5 Being in Bratislava

The week did, as weeks tend to do, go on. I taught reported speech “He said she said” so that my students can gossip about each other in English. But, much more appropriately, I taught them how a court case works in English: a judge, a jury, a lawyer and a verdict. That may be important to them one day. My boss observed my lesson, and I felt my review went very well. On the Thursday night Abi and Ruth provided just enough peer-pressure for me to open and share a bottle of wine while we did work. Except we didn’t really do work, we caught up with friends from England and told our family we were alive and otherwise wasted time.

My class with personality is slowly becoming unpleasant to teach. TEFL classes are meant to be fun. The basic structure is to set them up with some concept, language or grammar and then to base a game or a role-play around it. But this one class is getting out of hand and is now demanding a slightly firmer discipline. I can do it, but I don’t like to. Those classes aren’t as fun for anyone. I’m working on it.

But as weeks go on, weekends come. Abi, Ruth and I decided to go to Bratislava. Lie in, get up in time for the free buffet breakfast, get the taxi to the train station (“bahnhoff”—I am trying to learn some German). Take the train to a new country: Slovakia. This is the first country I’ve been in where I don’t even know the name of the language they speak, but I eventually discovered it was “Slovakian”, and it sounded very close to Polish. The internet had informed us that wine, food, beer, coffee and the Danube River were the highlights of the entire country. That didn’t fill us with confidence, because normally the internet points to activities and points of cultural interest. But we were determined to have a good time. Good company, good wine.

We got off the train and we weren’t sure what to make of the city that greeted us. It looked like it needed a good maid. We went to the nearest shop and bought a drink and three rubber ducks. The ducks are our souvenir. We saw these ducks for sale in a lot of other places in Bratislava. The ducks are from Middlesex, UK. And then we got on a bus to The Old City. It was a pretty little place, but it was dead; empty. In a way that meant we had the city to ourselves, because most things were still open. But in another, much more apparent way, it looked like the start of a horror film.

The horror film scenery had actually started earlier, when close to the Austrian/Slovakian border we saw a skyscraper hotel stood completely alone in a desolate stretch of land. The horror film scenery became slightly apocalyptic with sombre looking nuns wondering the cobbled streets. But it is a beautiful city. We stopped for a coffee, as the internet advised, and we sat there in awe of many things: I loved the coffee, Ruth loved the posters for the Slovakian Intelligencia (she is a culture and history nerd) and Abi loved the cute waiter we had and the charming décor of the shop. We all appreciated these things, but I think these were our individual favourites. We gossiped and nattered. We tipped simply because we don’t like carrying loose change (tipping is considered a little weird in this part of Europe, but rounding bills up to the nearest Euro is normal).

We posed for many pictures over the Danube, as did our ducks, and we enjoyed looking like goddamn tourists! The three of us giggled for hours, nonstop. We went to a Cathedral, and it looked depressing which we only seemed to find funny. And then we went to a castle, which I tried to climb (as I invariably do). But the bricks were sandy and I had to resort to the more traditional method: stairs. We then found that the stairs were closed. Just the stairs. The actual area the stairs lead to was open. But, just for the winter, the stairs were closed. We eventually found winter-appropriate stairs, and we made our way up. And then our ducks posed for more pictures. And then we posed with our ducks. Ruth took a picture of my bum as I tried to stand on my head with the ducks. And we laughed and we laughed.

Eventually food was on our minds, and the internet had suggested trying Slovak food. But some of the signs, like “Smoked knee”, “grilled knuckle” and “baked snails” didn’t really take our fancy. We settled on a little café that offered chicken in sour cream with noodles, which I had (and the noodles were very definitely potato gnocchi, and not noodles) and the girls both had grilled duck. Our rubber ducks were indifferent to the ordeal, which impressed me. It would have disturbed me.

The drilled duck came with an orange, bread, salad, red cabbage sauce and, curiously, a muffin. The girls couldn’t eat the muffin and jokes soon followed about me eating their muffins (because we are that mature, despite being teachers, university graduates and at least one of us having had been a no-sex-before-marriage Christian). Then came our journey home.

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