|Steps leading to Bratislava's St. Nicholas church.|
But people in Slovakia apparently have a different mindset, i.e., it seems like they pay attention to their surroundings. And if they do suffer the occasional tumble, they are more likely to grumble, "goddamn cheap city, why can't they fix this sidewalk," than conceive of taking anyone to court over it, and they would most likely just get up and get on with their lives.
(Once again, Marek Bennett has a cartoon that illustrates all of this wonderfully).
|Small paving stones on Hviezdoslavovo namestie; back in April, one of these little stones got lodged into some tram tracks and caused a tram to derail (nobody was injured).|
Part of this problem stems from the fact that Bratislava simply doesn't seem to have enough money to run around and make everything idiot-proof. Of course, a lot of the money that could go towards maintaining the city's pockmarked roads and walkways is probably ending up in someone's pockets. But the city is lucky that people here don't seem to be so litigious. In America, people are so lawsuit crazy that cities have to be obsessive about making sure any cracks or holes in the sidewalk are patched, all public stairways have some kind of traction on the steps and hand railings to prevent slipping, edges of train platforms are brightly colored and well marked, as are protruding beams and random sudden steps. Even children's playgrounds, once typically lined with a layer of tanbark, now all seem to have thick rubber or cork padding on the ground to cushion the falls of kids from jungle gyms. Cities in the litigious US have to go to these lengths in order to cover their asses.
|I nearly ate it once when absentmindedly stepping into one of these while gazing up at the glorious facades along Michalska ulica.|
|Sometimes these loose cobblestones make a fun suction-y sound when stepped upon after a good rain.|
Most of these little urban hazards aren't going to kill anyone, however, they do occasionally cross the line to where there is potential for tragedy. On a nasty, stormy February afternoon, Terezia and I were on a tram when we witnessed a powerful gust of wind knock down the entire aluminum frame of this billboard. It came within inches of hitting an elderly lady who just happened to be walking by when it fell. Had she been a foot to her right, she could have been killed or severely injured. Of course, when we told Slovak friends and family about this, they all agreed it was terrible, but followed that up with a sentiment along the lines of "but yeah, that's Slovakia for you."
Need to cross the street but happen to be confined to a wheelchair? Well screw you, Bub!
I'm constantly amazed at how unaccommodating Slovakia (hell, pretty much all of Europe) is with regard to the disabled. Sidewalks at intersections with no curb ramps are ubiquitous in Bratislava! To be sure, there are a good number of sidewalks that do have wheelchair accessible curb ramps, but there are just as many that do not, and there's no rhyme or reason as to why some do and others don't. This issue is not exclusive to Slovakia - it's rampant all over Europe. Wheelchair accessibility is really another can of worms, however, so I won't dwell on it, but it's safe to say that it would be pretty much impossible for people in wheelchairs to live self-sufficient, independent lives in most European cities. (On the flip side, I doubt most European cities could ever afford to make everything wheelchair friendly, especially in today's economic climate). (And hell, if you're disabled, don't even think about trying to get on a bus or tram, or in most public buildings for that matter!).
Of course I wouldn't want to give the impression that all of Bratislava is a torn up minefield, and I'm sure you could find much worse in Ukraine or Russia. It's just that after spending a little time here, you start to notice these things and compare/contrast them with other places. Also, I suppose I should commend many of Bratislava's women, who manage to effortlessly navigate these uneven streets in high stiletto heels. Plus, I adore those perilously ankle-twisting cobblestoned streets like Kapitulska, and I hope that they always remain that way.
|I love how there's nothing atop this thigh-high wall to keep clumsy or drunk pedestrians from falling over onto the freeway directly below.|
|Oh, but wait - it gets better! Turn around 180 degrees from the spot in the above photo, and that thigh-high wall turns into this!|
|I've seen a few people narrowly avoid stepping/stumbling into this sudden 12" drop when ambling along. In America this would likely have a hefty iron railing around it.|
(Psst! Check out recent photos from Budapest here, and photos of Bratislava here).