Finding my way around Bratislava, Slovakia, was not much of a problem. After all, the train station is near everything, and the public transportation loops about everywhere. The real problem arose when I tried to leave Bratislava and return to Vienna, Austria.
I’m an American, so the fact that I even speak some Spanish intelligibly is a plus, and many in other countries consider me a rare and respectable species. Unfortunately, English is not much spoken in Bratislava, and Spanish even less so. The ticket agents at the transportation hub were not much help either, since my German (one of the more common second languages spoken in Slovakia’s capital) at the time amounted to “hello,” “goodbye” and “thank you.” And “Gesundheit.”
So instead of relaxing my way to Vienna, I found myself in some little town called Galenta – an hour or so in the wrong direction. The ticket agent there had not even an inkling of what I was saying, and I understood even less. I’m not sure I could have used one of my four German phrases. We communicated when I said “Bratislava,” and she rang up the price and showed me the display on her register. Then I pointed to the tracks and she held up five fingers to let me know that I needed to go back to the fifth track. Luckily, counting does not require knowledge of another language. I was very happy to see Bratislava again, but depressed to arrive at the train station with all of the ticket windows closed and no more trains to Vienna until morning.
With day darkening into dusk, I felt unsure of what to do. I barely had enough Slovak Crowns to get back to Vienna, and all the banks were closed, so no hope existed of cashing a traveler’s check for enough money to stay in a hotel. I considered hitchhiking. After all, even if I walked all the way to Vienna I could still probably get there by mid-morning. Plus, chances were that walking all the way wasn’t even likely. Who wouldn’t want to help a pretty American damsel in distress? I thought better of walking along a highway full of speeding cars in a high-crime Eastern European country and wandered instead to a building with international flag decals across the top of the window. Maybe someone could help me find the American embassy.
Locked, of course. I looked entreatingly at the security camera above the glass door and about two minutes later a young guard appeared and began asking, I can only assume, what I was doing. “I’m an American,” I said hesitantly. My spirits rose when the man began excitedly speaking in broken English. He was a college student, he explained, and allowed me rest on a cot and directed me to the bus station first thing the next morning in exchange for English practice.
By 6 a.m. I found myself on a bus, finally leaving Bratislava, hours later than I anticipated, and wondering if I would ever return.