The Phases of Bratislava

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It is said that there are four stages of expat life: Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment, and Acceptance. After living overseas for more than fifteen years and in several countries, I know these stages well and have come to expect them. When I first arrived in Bratislava, seven months ago already, my husband and I attended some expat meet ups. Plastered smile, death grip on a beverage. I’d rather hang out in a spider-infested outhouse in the Papua New Guinean jungle.  However, we didn’t want to be totally isolated as we had been in Budapest.

It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I was stunned by the sheer amount and velocity of the chatter. The longest monologue clocked in at two hours. Yes, I was looking at my watch. Maybe they were starved for social interaction, or maybe I’ve gotten used to being a recluse. By the end of the get togethers, it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Some were lifers, doing the expat circuit. Their monologues were polished to a sheen. Others had been in Slovakia for many years, and yet had no family or other obligations chaining them here.

We did achieve reciprocal conversation with a handful of people. It went a little like this:

“YoucameherefromBudapestareyoucrazythisplacesucksthepeoplearesorude
itssoboringnooneintheirrightmindleavesBudapestforBratislava.”

“I like it here. I feel good here.” I shrugged, fully aware of the Honeymoon stage. I was keeping my expectations realistic this time.

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Seven months is enough time for the glamour glow to begin to dissipate. The Frustration stage is an ugly hag. Over the years, I’ve definitely been guilty of ranting about the pettiest of problems and attributing them to the place. Sometimes there were legitimate problems with the country. Sometimes it was just my own negativity. Because I’d so often heard that Bratislava was boring compared to Budapest, I was unsure of how the move would turn out. Would we regret it like everyone said we would?

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There’s something different this time around. A physical sensation of calm. I don’t feel that tug of restlessness or hear that where to next mantra running through my brain. I’ve managed to go directly to the Acceptance phase.

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After two months, we stopped going to the meetups. I was lucky enough to find what I needed almost immediately: a hiking partner, who’s a Slovak. I’ve now got two things that I’ve wanted: interaction with locals and hiking in the mountains.

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The icons of Bratislava have become familiar, but no less endearing. Much remains to be discovered in the back streets of this little city. Traces of the past mingled with enough grunge to keep it interesting. And beyond the city limits: castles and more mountains.

I refrain from using the “f” word: forever. My life is too spontaneous, and the world is too volatile. I’m just going to enjoy this contentment while I can.

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47 thoughts on “The Phases of Bratislava

  1. I lived in Bratislava for a year. While it helped that I spoke Slovak, I empathize with your four phases. Nonetheless, it is ultimately a rich city with much to discover. For example: taking a bottle of wine and . . . ahem . . . some smokes up to Slavin for a picnic.

    Drzte sa!

    • Ahoj Anthony, Bratislava is the first place I’ve lived where I like it more every day. Slovaks are very cool, too. I don’t see this excessive rudeness of which others speak, and I’ve got a very sensitive radar for rudeness…a “rudar”. I’m trying to learn Slovak, but it’s a slow process. 😉

  2. A rich and varied set of images – I really like them, particularly the last. Good to know you are sort of ‘settled’. The expat gathering sounds just the sort of thing I would hate – I don’t do ‘small talk’ and have great difficulty hiding my boredom 🙂

    • Thanks, Robin. The last image is of a massive abandoned hospital that’s right across from that immaculate blue church. I’d love to walk around inside. The gatherings were not as bad as I expected, but still not our scene at all. We seem to attract the motormouths, and with age my patience with them has worn thin.

  3. It’s often the unexpected that fulfils. I’m fascinated with your decision to move to Bratislava ~ will you tell us the motivation one day? We made a day trip there once, from Vienna, for a performance of Aida at the gem of an Opera House (Slovak National Theatre). It felt like a calm, unthreatening town although we were warned to park in a secure lot. How lovely to hike and learn from a local.

    • We moved here because we were fed up with Budapest and wanted to move on. We’d been to Bratislava numerous times and had a good feeling about it. And being so close to Vienna is a huge plus. Bratislava is very safe, except for the usual theft that you find in all of Europe, hence the warning you got. I haven’t been to the Opera House yet. 🙂

  4. Finding my “tribe” was an essential part of my happiness in İstanbul, and I certainly didn’t find them at couchsurfing or Internations events. Good luck building your community!

    • Hahaha. Couchsurfing. Internations. Two words that make me recoil. We’ve not experienced their events, but I can just imagine. It’s important to find a tribe, as you so aptly put it. We need a support system of likeminded people.

  5. I’m reminded of the song lyrics:

    Do I know where hell is, hell is in hello
    Heaven is goodbye forever, its time for me to go
    I was born under a wandrin’ star
    A wandrin’ wandrin’ star

    Everyone needs to find their place. Don’t let those expats bother you. It sounds like you’ve found a home for a while. Nice shots.

    • Thanks, LD. I’m happy that our situation is such that we’re not forced to be with anyone, in work or school for example. Many expats don’t have that luxury.

  6. I’ve only spent a single day in Bratislava but it made a good impression on me. I think several months could raise hairs on my neck but adapting to new places is always a challenge. Nice post.

    • Thank you. A lot of people stop by on Danube cruises and day trips from Vienna. Compared to neighboring cities – Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Krakow – Bratislava is much quieter. Good to hear that you liked it.

  7. I love “travelling” through your posts, I’m sure I’ve said this to you before 😀

  8. I learn so much from your posts! I have been all over the world with you and still am able to find my way home every night to Vancouver. Travelling with you is fun, challenging, inspiring, joyful and exciting. It is also a confirmation that we live in a world where uncertainty and complexity give rise to conflict and fear. I admire how you are able to balance these two extremes with grace and equanimity. And I also admire how you were able to sit through those monologues! 🙂

    • Oh, thank you for your kind words, dear Rebecca. I really do try to give a balanced view of life and travels abroad. As for sitting through the monologues…it’s amazing how difficult it is to politely extricate oneself from such a trap. I’ve learned how to spot a potential orator and stay off his/her radar. 😉

  9. Your photos convey the appeal of Bratislava. I’m glad you found a local with whom to hike. The backstory of a community has history, which may explain the leap from frustration to acceptance.

    • Thank you. I’m grateful that I went directly to the acceptance phase this time – skipping the honeymoon and frustration, the two most unrealistic phases. I guess that’s what happens when you mentally prepare yourself and keep expectations realistic.

  10. I read with interest your words, trying to visualize myself in your place. I think it’s such a privilege have the possibility to choose the place where you’ll live. I’ve never been in Bratislava, but it’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit. Live in a foreign city brings always to a cultural improvement. Have a great day!Cris

    • You are so correct that it is a privilege to have the freedom to choose where to live. I’m grateful for this every day. Maybe you can visit Bratislava on a day trip from Vienna, as so many people do. 🙂

  11. I am interested that you chose to move to Bratislava. I have only spent 1 day there on 2 occasions and then only in the old city. I am not quite sure where the locals actually live. It seemed quiet, and small after Vienna and Budapest.
    Enjoy

  12. I headed to a meet up as soon as I moved to Amsterdam since I knew it was going to be difficult otherwise. I got lucky too, and met a girl who introduced me to her local circle of friends and it was our troupe of 4 that stuck together the entire time I lived there. I did go back for a few other meet ups after that though, and deff believe I got lucky the first time around

  13. Pingback: The Phases of Bratislava | Wish I Were Here |

  14. Your wonderful post brings back so many memories, chief among them the deluge of promises of regret from “well-meaning” others. And that other popular comment “but you’re so brave!” meaning they secretly, or not so secretly, think you are an idiot! I have another stage to add – that of the arranged marriage, one partner dragged kicking and screaming etc etc but love works in mysterious ways to the point where you eventually forget you are an expat. Wishing you happy times in Bratislava!

  15. I am stealing that quote about the four stages of life at the beginning ;), so true, it is all about balance, want to steal the photos too, good job.

  16. If you’ve found somewhere you can be at peace, Julie, that’s a big step. And a hiking pal- it gets better! You’ll publish “The Divine” yet 🙂

    • For someone like me who has perpetually itchy feet, it’s a huge step. We all like what we like and sometimes we don’t know it until we see it. Cheers!

  17. this made us *chuckle*

    “Plastered smile, death grip on a beverage”

    Gallivanta suggested we visit you here – so glad we came.

    you write beautifully and those pictures – *sighs_happily* – g l o r i o u s.

    *wavingfromLosAngeles* (with a British accent – well, British’ish after 12 years in the USA 😉

    _teamgloria

  18. I see how well the nickname “lavagabonde” fits you.
    Life in two especially as expats could be rough or the best choice to keep you going. I still keep my brother’s letters since he was dueling with another culture…for teasing him and he replies back “it wasn’t me ” 🙂
    I wish you only shiny days thus it needs some rain too.

  19. I spent two years and three months in Bratislava teaching English in the Peace Corps and loved it. I spent most of my time in Old Town, just wandering all over, exploring, and finding treasures. The National Theater produces wonderful ballet and opera. I was fortunate enough to have a “Slovak family” with whom I lived for three months and saw frequently after my training. Enjoy your time there.

    • Hello! Nice to hear your perspective. I’ll have to check out the ballet and opera while I’m here. There are lots of little treasures in this little city. Cheers!

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