Saturday, 8 September 2012

Remembering the fallen, and the tale of an EPL star.

So I’m starting this blog a little later than planned. I hoped to be able to right up the past couple of days last night, but I was far too tired after coming back from Zilina, and headed straight for bed. Also, I stupidly forgot that my netbook doesn’t have a memory card slot, so I won’t be able to add pictures to the blog, which sucks. Might go have a look round to see if I can get a usb card reader in the Tesco not too far from my hostel.

Bratislava isn’t the most welcoming of cities it has to be said. Standing in a bus shelter that reeks of piss, getting accosted by Roma trying to sell the Slovakian version of the Big Issue, and seeing a rat almost as big as a cat scurry past my feet while waiting for the bus from the train station to the hostel. Still, I wouldn’t change any of how the last couple of days have gone.

Outside the Trencin
ice rink
There’s not much to say about the 6th, as after a few mishaps such as waiting at the wrong bus stop at the airport, I finally made it to the hostel at around 23:30, where I made small talk with a couple of Austrians and had a first taste of Zlatý Bažant in a long while. It sure goes down easy. There’s not much to say about my hostel really, apart from the fact that the mixture of different people here is ridiculous. You have dreadlocked dudes who have been on the road for nearly a year, as well as middle aged couples sharing space.

After a rotten night’s sleep, in part due to the being right next to the window where the trams start at 5am, I managed to get out at around 7 and make it to Bratislava Hlavna Stanica, where I headed out east, going an hour down the mainline to the city of Trencin. The main reason of my visit was to head down to the ice rink, recently renamed after the cities adopted hero, Pavol Demitra, who perished in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy a year ago yesterday. It was a shame that when I got to the rink, at around 11am, there were very few people outside, but I lit a candle in front of an old game used stick by Demitra which acts as a shrine to his memory. Demitra wasn’t born in Trencin, but he played for the team many a time, and his birthplace was only 20km down the road in Dubnica nad Vahom.

I trudged back towards the centre of Trencin, a city I hadn’t visited before, and was relatively impressed with what I saw. There’s a castle carved into the cliffside which is very similar to the one at Lake Bled, and it’s the only thing which rivals the gaudy floodlights from the football teams stadium in terms of height. After walking up and down the main square and winding through the narrow cobblestone streets, I decided to walk up to the castle, which was short but extremely steep. I followed the tour around for a bit, but it was mainly weapons on show, although the view from the balcony at the top of the tower was marvellous. Hills on one side, new apartment blocks on another, and then you could see the river and the old town from the other two.

It was about 1pm by the time I headed down from the castle, after stopping to read in the sun for a brief period. I went down into town, desperately finding a place which would serve strapacky. In the end I made do with a chicken in a spicy sauce, which surprisingly the Czechs and Slovaks seem to do quite well. That and a beer (Pilsner-Urquell, even) for €3.20? Can’t say fairer than that.

Trencin: Understated yet underrated.
Back to the train station and onto another of the mainline trains, as I headed another hour up the line to the provincial city of Zilina, famous for… well, not a lot. The train ride was painfully slow, as the train seems to go at 20mph for a large part of it, although it did skirt the vast Vah River, which was shimmering in all its glory in the afternoon sun. It was the first time I’d stopped in Zilina, and if I’m honest, I don’t think I’ll be going back again, although I didn’t give it much of a chance. Via the main square I made it to the hockey arena, located at the back of the train station, and went into the sports bar to have a pre-game pivo. There was barely anyone around at around half four, and when I asked at the counter if there was a game on today, she just told me to go through the door. To my surprise, after paying £16 for a Blaze pre-season game, the club were just letting people in for free. I had all the seats in the world to choose from, although none of them were comfortable. Their method of putting seats in is just bolting boards of plastic onto concrete banks. No wonder people were bringing their own cushions to the game. Also, the rink was playing ‘Call me Maybe’ in the warm-up. Simply wrong on all levels.

EPL fans, WARNING. Be prepared for a large amount of praise directed at former Guildford Flames netminder, Miroslav Hala. The veteran shot-stopper was starting for Dukla Trencin last night, and I must say did mightily well. Far better than Marek Laco in the Zilina net that’s for sure. As I sat shivering in my seat, after being accustomed to the twenty-five degree temperatures outside, the game finally got underway, with barely a couple of hundred people in the stands. Although, that’s understandable considering they started the game at 5pm on a Friday. I was still amused by the brilliant Czechoslovak tradition of rock, paper, scissors to see who has to carry the puck bag back. Trencin had a good fourteen players competing this time round.

Trencin took a very competitive game 2:1
Zilina got the game off to a good start, but it only took 90 seconds for Trencin to take the lead, which was unfortunate as none of their fans had arrived yet! Ondrej Mikula wired one from the left circle which beat Laco all ends up. The Trencin fans, due to delayed trains, only showed up in the final minute of the first period, although they did bring a drum and people to sing. They were also carrying roses, which left me slightly bemused at first, but all made sense in the 38th minute, as the referee blew a stop to the game and the Dukla fans all threw their roses onto the ice. The players all stopped as well, and joined the fans in a minutes applause for the man better known as Pal’o. It truly was great seeing the Dukla and Zilina fans come together to sing and remember arguably the best Slovak player since the split in 1993.

Jon Rowson’s white glove watch: This is going to be a common theme of this blog.  Only the finest ice hockey players wear white gloves, with the finest being former Nottingham Panthers and Newcastle Vipers forward Marek Ivan. The winner from this game was an as yet unnamed #71 for Zilina. Unfortunately it wasn’t his night, as he was held off the scoresheet and took a slapshot to the nether regions. As a result, he can only receive 4 Marek Ivan’s out of 10.

The game came to life a bit in the third period, as Zilina finally beat Hala. The former Flames goalie had been in fine form, making a number of great desperation saves. He also tried the Dominik Hasek move when Miro Lazo had a breakaway. Hala got called for tripping, but it was a vital intervention. The goal came from Zilina captain Igor Rufus, who blasted one from the point. However, it wasn’t to be Zilina’s night, as Dukla would get the winner with three minutes to go. Peter Sisovsky did remarkably well as he burst with speed across the front of goal. He was hauled down, but managed to get a shot away while on his knees which trickled in. He turned to celebrate but forgot that momentum existed, and then faceplanted into the boards, leaving him looking very red faced as he skated back to the bench. There was a post-game shootout which was a bit of a non-event, but all in all it was a very enjoyable game. The Extraliga has gone down in quality over recent years, but it was clear that there is still some skill and some depth to the league.

Quick notes from the game:

  • When chanted, Dukla sounds an awful lot like kurva.
  • There are some strange, strange people at Slovakian hockey rinks.
  • Bringing a white fluffy dog in a handbag to a hockey game is simply wrong. Although it did start barking manically when the Dukla fans showed up.
  • Just whatever happened to Miro Lazo? I can remember the days when he was simply unplayable in a Slovan jersey. He was awful out there.
  • Miro Hala still has the same dirty white pads that he had when he was over here.

So with the first game in the books, it was back to the train station, with a stop off at Lidl to buy blackcurrant juice and biscuits before a 45 minute wait for the last train back to Bratislava. Two hours later, and I’m at the piss stenched bus stop just desperate for bed.
Thank goodness I was knackered, as it meant that I caught up from all the sleep I missed last night.

It’s a second free game in a row tonight, as I’m headed to the Slovnaft Arena for Slovan Bratislava vs Dinamo Riga. This time instead of sitting on plastic, I’ll be in the VIP area. Can’t complain can I?

That’s all for now, dovidenia.

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