Never catch a bus in Bratislava

Well, I know that now.

The train station at Bratislava is so far from the river that I hadn’t been able to find a map which showed both, fitted onto a sheet of A4, and remained useful. So before I left I had done some research about Bratislava’s buses. I found a very useful site which allowed me to enter my start point and my destination, and then it told me what I needed to do: catch the number 50 bus from the landing stage (Novy Most), and then change to a 210 trolley bus at the bus station. The website even told me how many stops each journey would be (not, it has to be said, always entirely reliable when dealing with buses, which are apt to sail past stops if nobody is waiting there or wanting to get off there).

I had written onto my map of Bratislava ‘5 mins’ at a particular location, without embellishing this with any detail of what I might find when I got there. I remembered this was 5 mins from the landing stage, walking, and I thought it might be the bus station. So, as there was no obvious bus stop near the landing stage, I walked in the general direction of my 5 mins. And in 5 mins, I was in what seemed to be the heart of the city.

There was a McDonalds. I had only snacked on fruit and nuts and liquorice allsorts since breakfast. I was ravenous. I felt I was doing quite enough adventuring as it was without sampling the local cuisine. And I would need no Slovakian to order a Big Mac meal; it could all be done with pointing.

So, sorry kids, but I had a McDonalds, and while I ate it I looked at my map trying to work out exactly where I was. Eventually I had my bearings, so I set off for the bus station. The centre of Bratislava was magical. It was dusk, so there were lots of lights and people and activity – there was some sort of street show going on – and it was warm, lovely and warm. Walking through it to find a bus station was no hardship at all.

I found a bus station. Only … it had no trolley buses. And it didn’t seem … bussy … enough for a bus station. I wandered around reading all the signs. There was no stop for a number 50 bus. But I bought a basic fare ticket from a machine, on the grounds that I was going to need one and didn’t want to be buying it in a panic.

All I needed was a bus. I approached a nice looking lady. She didn’t have enough English to reply, but she had enough to be able to show me the right bus for the railway station. And when I looked, it had a train-like symbol in the electronic display at the front, and said Stanica (as in Hlavna Stanica, railway station) as its destination. Brilliant. The bus moved forward, lots of people got on it, including me, some validated their tickets, so I copied them, and the bus set off.

I am not, of course, an expert on navigating around Bratislava (well, I wasn’t at 7.20 this evening when the bus set off. I am now). But the bus immediately drove over the Novy Most bridge, to the south side of the city, in the opposite direction to the railway station. I calmed myself. Probably the bus was going to turn left, and then left again over that other bridge I could see, and then go round the ring road back up to the … the bus turned right, towards Wien, and then took more turnings. I got confused, then I realised to my relief that we were coming up to another bridge, goodness what a silly thing to panic about, now we’ll go back over the Danube and …

… and it wasn’t a bridge over the river. It was a bridge over a motorway. I was on a bus in a strange city, and the only thing of which I was absolutely certain was that the bus was going in completely the wrong direction for where I wanted to be.

The nice lady was still on the bus. But as she had turned out to be a totally useless lady, I pulled at the sleeve of a youngish man, and said, somewhat desperately, ‘Where are we going?’

He spoke English. I managed not to burst into tears all over him, and explained I was trying to get to the station. ‘You are on the wrong bus. It is going the wrong way,’ he said, helpfully; but then he pointed out the bus stop on the other side of the road, and said I should catch a number 80 from there. ‘Then you will need to change, in the centre,’ he said.

So, I got off the wrong bus, crossed the six-lane super-highway, and waited at the opposing bus stop. I waited a while, in increasing anxiety (was my ticket still valid? Where exactly was I? How would I know when I had reached the centre and needed to change bus?). Then the number 80 turned up; and some time later, it crossed back over the Novy Most. Phew.

But I still had to get from there to the station. A different youngish man had the misfortune to be standing next to me, so I tugged on his sleeve – ‘I need to get to the railway station,’ I said. He thought for a little while, then said, ‘This bus does not go there, you need to change to a number 93. Ah …’ and at that moment, the doors closed, and the bus moved away from a stop which, I suddenly realised, was in the centre and also hosted the 93 bus.

‘I should have got off there,’ I said. ‘I’ll get off at the next stop and walk back.’

But the next stop was ages away. I got my map out; if I was going to be walking, I needed to know where I was on the map, and I would need help to do this. He looked at it while I explained that the station wasn’t actually on the map, but I knew it was up there, off the page, on that road. The bus stopped and my local hero got off it with me and looked at the map some more. It must have been hard for him because it was an anglicised map, which made all the landmarks, and some of the street names, unfamiliar.

‘That road there,’ he said, pointing, ‘is Obchadna.’

‘So I need to walk down there?’ I said, looking at the map.

‘No.’ He turned the map round. ‘Walk up there. But then … it is difficult.’

I smiled brightly and said not to worry, I would ask for help; thanked him; and walked up the hill.

At the top of the hill my choices were right or left. I chose right, but asked the first girls I met if this was the way to the railway station. It wasn’t, but they gave me clear directions to a bus stop where I could catch a bus to the railway station. I had by this time privately resolved that I would never, ever catch a bus in Bratislava again, but I thanked them and walked in the direction they’d indicated. If nothing else, I could presumably follow the bus route.

I passed the palace, as they’d told me, and turned right, and passed a bus stop (nope, not tempted). Above the road were cables – for the trolley bus, which I had planned to use. I was on the right road. I kept walking. When I met people I thought looked nice, I buttonholed them and said ‘Railway station?’ and pointed; and they said yes. I kept walking. After a bit I noticed that the people now coming towards me had luggage – big rucksacks and wheeled suitcases, the sort of luggage that people bring on trains.

And then quite suddenly the road ran out, there was a huge junction with pedestrian bridges, and I had no idea where to go next. Honestly. No signs or anything. This was ridiculous. I found a nice-looking older-ish man and said the only words of Slovakian I know, ie, ‘Railway station?’ in English. He directed me over the footbridge and then right and then left. And that’s the way I went and there – there – in front of me – well, still quite a walk away yet but even so, clearly there, lit up and everything: Bratislava Hlavna Stanica.

Move over, Bear Grylls. This is exploring.

Bratislava station is yet another station which,like Innsbruck, looks like Coventry station. But Slovakian trains are much, much older than Austrian trains. That’s not a criticism – older trains tend to have more leg and bum room, more luggage space, and better windows, and that was the case here. And they sound like the trains I used to travel on, the way they speed up and slow down. It was dark now, so there were only the lights outside and my fellow passengers inside for me to look at, but I enjoyed the journey to Trnava.

I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been acutely aware that I was going to be over an hour late arriving, and I had absolutely no way of letting anybody know that I was OK, but delayed. I tried to think logically about what to do, given that I still have no mobile connection (thanks Virgin. You’re going to get a blog entry all to yourself about that). If I had had time, and had seen a phone, at Bratislava, I would have phoned home, on the basis that Nicky would have phoned home too, to see if there was any message from me. But I hadn’t had time in Bratislava; and now I was on a train; so all I could do was walk from Trnava station to the hotel as quickly as I could.

I duly did this, only slightly getting lost a little bit once … look, I was really, really tired by this time … and arrived at the hotel at about 9.10pm, to find I was the first one there. I was rather surprised by this, but I decided to wait in the lobby until other people arrived. It suddenly occurred to me the hotel might have wi-fi – and it did! I could use my phone! I got BBMs! I could contact home! I could post a reassuring message on Facebook!

And then everybody came, and I learned that there had been people waiting for me at Trnava station (bless) only, as I don’t know anybody in Trnava and they weren’t holding a sign, I must have walked straight past them. I explained and apologised and I don’t think I have caused offence.

So. I’m here. I have an itinerary. I have a room and a bed and (but I only found this out quite late tonight) an internet cable (which makes up for the fact that the wifi doesn’t work upstairs). I have been typing for hours. I’m going to get some sleep now. It was quite a tiring day.

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About Mrs L

Wife, mother of three, civil servant, writer, school governor, charity trustee, girlguiding mentor, allotment gardener, revolutionary monarchist. Usually tired. Lives in Northamptonshire, and in 2012 travelled outside the UK for the first time since 1986.
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