travel

Somewhere in Hungary on the bus

We’re somewhere in Hungary, although it might be Croatia, on a bus. There’s maintenance happening to the train track between Budapest and Zagreb.

The train (bus) passengers are an interesting bunch, due to us surprisingly fitting exactly into the demographic. The racks are crammed with rucksacks. The seats are filled with twenty somethings with bright English accents complaining about the rain, the leg room, the absence of wi-fi and the lack of a dining car.

Of course neither the Midget or I are actually complaining. I’ve got my earphones tight in and a good view to stare out of the window. Plus we shouldn’t be complaining, we’re on the bus that didn’t break down.

This journey is filled with unexpected pauses. We’ve stopped at the edge of the road atop a hill to lend assistance to the other bus and swap ticket inspectors. We stop again when the other bus gives up, and on the train we stopped multiple times to let other trains pass when it dropped to single track.

The Midget is sat watching a film on her phone. I’m watching the geese romp around a garden. If you’re patient then a detour isn’t a disaster.

Bratislava to Nitra: Mind the gap

 

The building in the distance is the castle in Bratislava.
The building in the distance is the castle in Bratislava.

‘Mind the gap’ is a phrase I’d normally associate with the London underground where it’s plastered on walls and tourist’s treasures everywhere you look. Whilst there does tend to be some gap between the train and the platform, I’ve always found the signs bemusing becUse it’s a very small gap.

That said, I did recently read some article somewhere that told a story of a man who got his leg stuck between the train and the platform. I think it was in Barcelona? I was amazed. Apparently he fell. Anyway, the rest of the passengers, a truly helpful bunch, hopped off and pushed the train over far enough that the man could get his leg out.

A few days ago, I boarded a train from Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital, to a town called Nitra in slightly less touristy area when when you say “English” in an attempt to make it clear you didn’t understand the question, you’re met with a slightly fearful look and the body language of ‘I’ll go find my colleague’. This contrasts with the old town of Bratislava where you’ll find Slovakians who speak English better than me and make jokes about kebab shops.

[Side note: If you happen to be passing through Bratislava station then go down the hill, take a left at the T junction onto the main road, and on the right hand side is a lovely tiny pancake house. It’s the yellow building. From what I can tell the locals pop in at lunch time and order crepes to take away, although there are a few tables if you wanted to rest your legs. You can get a plain crepe for 25 cents and then there’s plenty of choice of sweet and savory fillings to add, even bilberry jam.]

So the Midget and I board the train to Surany, where you can switch to the local Nitra train. I clutch the ticket (which has a qr code) and the train timetable and nervously check exactly what time we arrive into each and every station. The Midget stares out the window gazing at the fields as they pass by, totally relaxed, calm as she could be, confident that I’ve got everything under control.

We arrive at Surany five minutes late, grab our bags and get to the door.

Now it should be noted that I’m not great at stairs. I’m uncoordinated when I’m not carrying a rucksack and have to hold on to the banister and watch where I put my feet.

And the platform in Surany (if you can call it that) was a long way down. It was more like just the pavement somewhere far below.

Nobody else seemed at all perplexed.

I jumped. And followed the crowd across the rusty train tracks to the building. Inside I looked for the departure board. There wasn’t one. There was a crackly tannoy system that kindly told me when the next train would be arriving and where it was going to, all in Slovakian.

The Midget leant back on the bench overlooking the tracks and the plant pots. I sat upright, nervously watching the other passengers wondering what would happen next.

I didn’t need to worry. The 11.33 train to Nitra pulled into the station at 11.33. It was the only other train. We stumbled back over the rusty rail track and I clambered aboard whilst the Slovakian women in their beautiful wedges and elegant jackets did so with comparitive ease. The Midget hauled the bags up above our heads onto the rack and plugged in her earphones.

I sat on the edge of my seat and watched the fields of dying sunflowers pass by.

Curl up on a sofa, with a glass of wine and a bookshop.

I have never had lemonade (limonade) like they make it in Bratislava. The Midget mutters about how lemonade should be predominantly lemony, but I’ve been persuaded to disagree. So far I’ve drunk strawberry, raspberry and ginger versions. Each comes in a half litre jug with a straw and sometimes a sundae spoon. The jug is crowded with flavour: your chosen fruit, ice, lemon, syrup and appropriate flavour leaves, i.e. mint with raspberry.  The strawberry version had large pieces of strawberry, the ginger was slightly fiberous and the raspberry left you with seeds between your teeth. Each was incredible.

The coffee here is also pretty glorious. The local bookshop offers 17 varieties of espresso. It offers a similar number of wines too, the Slovakians like their wines and I love their prices.

And this is all within a bookshop. Waterstones could learn a lot. In the children’s section there is a tent set out with cushions, and a chess board and games. Whilst the rest of the shop is immaculately tidy, the children’s section looks like children have been there. In the scrapbooking area there is a table and chairs for workshops, and upstairs, in the centre of the room is an area set out for talks – rows and rows of chairs wait expectantly. And unlike Waterstones where you find a few token chairs and sofas, this bookshop had sofas, stools and chairs everywhere, yet doesn’t feel overcrowded.

It’s not just the bookshop which anticipates what people actually want.

In the square near the Danube there was the same theme of plentiful seating. Here there were deckchairs, beanbags and park benches. Again, there was a chess set, this time ginormous, and books – some sort of free for all library or second hand depository?

I have a good feeling about Bratislava. Have you visited yet?

[Posted from the tablet whilst travelling]

On looking after small people.

If I’m not careful the Midget will have written more about this trip of ours than I have. I’m blaming this on the fact that she’s completely trusting me to have everything organised and sorted. Since we’re travelling with only the vaguest of plans (we’re going to be in Prague in 2 and a half weeks) it means that part of my brain is in constant calculation.

The Midget is a solid leader in many situations, as far as I can tell ever single one in which I’m not around. However I’ve spent years brainwashing her into thinking that my way is the best way. Being the big sister means you’ve got to be aware that this youngerling has spent their life following you.

Hence we were the last (bar one) onto the plane out of Heathrow. And hence the twenty minutes of confused wandering just off the wrong street named mariasomething or other in Vienna. And hence the ‘oh dear all the shops are shut on a Sunday – what are we going to eat – dilemma.

Oops.

And today she missed some of the fishing huts along the edge of the Danube (I have sketches in my diary that I’ll locate when I’ve got a real computer), because I’d worn her out dragging her around viennese parks late last night (yes we almost got locked in – I was too busy prancing around pretending to be a greek goddess). Under the influence of the gentle song of the catamaran engine she fell asleep.

I’m doing ok. As far as I can tell, her biggest complaint is that cake doesn’t constitute breakfast, lunch and dinner. I bought some plums to balance her diet out. It was the first time I managed to find someone who didn’t speak English better than me, it was a lady who only spoke german.

The lady asked me what I’d like, and then a series of would you like that in a bag etc, with me answering first in Italian, Spanish or French and then in English before finally twisting my tounge into German. How do multilingual people cope?

I finally got to “dankeschon” and she laughed bemused uttering a sweet “auf wiedersehen”.

I’m not a natural linguist, although I’m making headway.

We’re now in Slovakia, and since I’m not so lucky as to have learnt slovak, I found myself at that awkward moment of not even knowing how to say ‘thanks’ as we paid for our groceries.

Luckily the very kind man in the ice cream shop (40p for an ice cream…) didn’t mind slowly repeating “dakujeme” until I got it.

[Posted from the tablet whilst travelling]

Picnics, cobbles and the best of the world’s cyclists

Tour de France (in Yorkshire) – Day 2

no mass on sunday

Saturday was a practice. Sunday was serious business. So serious that God was cancelled.

Stereotypically the women in the family made sandwiches and wrapped up cake. I’m not sure what the men were doing. I shuffled fresh memory cards into my camera, poked the Boyfriend who was on the rocking chair and put on my boots. The hill up to our chosen spot was steep. I’m a little worried that when I take my bike up North in August that I’m not going to actually be able to get up it.

The Boyfriend and the Midget led the way, the Grandmother and I followed not far behind.

The team split, the Grandparents and the Father found somewhere for coffee, whilst the Midget, The Boyfriend, The Mother and I took our positions along the roadside at the perfect spot selected during Saturday evening’s reconnaissance mission.

And then we waited.

Ten minutes later I unwrapped my cake. Then the sandwiches. The cake was particularly excellent. I had two pieces, one baked by the Mother, the other baked by the Grandmother. I ate both greedily.

The caravan and the entertainment

Eventually the caravan passed, all except from the gigantic Fruit-shoot bottles and the Yorkshire Tea teapot. Presumably because it was a cobbled road and the incline steep. The Midget stood across the road from me. Every vehicle that drove past threw their goodies at her, much to the dismay of the young man (boy) sat in front of me. When after much grumbling a freebie was thrown at him he missed it. It bounced. Rolled under a car, and he spent the next five minutes hunting a driveway for a piece of plastic rubbish.

Once the caravan had passed, and we’d thoroughly cheered on police cars and advertisements, the entertainment started.

A man, bottom half fairy and top half sheep, who hobbled up and down the hill in his cycling shoes feeling almost as foolish as he looked.

The village idiot led a Mexican wave. He named those at the bottom of the hill Cambridge, ourselves in the middle Yorkshire, and those above Scotland. Then he danced up and down the hill shouting wildly, politely responding to all endeavours to move him off the road, but never actually moving. Occasionally Cambridge got it and the Mexican wave went from the top of the hill to the bottom.

Then the village idiot got his photo with the French attendant, whom he named Maurice, and with the fairy-sheep. The French attendant, responsible for keeping some semblance of order on our patch of the road, took the village idiot in his stride, unlike some of the other road guardians who were less impressed.

He probably had more fun that way.

The village idiot found a man who had recently had a birthday and the street burst out into a rendition of ‘happy birthday’.

Further up the street the Grandparents climbed on chairs to get a good view of the route. My suggestion had been to take walking sticks and behave like they were old and decrepit. Apparently they’re much too young for that.

Narrowly avoiding being run over by the bikes

When the time came I skipped across the road, and crouched with my camera on the curb.

Up the hill in Haworth - Tour de France (in Yorkshire)

Some journalist even took a picture of us.