Weekend in Bratislava
I'd tried to come to Bratislava before. In January 2007, I had a trip booked, but then there were catastrophic delays in the Stansted Express and I missed the flight. So I felt like this was unfinished business, and I was in a good mood as we landed at Bratislava airport.
I got into town late. I went for a walk, and the city was quiet. I found my way down to the banks of the Danube, by the UFO bridge. A freight boat glided by in the darkness.
In the morning it was raining. I walked into town and sat in a cafe for a while, enjoying a spectacularly large espresso. The server must have been very new and didn't know what espresso was supposed to look like. "It's really small", she said in confusion after the machine had finished brewing. "I'll top it up a bit". She topped it up four times before I got a whole mug full of espresso.
When the rain began to ease off, I went up to the castle to see what the views were like. From the castle, there were nice views of the old town, and beyond that, a terrifying expanse of concrete blocks, stretching away into the distance. Built in the communist era, the blocks looked the very epitome of housing in an authoritarian state.
I'd seen a monument on a hill a little way from the city centre, and I decided to head up there to have a look.
The more I travel in Europe, the more I realise how devastating the Second World War was. The scale of it is just unbelievable. Rovaniemi at the edge of the Arctic was razed by retreating Germans at the end of the war; outside Riga, 100,000 people died; at Babin Yar, the Jews of Kiev were murdered in one of the biggest single massacres of the Holocaust. Warsaw, Belgrade and Berlin were reduced to rubble. And here was another memorial to some of the millions of people who died.
And yet not even a human lifetime later, one-time enemies were united in the European Union. Slovakia was shortly to adopt the Euro. I think that's pretty incredible.