I’m waiting in the concrete starkness of the Most SNP Bus Station; eyes dimly fixed on the rather fetching new digital departure screen; realisation slowly dawning that I have indeed missed the hourly bus to Devín. As it’s early, and I’ve got up punishingly prematurely to make this bus I have now missed, I decide to go and console myself with a coffee in the cafe across the road. When a voice in a distinctly Aussie accent calls out to me if I know what’s going on with the buses. Of all the people there someone asks me if I know what’s going on? Or maybe it’s more that, of all the people there, I’m the only one that looks like they speak English…
Enter Tyson, on the road for two years, having shied away from the dull grind of mortgages and meaningless unfulfilling jobs etc for a life of international adventure. And he’s rocked up in Bratislava. Well, I decide to help give him a positive impression of the place (after all, if I was backpacking round Europe I’d want to meet someone like me; the encounter would make a mildly interesting end-of-the-day anecdote in a hostel when it comes to trading-anecdotes-with-other-backpackers time).
Problem being that Tyson’s not really giving himself much of a chance with Slovakia’s fair capital city. Uh-uh. He’s fresh off a night train from Krakow, he’s checked into Hostel Blues (view of Tesco’s and the Number 5 tram route) and, sleep-deprived, given himself the day (ahem, it’s Monday morning) to see Bratislava, before heading off tomorrow to Budapest.
Well, I entertain him with a few stories for a while and show him the secret delights of the bus station’s metropolitan area ticket machines (he’s headed to Devin too, which happily falls inside this transport zone) but there’s no getting away from the fact that he’s looking for recommendations on things to do – no doubt partly because, being sleep deprived and having glimpsed only Hostel Blues reception area and the bus station thus far in Slovakia, he’s wondering if everything he heard about Slovakia was maybe a tad overhyped…
He’s not wondering that. Not really. Of course he’s not. What would he have heard about Slovakia? The Slovak Tourist Board don’t know how to promote Slovakia and most Slovaks you meet will look at you like you are crazy if you start enthusing about their country, you know, the “why would you CHOOSE to live here” attitude.
The fact he’s heard almost nothing about Slovakia is part of the reason he’s allowed himself only a day to see it – a day on almost no sleep. So he’s essentially treating Bratislava as a glorified place to crash whilst he recovers from Krakow and psyches himself up for Budapest.
To be fair to Tyson, he’s trying to make it a worthwhile experience, he’s fighting against the urge to sleep, listening to me wax lyrical about Kamzik, about my favourite cafes, about a couple of decent clubs that won’t be open on Monday morning or indeed Monday night, he’s waiting to go to Devin to check that out. Trying, but…
That’s the thing. For most tourists, Slovakia is a great unknown. Slovaks rarely care about recommending it – either because they genuinely believe it to be shit compared to most other parts of Europe or because they’re more than mildly xenophobic and the last thing they want are outsiders coming here and – for example – hiking in their mountains. Well, maybe they are not quite xenophobic ALL the time but they’ll still hold it’s a mighty odd tourist who would want to spend significant amounts of time here. So information on travel to Slovakia is left in the hands of the Slovak Tourist Board (and would you want to be driven by a blind driver?) or remains just in Slovak, for Slovaks (well, and Czechs of course).
Thus it is not really Tyson’s fault he’s only given himself a day here. In fact, I can understand why the guy will be glad to make it to Budapest where they know how to promote their city and make it seem attractive to tourists.
So hey, Tyson, this post is for you.