Botel photo
Botel Fairway, Bratislava (with UFO bridge in background)

May 20, 2001
Bratislava, Slovakia

Boat sketch
Jaroslav's drawing

What's a botel? We thought it was a misspelling. We met our Czech driver, Jaroslav, at 9 this morning (rushed, after oversleeping due to my incorrectly set watch). He drove us to Slovakia and set us off on a bike trail there. We showed him our itinerary to make sure he knew where to take our bags. He nodded, produced a pen, drew a picture of a boat, grinned, and patted Dave on the shoulders. And so there was the Botel Fairway - a floating hotel and restaurant on the Danube River. It was built in Austria, as a hotel, and floated down the river to where it sits now. It has no engines.

Botel Fairway was a fine place to rest after a long, easy day on the road. Once in Slovakia, we biked through several natural areas, following an army road along the Morava River most of the day. The road wavered between smoothly paved to entirely plowed up. Along the way, we saw some deer, birds of prey, snakes, lizards and hares. One nature sign said the area was home to 55 species of land plant, 4 of which are endangered. Another sign pointed out some of the ecological damage done by mining, railroads, and poor farming in the area. That sign was next to a dusty operation described in our written directions as a "sand mine."

Castle Devin photo
Castle Devin

We passed another great castle in Devin, a ruin atop a rock where the Morava and Danube Rivers merge. Here we picked up the Danube and followed it downstream to Bratislava, the Slovak capitol. We checked into the Botel and went out to see the city.

The stone streets of Bratislava are as pretty as Vienna, just not as far-reaching. Cafes, newsstands and bars fill most of the buildings. It's a place for tourists, although not for Americans. There is scattered English on signs ("Megastore sell out!"), but mostly Slovak. We know one word in this language - something like "dájuie" - pronounced shuh-QUEE-ah. It means "thank you", very similar to the Czech word for the same thing.

Dave and I ate dinner in a saucer-shaped restaurant atop a suspension bridge. The Botel receptionist called it a UFO. The elevator to it runs at an angle up a beam that supports the bridge. I ordered trout, which came with the head and tail still attached. Instead of looking at what I was eating, I looked at the view. It was a great panorama of the old town of Bratislava. It has a large castle/fort, this one in good shape. From the other side of the saucer, we could see miles of concrete apartment towers, plus some modern office buildings. The sun dipped lower as we ate, giving the city the look of a painting on a movie set.

After dinner, Dave and I used the ATMs and payphones in town, making use of the modern conveniences of the city. As we wandered the streets at dusk, we heard echoes of the melody "Amazing Grace," sung in another language. We walked toward it. An a cappella octet was performing on a stage outside the museum in the center of town. A large crowd had gathered, and the songs resonated in a square of pastel buildings.

Bratislava at morning, seen from its castle

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