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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

Schoner Naci Statue Bratislava

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first pay check. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

‘‘You see! Bratislava CAN be beautiful!!!’’ growled our guide, wagging her finger as she shot the group an admonishing look.

It was just my second day in Bratislava and I was enjoying a walking tour of Staré Mesto, the city’s pretty, albeit small old town. The tour had been organised by my new employer for all fresh arrivals and we were certainly being kept on our toes by our informative, if slightly intimidating guide.

‘‘This is St. Michael’s Gate’’ she announced, in her automated message voice, as we all marched after her like the obedient troop we were. Traipsing through St. Michael’s Gatewe passed under the military tower and into Michalská, a quaint stone street packed with cafes, shops, a few museums. ‘‘Come on, come on!’’ she barked, with a snap of her fingers. ‘‘We have only one hour and there’s much to see’’.

St. Michael's Gate Bratislava.

St. Michael’s Gate, Bratislava.

‘‘She’s taking us to the showers, isn’t she?’’ whispered Paul, a redheaded Englishman from Boston. With a cheeky smirk etched across his handsome features, he could have passed for A Clockwork Orange droog. I liked him immediately.

Gazing up at the baroque buildings, as the smell of freshly baked bread drifted across from a nearby bakery, it suddenly hit me that this was my new home! I could come and hang out here anytime I wanted. Greedily inhaling my surroundings, I found myself zoning out, the guide’s authoritative commentary melting away into gibberish. A bit like Charlie Brown’s teacher in Peanuts.

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

I was eventually brought back by a wholehearted ‘‘faaantastic!’’ from Rich, my Californian flatmate. We were now huddled around Roland Fountain in Hlavné námestie, the old town’s grand square. Although I’d only known Rich for a couple of days, ‘‘faaantastic’’ had already been established as a firm catchphrase, along with the equally sunny ‘‘good times!” And with Rich being a half-glass-full kinda guy, both quotes were wheeled out regularly.

Stare Mesto Old Town Bratislava.

Hlavné Námestie Square, Bratislava.

From the old town, we worked our way out to the chilly banks of The River Danube and the imposing outline of Nový Most, a foreboding eyesore of a suspension bridge built in the 1960s. ‘‘The world’s longest cable-stayed bridge to have one pylon and one cable-stayed plane’’ exclaimed the guide proudly. There were a few obligatory oohs and aahs. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Novy Most Bridge and UFO tower Bratislava.

Novy Most Bridge and the UFO Tower.

Photo courtesy of Nate Robert.

‘‘War of the Worlds!’’ hooted Paul, with an impish grin.

He was pointing towards an unmissable structure sat atop the bridge. Apparently, the flying saucer shaped thing was a restaurant aptly named UFO. And yes, it did indeed conjure up images of the tripods from H.G. Wells’ classic novel. Intriguing, ugly and vaguely threatening, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. ‘‘Faaantastic’’ said Rich, as Paul and I clicked away with our cameras.

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

“Run! It’s a Slovak Restaurant!”

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

After the tour, I got acquainted with more of my fellow teachers at The Slovak Pub on Obchodna Street. Among them was Ben, a deadpan Englishman from Doncaster who, more often than not, had a cigarette clutched between his wiry fingers. Immediately bonding over football and music, I was pleased to learn that he too resided on the hill near Rich and I in Dlhé Diely.

‘‘Who’s Jeff Goldblum?’’ asked the guide.

Then there was Myles, a sharp-tongued Canadian with a cutting sense of humour. Jon from Nashville meanwhile was a Johnny Cash fan who bared more than a passing resemblance to the actor Jeff Goldblum. ‘‘Who’s Jeff Goldblum?’’ asked the guide, as a waitress arrived with a tray of Zlatý Bažants. ‘‘A devilishly handsome movie star’’ quipped Jon in his Tennessee drawl.

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

Zlatý Bažant, the cornerstone of any Slovak diet.

‘‘Ok seriously’’ said Myles, leaning in with a swig of his beer. ‘‘Have you guys seen that Zuzana chick? She’s hot!’’. ‘‘She’s a minx’’ I agreed, recalling my arrival the day before when she’d picked me up at the airport. ‘‘She ****ing is!’’ confirmed Ben, as the guide rolled her eyes. ‘‘Dude, I think she’s got a boyfriend’’ revealed Rich. There followed a reflective pause. ‘‘Either way… I guess she’ll be at the party tonight’’ remarked Goldblum, lighting up a cigarette. ‘‘To Zuzana!’’ announced Paul, raising his mug with a droogish flourish and we all clinked glasses.Good times!’’ declared Rich.

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The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

That evening we were all bussed out to the nearby city of Trnava, a forty minute drive from the capital. The venue was a run-down hotel somewhere in the leafy outskirts. There were around fifty of us that night and the school had put on quite a spread. It was a buffet set up, with as much Slovak beer as one could consume. Which, that evening, turned out to be quite a lot.  

‘‘Americans… English… Canadians… Australians…. Scottish… Irish… Slovaks and… others’’ squealed assistant director Little Katka. 

‘‘Welcome to our family! An exciting year lies ahead for our small but growing school. Here to tell you a little more, it’s my pleasure to introduce the school’s owner… Honza!’’

There was a healthy round of cheers as the boss man took to the stage. A stout unshaven figure with a Russian-style mullet, he carried the air of an incompetent low-level gangster. Clearing his throat, Honza delivered a ten minute speech in throaty Slovak, while the English-speaking contingent exchanged raised eyebrows and wry smiles. Having exited to a rather more subdued applause, Little Katka returned with a Cheshire cat grin plastered across her face.

The welcome Party, a short story from Bratislava

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

‘‘Thank you Honza’’ she gushed. And then proceeded to translate his entire speech, which amounted to little more than ‘‘We’re all one big team, let’s give it our best’’.

The party itself was a rapid slideshow of new faces and names. Goldblum introduced me to his eccentric flatmate, Neil Armstrong. Not the pioneering astronaut, but a twitchy Englishman who wore 1920s workout clothes to the gym and was forever confusing his American roommate with words like “fag”, “quid” and “bog roll”.

At the buffet table, I got chatting to fellow hill-dwellers Bill and Mary, a delightful retired couple from the state of Iowa. Before long a pair of Canadians joined the chat. A softly spoken ice hockey fanatic called Balko and a giant teddy bear of a man Eric, who aptly, gave a mean hug.

The Welcome Party a short story from Slovakia

Team Canada: From left to right: Eric, Balko and Myles.

Nearby, Myles was flirting with Zuzana, while a group of mousy Slovak teachers hung back in an isolated corner, a circle of sullen faces and darting eyes.

‘‘Oh yeah it’s The White Album all the way’’ agreed Minnesota Jordan during a lengthy appraisal of The Beatles. ‘‘You a Paul or a John guy?’’

At some point the music was cranked up and there was dancing to Chic, Bee Gees and Donna Summer. Big Katka, the school’s brazen and barely-clothed director, was getting more than a little suggestive with Irish Mike, a happy-go-lucky divorcee with an eye for the ladies. Their antics drew quite an audience as they ducked and grooved to the infectious beats of The Jackson 5’s Life of The Party.

The Welcome Party a shorty story from Slovakia

The Welcome Party, a short story from Slovakia.

With night slipping into early morning, I found myself in an intimate circle with Ben, an awkward Englishman called Troy and a tall, attractive Canadian-Serb by the name of Sladjana. With long, sleek hair and a silky smooth voice, I was instantly attracted to her. ‘‘Sladjana’s another member of the hill club’’ said Ben. ‘‘Yeah I live about halfway down’’ she added, drawing on her cigarette. ‘‘I know…’’ responded Troy in his low creepy mutter. ‘‘You live across the road from me, I can see your bedroom from my window’’. Sladjana, to her credit, didn’t so much as blink. ‘‘I see…’’.

I could feel my eyes dropping on the bus back to Bratislava. The shadowy Slovak countryside flashing by my window, I’d almost submitted to sleep when Myles dropped noisily into the seat beside me.

‘‘Hey, you into ballet?’’

‘‘What!? Uh… not really’’.

‘‘Ha, me neither. But Zuzana is performing in some shit at The National Theater and she’s inviting people. Paul, Jon, Ben and Irish Mike are going, it’s like five bucks’’. ‘‘Count me in’’ I said, figuring this answer would be the most direct route to blissful slumber. 

Curling up against the window, I allowed myself a secret smile. In Qatar I’d only known four or five people and the social scene was… limited to say the least. Here however, there was a huge group of varying nationalities, with more eccentric characters than you could shake a stick at. In those final drowsy moments before drifting off, I realised that all kinds of interesting experiences lay ahead. That I was embarking on a metamorphic journey, a life-changing period, a new beginning.

‘The Welcome Party’ is the second chapter of my short story series The Slovak Files.

You can also check out my extended travel report on Bratislava.

Access my other short story collections here.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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6 Comments

  • Beverley

    ‘‘Faaantastic!’’

    January 11, 2015 - 10:59 am Reply
  • natty4t

    Reblogged this on natty4t's Blog.

    January 12, 2015 - 2:05 pm Reply
  • Chris Axon

    Great stuff. I’m hooked.

    May 17, 2020 - 8:20 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha thanks. One of the best years of my life.

      May 17, 2020 - 8:21 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    I visited Bratislava last year around Easter and was pleasantly surprised at how charming it is. For such a small city, there sure is a lot to see and do. Thanks for taking me back.

    May 19, 2020 - 3:06 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey, thanks for reading! I would love to go back myself and see how much of it I can recognise. It’s been almost twenty years. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      May 19, 2020 - 9:40 am Reply

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