Monday, 28 March 2011

the angriest black man in america.

Due to my current temporary and compulsory "no-travel" status, I am unable to thrill the audience with anything related to my adventures on the road. Notwithstanding, I am pleased to be able to share with you an extract from the latest literature I have put my hands and brain on to. If there is something that a "soi-disant" inactive individual (don't take this the wrong way... I do refer to my status as "not working and not actively seeking a job". For those economists in the group this will be easy... Think of it as: Population = Active + Inactive; Active = Employed + Unemployed. Therefore, my self-imposed and self-proclaimed title ranks me along the retired folk - except without the social benefits! -, the stay-at-home-moms and the like) has... that's time. Now that I have rediscovered this precious and scarce "resource" after an oblivious 2.5 years, I spend a considerable amount of my "non-travelling" time, well... reading.

The latest delicacy I have been able to intellectually devour has been Malcom X's autobiography. I think I may have commented on this choice of literature in an earlier post. Many people tend to vaguely associate Malcom Little (or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, as he would later be known) with the 1950's and 1960's Civil Rights Movement in the US and with the struggle of the African-American population in their desperate quest for civil and racial equality. He is also known for having been Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s contemporary and for having shared with the latter's ideology nothing but a necessary "social" movement of the African-American population in the US. Their ideologies were very distinguished in their vision, their religious inspiration, their methods and the extent to which they believed that a social advancement of the African-American population had to be irrevocably accompanied by a full demise of the White population. As is pointed out in the title line, Malcolm X began to be referred by some as the "angriest black man in America", at the hype of his career in the early 1960's as a muslim minister, public speaker and political agitator due to his preachings of racism, black supremacy and violence. As can clearly be inferred in the text he wrote, with the assistance of Alex Haley, as a reflection upon his life and works, the many troublesome experiences he endured in his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, which would eventually turn him into a convict, had a significant impact on his development as one of the most relevant and influential African-American individuals in history. Most importantly, the time he spent in prison (7 years, between 1946 and 1952) turned him to the Muslim Faith, more specifically to a movement called "The Nation of Islam". Although I was somewhat familiar with the movement before reading the book, its foundations and its driving principles, the passage in which Malcom X describes his interpretation of the movement's philosophical being and how it was taught to him proved absolutely fascinating. Thus my desire to share it with all of you. Apologies for the extension of the extract, which I will split in two posts so you can take a breather. This first part covers the overarching theme of white anthropological supremacy while the second post will cover the more "mystical" nature of the black man's evolution and how it was taught by The Nation of Islam to its devoted followers. By the way, kudos to Penguin Books for allowing my copy-paste, I am sure they don't mind. If your mom or dad does work in publishing, please don't tell them! hehe. ;)


     "... And what they termed 'the true knowledge of the black man' that was possessed by the followers of The Honourable Elijah Muhammad was given shape for me in their lengthy letters, sometimes containing printed literature.

      'The true knowledge', reconstructed much more briefly than I received it, was that history had been 'whitened' in the white man's history books, and that the black man had been 'brainwashed for hundreds of years'. Original Man was black, in the continent called Africa where the human race had emerged on the planet Earth.
      The black man, original man, built great empires and civilizations and cultures while the white man was still living on all fours in caves, 'The devil white man', down through history, out of his devilish nature, had pillaged, murdered, raped, and exploited every race of man not white.
      Human history's greatest crime was the traffic in black flesh when the devil white man went into Africa and merdered and kidnapped to bring to the West in chains, in slave ships, millions of black men, women and children, who were worked and beaten and tortured as slaves.
      The Devil white man cut these black people off from all knowledge of their own kind, and cut them off from any knowledge of their own language, religion, and past culture, until the black man in America was the earth's only race of people who had absolutely no knowledge of his true identity.
      In one generation, the black slave women in America had been raped by the slavemaster white man until there had begun to emerge a homemade, handmade, brainwashed race that was no longer even its true colour, that no longer even knew its true family names. The slavemaster forced his family family name upon this rape-mixed race, which the slavemaster began to call 'the Negro'.
      This 'Negro' was taught of his native Africa that it was peopled by heathen, black savages, swinging like monkeys from trees. This 'Negro' accepted this along with every other teaching of the slavemaster that was designed to make him accept and obey and worship the white man.
      And where the religion of every other people on earth taught its believers of a God with whom they could identify, a God who at least looked like one of their own kind, the slavemaster injected his Christian religion into this 'Negro'. This 'Negro' was taught to worship an alien God having the same blond hair, pale skin and blue eyes as the slavemaster.
      This religion taught the 'Negro' that black was a curse. It taught him to hate everything black, including himself. It taught him that everything white was good, to be admired, respected and loved. It brainwashed this 'Negro' to think he was superior if his complexion showed more of the white pollution of the slavemaster. This white man's Christian religion further deceived and brainwashed this 'Negro' to always turn the other cheek, and grin, and scrape, and bow, and be humble, and to sing, and to pray and to take whatever was dished out by the devilish white man; and to look for his pie in the sky, and for his heaven in the hereafter, while right here on earth the slavemaster white man enjoyed his heaven."

Passage from Chapter 10, Satan, of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, with the assistance of Alex Haley, Penguin Books

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

18 January 1943.

Although the date above could very well mark many historic events, particularly - as one can surely imagine - in the context of WWII such as: the uprising of the Soviet forces in Leningrad against the Nazi and Finnish imposed siege, the sporadic and rather uncoordinated bombing of London by the Luftwaffe and (relevant in today's geo-political climate) five days prior to the Allies' liberation of Tripoli (Libya), in most History books it will stand out for being the date in which the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began. Although only lasting 4 months and after being crushed with utter violence by the Nazi occupation forces in Warsaw, this event did spark a common feeling or goal amongst the inhabitants of Warsaw - and even, to some extent, of broader Poland - which was none other than fighting, no matter the cost, for liberation. The Warsaw Ghetto was built in the period 1939-1940, shortly after the Nazi invasion of Poland and was aimed to house the c. 400,000 Jews living in the city. Although it was meant to hold nearly 30% of Warsaw's population, it only covered c. 3% of the size of the city. The ghetto was ultimately closed out to the world in late 1940, when the Nazis built a wall, deployed barbed wire fences and established armed guards. As time went by, the Nazis progressively shrunk the size of the ghetto, living conditions worsened, diseases began to spread and the inhabitants began to perish, either of starvation or, on many occasions, as a result of Nazi oppression. The revolt marked a "natural" reaction against such dreadful living conditions and the unlawful German occupation. In spite of a well-timed and intelligently-articulated uprising, the poorly-armed ghetto inhabitants were rapidly crushed by the Nazi forces. Today, little remains of the Warsaw Ghetto as, similarly to what happened to most of Warsaw, it was blown to pieces - at times, deliberately and building by building - by the Nazis before they fled and the Soviet forces liberated the city in 1945. Although unsuccessful, the uprising did at least help the Jewish, as well as broader Polish, population unite against the Nazis. A year after the ghetto uprising, in 1944, the city of Warsaw witnessed yet another uprising, although on this occasion it involved the entire city and lasted almost until the end of the war. One could thus argue that the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was one of the key catalysts that led to the emergence of a sovereign liberation movement in Poland and to a weakening (or at least defiance) of the framework principles of the Nazi occupation.    

By the way, for an interesting yet suspiciously-documented and rather poorly-developed timeline of WWII don't hesitate to check out the following link:

After a short (in relative terms compared to some of the other journeys I have had to endure during my trip) 3-hour train ride from Krakow, I arrived to Warsaw at c. 8pm. Upon beginning my walk from the train station to the hostel, I was very impressed by the modern appearance of the city. As I stepped out of Warsaw Centralna, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of "skyscrapers" (granted they weren't that tall, but at least a good 30 stories!). That was to my right... because to my left I saw the soviet-looking (no wonder, as it was a "present" from Stalin to the city of Warsaw in the early 1950's) Palace of Culture and Science, which was all lit up in an "Empire State Building"-ish fashion ( Some people mention that the building, which resembles the 7 sisters in Moscow ( was nearly taken down in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. I must admit that my evening that day was rather uneventful... it must have been before 11pm when I called it a day. Before passing out, though, I did manage to post (I think on Bratislava) and to get all the tips on the city from the very helpful hostel staff. They even had a 3-pager (investment banking term for a document/memo one thinks will take 1 hour to prepare... but, in fact, ends up taking an entire day. Respect!) they were handing out with recommendations for the weekend (Friday-Sunday). On Saturday, I woke up pretty early (c. 8am) and after a fresh pastry + coffee at a nearby cafe, I headed West, towards the Warsaw Uprising Museum (N.B. do not confuse with the ghetto uprising of 1943. The city-wide uprising took place in 1944, on the verge of the Nazi surrender, and was by far more disruptive. It was nevertheless, as I point out above, somewhat "inspired" by the ghetto uprising of 1943). Interesting museum, although slightly difficult to follow the permanent exhibition as some rooms seemed to totally lack cohesive and chronological order. Nonetheless, the 3D movie the museum was showing for an additional 2 zlotys (0.5 eur) was definitely a must. Essentially, it is a digital reconstruction of a "reperage" flight above Warsaw at the end of WWII, which clearly shows the total annihilation of the city. In case there are any stats-savvy ones in the audience, for your reference: In 1939, 1,100,000 people lived in Warsaw. By January 1945, only 1,000 lived amongst the city ruins and nearly 85% of the buildings and infrastructure had been blown to pieces. Here's the link to the c. 6-minute-long clip:

After spending most of the morning in the museum, I began to wander around the city. Amazingly enough, Warsaw is a city that was entirely rebuilt in the 1950's and 1960's. Very little (cfr. stats above) remains of the pre WWII city. There are very few spots with original buildings. One of these, actually from the Warsaw Ghetto, can be found on Zlota street (some pics below). Aside from very few remnants, most of the city centre was completely rebuilt. Interestingly enough, the street my hostel was on, Nowy Swiat, stands for New World ( I also crossed the Wisla river to the other side of town (called Prague - yes, like the city in the Czech Republic), where there is not so much to do, but is still quite interesting as most of that part of the city remained intact during WWII (surprisingly enough, as from 1944, Soviet troops were based there - they still refrained from assisting the local population in the 1944 uprising!). Prague is also the part of town where the new Warsaw city football stadium is being built, in anticipation of the 2012 Football Eurocup (which Spain will surely win!). In the evening, and just prior to returning to the hostel, I also visited Park Lazienkowksi, which is a beautiful Retiro-style ( 19th century park in the middle of the city. It must have been around 8pm when I finally got back to the hostel. As I was due to catch a flight back to Madrid the next morning at 10am, I was in need of an early night. Nonetheless, who would have thought, I met a very friendly + interesting Dutch bloke back at the hostel, with whom I agreed to go out for drinks. The next bit... all of you can surely imagine.

Next morning, 10am - LOT Airlines flight back to Madrid... Yes, that does mean the end of this trip... I hope you all enjoyed my adventures, stories and anecdotes around the Balkans and Central & Eastern Europe. I am hoping to hit the road, this time for a longer and even more fascinating trip, very very soon. So, while you check out the pics from Warsaw, try to stay tuned!



Wednesday, 16 March 2011

karol wojtyla.

Given that Blogger (i.e. Google) still lacks a socio-demographic tool within its stats suite to discern and isolate parameters such as religious beliefs from a blog's audience, I am unfortunately unable to know how many of those reading this post will be familiar with the name referenced in the title line. Not being much of a religious "adept" myself, I do think I have what one can call religious culture, for I have managed over the years, as a result of mingling with individuals from all sorts of backgrounds, to obtain a broad understanding of world religions and to gather bits and pieces of knowledge here and there. Karol Wojtyla was none other than Pope John Paul II (or Giovanni Paolo II, as he was known in the Vatican), or the current pope's predecessor. Aside from his religious legacy, which I will not comment on or evaluate in the context of this post, it turns out that Mr. Wojtyla was born and raised in Poland, more precisely in the city of Krakow - which, by the way, happened to be my next destination (and one of the final stages of my itinerary). One can feel across Poland, and in particular in Krakow, that Poles are a very religious folk and with deep appreciation for one of their own having been pope for such a long and important period of time. Across Krakow, one struggles not to find statues (head, full-body, real-size, etc.) of him, streets named after him and plenty of other references to Mr. Wojtyla. There is even a Holy See (Vatican) consulate right opposite of the Karol Wojtyla museum in downtown Krakow. In addition, and to me this is really the relevant part, Mr. Wojtyla had a tremendous socio-political influence during his time and in his own country, most notably during the late 1980's - at a time in which the foundations of the USSR (and the global communist revolution for that matter) were shaking. One could argue that the catholic church in general, and himself in particular, greatly contributed to the success of the Solidarity Movement ( and to the embracing of democracy in Poland in the late 1980's, and very much across Eastern Europe (via an unprecedented domino effect of political and social "liberation"). No wonder the nation cherishes its having had a fellow Pole as pope - I would too! For one has to understand that Poland, until the early 1990's, and aside from a 20-year parenthesis between the World Wars and under the benevolence and protection of the ill-fated League of Nations, did not have much of a sovereign national identity and their history could be summarised in two words: foreign occupation.

That being said... I arrived to Krakow at 7am on Thursday morning. After a few moments of hesitation in which I aimed to decide on my course of action for the day, I decided that I would spend the day visiting the town of Oswiecim, which is c. 1.5 hours South West of Krakow and which is famously known for having been home to the most brutal and deadly concentration/extermination camps during WWII: Auschwitz-Birkenau. After a quick coffee and a traditional Polish pastry I bought off a street vendor for a mere 1.5 Zloty (40 euro cents) I got on the train to Oswiecim. Following a rather short journey and an intermediate shuttle bus, I arrived at the museum (or Visitor Centre, as they call it there). Upon arrival, I decided to opt for a guided tour. Some of my friends who had already been totally recommended it, in particular because for a mere 40 Zloty (10 euro) one can benefit from a c. 4 hour guided tour. The entrance to the museum is free of charge so I figured it was totally worth my red euro bill to explore such a historically relevant setting with the greatest possible insights. To be quite honest, I don't really think there are too many words to describe one's feelings while visiting a place like that. As is written at the memorial in Birkenau: "For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau. 1940-1945". I think this and the pics below more than suffice... I got back to Krakow in the late afternoon, just in time to pick up my bag at the luggage check in the train station and to go to the hostel where I was due to spend the night. Although, once again, I was planning to have a calm night - in particular after the unpleasant and mind-blowing scenes I had seen earlier that day - a few minutes after organising my things in the dorm room I met a group of very cool + nice Italian students. Turns out they had all been studying abroad together last year in Finland and they had chosen Krakow for their first "post-exchange" reunion. They were all in their last year of university, so, take it or leave it, about my age. It's really funny how well Spaniards and Italians tend to get along. I truly believe we have such deep cultural and social ties that it is inevitable for our peoples not to result in such great reciprocal acquaintances. For me it was particularly interesting because some of the guys I met were "relatively" conservative, from a political standpoint. Let me tell you why... In recent years, I have become increasingly interested in understanding the Berlusconi political phenomenon in Italy. In particular, I have developed a genuine interest in trying to understand the motivations of his voters and to try to establish a "common" norm or standard amongst all of them. I certainly know that I, as an educated, slightly cultivated, middle/upper-class 25-year old, would never (ever!) vote for him. So why then do so many of my Italian peers support him? Mind you, that question can be worthy of a night-long conversation... Fascinating stuff, especially when the person you are talking to is prone to get agitated and irritated (in the good "debating" way) by your thoughts. In any case, after yet another very enjoyable and pierogi-filled (, but rather late, night out, I set out to explore Krakow (by day). The city is not very big (c. 750,000) and most of the famous sights can be found either in the old town or in the nearby southern part of the city, which is home to the Wawel Castle, a splendid 16th century "forteresse" built under Sigismund I the Old, and Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. Krakow's old city is really impressive, not only due to the the beauty and well-maintained nature of its buildings, churches and squares, but because it is almost entirely all devoted to pedestrians. A real treat not to have to worry about traffic... In addition, the old town is surrounded by a green area, Planty, which is a park where bikers and "randonneurs" alike hang out. As some of you may know, Krakow is also a famous spot for having been the city where Oskar Schindler's factory was based (a famous movie, Schindler's List was directed in 1993 by S. Spielberg - That in which so many Jewish workers were helped and saved from Nazi oppression as of result of the status of "essential to the war effort" that the factory held.

Following a couple of days in Krakow and the neighbouring town of Oswiecim, I got on the road to Warsaw at c. 5pm on Friday. This was due to be my last stop... the end of my epic trip around the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Until then, and as usual, here are some pics from my stay in Southern Poland.


Monday, 14 March 2011


Surely being much more accustomed to Germany & Austria and their culinary culture than myself (believe it or not, I have only been to Germany twice - c. 1994 as a kid to Cologne and c. 2005 to Berlin - and to Austria, with this visit, also only twice), most of the those in the audience will be familiar with the term in the "subject" / "title" line. Until my ski trip, in February, to St. Anton am Arlberg, where I had a bite of one of those bad boys in a sandwich, I had not managed to savour one of the most exquisite dishes in German/Austrian cuisine. To be quite honest, and for those who are still " ¬¬ " (or wondering what the heck I am going on about) a schnitzel does not differ very much from a traditional "cotoletta alla milanesa" or from a "filete empanado" (here's a pic for all the curious ones - What is a very unique element, though, is quite frankly the industrial amounts of it that seem to be sold and ingested in Austria as not only do restaurants make it available in all sorts of shapes and forms, but one can also find 1001 varieties of that tasty breaded veal/pork fillet at almost every street food vendor. In addition, the "garniture" accompanying the dish, which generally consists of potato salad and a slice of lemon (yes, to sprinkle the juice all over it - yummy!), makes for a perfect meal. If, on top of that, one is able to complement the food with a 0.5L (or more) jug of local beer, then thumbs up! I was very lucky, in addition, to share such a delicious meal with one of my very very good friends, whom I had unfortunately not seen in a long time, Laura Comunello (grande Lau!), who currently finds herself based in Vienna for work. Overall, a truly well-rounded evening (oh yes... also due to the fact that Barcelona beat Arsenal 3-1 in the Champions League and made it through to the next round!).

Following the customary introduction, let's get back to the story... I got to Vienna after what can only be described as the shortest train ride I have been on this trip. After a mere 1 hour on the train from Bratislava, there I was - Wien Sudbanhof. I believe I did mention in one of my very early posts (the one in which I gave a brief glimpse of my "itinerary-to-be") that Vienna and Bratislava are the two national capital cities which are closest together. So, as you can imagine, ex crossing the seamless EU-to-EU / Schengen-to-Schengen border between the countries, the journey was as complex as taking a regional train from London to Oxford (or equivalent in other European / World countries - use your imagination!). After getting into Vienna, I was fooled into covering the distance between the train station and my hostel by foot. My bberry GPS, which has proved so darn reliable (except in Bosnia i Herzegovina where, surprisingly, there are no GPS details available at the micro or city level), tricked me into believing (I will obviously not admit that it was a question of foul judgement or technological "interpretation" on my behalf!) that the hostel was closer than it actually was and that a short stroll down the boulevards of Vienna would not be such a bad idea. After a whopping 1 hour "et quelque" on the street, I finally got to my hostel. Vienna has been one of the only places where I have not been fully able to mingle and integrate with the local hostel crew. I did have plans to meet my friend Laura for dinner so I had to pass on the former. Wise decision though as I pointed out above. After meeting in the eponymous Stephansplatz, we hit a traditional Viennese restaurant, where we were fortunate enough to taste the delicatessen referenced above and in the title line. Due to her professional commitments of the next day (it was Wednesday evening) and my ill-fated state of health (as, although I did not share this with you, I was feeling like crap for a few days - just a bit under the weather and with a mild cold, stuffed/runny nose, bad caugh... the works!), we decided to cut the evening festivities short after dinner, but did agree to meet for lunch the next day.

After a rather early night and after reading up on the good news that Barsa was through to the next round of the CL (as I did not see the game - much more fun to spend time with Comunello!) I was set for a 10-hour sleep. I woke up early on Thursday in order to make the most out my only (full) day in Vienna. For those of you who have not been to the city, it is not as small and manageable as others I have been to on this trip, so I thought it to be a good wise decision to wake up early. I spent the early hours of the morning (8:30am-10:30am) posting from a downtown Starbucks which, by the way, cut my bandwidth speed after 1 hour (you guys are cheap!). Afterwards, I went to Stephansdom (or St. Stephen's Cathedral) and checked out other famous sights such as Stadtpark (which is filled with statues of Strauss and Schubert) and Schwarzenbergplatz, I headed north to meat my friend for lunch. We had a very good meal in an Italian Pizzeria (you know, Italians loooove their pizza - and so do I for that matter. The one I ordered, for the curious ones, was a complete innovation for me as it consisted of a 4 cheeses base topped with ham. Absolutely brilliant and delicious!) in the company of two of her colleagues. Afterwards, I spent most of the early part of the afternoon walking in the old town and the surrounding palaces, gardens and monumental buildings. One can truly feel a sense of "grandeur" (if only historic and archaic - please do not interpret in a negative way) and imagine how the city was the capital of one of the most prosperous and powerful empires in Europe (and the world) prior to the turn of the century and the outbreak of WWI. I was really blown away by the innumerable golden statues, gigantic palaces and wide avenues of the empire-that-was. To add to the already beautiful scenery, the fact that all of it is so condensed in the old town makes it even more stunning. Only two sights which are worthy of central Vienna's charm, and which I visited in the late afternoon, are the Belvedere Palace and Gardens in the South ( and the Schonbrunn Palace and Garndes in the West (, the latter one could be compared to Versailles (France) or El Escorial (Spain) - two absolute musts in anyone's visit... gorgeous settings.

After an entire day of walking, and although Vienna was the only city where I purchased a public transportation ticket (believe it or not!) - as I bought one of these all-you-can-ride multi-transport passes - I got on an overnight train to Krakow, Poland at c. 9pm. Arrival time in Krakow: the next morning at 7am, revitalised and full of energy to head over on a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Until then, here are some pics from my stay in Vienna. Enjoy!



Friday, 11 March 2011


Aside from an extraterrestrial object some claim to have observed, it turns out that some UFO's have not only been sighted but have actually settled on earth. One of these unidentified flying objects that have forever left their outer-space origin and nested on earth is that found in Bratislava on top of the bridge (Novy Most - New Bridge) connecting the two sides of  the city, which are separated by the Danube river. Far from carrying little green men or extraterrestrial life, the UFO is one of the most "chique" spots the city of Bratislava has to offer. In it, one can find a restaurant, a bar and a night club amongst other things. It is also one of the tallest points (i.e. buildings) of the city. World on the street, though, is that it is extremely overpriced and definitely out of budget for an ex investment banker turned backpacker / student. I thus decided to pass on the opportunity of checking the inside of the UFO but did manage to take some cool pics.

I arrived in Bratislava at c. 6pm on Monday after a fantastic weekend in Budapest in what can only be described as a knackered state, both mentally and physically. The libertine festivities of the weekend coupled with the build-up of physical activity provoked by my 8+hour walking days for the past 3 weeks meant lead to my feeling like "crap" (sometimes, I believe, it is better to be purely blunt and honest!) for the entire day. I spent the 3-hour train ride between Budapest and Bratislava sleeping in the hope of recovering slightly and already dreaming of the good night sleep I would be getting upon my arrival in Bratislava. But, as has tended to be the case more often than not over the past few weeks, these expectations very rarely materialise... particularly when one spends the night at hostels and in shared dorm rooms. Upon arriving at the hostel and once I got to my dorm room, I met my fellow dorm mates, who happened to be from Spain. It is always funny how these introductions happen... First, one says hello. Then, one asks where the other is from and typically upon receiving a response one can adapt his or her language of communication. Nevertheless, when one is presented with a Spaniard, this 3-step introduction process tends to be shortened as from the accent displayed in a foreign tongue (here, it doesn't really matter if it is English, French or what have you) one can directly guess the nationality. "Introduction" anecdotes aside, turns out these guys (3 in total) were from Castilla La Mancha (all studying Business Administration at the University of Castilla La Mancha) and were currently studying abroad (with an Erasmus scholarship) in Targu Mures (which is in the central part of Romania). They were currently enjoying from school to travel around Eastern Europe. What was intended to be a quit night, and although starting off as such after I declined to join them for dinner, later turned out to be another 3am+ night... yet another one! We also met two other Spanish girls in the hostel who, like them, were travelling around the region from their base in Krakow, where they were also studying abroad (Did manage to get some insights from them as Krakow was meant to be one of the final stages of my trip). We left the hostel and hit an old city pub, where we enjoyed some czech beer - staropramen (which is, quite possibly, my favourite beer! and engaged in very entertaining banter. After the ice-breaker at the pub, we continued our "soiree" at the hostel bar, where I also met a Ukrainian-born American undergrad student who happened to be travelling around Eastern Europe as well. We had a most interesting conversation... It turned out that she transferred from Harvard to her current state school in North Carolina. She mentioned she most thoroughly detested the atmosphere around the school and the flair of "grandeur" that everyone seemed pleased to breathe in and out. We exchanged some very interesting thoughts and I gave her my two cents on the situation. The morning after, and post - yet gain - a very early wake-up, I set out to discover the city. Being a city of c. 400,000, I was hoping to visit the entire city in about half a day, which would also let me post at ease before catching the train to Vienna, where I was due to spend the night. Overall, the city reminded me a bit of Ljubljana - very modern, very small, a big castle overlooking the city centre and limited "activity" on the streets. A totally different vibe compared to Budapest... that's for sure. One fun fact is that from the city castle, which is one of the highest points in the city, with a minimal 180 degree perspective, one can actually see three different countries - Slovakia, Austria and Hungary - as Bratislava is a city very much on the crossroad of all these countries, both geographically and socially. One can also feel that Bratislava is a relatively "young" capital... It has only been 18 years since it became the capital of the newly-formed and independent Slovak state as until then it was part of the greater Czechoslovakia. I did manage to get to see the city in just under 4 hours, had an amazing tomato/mozzarella/pesto bagel for lunch and after hitting the hostel for a few minutes to book my hostel in Vienna, I got ready to go. I would describe my visit more as a transition between Budapest and Vienna. As with Ljubljana, the city might not be worthy of a weekend visit (rather because it is small and most can be done and seen in half a day) but I am still glad to have visited the city. As with many of these countries, it is great to finally put a "face on a name" - particularly after all the contemporary History (20th century) I have studied on Central and Eastern Europe, from the passing of the two World Wars to the Soviet "liberation" and  the wave of independence movements across the region in the 1990s, propelled by the fall of the USSR and its "empire" as a viable political construct.

Right now I am posting from Warsaw. Arrived this afternoon from Krakow where I spent just under 48 hours, visiting amongst other things the former concentration / extermination camps of Auschwitz / Birkenau... thrilling posts to come... really!

In the meantime, and as I approach the end of trip (only two days left!!!), will leave you with some pics of Bratislava. Check you later.