Slovak Train Ride: a peak beyond the tourist brochure

Train in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Last weekend, my husband was so kind as to take the kids out on Saturday so that I could work on the ebook of Slovak soups and stews. Sunday morning I went to join them via the train, which I don’t use that often.

Taking the train is much more comfortable than taking the bus. As I rode on the train, it struck me how much the two different trains I rode reflect recent changes in Slovakia. 

To be honest, I kind of like the old trains. They have character. Travelling in them with kids brings up anxiety (Pleeease, don’t touch anything! Don’t put anything in your mouth…too late). My husband thinks I’m crazy – the more Slovakia catches up with the times the better, think most Slovaks. They continually compare themselves to Austria, a neighbour that while close in proximity was far away beyond the Iron Curtain. When will all the trains (roads, buildings, etc) in Slovakia equal those in Austria, they question?

Train in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

The old wagons that they still use are the nicer ones. The gross ones had a few more layers of grime.

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

I kept taking pictures with my phone, which I’m sure annoyed this young lady. “One of those people who can’t leave their phone alone!” she probably thought. Not many Slovaks think that there is anything of interest in an old train. And how could I resist that rim of light on her face?

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

A Slovak might say that I am showing the worst of Slovakia. It’s true, it’s not pretty. As more people have cars and less people use public transport, these train stations are now just a waiting room. If you get on the train at a small station with no seller, you just buy the ticket on the train.

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Sorry the photo is blurry – I was trying to be discreet with my phone. The ticket man selling tickets and checking discount cards. Students and seniors, with a free card, can get a 100% discount on the state run trains. Never mind the general economics of such a policy, but it makes pretty cheap travel even cheaper. For about 30 minutes of travel, I paid 1.50 euro.

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Trains here run on electricity, which this middle of nowhere Canadian gal didn’t even know was a thing before Europe.

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

These doors are very heavy and have to be manually opened. I have had a few frights where I only opened the door just in time, as they can get stuck. My friend did get caught the other day, and had to get off at the next station late at night. We didn’t own a car until our oldest was a bit more than a year and a half old. If I had her in a stroller, I always prayed there would be someone to help me get the stroller onto the train. Never mind getting the stroller up flights of stairs to the platform at many stations.

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Graffiti on trains is a universal trait, I think.

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Same train, no graffiti. I just liked the lines in the photo. Here I switched trains…

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Electricity outlets – how convenient!

Train ride in Slovakia - Almost Bananas blog

Real time map, scroll stating the next station, and sometimes a voice saying “The next stop is…Trnava.” The first time I was on a train like this I laughed. This would have saved me so much worry 12 years ago!

When I used to travel on the train, it was often evening and therefore dark. We were newly living in a town and I didn’t do the ride that often. The old stations are often not lit up at night, and so the sign with the town name is invisible. I would count on my fingers, “1st stop…2nd stop…3rd or did we already do 3? Is it 4? What station am I at???”

After I got off the last train, however, I noticed that my scarf had slipped off without me noticing. It was a special scarf, given to me by my father. A lovely Japanese silk scarf dyed with the Japanese art of shibori, one type of which leaves puckered white bumps. It was beautiful, unique and special to me. I was trying to practice detachment from material things, but without much luck.

Usually, if you lose something in Slovakia it’s gone. I thought I would just try and see if there was a lost and found. The customer service I called was also a refection of Slovakia’s changing ways. The first number I called, the woman was grumpy and short. She needs a few lessons on customer service. But she gave me another number to call, and the man who answered was perfect. To him, it was just a scarf, yet he called me back to let me know that he had called the conductor who had been on the train but he had already left, the train was sitting locked and that he would call the next conductor when he went on duty. The scarf was not found, unfortunately, but I was very impressed with the improvement of customer service (not always the strongest point in Slovakia).

I’m still working on the ebook of Slovak soups and stews – unfortunately it won’t be ready by Monday as I wished, but I will let you know when it is done – which will be soon!