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Towers and street food

The guy making me a coffee at his street bar said:”You don’t look like a normal tourist. You riding a bike?”. When I told him my story in one sentence, he said “You probably need a good strong coffee then. Going to Vienna after here? You’ll find us in Vienna too…look us up”.

Then I walked into an outlet advertising street food, and ordered myself a Morrocan tagine, to fuel the legs to climb the enormous hill to Hrad Castle where, amongst the many exhibits in the museum, was this….

Portable potty 19th C., made of walnut wood and porcelain

…and I thought, what an interesting use of the term ‘portable’. But a couple of cabinets away was a display of the first Bratislava Cycling Club founded in 1888, all lined up for the start of a race, and if you look carefully you’ll probably recognise one of them as being Peter Sagan’s great great grandfather….

There are towers to climb in Bratislava too. To get to the top of the Castle tower, you need a special kind of steely determination, and the Town Hall tower will reward you with lofty views over squares….

….and interesting roofs whose pitches make them look like church steeples…

And when you see some poor fellow trying to crawl out of a street drain, it is very tempting to just stroke him on the head to comfort him (as everyone does). What was he doing down there anyway?

And when you are bored with museums and towers and men crawling out of drains, you can join the crowds to catch bubbles, and contribute to this young man’s beer fund

…..believe me, people openly ask for money for their beer fund….they know you know they will spend the euro you give them on the next can of beer. So why not be honest about it….

Tomorrow, it’s goodbye Bratislava, hello Vienna…..with 60km of the Danube trail in between.

Bratislava: the false summit?

As my final destination, Bratislava was always going to be my second choice (behind Prague), but a persistent headwind across Poland dictated terms and conditions, so here I am, at the notional end of my journey.

But wait a minute, Vienna is only 60km away along the Danube, on Eurovelo 6. Flat, scenic and designed for cyclists, the only drawback being that I would be going upstream….. OK, not because it goes imperceptibly uphill (probably by only 10-20 metres), but because the vast majority of the annual 38,000 cyclists that follow the route go downstream, which is bound to complicate my progress if I have to go against the flow. But still….

Quite apart from the attraction of bagging yet another country and capital city, Vienna is a bigger transport hub than Bratislava, thus making it an obvious finishing point, with a greater chance of getting home by train and boat. Going overland will be more expensive than flying, and certainly more time consuming, but then I could simply change my thinking about that and regard it as part of the journey….in other words an integral segment of the whole adventure.

Last night, in the town of Pezinok, I was welcomed by an enthusiastic Slovak couple, called Michal and Eva, who are expecting their first baby in December. Michal came out to meet me on a borrowed electric mountain bike, one that he had been testing in the local hills, to see if he might be interested in one for himself.

The conversation over supper ranged from riding bikes to politics, and amongst the many fascinating (and disturbing) things I learned about Slovakia was the surprising popularity of its up-and-coming far right party, the Kotleba People’s Party, which has a double cross insignia that was used by an old Slovak fascist party during the war.

Slovakia spent more than 50 years subjected to the brutality of, first, the German Nazis, then the Soviet system, but people are clearly forgetting all that. The People’s Party ideology is underpinned by extreme nationalism, fundamental Christianity, hate for the Roma people, and a total rejection of western liberal democracy. What does that remind you of?

Tomorrow will be a day for exploring Bratislava.