Southwest Slovakia – first week December 2003

Leaving Bratislava by bike

Leaving Bratislava

We had been waiting several days in Bratislava in order to find out if I could receive a French passport at the local French Consulate (now that I had French citizenship). We received our answer on Tuesday afternoon, saying that I had to go back to Paris if I wanted to get one. They used to issue passports outside of the country, but the law changed in October, just one week before I received my papers, so that now you needed to be in France to apply for a passport. We spent the next two days debating about whether or not I should go back to Paris. Stephane was in favor of the idea, I was against it. Even though we’d save money on visas in the long run, I’d still have to pay for transportation to Paris, which included a six-hour bus trip to Prague, then a 14-hour train ride to Paris. Which was hardly my idea of fun. Plus, I was eager to get moving on the road. We finally decided against it and left Bratislava on Thursday afternoon.

I was so anxious to leave the town. At first, it was because I was anxious to keep moving and head south as the winter approached. Then, I felt the need to leave urgently as it became evident that the fleas kept biting every night. They feasted royally. And I itched terribly. 44 flea bites in all, and to top it off, I had an allergic reaction, so that they blew up. There were all above my shoulders, too. Meaning that half the bites were on my face! I was bitten on my left eyelid, which turned violet and was swollen half-shut. Stephane was embarrassed to be seen with me because he thought it looked like I had been beaten up, and he would be taken for the abusive husband.

So the hour of our departure was a happy one for me. As we headed east through the town, two men waved at us to stop. They came running up to us to ask us where we were heading. As it turned out, they had biked from Bratislava to Pakistan the previous year. Since we were leaving the city and couldn’t have a drink with them, they insisted on giving us money for beer. So the next drink we toasted to them. To Lou and George.

We biked 20 miles outside the city that night in the rain, on paved roads with some pot holes and a lot of trucks. Aside from the trucks and some run-down houses in the towns we passed, there was nothing but flat farmland. And dogs. Dogs barking everywhere. We had a lot of difficulty trying to find somewhere to hide our tent for the night.

We reached the Hungarian border the following night, but two things stand out in my mind about southwest Slovakia. Or, rather, two words sum up our short time biking through this country: “flat” and “dogs.” There were no mountains or rolling hills, even. It was flat as far a the eye could see, and every available square inch was used for farmland. There was barely a tree in sight. But there were plenty of dogs. They barked at us incessantly. When we passed through a village, the dog at the first house in the neighborhood would start barking, and then it would spread to the dog at the next house, and so on and so on, until every dog at every house in the entire town would be barking at us. Reminded me of Lou and George, who warned us of the big dogs in Turkey. At least in Slovakia, the dogs were fenced in.

A few things I noticed when we stopped to do our shopping in the grocery stores were that many people wore snow boots, even when there was no snow on the ground, and that many villagers piled their groceries in large round wicker baskets, which they carried home over the crook in their arms or stuffed into the basket on their bike. Also the dancing Santas. Can’t forget the dancing Santas.