Thursday, June 18, 2009

Down the rabbit hole, to Bratislava

This weekend, it was time to go to Bratislava. Two of our colleagues from the Master’s are there for their internships and because we are trying to visit as many of our mates as possible, we decided to head east.

Our original plan was to take the train or the bus from Prague, about 4hrs trip to Bratislava so it’s quite manageable. The good thing about living in the Czech Republic is that you truly are in the heart of Europe and can easily access several countries from here. And Prague is the hub of transportation in the country; you have frequent busses and trains to all destinations. The down side to Czech transportation is that trains are more often than not late…

This time though it was us who were late (for reasons independent of our will) so we had to change to plan B, taking the car. The high way from Prague to Bratislava is quite bumpy (nothing compared to the so called Romanian highways, but still a bumpy ride). In fact the highway is “affectionately” called the Tankodrom. For one thing, because the Russians could easily use it to bring their tanks here, in case the Czechs decided to rebel again like in '68. The main reason for this nickname is that the road is, bumpy, quite bad pavement, not really a pleasure to drive. To je skoda! It's a pitty. The scenery is really nice. (Didn't take any pictures, to busy driving or doing something else, besides, it's bumpy, doesn't make for clear photos, but take my word on it: Prague-Bratislava is a pretty nice trip. Scenery-wise. And you can visit Austerlitz.)

Once in Bratislava, at about 10 o'clock in the evening, we started looking for our friend's street. And although we had both visited the city before, it wasn't easy. Poor indication and maze-like streets behind the communist buildings in the neighborhood.

We went out that night and I can tell you that there is night life in Bratislava, people going out to clubs and bars, having a drink, dancing. Quite fun. Our friends were telling us that people usually go out of town during the weekends so it may seem deserted. Nevertheless there were things to do. I had a Bloody Mary in a lounge bar near Michalska Brana, the famous rendez-vous place in Bratislava (Picture form last November).

The next day we went to see some Siberian tigers in a reserve about 30 km into the Slovakian countryside. It was in a part of the country with a strong Hungarian minority. The countryside resembled a bit what I already knew from Romanian and Hungarian countrysides so nothing special here, plains, lots of grass, some trees, crops, the works. This is one of the tigers, and us...

In the afternoon, we visited Bratislava. It really is a little city, as it's logo goes: Little big City. When I was here last time, in November, I basically went on foot from the main railway station to the main bus station and I practically saw all there was to see. I did profit from a local guide this time so it was a nice experience.

There were certain places on my list of things to see. I always make up such a list in my head when I go somewhere and I always document myself in advance as to what is interesting to see.

So my list included the Radio building, an upside down pyramid; the big square with Napoleon's statue on a bench. Here you have the pictures to prove that we were there. Les lapins cretins a Bratislava.

Bratislava's old town has been restored and is really a pleasure to visit it. Beautiful houses, restaurants, bars. It's a bit like I'd like Bucharest to be. Maybe in a few years... It has nothing of Prague's grandeur, but you can see an effort in attracting tourists and in keeping them satisfied that the got what they came there for.

There are things to do and see, such as a very interesting exposition on India, Nepal, Tibet and the Himalayas at the National Museum, really well taken care for and interesting.

The city's arhitecture and the some times a bit strange statues that you find in the streets are another attraction point. A good excercise of marketing for municipalities (Bucharest should take notes). I don't think Slovaks particularly like their capital, it does have a small town feel and look, but they have managed to attract tourists here (Twin Cities campaign with Vienna is a good exemple of marketing).

The only thing that could spoil a tourists trip, in a really, really bad way, is the lack of service. Going into pizza places, book stores, at the museum, the staff will not always be very friendly. Even the police are not nice (gave as a ticket for parking in the wrong place, but there aren't many parking places either). The Czechs are know for lousy service, but the Slovaks could posibly be worse.

All in all, Bratislava was a nice gettaway for the weekend and it was a pleasure to see our friends again. Felt a bit like back in Cluny. Looking forward to our next get toghether.

And a last picture in the series: The Silly Rabbits do Bratislava.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

At the crossroad: Strasbourg

Like every weekend, I took a trip (I know I don't write about each and one of them, but trust me, I don't sit around, I'm just a procrastinator so I never get to write about all I want do). The last trip was to Strasbourg to meet up with friends: Russians Ukrainian, Uzbek, a Romanian and our gracious French hosts. A tour of Babel with one common language: French (changes a bit from English being the mother of all tongues). Much fun was had, good food, good wine (Alsatian wines are now my favorites) all in all, good times.

It wasn't suny, still we went out for a visit of the city. There are quite a few things to see and even thought I have visited on different occasions, Strasbourg still manages to surprise me. You can instantly see that it has always been quite a rich part of the world: park, beautiful houses, monuments, a Cathedral that once stood as the highest building in the world.

Strasbourg is a unique place also because of it's history, that of a piece of land that two nations fought over for centuries. An expert eye can tell you only by the architecture that you're not in France, but not in Germany either: Strasbourg has it's own style. And it suits it just fine.

You have the large, central, German-style square and the large, long, almost Haussmann like avenues. And than you see buildings that you won't find in either of these styles.

The young lady climbing a pole will meet a guy right over the boarder between France and Germany.

The Little France reminded me a bit of Amsterdam's canals and riverside cafes, a nice place to stroll around or take a tour in a bateau mouche.

The name of the neighbourhood, one of the oldest and best preserved (a UNESCO Heritage site), is quite a funny story. No, they didn't bring all the French toghether in this strip of land surrounded by water. In fact this was the poor neighbourhood, a sort of Red Quarter with pimps and prostitutes. Of course there were frequent outbreaks of all sort of STD's and because back in the day a sexually transmitted desease was also known as a French desease, the neighbourhood got the name of little France.

Of course, now it's quite expensive and full of tourists, restaurants, cafes, nothing like what it used to be. I think the houses look like ginger bread houses (btw, ginger bread is one of the local specialties, they love it here and it's quite good).

And the Cathedral, Notre Dame de Strasbourg, just one picture of it, but I'll put up more in another post.

There are many strories and legends surrounding this Cathedral. One of them says that the Devil is caught inside and all tourists try to look for it's statue, somewhere on the facade. I dare you to go there and recognize him. The wind is hauling outside the Cathedral, waiting for it's trapped master. The stained glass rosary is also very beautiful and unlike others it doesn't have religious motives but it has to do with the town's wealth and prestige.

And I would have endded this post here, but I have to say a word about the European Union and the buildings related to it. I tried to vote this Sunday, as you know it was election day for the European Parliament (the building is pictured below, see how tiny we are in comparison?).

I didn't manage to vote but I strolled around the neighbourhood where the European buildings are: some old and a bit communist like in style, some new and shinny.

In the posh neighbourhood where all the Consulates are I saw this Art-Nouveau house that reminded me of Barcelona and how much I want to go there and see Gaudi's buildings(apparently the architect on this one also worked with Gaudi).

I really felt like I was in the heart of Europe with all this places and buildings reminding me of placed I visited or want to visit on the old continent. It's a great city, always something to discover. In fact I have more to say on the subject...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I've become a wanderer, a gypsy. Europe is my Avenue. My life, exotic. If I tell you my story, you won't believe it. I carry my house with me, everything I treasure is hidden in my heart, and everything else is in a luggage. And I travel light. I'm going far.

My life has become a travel novel. I am the embodiment of globalization and everything that is good about it. Until a few months ago I lived in a water mill. In France. Owned by a Swiss painter of Polish origin, married to an Austrian. And we were 5 to live there: 2 Russians, an Uzbek married to a French woman (she was living in Uzbekistan at the time) and French with his Romanian girlfriend. And it was a pretty good arrangement. Every day we'd go to school in a Harry Potter like environment, in an Abbey where we met at least 5 other nationalities.

And now, I'm in the Czech Republic, I still have the same French boyfriend . I live in another watermill with Czechs and Bulgarians. And I work in a French company; I speak English every day and talk to people from all over Europe, regularly. For me, globalization is just a watermill.

On top of that I'm in a different place every weekend, in France, the Czech Republic, now I'm going to Bratislava. Next? Who knows?

It's what I've always wanted, a life full of excitement, travel, interesting people, good food. And I have it now but all I'm thinking about at this moment is to go home for a few days in August. And make my life simpler. Why can't we be completely satisfied?

On top of all my dreams of going away, I'm homesick. I guess this is a sort of wanderlust as well. And I’m happy with this and grateful for all the things in my life.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I have so many projects and plans, I'm almost scared to do anything. And all I do is enter this procrastination loop and seem to never be able to go out. Like now. Writing here instead of doing something else.

The worst thing is that I feel like nothing will happen to make me change. As if no punishment, divine or human will come for this state of mind.

And I should really be more motivated than that, because I have the best motivation in the world to go on. But I just freeze and don't want to do anything. Just stay in blissful happiness. And make everyday a weekend.

Don't worry, I'm not depressed, just lazy. Et de malhumeur. And a bit tired. I just need to snap out of it. Oh and also, I don't seem to find my words today, I have a bit of a hard time expressing myself, and lot of work to do.

Ok, now that I've finished complaining, back to our regularly scheduled program.
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