After a second breakfast of ham and eggs we left the hotel and took the short walk to the railway station for an early train to Austria. It was a lovely crisp autumn morning with another promising blue sky. The city roads were busy but not uncomfortably so and we enjoyed the brisk walk to the trains. In the station concourse there was a flurry of street cleaning activity and an army of men sweeping up the fallen leaves. This looked to be a hopeless task because the deciduous trees all around looked just about ready to shed their next load and deposit them in a multi-coloured carpet as soon as the lightest of breeze passed by.
Purchasing the tickets was straight forward and at only €6 was a real bargain, there was some confusing and contradictory information about the platforms but we found the right train without any difficulty and settled down for the one hour journey to travel the sixty kilometres to the Austrian capital. I stress Austrian because today we were visiting another country and this involved crossing a state boundary with border controls.
What a good idea it would have been therefore to take a passport!
Shortly out of Bratislava two men in military uniforms wandered through the train checking documents. I naturally assumed that they were checking tickets so was surprised when they showed no interest in these whatsoever and demanded travel documents instead. OMG! This simply hadn’t occurred to me, and just when I was thinking ‘we’re all in trouble now’ Micky, Sue and Christine produced their passports and waved them in the air with a self-satisfied smugness, while Kim and I sat there in a state of extreme shock! And I wouldn’t mind but I should have known better because I’ve had a passport cock-up before when I attempted to travel from Paris to Calais on the Eurostar and wasn’t allowed to do so because I wasn’t carrying my documents.
We had to confess that we hadn’t got the necessary paperwork and the policemen asked if we had any alternative forms of identification and Kim optimistically offered photographs of her children, perhaps hoping that a family resemblance might be acceptable to them. This didn’t work of course and the options began to look bleak, at worst a concrete prison cell and some explaining to staff from the British Embassy and a solicitor, at best being dropped off at the next station in the middle of nowhere before the train crossed the border into Austria and having to find our own way back.
According to the official Web Site, the Slovak Police Force is an armed security force that performs duties in the field of maintaining public order and security, and combating crime (including its organised and international forms) and other tasks resulting from Slovakia’s international obligations in the field of policing. These are tough professionals and they deal with organised and serious crime and are the main points of contact with Europol: the Organised Crime Bureau, the Judicial and Criminal Police Bureau and the Border and Aliens Police Bureau.
I was certain that we were going to become a statistic but luckily the men with guns eventually seemed to find our embarrassing situation just as amusing as our traveling companions and on the basis that Micky was able to vouch for us and to confirm that we were neither refugees nor international terrorists they agreed that we could proceed with our journey. They added a chilling warning however as they moved on; ‘Of course we cannot guarantee that the Austrian police will be so understanding on the way back’, which left us weighing up our overnight and return journey options. No problem, we could get a hotel for the night while Micky returned tomorrow with our documents. Then we rather pessimistically remembered that you usually need a passport to book a hotel room! A night on a chilly park bench seemed to be beckoning.
The train travelled sedately through the countryside and rather disappointingly the sky clouded over the further west we went until the sun had completely disappeared behind chalky white clouds. The landscape surprised us all because everyone associates Slovakia and Austria with mountains and although nearly 80% of both countries is classified as mountainous here in the Danube river valley the land was flat and featureless and not unlike the landscape of Lincolnshire that we were so familiar with. And the similarities didn’t stop there because just as back home there were sugar beet factories and vegetable packing plants, fertile arable fields and wind farms, we had hoped to have views over the magnificent Danube but the river was about twelve kilometres to the south of the railway line and out of sight and before our journey was completed we had concluded that we had apparently travelled to Austria to see more of the Lincolnshire Fens!