Today has been a crazy day of travel. When booking our trip to Bratislava, we discovered that direct flights there only go from Stansted, which is a real pain to get to. Our alternatives were either a 22-hour coach trip from London to Vienna, or flying from Gatwick to Prague and getting a 4-hour coach to Bratislava. We decided to go with the latter.
Flying was real fun. What with the current chaos in the UK, we had to get up at 7am to be at checkin three hours before our midday flight. The queues for security were huge, hardly surprising once you get there and have to remove your shoes, put them separately through the X-Ray scanner, undergo a body search, put your shoes back on and then have all your suspicious-looking items (laptops, baby milk, medicine, etc) scrutinised with various little machines and scanners. Our laptops turned out not to be terrorist equipment, thank goodness, so we were eventually able to board the plane, which took off about half an hour late.
Arriving late, and waiting ages for our bags to come through, resulted in the last bus leaving for Bratislava without us. Our backup option was to get the train.
If a Swiss person told you the Czech railways were a bit rubbish, you might not believe them. However, we are English, we know bad train systems when we see them, and we weren't very impressed with the Czech trains. Somehow the internet managed to lie to me and tell me that we needed to change trains at Pardubice, so we got on the Pardubice train at Prague. Our train sat outside Pardubice for about 20 minutes - we later learned this was most likely down to waiting for our connecting train to clear the platform. When we got into Pardubice, the clock said we'd missed it by 3 minutes but the info board seemed to think it was still hanging around and delayed by 10 minutes.
This station was particularly confusing in that it used two sets of numbers - as well as the platform numbers (1-4) it also had 'side' numbers (1-8) Each platform has two sides, I suppose a side is equivalent to a UK platform. It took us a while to figure that one out, it might have helped if they'd used two different numbering systems. We eventually found what might be our train on platform 4, side 1 - it had the right time and service number - but the lady on the platform told us it's going to Breclaw. In despair, we retreated to the ticket office and found out the time of the next train. We went to the platform and sat and waited. Now, the platforms have one display on each side. They tell you quite early on which platform your train will arrive (I suppose that is good) but once you're on the platform, no information is displayed until about a minute before the train gets in. That includes delays. You have to run back to the concourse for that. Our train was delayed for 20 minutes, we were on the platform so had no idea about this, and as our train's time came and went we got rather worried that it might have been and gone on another platform. Eventually, about 25 minutes after its due time, the info screen popped up to tell us that the train was arriving on this side and it was 20 minutes late. The train turned out to have come from Prague anyway. Never mind, eh?
However, to their credit, they do play charming little xylophone tunes before station announcements.
We reached Bratislava eventually at about 11pm. Not having a clue where in town we were, having no Slovak money, etc. but seeing some central-looking buildings in the distance, we headed for those. We eventually found our cash machine and a taxi and made our way to our dodgy student halls/summer hostel accommodation. Fortunately it was 24 hour check in. While waiting to be checked in, a Slovak girl waved at me and whispered the advice that "It's deessgaaahsting here". Well, we weren't expecting much for 10 quid a night and we've stayed in some pretty gross places. The room turned out to be not too bad. The bathroom and beds were clean, and those are the important bits. The bits inbetween are a bit shabby, just typical student halls stuff, and we try to avoid touching those bits - but it's only the third-skankiest place we've stayed in and at least we're not afraid to use the shower. :)