet up in Zilina and travel through Europe together for a couple of weeks.
The trip to Zilina took awhile. I remember sitting on the train, watching the countryside pass. I distinctly remember passing Trencin, a charming looking city on the Van River, not too far from the Czech Republic. Trencin Castle is visible from the train and I remember wanting to get off and explore the city.
When we landed in Zilina, I found the bus my friend told me to take to the university where he was staying. I was struck by how similar everything was to the other formerly communist countries I had seen, lots of cookie cutter buildings and old, serviceable buses that belched smoke and fumes and still carried the masses along the dirty streets. I spoke to the front desk person a the university and he told me where Chris’s room was. I waited there for a little while, until Chris and Dawn showed up.
Zilina turned out to be a cute town. Chris and his friends, who came from all over Europe, went out that night to a bar. I don’t remember much about the outing, except that it was a nice looking place… until I went to the bathroom. Someone had puked all over the toilet seat and left it there.
I slept in Chris’s bed with his cheerful French Asian roommate, Jeremy, while Chris and Dawn borrowed a friend’s room so they could have some private time. The next day, I met more of Chris’s friends, including a guy from Switzerland, whose name escapes me, a Spanish guy named Xavier, and some blonde chick from Finland whom everyone seemed to think was annoying. I didn’t have an opinion of her. I think I was just glad that for once, someone else besides me was thought of as irritating.
Everybody played basketball in a very parochial looking gym. I didn’t play. I took some pictures instead.
After two nights in Zilina, it was time for us to move on. Chris, Dawn, and I, along with some of Chris’s friends, boarded a train to Vienna. There, we got rooms at a university dormitory that Dawn had found in a Let’s Go Europe guide book. I remember the dorm room looking a lot like they do in the United States. And I remember the subway stop– Taubstummengasse– because the Vienna U-Bahn system had this horrible male voice that made that word sound just awful!
We walked around Vienna, which is a very grand city… and wandered around the palace gardens, and eventually visited a museum. I remember seeing a lot of cool exhibits, but my eyes were bothering me, as if I had scratched them with my contact lenses. Actually, I probably did, since in those days I wore the same pair of contacts for a year or more at a time! The sun irritated my eyes and I was having trouble keeping them open. I ended up going back to the university and renting a dorm room for a couple of hours so I could take a nap.
Vienna (courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vienna_Panorama_at_Night.jpg)
Vienna was pricey, though, despite the cheap digs. By that night, we were on a train headed to Venice, Italy. Little did I know, that would be Princess Diana’s last night alive.