Couchsurfing in Bratislava
After feeling the thrill of our successful hitchhiking experience from Prague to Vienna; all those kind souls made us even more encouraged that getting another ride to Bratislava was going to be OK and it was. What wasn’t OK was getting to our host’s place!
Hitchhiking to Bratislava
It’s important to mention again that we were doing a mini social experiment; we wanted to travel solely relying on people’s generosity. So that meant hitchhiking, couchsurfing, but also, it meant no internet or mobiles on the road (unless it was an emergency). Just pen and paper.
The young Hungarian dropped us on the outskirts of Bratislava as he took off to Budapest. It was the middle of nowhere — cars zooming past us and not one person to ask for directions.
It didn’t take long for a bus to arrive and our communication with the bus driver was rather fortunate — not only was he a smiling and understanding chap but also we knew Slovak and Czech were not too different. The informal lessons in Prague did definitely pay off.
Our hearts sunk a bit when we found out our host lived on the outskirts of Bratislava – opposite to where we were. However, instead of whining we embraced the mission and after a few buses and trams we got there, two hours later!
Being welcomed as an old friend by a stranger is always a warm feeling. They were slightly concerned about our wellbeing because we were late, but knew it was not the easiest place to find, specially in the evening. This openness, this couchsurfing premise, is what I love — if you’re going to allow someone into your house, you have to trust them.
And the trust before caution; the belief in one’s character before the wariness brings a degree of honesty that you usually only find when you meet a friend’s or family’s friend — a person who in theory has already been vetted.
Katarina and her family received us with open arms; the kids just said hello and went to bed, as they grew tired waiting for us. We were offered dinner — the one we were supposed to have eaten together — and spent some time getting to know each other despite being slightly tired.
What struck us the most was that they were a family, not just someone living alone or a couple. You would incorrectly assume that it was a risk to expose the kids to strangers, considering Natalka was nine and Petko seven years old.
Quite the opposite!
Firstly I’m 100% sure they thoroughly check each couchsurfer before accepting them and secondly, the whole point of the exchange is exactly to teach their kids about different cultures, different languages and therefore eliminate any type of prejudice. It is brilliant.
Imagine those children compared to their friends? If the teacher asks a question about Brazil for instance, all the other pupils will be able answer based only on what they read or saw on TV. Although they didn’t go to Brazil Natalka and Petko have a much deeper insight — they had Brazilians coming and meeting them!
Katarina was a fellow translator and interpreter, who could happily work from home and Marian worked with IT. The soft evening conversation was rather pleasant and soon we were invited to spend the day with the family the following day, which we gladly accepted.
Day Out in Bratislava
It was indeed a family day, not only was the sun up high bringing its warmth but also it was no ordinary day. Once every a year Bratislava hosts an event called Open Garden Weekend where anyone can visit many secret gardens. So we talked about our childhoods whilst taking light strolls enclosed by a sea of green.
We then went to an authentic slovak restaurant where we gorged a bit considering the prices were very affordable! To be honest I’m not even sure what I ate, because as usual I let our hosts choose for me; what I know is that I wanted more!
Boat Tour up to Devin Castle
We bid goodbye for the afternoon and rushed to get to the marina, where we’d start a boat trip to visit Devin Castle going up the Danube River. Being close to a massive body of water and feeling the constant breeze was quite soothing as the scorching sun was ruthless.
The families enjoying themselves at the river beaches was a fun sight along with all the nature that embraced us. It didn’t take long for us to spot the majestic silhouette of the castle whilst we considered, once again, the boat life — this is a subject for the future!
Back on land we felt the heat again, but luckily the ruins were high enough to protect us. The castle itself was beautiful; however, it was only part of the whole composition, the view from there was mesmerising — hills covered in a myriad of shades of green were crossed by the imposing river softly carrying boats to distant parts of Slovakia.
We got back home with all the ingredients for a full on roast chicken. Katarina had a big book with recipes from all over the world; each couchsurfer would cook a tasty meal for the family and then write down the recipe. We were no different!
Sophia was the master chef and I a mere serf, but together we managed to impress, as the kids ate everything, nearly licking the plates! An American couchsurfer also joined the dinner and conversation flowed happily until we eventually retired.
We spent the following morning walking around the sunny city center of Bratislava, as we were leaving for Budapest in the afternoon. The blue church was quite something and the Bratislava Castle gave us the chance to see the city from the top of the hill.
We finished our visit by having the famous garlic soup in a bread with a deserved pint of beer!
Yet again couchsurfing showed us another layer of connections; not only were we happy to have stayed with a family with kids, but we also found out that there is a massive community of families who couchsurf and stay with each other! So, if you think your couchsurfing days are doomed when you have offspring, think again.
We left Bratislava with that fuzzy feeling of wholeness, contented with a platform that creates such sincere solidarity.