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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.

4 comments on “A month on a train in Europe… Slovakia and Vienna, Austria

  1. AlexisAR says:

    Wow. You were in Europe when princess Diana died.Friends of our family went to Slovakia for about three years. I believe the father was a diplomat. Anyway, the kid was enrolled in local schools. The way they conduct parent-teacher conferences there is that they schedule a conference night. all the parents show up. The teacher goes through the list and tells of each kid's good and bad incidents for the whole year up to that point, right in front of all the parents. For a whole lot of reasons such a thing couldn't be done here, but I suspect it was highly effective in terms of curbing behaviors and or laziness that was within the child's ability to control.

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  2. knotty says:

    In Armenia, I often witnessed kids who misbehaved getting slapped across the face by their teachers. One time, the teacher lined the whole lot of them up at the front of the room and just went down the line, smacking them. I can't say it really helped in terms of discipline, because they'd always go back to being rowdy once the drama was over.My brief time as a teacher in the Peace Corps made me appreciate what a lot of my friends do for a living. My college is well known for turning out excellent teachers.

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  3. AlexisAR says:

    My parents never slapped our faces. They whacked us plenty, but not our faces.I started school past the age when corporal punishment was allowed in public schools. It was legal in catholic schools but forbidden by the diocese. It was done anyway, but the nuns and lay teachers were very careful about who they hit. They knew which parents would raise a ruckus, which is pretty unfair if a kid was being struck only because his parents weren't influential or liekly to stand up for their child's rights. I'm still not saying schools wouldn't be bettter places if corporal punishment were used very strategically, but whacking kids on scholarship is not the way to go about it.

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  4. knotty says:

    Apparently, it was still allowed when I was in elementary school because I had a teacher do it to me… Might have to blog about that incident today on my other blog. Incidentally, I was also in Europe when Michael Jackson died…

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