Before you read the story, I request you to please read it till the end. Please do not leave it in between finding a negative tone against Slovaks, or the Eastern Europe at large… because that was never the intention, and just cannot be!
While planning my 2-month backpacking trip across 8 countries in Europe, and before I arrived in Bratislava, the capital town of the east-European country of Slovakia, a few people warned me about having my wits about the place. “You be careful walking along those streets; eastern Europe can be surprising,” they claimed.
But I never cared much for their unsolicited advice. I mean for a person who had spent most of his life learning the art of self-defense, inside the crazy boundaries of a city like New Delhi, eastern Europe should be no problem, right?
“I’ve seen worse,” I would carefully assure myself. To sometimes even brag about it a little, and sound more experienced, I would utter an experience or two from my solo backpacking trip in Southeast Asia, and Cambodia in particular – a country only suitable for those who are cautious enough and are street-smart, a country we often refer to as The Wild West. Yet it only turned out to be a place , at least for me, as I waked along its many streets, a hundred times, with a camera in one hand, and a mobile phone in the other, where I can feel just as relieved, and assuring, as I should be, in any other part of the world.
Bratislava As A Town
Despite its favorable geographic location, and the fact that it’s the capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava turned out to be like any other capital city I’ve seen in my life. It was quiet, peaceful, and amazingly romantic, with a surprising laid-back vibe (at least during the Eastern holiday when I was there).
The last time I remember I totally adored a capital city for having such peaceful life, I was some 8 thousand kilometres away, and a couple of years back in life, in the small Buddhist town of Thimpu, the capital city of Bhutan. Though I’d still not want to make any contrasts, or comparisons between the blissful Thimpu and the much disfigured Bratislava, I think any comparison between Bratislava and the other prominent towns in Europe – particularly with the neighboring Vienna and Budapest – would make me want to think about Thimpu, and Thimpu only (or something equally peaceful).
So yea, Bratislava was alluring. And that’s how it felt, at least the first three nights, as I arrived in the town for a blogging assignment hosted by Bratislava Tourist Board.
I got to stay at one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in my life ever (Mercure Bratislava Centrum Hotel), with great activities lined up, and free travel around the city using the Bratislava Card. Things were going just as smooth and as enjoyable as they should be, and have always been. And then the night of 17th April happened!
It all happened on the night of April the 17th, as I was on the way to my hotel, after capturing the dramatic nightlights of the city, from the top of Bratislava Caste, something that made the city look even more beautiful than I expected – as I met three people claiming to be Slovaks in a city tram (two guys and a girl).
Two of the three people I fortunately got a picture of, in my mobile phone
A friendly conversation among us and their fond interest to know more about India, as soon as I told them I am from India (despite none of them being able to understand/speak fluent English) built a sudden assurance in me that they’re people like any other. People who would want to know more about other cultures, and just have a conversation. Hence, we spoke!
As I reached the last station, and I got off at the train station at Bratislava hlavná stanica to walk back to my hotel, they asked if I would be interested to have a drink at one of the bars in the station, the station was full of people, and so was the bar they picked. There should be no problem at such a place, but I did not know what was coming. I did not know that one of them will flee away with my camera, as the other two try to engage me in a conversation.
Now as I try to stop the other two, and request a few dozen people at the station to “call the police” no one came forward and tried to ask for what the matter was. I am sure if none of them even understood English, they, at least, understood the word “Police” and a confusing look on my face must have been only explaining the matter a little more.
Seeing me going crazy, all of a sudden the guy and the girl try to be threatening now, and making it to a run, but not before my Indian instincts kicked-in, and I quickly captured their faces in my mobile phone to have a proof of who did this to me. I think they were either too new at robbing, or high on drugs, as they did not realise what these pictures can do to them. What if I go to police and file a complaint against them, and release their photos at many places as I can.
A Screenshot of the police report I filed at Bratislava hlavná stanica police station
Say No To Generalizations
What happened to me was indeed sad. But what happened right after was sadder.
As I posted about the incident on my Facebook Page, the next morning, some people felt sorry for me, while others asked me to be more careful in future. One or two comments even ended up making generalizations about Slovakia, or the Eastern Europe at large. They would say that eastern Europe can be risky and compare it with the better (at least economically) part of Europe that lies in its West.
No, I do not want this happen, especially not when I keep hearing a similar story in my country India, every now and then, yet I know how amazing India can be. Every country has a few bad apples and basis on them we can’t generalize a country, or societies at large! After all, these bad apples should not exist, right? At least not in our head.
The Bright Side
Some time ago, after I started penning down this story, I happened to get a message on my Facebook Page, from someone from Slovakia, showing their greatest sympathies, asking me if I ever come back to the country, they have a place for me to stay, as they are eager to show me the better version of it. They even said they want to donate some money and help me buy a new camera.
I can already see which direction this entire thing is going to… towards a better world. And to make it happen, I hereby share my Paypal Account ID for those who want to donate some money and help me buy a new camera. (Yes, I am smiling as I write this)
But with that said, I also claim that if I end up raising a little bit too much (more than the equivalent of what my camera and the lens costed) I’ll donate the money to homeless people, while making/sharing a video of it, and taking this entire thing to a different level.
For now I conclude, by mentioning this…
You can click the following links to donate the money. The number at the end denotes the amount in USD or EUR depending upon which country you are in, (‘5′ or ’10’, for example, in the following two links mean 5 or 10 bucks).
More on the story will follow, as I explore more developments… 🙂
April 21: A couple of messages from people, and a couple more reasons to smile…
I never expected this entire incident take a direction that it did. So far, I’ve covered almost half the cost the camera I’d originally lost, with donations from Paypal.
April 22: I am officially requesting people not to send more donations, as I’ve pretty much got the money I wanted to buy a similar camera, plus someone from Bratislava (a guy named Peter) has given me his Nikon D200 which I can use throughout the tour.
After this incident took place, I personally felt that Slovakian people have come out as a force, not wanting to have crime walking freely on their streets, and it was totally amazing to witness. I appreciate how Slovakian media, even if it was a pretty insignificant incident, did not take the matter lightly, and did everything they could to help me (a tourist) feel as safer and assured in their country as he should in any other part of the world.