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

‘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]

Luncheon and some posh frescos

By Posted on Location: 2min read

Setting: A monastery in the beautiful Italian countryside that was converted for living in by none monks. The walls were decorated with the original Napolionic frescos from the time Napolean popped in for a visit.

Food: Bread, soup, pasta, more pasta of different variety, salmon, potatoes, fennel, strawberries, more strawberries, cherries, and some sort of pastry thing.

Drinks: Alcoholic and voluminous.

Guests: Of mixed nationality, perfumed and wearing loud jewellery.

Transportation: Open top car, driven by the Italian Stallion.

It all sounds pretty perfect. The food was good, the views from the monastery were stunning. Racing through the Italian countryside in an open top car in the sunshine was exhilarating and on arrival, windswept and grinning with a bottle of wine in my hands, we were met by a flurry of hand shakes and cheek kisses.

Cautiously we stepped into the monastery, I accepted a glass of prosecco and meandered through the rooms staring at the ceilings, floors and walls. The most impressive was the Napoleonic frescoes which included small smiling faces of some of the monks who had been there when Napoleon visited peering down from the ceiling.

Soup was brought out, and I quickly ate some bread to help absorb alcohol. My glass was being regularly refilled by many of the gracious men who passed by with a bottle in their hands.

But there it all kind of stopped.

At a K-town party (ie. one of my tribes’ parties, including the mother’s fancy dress party) there’s a general feeling that you don’t want it to all come to an end. People may be tired and in need of a moment of solitude, but there’s an overwhelming tug towards staying just that little longer. The accumulation of people, those friends, it’s all something incredibly special. There’s a just one more song feeling.

The monastery luncheon had a ‘done my due now’ feeling about it. And to add to that, the bathroom wasn’t exactly clean either.

 

[Written last year but not published.]