Friday, May 15, 2009

A Night on the Turks

Now that I've been here a little over a week (8 days and 7 hours) I think some of the initial shock has worn off and a few things are starting to set in.

The flat is buzzing with a little more activity than usual as Sarp has taken a few days off work to accommodate his visiting family and fiance. The end of my first working week was marked by a delicious dinner with the Kayalar family and a myriad of others who flocked to the less than scenic parts of Bratislava for the cheap ribs and beer.

Our dinner party was composed of a motley crew of multinationals, clustered around a few tables at El Dorado, a restaurant located smack in the middle of the forlorn concrete jungle that is Petrzalka, colloquially referred to as the Bronx of Bratislava, where about one third of the population resides. I can't emphasize enough the disparity that the hundreds of concrete tower-blocks impress. The bus ride to the restaurant provided us with telling views of the most industrial parts of Bratislava as well as the Ekonomicka Univerizita , another chilling case study in communist architecture. El Dorado itself was the antithesis of interior design, boasting such things as a glass dalmatian statue, bright yellow walls that looked like they were paper-mached together and ash trays beside the urinals. The food was delicious though, when it finally arrived.

I sat beside Sarp's father, an officer in the Turkish navy who speaks some English. Amazingly, his english improved proportionally to the number of pints we consumed. It turns out that smiles, hand gestures and pivo (beer) go a long way in aiding communication and breaking down language barriers, allowing most points to be well-conveyed.

After dinner we headed to Harley's. Sarp assured me it was the best place to meet local university students. Maybe we were too early, but the bar was dominated by steroid popping skin heads. This was the first place in Slovakia that I paid a cover charge to get into a bar. The fee was only waved for those patrons with motorcycles who were literally able to roll into the bar and allowed park their bikes on the giant patio. It was an interesting sight and I'm glad I went out.

The highlight of my night at the bar was a conversation I had with a native Slovak named Peter. He moved to Bratislava 5 years ago from the Eastern side of the country, about 40 minutes from Kovice, the second largest city in Slovakia. He offered some really interesting perspective as we discussed a wide array of things. I'm learning that things here are the same but different. On one hand, the people here have lived through so much more tumult than I believe the average Westerner could fathom. Peter told me about his grandmother who had lived through era's marked by coups for power, mass deportations and the rise and fall of the iron curtain. On the other hand though, it became more and more evident that at the end of the day we were both just two guys out at the bar looking to enjoy our well-deserved weekend.

I left relatively early, on my own, unsure where I was in relation to my house. Luckily, a cab was waiting in the parking lot and I managed to slur enough Slovak to avoid paying the tourist/extortion taxi rate. When I eventually thanked the cab driver for the ride and hopped out, I saw his face tense as he realized he could have charged me 3 times as much for speaking English. No joke, that's how things work around here.

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