Dear Well-mates:You may be interested in what it takes to exercise in far away places. I wrote this in March 2003. But don’t forget that in the Spring of 2004, Slovakia joined the European Union.Sue______________________________________Today (Sunday) was my day off and I wanted to get away from my analysis of governance of the pension fund system (my current assignment) and the TV war coverage. I had carried my tennis racquet through the airports of Washington, Frankfurt, Moscow, and Vienna. I figured that if the Czechs produced great tennis players, then the Slovaks must also have good tennis facilities.Yesterday I asked the hotel’s front desk about tennis clubs but Igor was only able to find two courts in a huge sports center 18 kms from the center of the city. After a long winter of virtually no tennis in DC, I was ready to settle for a wall against which I could practice. But even that proved to be difficult. In most cities there are flat empty walls against which one can hit tennis balls on a week-end afternoon. Usually school playgrounds or warehouse loading facilities or at least the hotel’s garage has a wall that I can use for practice. But not here.Yesterday after giving up on the resources of the front desk, I looked around for a wall that might be suitable for practicing tennis strokes. It looked like the nearby postal service delivery docks might be ok. When I had finished yesterday’s work, I walked over to the postal wall to check it out. Unfortunately the wall was made of hand cut rock with uneven edges. That wouldn’t do—good for footwork but not for building consistent strokes.I had been sitting outside on the terrace of the hotel’s fitness center, wearing a bikini, and I had put on loose fitting jeans and tennis shirt to walk around the corner and check out the wall. I kept thinking that there must be a wall nearby and I would just have to walk a few minutes to find something. So I kept walking.Before I was finished, I had traversed through a decrepit industrial area on the water-front, across the Old Bridge with the week-end bicyclists and roller-bladders, down the pedestrian path across the river among the families, and back home along the New Bridge with the serious cyclists. Still no suitable practice wall. I was beginning to think about going back and explaining to the US Embassy guards that I wanted to use the hotel garage for tennis practice. However without speaking Slovak, it seemed like a difficult task.Today I tried the internet and a Google search of tennis+bratislava. Longline Tennis Club showed up among the results and it looked like they had red clay tennis courts. However when I shared my findings with the hotel’s front desk, the staff was skeptical. Igor was off for the afternoon but his colleague pointed out that the street (Senecka Cesta) was beyond the hotel’s map for Bratislava. I felt like I was planning to go beyond the limit of civilization since the street was not on the hotel’s map. The clerk checked into the comprehensive Bratislava map and she made me a copy of the pages and so I set off to find some tennis. A taxi might have been a good idea but I figured that the walk to the club would be the interesting part.It was true. I walked past old 19th century buildings that must have dated to the time when Bratislava was the temporary capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then as I strode up a steep hill, I found houses under construction—large buildings with floor to ceiling windows and views of the valley below. They looked like the best of contemporary architecture. And then, at the very crest of the hill, I fell upon a street of huge garish houses, one in purple and another with window bars almost to the third floor. The road was full of police but they were not the police officers who defend the public interest. Among their cars was a large current model black BMW, with a blue police light. My drivers in other countries have explained how such cars belong to the mafia. If I had had any doubt, it was gone when I saw three muscular young men who looked bored and hung around an interior driveway as if they had been there for hours. As I was leaving, yet another car of police drove up and the other police officers yelled approvingly, “Gang-sta”.I kept walking, still looking for my tennis club. The street turned from huge mansions with police guards to tiny houses with vegetable plots. I felt as if I had walked into Tirana in Albania. Then I found a city park full of paths and joggers—and birds. The city of Bratislava seems to build bird-houses for their flying residents and I found several such houses in the trees.Fifteen minutes later I had come to end of the park and the edge of my hotel map. It was time to pull out the photocopied map. But that map had less detail and I had trouble finding my way. I finally asked a older woman at the bus top. “Prosim,” I asked. Prosim seems to be used as a form of requesting attention. I pulled out my map, with a circle where the tennis club was supposed to be. “Tenis?” she asked, swinging her arm in a modified forehand. “Yah,” I responded, trying to guess what yes might sound like in Slovak and turning to show her the racquet in my back-pack. She gave me hand signals--down the street and then turn left. I tried to find the words for thank you but realized that in a week of meetings, I hadn’t heard anyone say thank you in Slovak. I generally learn my limited local vocabulary listening to the conversations between my hosts and the tea ladies who always bring tea or coffee or mineral water for office meetings. I realized that I hadn’t heard thank you in Slovak all week. So I said thank you in German, hoping that would be sufficient to accompany the smile that was the true expression of my thanks.The club was exactly where she said it would be. It wasn’t called Longlife Tennis Club, at least not any more and there was no one playing. At first, I thought it must be due to the late hour (then nearly 6 pm). But then I realized that the white tape that represents the court lines had not yet been laid down in the red clay. I walked around the club and found a tennis wall of sorts. The wall wasn’t very high and the ground made my balls very dirty but at least it was a practice wall. Voikl was stenciled against the green paint and my shots sometimes hit the stacks of bags of red clay but I felt that I was able to practice a little.After 45 minutes, I decided that I should think about finding my way home. It had taken two hours to find the tennis club and I had seen only one bus on the main thoroughfare during my practiced time. I walked into the restaurant called Tenis Restaurancia, trying to find a friendly person in tennis clothes or at least athletic warm-ups. It was not to be. No one had the look of a dedicated tennis player. It was just a restaurant for the local residents.There was still some light at 7 pm and Bratislava is not generally a dangerous city. So I decided to walk, back through the park with even more birds than before. It made me want to live in a place where I could also build bird-houses and have them sing to me in the evening. The mafia houses still had their corrupt police officers. And then walking down the steepest part of the hill, I saw the old white-haired couple I had seen walking earlier that day.Igor at the front desk wanted to know if I had found a tennis practice wall. At the tennis club, I had written down all the Slovak writing that seemed to pertain to the club name and contact information and showed my notes to Igor. Unfortunately what I thought was the name of the tennis club turned out to be Slovak for the Rules and Regulations of the club. However I still had the telephone numbers and next week-end I can ask the hotel staff to call and see if the lines have been stapled onto the red clay.