Monday, 9.25.00 Bratislava, Slovakia to Komarno, Slovakia
Upon rising this morning, we were greeted with another day of cool temperatures, damp air and gray skies, with a headwind forecasted. Gerhard chose to lead us all out of Bratislava as a group. After some delay (one rider broke a brake cable) and a slow parade through a maze of hard to follow bike paths, we decided to leave the group again.
Judith and I were still sharing the lead into the headwinds, with Judith doing more of the work. At Medvedov, the queue sheets said follow the main road to Klucvec (do not get onto main highway to Velky Meder). We followed directions, but found out later that the van was posted at that intersection (long after we had already gone through) to direct riders to the main highway.
10 kilometers later when we arrived at Klucvec (instead of 5K) we realized something wasnt quite right. Oh, well. We next missed the turn to Klizska Nema. Instead we had a great tour of the countryside before breaking out the big map and backtracking through the last town and getting back on the route.
Slovakia appears to be a poor country and the cost of most things is much less than at home. However, theres not much of anything an outsider would want to buy other than food. We could probably find some great deals on clothing items, but we would have to locate a major shopping area. On this trip we are generally traveling through vary small towns.
Most of the buildings displayed a definite lack of maintenance, and a lot of the housing was very minimal. All of the homes we saw being built utilized simple concrete blocks that were eventually painted and sometimes stuccoed. I assume that the poor upkeep is a reflection of the communist influence over many years. At least in the country side there seems to be no recent progress.
You see very little clothing that is colorful. Dull and drab seems to be the clothing color of choice. Most people appear to be very low key in their mannerisms. You don't hear a lot of loud talk, and see very few smiles. On the other hand, I wouldn't say they appear sad - they just don't seem to smile very much. Judith tried to smile at everyone we passed but the gesture was never returned.
The part of Slovakia we saw was totally flat and almost all farmland. The crops looked terrible and there appeared to be no irrigation of any kind. Some farm machinery was new, but transportation looked older and in poor condition. We saw many elderly people with pushcarts and dilapidated bicycles. Its very sad to ponder their future since the Czech Republic broke off taking all of the industry and money away.
We finally arrived in Komarno to stay in the best hotel in town but that's not saying much! It was obvious to all of us that the only reason Slovakia was included in the trip was because we had to go through it to get to Hungary. I think if it had been put to a vote, everyone would have asked to be bussed quickly through it rather than enduring the long, unrewarding biking days. Its interesting to see this part of the world but we could have used the time more effectively and experienced more variety.
After a shower and change of clothes we set out to explore Komarno. It is a large city, and the "old town" is undergoing revitalization. There are some very beautiful buildings being restored and someday this could be a tourist destination, but there is much to be done. We saw a lot of young people in the streets in clothing obviously inspired by Western contemporary fashion. At least this generation appears to be experiencing some "spoils."
The dinner at the hotel was expectedly disappointing. We held no hope for gourmet cooking, but expected that the food might be simple, yet delicious. Unfortunately, it was poorly cooked and the main entrée was deep-fried cheese so tough that we could barely cut into it with a knife.
Its disappointing because we think of vacations as being fun and we look forward to being pampered and treated to exciting experiences. Slovakia was clearly not that kind of escape. But we knew that when we signed up and we really wanted to see what a "Communist" country was like. So we tried our best to accept whatever was presented to us and just deal with it. There were times that we didnt do as well as we could have.