Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy what you find here. Whilst you may not agree with everything I post, if you respect my right to my opinion I'll respect your right to disagree with it and we should get along just fine. :)

Disclaimer: the views expressed by the characters in these works may not necessarily represent the views of the author. Got that? Good.

Right then, on with the blog...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Future; Nostalgic on Tour 2010: Part 3 – A Long Stand


Apologies for the length of this post, you might want to get a coffee before reading. I will however, get you to the hotel before we finish today - this trip has already taken a day longer to write about than it took in real life!

So there we were, nicely tucked up in a corner of Bratislava airport's Arrivals hall with nothing to do for the next nine hours but wait. I have to say though, spending nine hours in an airport does, if nothing else, give you time, plenty of time, to explore and consider the facilities.

Exterior shot of Bratislava airport's Terminal building.
(The smoking area is next to the silver pole visible just to the right of the pedestrian)

This took all of 15 minutes as Bratislava airport is what your average Western European tourist might call a little basic. I, on the other hand, loved it. Mind you, it may be a little on the basic side, but it's spotlessly clean (I wonder if Stansted airport's reading this, as lessons could be learned, hint hint).

Future; Nostalgic's skiing correspondent did spot something in this vein that made her laugh - shortly after a cleaner had passed by us, riding on an electric floor cleaning truck, a passenger wandered through Arrivals leaving dirty wet footprints as he went. By the time he left the airport, the cleaner's truck was about three steps behind him, cleaning his footprints as he walked! I have a sneaking suspicion this may have been funnier at the time.

Speaking of facilities for passengers, there are a couple of cafes and a newsagent landside on the ground floor, another cafe and a souvenir shop on the second floor and a restaurant on the third floor with a lovely view out over the airport apron (more of that later).

As an early breakfast consisting of a cup of hotel vending machine coffee doesn't really do a lot to sustain a traveller throughout the day, we headed over to Bistro Airport for breakfast - in my case a huge ham, cheese and salami baguette-type sandwich and a bottle of Fanta. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to photograph it, not because it was huge, but because each sandwich came wrapped with a little strawberry sweet for pudding; nice touch that, I thought.

Bistro Airport - ground floor of Check-in Hall.
Photo © Letisko M.R.Štefánika Bratislava. All rights reserved.

Right, that's killed half an hour, only another eight to go.

Now then, as some of my regular readers may already know, I don't mind the occasional cigarette, so next on my agenda was locating the airport's smoking area. Living in the UK as I do, I have become increasingly used to my leprous status and resigned to having to smoke outside anywhere other than my own home; and I'm fine with that - I'd rather, for example, have a non-smoking table in a restaurant and go outside for a cigarette rather than breath smoke all over other diners, or have them do the same to me.

Bratislava is however, Eastern Europe, and attitudes to smoking are still a little more relaxed than at home as a much greater percentage of the population still smokes. There are a couple of smoking areas airside, one adjacent to Gate A4, the other a Cigar Bar opposite Gates B1 and B2; you never know, someone may need that information. Landside however, it's off out the front of the terminal building to the handily located ashtray.

This is a far cry from both Stansted and Newcastle where, not only is smoking only allowed outside the terminal buildings, it is only allowed within the areas marked by yellow lines on the ground. Just sayin'.

Anyway, the point of this part of the story is that, barely had I lit up than a young woman (no, not that sort of young woman, before anybody gets the wrong idea!) asked me something in Slovak, which I didn't understand. I replied with my stock phrase, explaining in Slovak that I was English and didn't speak much Slovak. She immediately switched to (very good) English and we, and her male partner (I couldn't work out whether he was her boyfriend, husband or just a travelling companion), spent a good while chatting about this and that.

Her name, it turned out, was Gabriela, she lived in Bratislava and was returning home from a trip to...somewhere or other (I wasn't taking notes!). Gabriela was mightily impressed with my homemade English-Slovak phrasebook and, after I'd explained how difficult it is to buy a decent Slovak phrasebook in the UK, email addresses were exchanged and she promised to send me a suitable book. Friendly place Slovakia, one of the reasons I like it so much.

Back in the terminal building...

There are the usual vending machines in the Arrivals and Check-in halls from which various snacks and hot drinks may be purchased - the hot caramel drink was strange, not unpleasant, just strange. The Zummo fresh orange juice machine on the other hand, was a revelation - you actually got to watch it squeeze four large oranges into a glass for you, all for the princely sum of 1 Euro.

Just in case you're getting the idea I'm a bit easily pleased, I'd just like to point out that I don't get out much!


The Zummo orange juice machine.

A variety of these snacks were purchased to pass the time, the most unusual of which, and again something we don't get in the UK, were peanut butter flavoured crisps. They're also a bit strange, very pleasant, but a bit strange - crisps just oughtn't to taste of peanut butter.


Arašidové chrumky aka peanut butter crisps.

Come lunchtime I noticed the Departure board was now listing our flight to Poprad-Tatry as "delayed," and I began to wonder if lightening does indeed strike twice. Always in the back of my mind was the feeling of being stranded at Stansted on our first trip, not something I would wish on my worst enemy! At least this time I figured we were in the correct country and, if push came to shove, we could always catch a bus to the railway station and complete our journey by train (incidentally, should you ever be in the same position, catch the No. 61 big red bendy bus from outside the airport to the railway station, Hlavná stanica in Slovak.).

Check-in was due to open at around 4.30pm so we figured we'd wait till then and ask about the delay as the airline staff we'd asked previously weren't sure how long it would be, the plane having not yet left its previous destination; or arrived at it as things turned out.

Bearing in mind we'd been in Bratislava since 9.35am that morning, and by the time 4.30pm rolled around we were rather looking forward to completing our journey, so you can imagine our faces when the check-in staff announced our flight to Poprad-Tatry was delayed by 4 hours (departing at 10.00pm rather than the intended 6.15pm). How long?!

The delay was due to de-icing problems in Bologna, terribly sorry, would we rather go on the flight to Košice, which was due to leave on time? Err...no thanks, the problem with that being we had a taxi booked to collect us from Poprad-Tatry and anyway, Košice is some 160km further away than our intended destination, or around an hour and a half extra by road, so no, if it's all the same with you, we'll wait.

Are you sure? Yes. Really sure? Yes! Ok then. Once our bags had been checked in we were issued with a bit of paper to take to the airline sales desk where it was exchanged for food and drink vouchers, no questions asked. The airline sales staff were also happy to call our taxi driver (more on him later) and our hotel to advise of the change in arrangements before pointing us in the direction of the 3rd floor restaurant.

We'd thought of trying this restaurant for lunch, but luggage trolleys are not allowed in the lift from the Check-in hall so we'd passed. Mrs Future; Nostalgic had wondered about leaving our bags at Left Luggage, until that is, I'd pointed out the Left Luggage hut was a fair walk away across the sheet ice of the airport car park. She thought better of it.


Bratislava airport's Left Luggage hut in the middle of the car park.

Restaurant Panorama has a great view out over the airport apron, so with hindsight it might not have been such a bad idea to try it earlier, at least we'd have had a view of the planes coming and going. Never mind, we're here now, we thought. Our skiing correspondent and I opted for the pork schnitzel and fries, while Mrs Future; Nostalgic settled on the "Chicken Pan," which turned out to be a concoction of chicken, bacon, wild mushrooms and roast potatoes all served in an individual frying pan.

Washed down with bottles of Coke, we enjoyed an excellent meal for around £28 all in. One thing we all liked about the restaurant was, unlike in the UK where "international beige" cuisine is de rigueur in places like airports, this was a Slovakian restaurant serving Slovakian specialties, much more fitting to the setting in our opinion.

Checking the Departures board on the way out of the restaurant, we noticed something a bit odd - our flight was now booked to leave at 9.15pm, not 10.00pm as we'd been advised so, as that time was fast approaching, we dashed round to the Security check and passed through airside, just having enough time to buy bottled water before being called to the Gate. Bratislava's Departure Gates are on the 1st floor of the terminal building, passengers go down a flight of stairs to the tarmac and either walk, or are bussed to their plane, so it wasn't really a huge surprise to see my two new best friends with their chair again and off we went, swaying down the steps into the icy evening.

Luckily (for them - I'm not a small person!), the aircraft was a matter of yards away, so the chair was rolled over to the door, which was where the fun really started. Our final plane of the day was an Alenia ATR-72, the advantage of which is that there are only around six steps up into it. The problem is that these steps are narrow and, as our skiing correspondent later recounted, there is a lip on the top step into which the burly guy walking backwards got his foot stuck - I really thought I may have come adrift at this point but no, a bit of frantic swaying and a few curses later there I am on the flat in the rear of the aircraft, dreaming of my release from the contraption and a short stagger to my seat.



Exterior and interior shots of our plane.
Photo © Danube Wings. All rights reserved.

Wrong! This being Slovakia, where things are IMHO done properly, I was manoeuvred (heaved!) round and up the aisle to my seat, all I had to do was slide from the chair to my seat, shake the guys by the hand and express my thanks in Slovak for all their help before letting them stagger off for a lie down. A stewardess appeared as if by magic, strapped me in with a seatbelt extender (just like to point out here, I could have managed without it - I may not be small, but I'm not that big!), made sure I was alright, then sorted out seats for the rest of our party.

One thing to note regarding carry-on baggage if you ever fly on an ATR-72 - the overhead lockers are narrow, a well-stuffed envelope may be pushing it a bit! Our new carry-on bags, bought just before the trip because they boasted as being "suitable for any airline, worldwide," were too big so the cabin crew kindly stacked them at the back of the plane for us to collect when we got off.

The penny dropped while we were waiting for take-off. What the airline had done was re-route their on-time flight from Košice onto our route, meaning we were able to leave three hours late rather than four. Nifty thinking, eh?

There followed a pleasant, if a bit noisy, 45 minute flight to Poprad-Tatry, complete with complimentary drinks (you listening to this, UK budget airlines? C..O..M..P..L..I..M..E..N..T..A..R..Y drinks, yes, that's right, for free!) and an interesting touch down on Poprad's sheet ice covered runway. If that had been a UK airport it would have been closed on Health & Safety grounds (as they are as soon as three flakes of snow fall every year), in Slovakia they know it's often icy in the winter so the pilots are used to it; at least that's my impression.

OK, so we've finally reached Poprad-Tatry airport, so where's the Assistance people? You may have spotted that by now I was thinking I'd really, really like to get to the hotel and my bed. Oh, there he is. He. Singular. This ought to be fun.

It wasn't until much, much later that I realised what he was after with all the hand gestures - he didn't speak much English and my Slovak wasn't extensive enough for this situation. Having taken extra pain meds on the plane, just in case, I took one look at the Assistance guy and decided I'd try to make it down the six steps of the plane on my crutches. Which I managed. Just. With hindsight, I realised that what I think he had intended was to fireman's lift me down the steps. Eek!

Into the waiting wheelchair and off across the windswept icy tarmac we went, straight to the new Arrivals building, collected our bags and then out front to the taxi rank. No taxi. Sh...shame!

The conversation went something like this:

"You need taxi?"

"No thank you."

Raised eyebrow. I could see him wondering how we were planning to get from the airport to our hotel.

"We have a taxi booked to collect us. This one," brandishes taxi driver's card.

"You want me telephone taxi?"

"Yes please."

And just when you think all your problems are over, here's another traveller's tip - if you have an Orange network mobile phone, ignore their website where it says it will work throughout Slovakia. It won't. At all.

Good job I have a phone on another network. I'm soon through to our taxi driver and, once we've sorted out the confusion over us having arrived an hour before the airline staff in Bratislava told him we would arrive all is well.

"30 minutes," he says and rings off.

Champion! The wait provided me with ample opportunity to finally dig my camera out of my bag and take a few photographs (aided by the airport having now closed and all the staff gone home!), and enjoy a coffee from the Arrivals vending machine, the best vending machine coffee I have ever had - I measured the machine, but there was no way it'd fit in my bag otherwise I'd have been tempted to bring it home with me; it could teach UK vending machines a thing or two about hot beverages.


The entrance to the new Arrivals building at Poprad-Tatry airport,
and that coffee machine.

Around 20 minutes later we spotted headlights, and shortly afterwards our taxi arrived. We'd met Stanislav Kubovčík on our previous visit back in 2008 and he'd given us his card, saying if we were ever coming back, please email him and he would pick us up at the airport. This we had duly done, and here he was; he'd said by email that he was very happy we remembered him. As he got out of the car he looked at us and exclaimed, "I remember you!" Excellent!

We were soon zipping along the newly completed stretch of the D1 motorway between Poprad and Liptovský Mikuláš, chatting away with Stanislav like long-lost friends. When we'd first met him I had the impression he was a single owner-driver (with his Mother on the bookings phone at home), but now a couple of years later he has eight cars and both his parents now drive for him. He wouldn't be able to take us back to the airport however, as he was off to Germany to buy two more cars, though not to worry he would send one of his drivers to collect us at our hotel. Nice man, is Stanislav. If you're ever travelling in this part of the world, please do get in touch with Stanislav - tell him I sent you.


...and here's the man himself, Stanislav Kubovčík,
having just dropped us off at our hotel.

A quick note about Slovakian driving - I have the impression that speed limits may, just possibly, be advisory only, and that the white lines separating two lanes of a motorway may just possibly be there only so you have something to follow while driving at night - as long as they pass directly under the middle of your car you're still on the road. Of course, I could be completely wrong!

Now that the section of D1 between Poprad and Liptovský Mikuláš has been completed, the airport transfer has come down from 1 hour 30 minutes to around half an hour, and the Bôrik tunnel has really made a difference to the last time we did this part of the trip. As I was too tired to dig out the video camera, here's a YouTube video of a trip through the tunnel, just in case you're interested.



It wasn't long before we turned off onto the familiar road up the mountain and soon pulled up outside our hotel. So here we were, Jasná at last. Now we could finally begin to relax.



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13 comments:

PostMuse said...

Bratislava airport has improved dramatically since I was there in 1998. Most of my flights to and from Slovakia involved the Vienna airport.

The "non stop" reference confused me on my first visit. Took me a while to realize it means "24 hour." As for Slovak cuisine ... I'm vegetarian and my hosts took that to mean I liked more vegetables with my meat. I gamely ate what was on my plate.

Slovak drivers .... I think there is something in their genetic makeup that disallows driving behind anyone. They must always be in front of the traffic, which makes for interesting rides on narrow mountain roads.

I'm going to enjoy reading about your trip very much. Many fond memories. And I can almost taste warm poppy seed roll.

R.E. Wolf said...

Good gravy, you must love Slovakia, that's all I can say!

So far, the bit I'd like most to have seen - right after that orange juice machine! - was your expression when you sussed out the "fireman's carry" option. [PS: I'll come with you next time - we'll get that coffee machine.]

Laura Eno said...

Whew! I'm ready to take a nap now, just reading this! Waiting for so many hours - after finally escaping Stansted - would be hellish. You have the patience of a saint!

Sam said...

PostMuse - Thanks for that, I too wondered what the "non stop" referred to, it was one of things I never got round to asking Stanislav.

I really enjoyed Slovakian cuisine though, as I shall recount later, you seem to have done better than me regarding vegetables. I have seen very few on any of my three trips to Slovakia, apart from in the supermarket; I was beginning to wonder what the Slovaks do with them.

Yes! Slovakian driving is exactly as you describe. Ah, fond memories. There's also nothing so "interesting" as the taxi drivers all having two phones, and having conversations on both of them simultaneously while driving with their elbows up icy mountain roads!

I hope you enjoy reading about the rest of the trip.

R.E. Wolf - Yes Ryan, I really do love Slovakia. The over-riding memory I have is that it's a beautiful country with very friendly people, it's certainly worth all the trouble getting there.

I knew I'd forgotten something in this post! Will go off and edit it to include a pic of that coffee machine, just on the off-chance you come across one before I do. ;)

Laura Eno - I only had patience because I knew the end result would be worth waiting for. I wasn't wrong as hopefully the next installment will prove. :)

Marisa Birns said...

Wow! FRESH orange juice for just 1 euro?

Your wife's pan dish sounded great; I hope it was delicious.

What an exhausting time for all of you! Finally begin to relax, indeed.

I hope that you were able to sleep restfully and that the next day is not fraught with setbacks.

But, I'll find out soon, won't I. :)

Enjoying this so much. It should be a book!

Sam said...

Marisa Birns - Yup! Four large oranges worth. There's a window on the front of the machine, just below the logo where you can watch the mechanics inside pick the oranges, slice them in half and squeeze them right in front of you; I could have watched it for hours.

The chicken pan dish was indeed great - the portions were huge so there was plenty for us all to have a taste of everything.

You will indeed find out soon, I'm hoping to have the next installment up shortly. Thank you for the encouragement, I'd never thought of putting the diary into book form - you really think it'd work? :)

Karen from Mentor said...

"By the time he left the airport, the cleaner's truck was about three steps behind him, cleaning his footprints as he walked! I have a sneaking suspicion this may have been funnier at the time."

Nope, it was just as funny to picture while reading, especially if you make the slurp slurping sounds that the machine was undoubtedly making at the time.

Thanks for sharing!!!!!

PS I knew a guy named Stanislav and he looked JUST LIKE THAT GUY in your picture. I wonder if you have just blown the lid off some secret cloning project!?!?

Sam said...

Karen from Mentor - A secret cloning project?! Eek! Was "your" Stanislav a taxi driver too?

Josie said...

...so you'd have sneaked home the coffee machine, and I'd have sneaked home the orange juice machine (and just one euro! wow!) Sounds divine.

Glad Stanislav is doing well with his taxi business... and that after an epic journey, you got to your hotel! Look forward to next instalment.

Sam said...

Josie - Oh yes, the Zummo orange juice was lovely, much better than the equivalent juice counter at Stansted (surprise, surprise!).

Stanislav really is a great bloke, I'm not one for advertising on my blog, but for him I'll make an exception.

Stay tuned for the next installment when the Future; Nostalgic's go skiing.

Laurita said...

Whew, I'm finally caught up on your holiday. I always envied those in the UK because I figured it was so easy to travel to other countries. Guess I was way off there.

I look forward to reading about the relaxing part.

Anne Tyler Lord said...

Whoa, I'm totally exhausted just reading your travel notes - I can only imagine what it was like to go through yourself.

I am so relieved to see you made it! Now, can't wait for the skiing.

Sam said...

Laurita - To be fair, it's usually quite easy for us to visit other countries, the fly in the ointment is my requiring airport assistance. having said that, the assistance service we've had from Newcastle, Bratislava, Krakow and Poprad airports has always been excellent; if a little unorthodox at times.

The relaxing part should be posted shortly.

Anne Tyler Lord - Yes, the trip itself wasn't exactly how I would have chosen to travel, though the end result was really worth it - I ought to be posting the first part of the 'on location' stuff shortly.

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