I woke at 630 to take advantage of the early light in the old city. In between photographs I stopped in on the local Catholic Church where the daily rosary was being prayed. I stayed for a few Slovak Hail Mary’s, made a personal offering and headed for the Danube River a few blocks away down narrow cobblestone streets passageways.
During communism the quaint town center was paved with asphalt and car traffic in the city center was allowed. What remains of Bratislava’s city center was once part of a much larger medieval city that was once the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the conclusion of World War II, the Soviet dictators ordered the demolition of a larger part of the city to make room for new communist style developments. During the communist period, the shops were not as diverse as they are now, ordinary and limited. The buildings were not colorful or well maintained. The economic system sucked the life out of the medieval town. I arrived at the main road adjacent to the Danube during rush hour. The good looking and hard working citizens of Bratislava were on their way to work on the unseasonably warm November day, just one day before the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
After breakfast, I met with Rastislav we headed to his attorneys office to put the finishing touches on a contract for a new photography studio venture. He is creating an atelier to rent to working photographers in the city. The attorney was a young and slender but pretty woman. She engaged Rastislav in a detailed conversation, just the same as an American attorney would. At natural pauses she would glance over and acknowledge me as if It were novel that I would even remotely be interested in the Slovak legal system. We left the attorney and headed to the campaign party headquarters to volunteer with more campaign work, stuffing envelopes. With the election less than two weeks away and the party needed to get there candidates elected. Frantic calls went out and minutes later several volunteers showed up.
Finally we gathered in a kayak shop to listen to a former representative from the Slovak embassy present videos, photographs and stories from his mountain climbing journey up Mt. Elbrus in the neighboring nation the Ukraine. There is debate as to whether the mountain is in Asia or Europe. If it is, in fact, in Europe it is the tallest mountain. From a transportation perspective it is much easier for Slovaks to travel west to Austria and Germany. So few Slovaks from the western half of the country travel to the Ukraine. Many consider it a backwards and exotic place. It is not connected to Slovakia like a neighboring state should be in terms of the broader culture and transportation. The purpose of the presentation was to promote interaction and travel between the two nations and to celebrate the goodwill trip to the top of Mt. Elbrus.
During the presentation Kvas was served, a traditional Russian soft drink, made from fermented bread. It is not alcoholic and is considered an essential part of the diet as it promotes smooth digestion. It is said to prevent bad alcoholic interactions, giving the Ukrainians the ability to drink copious amounts of vodka and a reputation for being heavy drinkers. In addition a traditional Ukrainian soup, solyanka, was served. The hearty soup consisted of beef broth; several smoked meats, fermented (pickled) cucumbers, mushrooms, cabbage, olives, spices and served with bread. The stories, food and beverage were designed to inspire curiosity and good favor between these two unfamiliar neighbors.
Rastislav took me to the dark and dingy communist era train station to catch a sleeper train back to Prague in time for the Velvet Revolution anniversary. He said that the poor economy stymied plans to modernize the train station. In its current condition, he says the depressing relic does nothing to promote the good will, good cheer and good economy that Bratislava offers to visitors.