The Slovakian Parliament, or more accurately, National Council, is a very modern building, situated right next door to a very old castle. The highlight, however, is its brilliant view out across the Danube. There is a huge balcony from which to admire, so it was definitely worth the adventure up the hill.
It wasn’t until I popped over to Bratislava for lunch that I finally had a chance to redeem my awful dumpling experience in Prague and try this mysteriously illusive food I had heard so much about.
As it turned out, it was all fairly overrated, as unlike delicious dumplings from far further east, the Eastern European version appears to simply be a ball of dough that has been boiled and then sliced up. Like a pork bun, but only the bun. As for the rest of the meal, it was a fairly tasty slow cooked lamb dish with a dill sauce, but it certainly didn’t seem to be the exciting new food experience I thought I was in for.
In part two of the episode where I caved and ate at McDonald’s, despite originally forbidding myself to have McDonald’s over new, local food experiences, I managed to salvage the whole event by sampling the strangest McDonald’s menu item I have ever seen: a burger, where the patty is literally entirely made of cheese.
We managed to convince the hungry vegetarian of the group that he had to try it, complete with giggly faces as we watched him tuck in to what we assumed was going to be pure filth.
As it turned out, it was (unsurprisingly) nothing like the picture, but (surprisingly) a whole lot better. The McSmazak is actually more like a haloumi patty, derived from popular czech delicacy Smažený sýr. Like anything with haloumi in it, it was actually pretty tasty, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone game enough to try it, so long as you don’t have cholesterol problems, as this bad boy is in the Double dDwn leagues as far as calories go!
Before heading to Europe I had a firm resolution to not eat at McDonald’s or any other such internationally shit food chain, and instead if I were to pay for a meal, it would be a new, local food experience.
I had had a few hiccups, but still I had not handed any of my own hard earned cash over a McDonald’s counter. This all went down the drain, however, in some random suburb on the outskirts of Prague. We found ourselves in a food-court with a great selection of stodgy looking fast food, half of which I couldn’t even tell what it was; and a McDonald’s.
I bravely went for something exotic, and convinced another poor unsuspecting soul to join me on my quest. I’d heard great things about eastern European “dumplings” and had been meaning to try them out. Sure enough there was a stall offering a few varieties of what I was pretty sure were these famed dumplings. With great language barrier difficulty we ordered some of these dumplings and sat down to tuck in to what looked like it could pretty tasty, even with weird sprinklings of who knows what on top. As it turned out they were meant to be sweet, which was unexpected. They were sortof berry flavoured, with this weird buttery sugary stuff on top.
I must say, I’m not usually one to not finish a meal, but these I just could not get through. And so I hung my head in shame and joined the rest of the crew at McDonald’s for some universally tasty and reliable fries.
Most of central Bratislava was a pedestrian only area,and the roads in the centre of town seemed packed with cars. Not only were all the parks taken, but it seemed people had decided to be really creative with making their own parks. Where the lines clearly marked a parallel park, cars were angle parked. Why not put angle parks in if there’s that many cars? Because the roads were narrow, so not only were the cars stopped clearly at right angles to how they were meant to be, but most of them were also half on the kerb. It was like cops arriving at a hostage situation in an American movie. With this stressful mess of cars, our new found rule sensitivity after our wee issue at the border, we gunned straight for the nearest parking building to simplify the situation.
As we pulled in to what seemed to be the only parking building in the centre of the city, it seemed really secure. As we got to the levels of the cars, that was where we noticed it was suddenly full of a whole different type of cars – the expensive types. From Astin Martins to Mercedes. We looked for a park nowhere near any of these hugely expensive cars!
Hilariously enough, immediately outisde of the parking buildings were the likes of this car. Yet another stark contrast in Slovakia.
After discovering Bratislava was less than an hour’s drive from Vienna, we couldn’t resist popping over to see life beyond the Iron Curtain.
Before actually entering Slovakia, one of my travel companions had decided to stay home. Her reasoning was that she was trying for a special type of visa where you are only allowed in certain European countries, but you can spend three months in each. None of us had heard of this exception, and a big discussion ensued about how borders in the EU these days are really just a “You are now entering…” sign and no one would ever know she popped over to Bratislava for lunch. Nonetheless she decided to err on the side of caution and stay home.
“Spot the border crossing” had become a bit of a road trip game, as sometimes it is hard to tell you have entered a new country (a serious novelty when your home country is an island). There was no doubt, however, that we had found one on our way in to Slovakia. All of a sudden there was this massive checkpoint, and police waving us down and making us pull over. There were angry sounding words coming at us left right and centre. We couldn’t tell if it was Austrian, Slovakian, or German (we had German license plates) but the policeman was getting very frustrated at us. We managed to work out he was demanding our “documents” and a certain amount of euros. There was even more confusion in the car. Were we meant to pay to get over the border? Were there different rules for the newer EU members? Was it actually not part of the EU like we thought? Could we just turn around and go home? Was this some kind of dodgy Eastern European police bribery scenario? Had we unknowingly broken the Law? Why don’t any of these cops speak English? Good thing we left Lucy home, she’d be furious!
Before we knew it the policeman was marching two of us over to a van on the side of the road. We had absolutely no idea what was going on and whether we were in trouble or what. Who knows if we were going to return safe from this mysterious black van, or where he was taking our passports. As it turned out, in the van was a little man with a portable EFTPOS machine, who thankfully spoke English and explained to us that it was a road toll checkpoint and we were being fined for not displaying the correct sticker that allows us to drive on the motorway. So 140 euros later, we finally get the memo on how the road tolls work (its an 8 euro sticker!) and realise that actually the (unnecessarily, IMHO) angry policemen had nothing to do with the border and were in fact just using the old set up as a convenient checkpoint stop. They certainly were good at making us feel like it was an incredibly stressful situation and we were in some huge and mysterious amount of trouble!
It made a brief appearance already in my Berlin/Prague Stop motion clip (click here for the express tour of the bridge), but given it is one of the most famous sights in Prague I thought it deserved its own post!
The bridge was really beautiful, lined with baroque style statues and sporting some beautiful view of the river Vltava.
It seemed every man and his dog were there, and of course some intrepid photographers:There is one statue that you are meant to kiss for good luck, hence the crowd. Oral viral infections are not so much my idea of luck so I passed on that particular tourist activity. The buskers were great though, and really made a walk across a bridge seem a whole lot more whimsical!
I’m not gonna say it was love at first sight, but we became pretty fast friends with a guy staying at our hostel. In what was going to be a quiet night, with a few drinks at the bar before bed, a nice young chap from the US of A came up and said hi. Before we knew it we were teaching him to play our drinking games, translating our kiwi lingo for him and just generally having a laugh.
Mike, an architect from Chicago, who didn’t watch How I Met Your Mother (Ted Mosby jokes fell flat), seemed to find our banter pretty hilarious, and by sheer coincidence we ran into him the next day whilst sightseeing. It seems New Zealanders have become exponentially more endearing since Flight of the Conchords. We continued hanging out with him as we toured Prague, and he even came with us on the pub crawl. We were really getting to know and like Mike, especially Fraser, who seemed to be striking up quite the bromance with!
The next day we saw him again when we were getting some lunch, and it seemed to be a general consensus we would all hang out again the next night. So there we were, in our room, dealing with the terrible chat out of the Aussies that had moved in (they’d come straight from Schoolies to their Eurotrip), waiting for Mike to come on by and join us for a few drinks before we headed out. A few hours went by, and no Mike. Did something happen to him? He’s probably just having dinner.
As the night dragged on we eventually gave up on Mike (we also knocked on his door, just to check). The next day we were chekcing out, off on our next adventure. He never called, never said goodbye. We thought we had a real connection, you know? Thought it was something special. Did something awful happen to him? Was he just not that into us? Did he find a new group of friends? Were they more fun than us? We’ll never know.