There are times when I’m just going about living my life, and pop! a distant memory comes to me and makes me smile.  It plays out in my head as if I am re-living it, and there I stand on the subway, smiling to myself like an idiot [but this is NYC and it doesn’t matter, b/c….well, it’s NYC]

I was in Slovakia.  Bratislava, to be exact. This was approximately day 14 of a 18 day backpacking journey that had taken me to France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and soon to be Hungary.

Bratislava was placed in our itinerary simply because we were going from Prague to Budapest and it was halfway between the two – so we decided to spend a day there.  As the train pulled into the country, I couldn’t help but notice (and remember) the amount of litter and garbage that was along the train tracks and embankment. There will always be some sort of discarded items along the trainway, but I had never seen litter to this degree.  It was everywhere, it was almost as present as the grass on which it sat. I could immediately tell this was a poor country.  Maybe it was the garbage, or perhaps it was the homes that we passed by so quickly.

Once we reached the city, we disembarked the train and caught a cab to our hotel (yes, hotel – b/c in a poor country like Slovakia, we could actually afford a hotel instead of a hostel!)

My friend Jess and I wandered around this beautiful, old, small city for the day, seeing the few sights that it had to offer.  It was one of those perfect days, sunny, blue sky, 72 degrees.  The city wasn’t crowded, and the empty, narrow cobblestone streets made the city feel like it was mine for the day.

Jess and I found the city center and stopped by small shop to buy some Slovakian gelato.  We parked ourselves on a bench in the sun and watched the US marines patrol the US embassy across the square.  An older, somewhat creepy gentleman came over and started talking to us. I don’t remember feeling in danger (perhaps the presence of the Marine Corp had something to do with it) but we were certainly bemused as to why he kept talking to us in his broken English. 

Out of nowhere, a fairly attractive Slovkian young 20-something came over and sat right next to me, the left side of his body, touch my right. He started calmly talking to the older man, and while I couldn’t understand a single word either of them said, I got the impression that the young man was basically telling him to leave us alone.  The older man looked a little baffled and suprised to have been interuppted and debated for a second on whether to stay or to go.  After a moment of consideration, he simply walked away.

Jess and I, not really sure what the hell is going on, watch him walk away. I wanted to thank the young man, tell him I appreciated him looking out for us – but I didn’t have a chance. After the old man left, he too, got up and walked away.

I remember the warmth of the sun, the warmth of that park bench, and the warmth of the Slovakian body next to mine, protecting me in a way I never asked for or expected.  the memory of that boy, observing a situation, knowing we were foreign and coming over to ‘save’ us, brings a smile to my face.  I know the cliche saying, chivalry is dead – but on that day, on a warm, sunny, perfect April day in Bratislava – it wasn’t.