into central europe


Good day, sunshine! Bratislava, half past eight in the morning. A hot chili-chocolate that makes my nose run and a (strangely lemon-scented) croissant – in the sun! It’s warm enough to take off my hiking quality cardigan, the combination of sun and fresh breeze feels good on my bare arms. Is this what they call Indian summer?

i thought it was here...
I’m on my way to the centre – trying to find a Adrian and Tono and friends, musicians I worked with on a La Nuit de Bratislava, a Merlijn Twaalfhoven project in 2004, in honour of Slovakia having joined the EU. (These days, the country seems fully integrated – the first one on this trip where euros are the native currency.) We had a great time then, putting together an evening of music from scratch, all bringing ideas and enthousiasm. The five or six years I regularly worked with Merlijn probably had quite an influence on my work, developing collaborative skills and ideas about what I did and did not like in ways of creating music together.
It’d be fantastic if I could find our Bratislavan colleagues again, catch up and play. But I’m not very hopeful – I think I found their studio last night, and, like many things here, it all looked a bit more polished and upmarket than it used to. I’m not saying that they couldn’t have gone with that in the past eight years, but they may have also taken up residence somewhere else. If they’re even still here.

megalomaniac building en route to slovakia
The ride from Budapest (check back for the post on my visit there, or subscribe to updates) to Bratislava was very pleasant. After a slow start including breakfast in a wonderful little teashop, I cruised through the city another time, crossed the famous chain bridge – in its time the second-longest suspension bridge in the world, or so I heard – and continued along the Danube, the Duna in Hungarian, or the Dunaj, as I believe it’s called here in Slovakia.

After endless suburbs and a sign pointing to the Napkollektor (sounds like a dream job, wonder if they’re hiring?), I came by a campsite that rung vague memory bells – did I stay there with my highschool class in our final year, a few lifetimes ago? A great week filled with museums, quests for vegan food, missing my first girlfriend, wandering around town, and the first time I tried my luck at firebreathing – inspired by the effect of spitting vodka into the campfire, a classmate and I got a few bottles of petroleum and became the stars of the final evening.

The Danube’s famous bend to the west started via the picturesque (and slightly Efteling) towns of Szentendre (St Andrew) and Visegrád. Beautiful road through forests along the river, and lots of bikes. We wave at each other enthousiastically. Lots of Harleys like before, and all your regular plastic bikes that I wouldn’t be able to identify to save my life.

Crossing the river meant crossing the border with Slovakia. No checks of course, this being Schengen, though some uniformed thugs did seem to take an interest in my bike. The usual curiosity, or may it have had something to do with the Devanagari licence plate on the front? Now that I’m in Schengen and properly insured, I thought I’d take the Pakistani made front off and enjoy the beauty of the Nepali original, as well as people’s confusion. But maybe I should check if here, like in the Netherlands, the front plate is indeed not compulsory.
Straight west the last 100 km through Slovakian fields. Squinting into the sun makes sleepy eventually, but the golden light was beautiful and comfortable.

Though the sun hadn’t even set yet, it was getting dark as I rode into Bratislava. I simply following the signs for “Centrum” – no idea where to go, as usual. GPS is overrated. (I admit Budapest wasn’t much fun, but that was more related to the bike’s engine either stalling or racing every time I stopped. Got to get in touch with Liz & Phil again, I think.) Found the most extremely factory-like sleeping arrangement so far, and ended the day sampling the local spirits in a bar playing pleasantly loud metal.

bratislava by night