Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 115: Bratislava, Slovakia

It feels like deja vu... I realized how this day I would be in three countries in one day: waking up in Austria, then going to Slovakia for most of the day, before flying into Scotland near midnight. This was similar to the wake up in Denmark, go on a day trip to Sweden, all before flying into Germany program we had on my group Euro trip in January.

This was possible, though, because Bratislava and Vienna are almost the same city, aside from the fact that they speak different languages and are the capitals of Slovakia and Austria, respectively. They are only about one hour apart on a train, though, and are actually Europe's closest capitals. So, in order to save time, I decided to fly into Slovakia and fly out of Bratislava.

Bratislava has actually come a fairly long way from its sorry days in years past. I could not help but remember the mediocre reputation the city garnered from the "Eurotrip" movie and from others who visited, but the city looked fairly rich when I was there. Certain differences with Vienna were noticeable, but Bratislava is one of Eastern Europe's richest cities today, not least because, due to its lower wages and flat tax, Slovakia got so much foreign investment in recent years that the car plants of many famous brands, such as Kia and Toyota, are in Slovakia. Kia's advertisement in Slovakia is actually kind of unique: made in SlovaKIA (get it?). In fact, today Slovakia is the world's number one car producer in terms of per capita figures.

Bratislava deserves to get more tourists than it does, as most are transit tourists coming from one of two directions: Budapest (Hungary) or Prague (Czech Republic), or simply day trippers from Vienna, like me. While it is a small city of some 400,000, its Old Town is remarkable.

The only problem I had in Slovakia, though, was kind of a big one. I was heading to the airport on a bus and walked up to the bus driver to buy a ticket, which cost only 18 crowns ($1 is roughly 21 crowns). Apparently, he shrugged, implying that he did not sell them--and started the bus immediately. I didn't have time to get off, and the next thing I know, about 10 minutes later, a ticket inspector gets on board and fines me some 46 euros for riding without a valid ticket. Then he followed me all the way to the final stop -- the airport -- and took my passport until I went to the closest ATM and paid him the fine. I asked for his identity card and receipt, so as to make sure he didn't take the money unofficially (i.e. as a bribe). For the record, though, although I did end up riding without a valid ticket, it would help if the driver would sell them to foreigners at least. I wasn't even asking for change back. How hard is it to tear off a ticket and hand it to a passenger? Especially in the railway station, I did not know where to go to purchase one, and for many day trippers like me, it would be great if the airport bus and several of the main bus routes sold foreigners tickets on board. Apparently, my instance of being fined for not having a valid ticket despite wanting to purchase one is one of many in Bratislava, as I have found out.

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