Tuesday, September 30, 2008

All Hail (the Taxi)

 id=I readily admit this: I don't get it. I just don't get Bratislava's taxis. And it's not that I'm being inordinately thick about this (I think) - I mean, what's there not to get about a taxi? - you flag one down, it takes you to your destination, and you pay the fare. The worse that can happen is that you get to enjoy the scenic route from Point A to Point B, or your driver is unable to make change for the bill you offer.

But here in Bratislava, there is an additional twist: the fares. The fares - rates 1 and 2 - differ depending on whether you call the taxi by phone (rate 2) or flag one down on the street (rate 1). Although to be accurate, you will probably never flag one down on the street because the only time you'll ever see one on the street - i.e., moving - is when it's ferrying a passenger from Point A to Point B (via the scenic route if it's a visitor to the city).

If you call ahead and order a taxi, you will pay about 30% less than if you find one parked by the side of the road. As taxis don't seem to cruise the streets of Bratislava looking to earn money for fares to pick up, you'll find them at several taxi stands dotted about the city - notably at shopping centres, airports, and train stations. So the upshot is, if I walk to a taxi stand, knock on the driver's window, (interrupting
Vladimir's crossword puzzle) and ask Vladimir to take me to the bus station, I will have to pay 30% more than if I called and asked him to come to my door.

So I ask you, dear reader: is it just me?

Over the past month, I have asked several of my classes to try to explain the logic of this situation to my feeble mind - with, surprisingly, no success at all. The best they have come up with is that the 30% should be viewed in the same vein as that fabled glass of water which is half empty or half full. The 30% is a savings which taxi companies offers its customers who patronize them with their custom - custom that (apparently) can only be conveyed by picking up a phone. This should be seen, I've been told, as an incentive to choosing a particular company. With almost 2 dozen taxi companies (including Fun Taxi, Hello Taxi, and Lady Taxi - which makes me think that Lionel Richie had a hand in naming the companies) serving a city that I could stuff into a shoe box, competition is fierce.

All I know is that if I'm standing outside in the pouring rain, I don't give a rat's ass which taxi picks me up, as long as one does.

But here's a thought: level the playing field. The 30% discount isn't a discount (half empty-half empty!) at all - it's the standard rate. Rate 1 is just 30% higher
(half empty-half empty!). Don't penalize those of us on the street who need a cab - or who don't have access to a cellphone. Oh, and perhaps those taxi companies who automatically charge the higher rate for pickups at hotels could revisit that policy as well. And those scenic routes? A ten-minute ride from downtown to a practically-downtown hotel needn't cost 30 euros - given that 30 euros is, for many people, the equivalent of or more than 3 hours' labour in Bratislava.

And that, dear reader, is why I just don't get it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My Honourary Full Moon Day

 id=Strictly (or even loosely) speaking, there was no full moon yesterday; in fact, the moon, which is in its waning crescent phase, is anything but a full moon. But in my world, there are full moons and Full Moon Days, so having said that, yesterday was - if not a Full Moon Day - at the very least it was an Honourary Full Moon Day. And just to be clear, in my personal lexicon, a Full - or Honourary Full - Moon Day is nothing more than a less salty variant of "My Shitty Day" which I had intended to call this post, but ultimately decided against in deference to those of more delicate breeding than I.

So with no further ado, I present:

My Shitty Day Honourary Full Moon Day

1) I woke up and found that it was Thursday. Although Thursdays have the unique advantage of being one day closer to Friday, they are an onerous work day for me which begins at 7:30 with a 3-hour stint with my most hated least favourite client at the far edge of the city.

2) I stumbled into the bathroom and found that, not only was it still Thursday, but I had pink bumps on my right eyelid. I still don't know what those bumps might be but I doubt that they can be a good thing. I would add that Pán Kocúr's suggestion that they were insect bites did little to lessen my concern.
3) It began to rain shortly after I left the house. I was sin paraguas.

I didn't get a seat on the tram - whose interior did offer me a headier-than-usual cocktail of stale alcohol, sinus-blasting urine and fresh body odour - but I was afforded an excellent view of the torrential downpour which was now pummelling the outside world.

5) This being
my most hated least favourite client at the far edge of the city, I had to negotiate the 15-minute walk from the tram station to their office through a sidewalk-less industrial park during rush hour in the torrential down id=pour which I was now a part of, sin paraguas. I was not a pretty sight.

6) While negotiating my way, I was enveloped in a wall of projectile mud, thanks to the unhappy union of a swollen rain puddle and a particularly speedy truck - one of a host of half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton trucks - whose actual tonnage I could not swear to as I had just been enveloped in the aforesaid wall of mud.

Muttering various imprecations to God, his son, his mother, and all the saints and apostles, I continued on my way. At the one & only crosswalk along this id= road to hell route, I had to stand in the torrential downpour, sin paraguas for 8 minutes (yes, I timed it) waiting for a break in the traffic before I could cross. Bratislavan drivers have yet to come to terms with the concept of the crosswalk: not only will cars not yield to you, should you be audacious enough to begin venturing out into traffic, drivers will blast their horns at you for encumbering their progress from Point A to Point B as they whiz by you.

8) I arrived at
my most hated least favourite client soaked to the skin and caked with mud. I had also arrived equipped with the wrong books for my classes.

9) Later that day and well after a mind-numbingly underwhelming
3-hour stint with my most hated least favourite client at the far edge of the city, I left my apartment, umbrella in hand - although it was no longer raining - to catch a tram to the other side of town for a 1:00 class. My tram, which I could see at the other end of the street, seemed to be making no great effort to continue on its way. A quick glance toward the opposite end of the street solved the riddle: a tram had broken down on the track. I had 40 minutes to cross the Grey Blue Danube and get to work.

10) Deducing from the smell of burnt engine which pervaded the street that resurrecting the dead tram might take some time, I ran across the street to grab a bus which might take me to work in a slightly more circuitous fashion - but to work nonetheless. The bus passed me by as I waited in vain to cross at the crosswalk. Little had changed since 7:15 that morning:
Bratislavan drivers had still not come to terms with the concept of the crosswalk.

11) Muttering various imprecations to God, his son, his mother, and all the saints and apostles, I trotted back to where I started, with the intention of walking the 25 minutes or so to the
Grey Blue Danube where I could catch a bus which would take me to work. But Huzzah! the dead tram had been piggybacked to another tram and the backlog of traffic was beginning to move. I waited for my tram and boarded it with a light heart.

12) About 100 metres up the road, our progress was impeded by yet another tram -
Dead Tram #2 - not doing much of anything except being dead on the tracks. Along with my other passengers, I alighted the tram, muttering various imprecations to God, his son, his mother, and all the saints and apostles, with the resolution to walk the remaining distance to the Grey Blue Danube and catch a bus there.

13) Three minutes into this trek, I saw that Dead Tram #2 had
been piggybacked to another tram and the backlog of traffic was beginning to move. I waited for my tram at the next stop and boarded it with a light heart.

14) A block away from the
Grey Blue Danube, my tram inexplicably took a right-hand turn rather than continuing on toward the river, and lumbered down a street I had never ventured on before but which I knew was taking me away from the Grey Blue Danube. It would seem that, with all the confusion over dead and living trams, I had hopped on the wrong tram.

15) A
lighting the tram and muttering various imprecations to God, his son, his mother, and all the saints and apostles, I ran like the veritable cheetah that I am not to the Grey Blue Danube to catch my bus. I arrived at work at 12:59.

16) To the best of my knowledge I probably smelled badly.

To be fair, the day improved. Or if not improved, it didn't get any worse. Thursday, September the 25th was capped off with the receipt of an email at 6:45 p.m. indicating that my employer wished to see me at 6:00 p.m. the same day to discuss a "labour dispute" in which we are entangled. Given that he knows my work schedule, a phone call might have been a more effective way of making contact with me - but then I reminded myself that his incredible lack of foresight only adds to his overall incompetency charm.

But today is another day. The sun has reluctantly made an appearance for the time being, and the temperature has successfully aspired to (the low) double digits. It is a full week until I have to begin my day with the certain knowledge that I'll have to
negotiate the 15-minute walk from the tram station to the office of my most hated least favourite client at the far edge of the city. Those pink bumps are still there but they're itchy now so that must mean they're healing, right? And I must say that it's already 11:00 and I have yet to mutter any imprecations to God, his son, his mother, or any of the saints and apostles. This bodes well! ... although the day is still young.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Little Extras

 id=Bratislava is an à la carte city. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a bit bizarre. And at the very moment when I experienced this culinary epiphany, I stopped and checked myself: perhaps my reaction to Bratislava's à la carte-ism was tempered by Spain's ubiquitous menú del días until I remembered that not once in 12 months did I actually avail myself of one of Spain's ubiquitous menú del días.

Which brings me back to my original conclusion that Bratislava is an à la carte city and that although this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a bit bizarre.

So with this in mind, when first setting foot outside the relative security of your own kitchen you must do so with the certain knowledge that you cannot take anything - anything - for granted. Order a chicken dinner and you'll get a chicken. Hoping for potatoes and possibly even some veg on the side? Did you order them? Had your heart set on dressing for your salad? Did you order it? (And, for that matter, do you know for a fact that you're actually getting a salad?)

We were introduced to the city's à la carte-ism on our first morning in Bratislava when Pán Kocúr took the liberty of ordering two coffees at a fairly run-of-the-mill café. Two coffees which were brought to our table by a cheerless waitress but without the company of any sort of dairy product. We quickly and quite sensitively brought this glaring oversight to the attention of our cheerless waitress who returned shortly with two Barbie-size creamers - along with a separate check for them. Yes, the cream was extra.

This is what I find particularly bizarre about Bratislava's à la carte-ism. Indeed, it's fair to say that it riles me that I have to pay extra for coffee cream. To be fair, sugar - 10 mg. to be precise as it is plainly stated on all of the city's menus - is included in the price of a coffee. Which leads me to believe that dairy-philes like myself are not only targeted but grossly discriminated against by Bratislava's restaurant industry.

But it doesn't stop there. Anything that smacks of being a condiment or even has pretensions of being a condiment costs extra - anywhere from 9 crowns (
.30) on up up upwards. Ketchup, salad dressing, mustard, honey for your tea, sour cream for your potato pancakes - everything is extra. The price for a sachet of tartar sauce for your fish costs more than a bus ride across town. So if it's a sauce or you can squeeze it, you pay for it. Hot sauces cost more than cold sauces. If someone here figures out how to microwave ketchup packages, his or her place in heaven will be assured.

And where will it stop? And what will be next? - salt? pepper? ice cubes? I mean, this is Bratislava: if you have to pay the equivalent of
1 for a dollop of sour cream for your potato pancakes, then clearly nothing is sacred.

Monday, September 15, 2008

No Shirt, No Service

 id=See the driver of this vehicle? You don't? - that's because he's behind the glass door. And if you have exceptionally good vision - which I don't - you just might be able to see the little graphic sign which can best be interpreted as "do not speak to the driver" to the left of the door. Of course, I can't see it - because my vision is pretty crappy - but, then again, I've stood directly in front of it and still couldn't see it.

Bus, electric bus and tram drivers in Bratislava are sequestered from the public. Why? I wondered. It seems that since operators don't handle money - for yet another sign reads "the bus does not sell the ticket" (sic) - perhaps there is no need. Of course, this is in marked contrast to the drivers in Spain with whom bus patrons often engage in loud & lively conversations from the back of the bus. I can't help but think that theirs is a lonely existence.

It is also possible that drivers are locked away from the public because of their manner of dress. Or perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part. It seems that here, drivers neither wear uniforms nor subscribe to any sort of dress code.

In Bratislava, every day is Casual Friday.

Although I confess that I found the lack of uniform a bit odd, my jaw pretty much hit the pavement when I saw my first (of many) driver - a veritable Ralph Kramden - with open shirt and a hairy bare belly hanging over the steering wheel or sporting what my mother might call a singlet and what Pán Kocúr would call a wife beater. I'd probably settle for a sleeveless undershirt but call it what you will, it doesn't exactly scream professionalism.
I asked my students about their drivers' lack of uniform and they laughed uproariously and looked at me as if I were mentally feeble - an expression I've long ceased taking personally. As they had never heard of uniformed bus/tram operators before, they suggested that perhaps the reason behind it - although they clearly didn't believe me that such uniformed animals exist in other parts of the world - was lack of funds.

Which brings me to the fact that, as I stated earlier, drivers don't handle cash. Payment for a trip about the city is made either by a monthly pass or by a ticket which passengers buy at an often jammed or out-of-service automatic vending machine situated at each stop. The price for a ticket is based on the length of time one travels - since Bratislava is a ridiculously small city, most people can biff across town on a 10-minute ticket, which runs for the staggering price of 14 crowns (or .45 €;) - the price of a half litre of local draught beer. Thirty minute trips run about .59 €. Once on the bus or tram, the passenger validates his/her ticket in yet another automated machine and the clock starts ticking.

Although technically people are on the honour system, abuses - yes, they do happen - are dealt with by regular and random checks by Transportation Henchmen. Should they catch you, fines are rather steep at 1400 crowns (or 46 ) - the price of 10 half litres of local draught beer.

Having said all of that, my students confessed that - depending on whom I asked - 60-75% of Bratislava's ridership ride for free. One of my students claims to have
been ticketed 3 times in her life. True, she's only 28 years old, but still that's a pretty good record. They are all uniform (no pun intended) that transit prices are too high and no system has ever been devised whereby a transit authority could compel its passengers to pay. I suggested that a fare box or validation machine be posted at the front door and that the back door be closed off altogether. They la id=ughed uproariously and looked at me as if I were mentally feeble - an expression I've long ceased taking personally. Do you know how slow that would be? they screeched. Nobody would put up with it!

With a population of about 400,000, I doubt the lines would be that onerous.

So I guess the corollary to this is, if people actually paid for their fares, then perhaps Dopravný Podnik Bratislava could afford uniforms for their bus drivers. Or at the very least prepare a leaflet which outlined an acceptable dress code for its drivers. Or maybe - just maybe - take care of its vehicles' rampant exposed bits of wire and hydraulics, bits which should probably have some sort of protective covering on them. Or here's a thought: post handy little bus & tram routes at the bus stops - maps can be so helpful. I mean, I'm more or less willing to put up with the graffiti rampant on buses and trams, and I confess that I rather like the fact that the piggy-backed trams are often 40 years apart in age and completely different colours but please - I beg you - put shirts on the drivers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An X-Rated Morning

 id=Unless I have a limb hanging by a sinuous thread or I've coughed up a spongy bit of my lung into a tissue, my shadow seldom (if ever) crosses the threshold of emergency rooms or doctors' offices. I'm just not very big into doctors, so the knowledge that I would have to endure a general physical examination - by a doctor unknown to me - in order to apply for a work visa filled me with, what can best be described as, an all-consuming fear dread.

A fear dread - I might add - which included waiting for my number to appear on an electronic monitor as well as having to lock horns with (and ultimately lose to) all those Asians from the previous day's police line. But I would not be alone in my fear dread - as it was, our American colleague who, the previous day, had rather eruditely informed us that the only difference between an American passport and a Canadian passport is that hers says "United States of America" on the cover would eclipse - perhaps even upstage - me in said fear dread. Some people are so needy.

The exam was a bipartite affair: a fairly cursory physical in a neolithic clinic and a chest x-ray in a paleolithic hospital.

Blood was drawn by a phlebotomist clearly in need of a week on a beach in Croatia or career counselling - a job pinning tails on paper donkeys leaps to mind as a suitable alternative to dealing with the public. Next came a doctor who made no effort to conceal her disdain that none of our group
knew his or her height and weight in centimetres and kilos. After tapping a few internal organs and asking if I were healthy, she turned her undivided attention to feeling about my ankles. This caused me no little concern until I learned that she had done this with everyone. As I can think of no medical reason to conduct so thorough an examination of our ankles, I can only assume that she has a foot fetish of some sort. Fill your boots, I say.

Next came the chest x-ray, which necessitated a quick nip across the street to the aforesaid paleolithic hospital which was described to us in advance by our
Slovak-speaking office gopher as "ugly". Ugly indeed.

We were shepherded through the bowels of a building which could best be characterized as a charnel house hospital most deserving to figure in a George Orwell Meets Franz Kafka novel in which everyone dies a horrible death. And not just because of the emphysemic
old man gasping and dying alone on a gurney in the hallway or the street person who a colleague encountered the following day being assaulted by hospital staff. No, it would have to be the peeling industrial green paint, the neon lights, the inadequate number of benches from whose vinyl seats bits of stuffing and wire had erupted, the ominous looking danger signs and metal doors salvaged from Chernobyl, the colony of dust bunnies copulating in the corners, and the most foul of foul odours. And the dirt. I thought dirt was eradicated from hospitals during the Crimean War.

I honestly thought we were in the morgue but on reflection, I'd hazard a guess and say that the morgue is probably cleaner and brighter. And probably cheerier.

We took our places on
the inadequate number of benches from whose vinyl seats bits of stuffing and wire had erupted, nodded and waved half-heartedly to the Asians who had preceded us, and waited to be processed by a receptionist too young to require a razor. For the next hour or so, many many people came and went and we waited our turn quite patiently. How gratifying that our 8 1/2 hour stint at the police station had not been for nought! - we've finally acquired the gift of patience.

After each patient passed into the x-ray room, the hallway lights would dim and flicker for a moment, and then we heard a sound that an attendant at an execution-by-electric-chair would undoubtedly find familiar if not comforting. It was a tad disturbing. Unconsciously, I began to hum The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.

Finally I was called in and told by the 17-year old receptionist to take my top off. Why ever was he here? Where was the radiologist? Sensing my confusion - although interpreting it incorrectly - he pointed to a changing booth. I looked in. I asked for a johnny-shirt. He matched my incomprehension. I repeated my question, modifying my vocabulary to include gown and robe, and even played a farcical charade which failed to convey the fact that I didn't want to walk
from the changing booth across this rather large and open room to the x-ray machine - exposed to Doogie Howser (M.D.). But to no avail.

Like Botticelli's Venus-rising-from-a-clam-shell, I demurely covered my Double D's to the best of my ability and scampered over to the x-ray machine. As luck would have it, Doogie would be the one to x-ray my chest - and so adept was he at x-raying women that he courteously positioned and repositioned the 'girls' for every shot. He must have a blast on Mammogram Tuesday. I don't know what bothered me the most: the fact that the receptionist was doing double-duty as a radiologist, or that the
radiologist was doing double-duty as the receptionist.

No, it was probably the groping.

Of course the pièce de résistance was realizing that the door at the back of the changing booth communicated with the hallway of waiting patients and that, not only was the door not locked nor equipped with one, it had been slightly ajar the entire time. Had I known this, I could have opened it up and given the
emphysemic old man gasping and dying alone on a gurney in the hallway a send-off he'd never forget.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Red Tape Slovakian Style

 id=To loosely paraphrase Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Into each life, a little Red Tape must twist round your ankles - and I get that, I really do. The looping coils of Red Tape that Pán Kocúr and I feebly struggled against in Morocco seemed leviathan at the time, and I'm equally confident that its Spanish counterpart is an equally formidable opponent as well - which made our decision to work illegally in Spain an easy one to make.

Hubris! thundered Zeus of the Thunderbolt. Welcome to Slovakia.

First let me say that until fairly recently, foreigners in
Bratislava were serviced in the city's ubiquitous sex shops various police stations dotted across the city. But in a decision we're trying to take personally, it was determined that one central office with a fraction of the staff would better serve the increasing numbers of foreigners entering and staying in Bratislava.

Tee-off time was set for a bracing 6:30 a.m., so off we went
to the police station with a colleague - who would later rather eruditely inform us that the only difference between an American passport and a Canadian passport is that hers says "United States of America" on the cover - and a Slovak-speaking office gopher who assured us we'd be finished by noon.

By the time we arrived, there was already a prodigious line-up - or rather rabble - of individuals milling about the police station door - a door which would remain closed until 7:30 while the police
wisely smoked and drank coffee behind the building. Among the prodigious line-up - or rather rabble - of individuals milling about were a handful of Eastern and Central Europeans, a smattering of North Americans, and enough Asians to form a break-away state from the People's Republic (assuming they wouldn't be shot during the formation of that break-away state).

At 7:30, the door was opened and all pretense of order evaporated as the
prodigious line-up - or rather rabble - of individuals milling devolved into a mob and stormed the Bastille with pitchforks in hand in a heated effort to get an automated number first. The police, alas, did nothing to instill a sense of Queue Respect among the rabble; clearly, they saw no point in getting involved. It was interesting to note that our Slovakian counterparts didn't seem terribly partial to those few dozen Asians who, I must admit, were the first to breach the inner sanctum of the police station and I soon learned why. While Pán Kocúr and I each took one number, our counterparts from the East grabbed handfuls of numbers which would later be passed to friends and family members. Additionally, Immigration Hopefuls were divided into 2 groups: sheeps members of the EU and goats those from places of no consequence, and we had separate numbering systems. Then there are those professional immigration facilitators who have carte blanche and can sashay through the Magic Door at will. And then gum up the system for 45 minutes. Or those Immigration Hopefuls who have connections - one phone call and poof! there's no line-up. As we were told by a woman waiting in line behind us, just because there are 50 people in front of you doesn't mean that you'll be number 51. That comment seemed inscrutably profound at 7:30 in the morning, and I confess that it took me several hours to deduce its full import.

We were numbers 77 & 78.

It didn't take us long to realize that the 6 chairs in the waiting room would hardly accommodate the 200 or so of us ticket-holding Immigration Hopefuls so we repaired outside to sit on the pavement. We clutched our numbers and waited. Time moved by slowly - and by slowly, I mean slower than I thought the laws of physics would allow. It turned out that only one immigration officer was working.

As the morning passed, more and more Asians appeared out of nowhere and, with tickets in hand, disappeared through the Magic Door behind which the one immigration officer was working. Our eyes shot death rays at the tiny Asian woman in minuscule white short shorts and high heels, holding a vinyl Hello Kitty book bag, who was facilitating the continual flow of her co-patriots into through the Magic Door into the back office. By 11:55, we had reached number 49. By 12:00, the police station closed for lunch.

Aren't lunches staggered or is it because only one person is working today? I asked our
Slovak-speaking office gopher. No, she responded. They always close for lunch.

At 1:00 the doors of the police station opened and more and more Asians appeared out of nowhere and, with tickets in hand, disappeared through the Magic Door behind which the one immigration officer was working. Our eyes shot death rays at the tiny Asian woman in minuscule white short shorts and high heels, holding a vinyl Hello Kitty book bag, who was facilitating the continual flow of her co-patriots into the back office. A shift from a local Chinese restaurant - whose red & black uniforms smelled suspiciously like kung pao chicken - arrived around 2:00 with numbers lower than ours. By 3:00, we were in the 70's. Huzzah! We might actually get served today! Tick tick tick ... we watched the electronic monitor with baited breath.

And then - ping! - 77.

The four of us - who couldn't help but notice that we were among the last ones in the waiting room - passed through the Magic Door to the back office. Passports and documents were handed over to a rather Frazzled-Looking Woman and we waited. Three minutes later, we were dismissed. It was over. It was now 3:55 in the afternoon and we just had spent the last 8 1/2 hours in line or sitting on the ground outside.

since been told that our little group set a record for the police station. It's nice to know that, in spite of the fact that we've only been in Bratislava for 4 days, we've already left our mark. I can't wait for our obligatory physical examinations tomorrow. Apparently we have to wait in line for those too. I wonder if we'll have to take numbers? - and more importantly, will our Asian friends be there as well?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Post the First: Slovakia is not Spain

 id=Slovakia is not Spain - and not that it should be - except it would appear that some similar culinary delights await Pán Kocúr (Mr. Cat) and me. I must confess that we were worried that we had seen the last of Spain's bulls' tails and what generally dangles beneath them, but it appears that this is just not so. Now we can sleep - we do love our glands so.

Today marks our 3rd full day in Bratislava and I am sorry to say that we have yet to master the language in any cursory meaningful way. Frankly, I am daunted by a language that does not seem to employ vowels of any kind - I am beginning to look back on Arabic wistfully which should put our linguistic situation in perspective for those of you who know our inability history mastering non-Romance languages.

The good news is that although
Slovakia is not Spain - and not that it should be - some annoying little Spain-isms are understandably and blessedly absent. By way of illustration, let me point out that Pán K and I actually saw people eating in a restaurant yesterday at 5:00 in the afternoon and being served. At 5:00! And being served dinner and not lunch. This bodes well considering that we never could acclimatize our stomachs to 10:00 suppers.

I would add that restaurant service at first-second-and-third glance appears to be light years ahead of that in Spain. Clearly we have grown unaccustomed to being served promptly, being asked how everything is, and not having to wait until the Second Coming of Christ for our bill. Our first dining experience saw
Pán K and I giggling like the mentally feeble individuals we are the first time a waitress removed from the table the empty plates we had just licked cleaned.

I am, however, holding judgment on the sangria served in the city's many tapas bars. Slovakian sangria! - I don't think so.