Slovakia: The Road Taken

The plan to go to Slovakia formulated over a memory of my recitation of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" in 7th grade literature class:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

The choice was between Vienna and Bratislava. Vienna I have already been twice. Where as Bratislava...only impressions of a very vague mention from the movie "Eurotrip". There were moments when I found myself sitting on the train thinking: "Couldn't I have gone to Vienna again instead? Bratislava? What am I going to do there?" But regardless, I'm still going. I just had to. Hate to use cliches when I write, but this one is especially appropriate. Curiosity kills the cat. Others have told me that there is nothing to see there. Nothing interesting compared to the rest of Europe. It might or might not be true but I had to find out for myself. I just had to. And I did... 

Bratislava is no Vienna. Although separated only by 60km, it might as well be a world away. While Vienna's inner city is lined with high end retail shops and its palaces exude the air of grandeur, Bratislava is anything but that. Bratislava is humble, practical, buoyant, and taciturn. It has a sense of authenticity that makes Prague feel staged. It has an atmosphere of a forgotten city that relishes in being forgotten. One would need an artist's eye for color and a hunter's sharp instinct for game to fully appreciate this city in a way it deserves. This city makes the perfect playground for a scavenger hunt. Look for a blue church, the remains of an eighth century saint, 5 Euro buffets, etc...Travel guides are good references to navigating this city but by no means is it a reliable source for putting a grade or rating on the sights of the city. That, one must do with the heart. Each place leaves a different impression on a person's heart. Furthermore, the surprise of exceeding or falling below expectations when seeing the sights for the first time is the real fun in exploring the city. But unlike a scavenger hunt, one must throw all logic and planning out the window and just let the heart sing its song. 

Walking onto Kosice's main street must be how Alice feels upon entering wonderland. At dusk, the sky is a royal blue dotted by cotton candy pink clouds. One can easily get lost in time listening to the sounds of water splashing from the singing fountain and taking in the overwhelmingly intricate detail of the gargantuan St. Elizabeth Cathedral on the main square. Even at the height of summer, there are no traces of tour groups or loud, obnoxious howls of stag parties. Sitting at the bottom of the Tatra mountains, Kosice is like a graceful maiden cradled on the arms of a doting mighty warrior. It's innocence and beauty protected and cherished. It is also like the Garden of Eden partly surrounded and hidden by communist building blocks. The true beauty of Kosice however, lies in its simplicity. There are no signs of tacky gimmicks or desperation to lure tourists. Grab a seat in one of the many outdoor cafes and restaurants and watch as the flow of people going about their lives.  A woman taking her baby out for a stroll after dinner, an old time communist movie playing in an outdoor movie theater, kids carousing and laughing by the singing fountain, friends having a lively conversation over a glass of wine... Observe and witness the joy derived from these simple activities spread like a wild fire, setting warmth to all those in proximity. Feel the joy of simplicity that is extinct in big cities. Lastly, breathe in the evening breeze and take in the traces of musty and earthy undertones from centuries old architecture; emanating its age through the wind. Live in the moment. Take it all in, because who knows how long a treasure like this can stay hidden.  

My heart is racing as I pound away on my keyboard, scrutinizing over every word I have to describe these two cities. My words just don't seem to do justice to the triumph I have felt after exploring these hidden gems. I chuckle a little thinking back that I have defied all logic in coming to Slovakia; but to think that I almost didn't makes my heart ache. Finally, I would like to end this off the beaten path adventure with this afterthought:  

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


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