Monday, October 10, 2011

First Week in Slovakia - Jet Lag and Bureaucracy!

We've been in Slovakia for a week now, and we've already had an array of experiences, both bleakly urban and quaintly rural. When we got to Bratislava on 10/3, it was warm and sunny, and easily about 80 degrees during the afternoon, with signs of early Autumn all around us. A week later, it's 40 degrees out, intermittently raining, and the news keeps going on about snow in the mountain regions. So, Fall lasted about all of a week?!

At any rate, we spent our first few full days in Bratislava trying to get the ball rolling as far as my visa (as well as adding me to Terezia's bank account, getting a cell phone, etc.), which involves jumping through a slew of various bureaucratic hoops. The problem is that the information on the websites about what we need to do and where to go to do is both inadequate and inaccurate! I won't bore you with all of the details, but we spent Tuesday and Wednesday running around to various offices and not getting a whole lot done because of this. Oh, and one extremely useful bit of info we learned is that many government offices are apparently closed to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Why? Well, the excuse is that these are designated as "office days" when the staff deals with all of the paperwork they accumulate (apparently the concept of hiring temps to do that is completely alien to them), and that meant Tuesday was a bit less productive than we had wanted it to be.

The bureaucratic path has led us to some really bleak places in Bratislava, situated well outside the historical center, or centrum. Bratislava's historical center, Stare Mesto, is incredibly striking,


filled with ornate Hapsburg-era architecture, lining narrow, winding, pedestrianized streets. But the large districts outside the Old Town are generally bleak, Communist-era landscapes littered with brutalist panelaks, depressing, dingy Communist structures, and vacant lots. On Wednesday we went from a filthy, run-down police station (which was *not* the "Foreign Police" station that we needed to go to start the visa process, even though one out-of-date website erroneously state that it was), to these twin red/orange panelaks, one of which houses the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The landscape in between, including a completely run-down, weed-strewn and graffiti-encrusted outdoor sports stadium, was unbelievably grim.

Enriching the whole experience was how at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, you aren't allowed to just go up to whichever office to see whomever you need to deal with. You have to get a telephone extension from a guy in a police uniform at the reception desk, and then call the office on a dirty little phone in the lobby. The person on the other end will only invite you up to the office if you absolutely must deal with something in person, otherwise, you just have to talk to the person on the phone. Of course, it doesn't mention this on the website, which *could* just instruct you to call these people from the comfort of your home, but that would be too logical!!!

But it hasn't been all bureaucracy and red tape. We did get the chance to stroll through the lovely Stare Mesto both afternoons, in what was amazingly perfect, sunny (albeit short-lived!) weather.

You can see more photos from this week here.

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