We discussed a lot of things that night – the different places we had traveled to, our jobs, our lives; K had been a part of an international agency and had some insight into caste system and its issues in India as well as female infanticide. She has never been to India, but wanted to hear more about it. (And if I may say so, explaining India is so difficult!) They told us a bit about the velvet divorce (the separation of Czech and Slovakia), R’s grudge that lonely planet still puts Slovakia after Czech; their pride in making into Euro (before Prague), even though the timing was a bit off with the crisis.
They were very surprised at our English; We were surprised how European middle class families can so easily travel abroad. Then followed weightier topics of religion - both Czech and Slovak are dominantly atheists (after years under the communist influence). We shared some conspiracy theories– though at some point it did cross our minds that the lateness of the hour, and the languidness of mind and body was not ideal for such a heavy topic!
Outside R's gallery in Old Town
We were "Couchsurfing" with K & R and that is how we came to stay with them. In other words, they offered their hospitality and their home for an opportunity to meet different travelers like us. Over coffee, R helped us find our way, pointed out key places. We may not have found the Blue Church or the fantastic pizza place – Pizza Mizza - on our own. Staying in one of the city's neighbourhoods also helped us see a bit of the non-regular Bratislava.
This was my first and was a pretty nice experience with couchsurfing. Obviously, you should definitely feel comfortable about this, but it does seem to be a nice way to meet people and other travelers. If this has piqued your interest, Couchsurfing.com and Hospitality.org are 2 sites that come to mind, that help facilitate this exchange.
Dos & Don'ts
1. Be comfortable with the idea– this to me seems most important. A lot of my friends aren’t. On the other hand, I’ve heard some very positive stories, and that was encouraging. So we decided to give it a go, since it was also 2 of us.
2. Couchsurfing is not just about finding a place to stay. You could use it to meet people for a coffee in a new city or find company for a museum visit, which could be a more comfortable starting point. Many cities have regular CS meets on weekends and that would be a great inclusion to your itinerary. I regret not making it to the Saturday Beer garden meet up in Prague.
3. Be comfortable with your hosts – First thing would be to see if your and the hosts requirements match. Time restrictions (you may not have 24/7 access to the flat), smoking/non smoking, do you have room or just a couch in the living room etc. We spent quite a bit of time exchanging emails with K & R where they sounded very enthusiastic and also helpful and we were so glad they could host us.
4. CS has an option where by a member can choose to be verified for a fee, and so adding authenticity. But not all members get it done for their profile (I am not). Also, members leave references for each other – that could help you know your host a bit better (though I have never seen a negative reference, I have to say!). CS is an open community (anyone can join), so no harm in being careful!
5. And lastly, being sensitive to what the host expects out of you and making sure you have time for that.
Bratislava's blue church