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SPECIAL FOCUS - BUSH-PUTIN SUMMIT

City strengthens services for summit

QUALITY service is uppermost in the minds of Bratislava city representatives as the Bush-Putin summit draws closer. Officials are busy trying to ensure good transportation, longer opening hours and smoothly running services for everyone involved in the summit.

QUALITY service is uppermost in the minds of Bratislava city representatives as the Bush-Putin summit draws closer. Officials are busy trying to ensure good transportation, longer opening hours and smoothly running services for everyone involved in the summit.

Public fears that the city will lock down for the Bush-Putin meeting are misplaced. The city sees the event as a chance to show what it can do.

"Bratislava gastronomy, hotel and other service providers generally think that the summit is going to be a catastrophe for their businesses - that everything will be closed and they will have to leave the town," Milan Vajda, spokesperson for Bratislava's mayor said.

"Quite the contrary," continued Vajda.

"We are asking them to prepare the best they can for this event. It means providing nothing extra but improving the quality of their staff, service and fluency in languages."

City officials are well aware that the standards of services in Bratislava generally do not match the level in Western Europe. They are stressing this especially to private companies, because raising standards in the private sector not only improves the town's image but is also good for business in the long term.

Many public institutions have agreed to extend their opening hours during the summit, such as the Bratislava Information Service on Klobučnícka Street. It is important that public services adapt to the needs of visiting journalists, said Vajda.

"This decision [to extend opening hours] has a prosaic reason - many journalists will be working in different time zones; for example, Washington is minus six hours from here, Moscow is plus two hours. It would be a great disservice if we closed the institutions at the usual time of 18:00, which is broad daylight in Washington and when many things can still be reported," Vajda explained.

With these measures in place the city is leading the way for private and state-owned institutions to follow. The Centre of Folk Art Production (ÚĽUV) on Obchodná, for example, is ready to stay open for longer if there is interest.

Two of the city's most significant cultural institutions - the Bratislava City Gallery and the City Museum - will be open from 11:00 to 22:00 on February 23 and 24. There is plenty of art and culture on show to impress visitors and locals alike.

For example, Matej Krén's extraordinary Passage is installed at Pálffy Palace. The young artist created the illusion of endless bookshelves along a very narrow passage using mirrors and about 15,000 books. It is a heady experience.

A colossal exhibition of posters mapping 100 years of world cinema is on show at Mirbach Palace. This exhibition has already visited Los Angeles, New York, Cairo, and Hong Kong.

A photographic display called New Europeans, portraying metropolises in new EU member states is running at the City Museum.

One of the main worries city officials have is the continuing bad weather. Not only because of the effort it takes to clear roads, but also the possible effect grey skies can have on mood. The winter grey is to be fought by erecting colourful banners and flags of the participating countries.

Special banners depicting the city's new logo will run between the Carlton Hotel and the Reduta, as well as along the Nový Most (New Bridge), which is the link between the summit press centre at Incheba and the city's historical heart.

The official Bratislava website (www.bratislava.sk) launches its new design a week before the summit. A quality tourist information portal is being prepared in English, Russian, French and German - a development that will remain active after the summit and updated with new information and seasonal tips.

Lots of press kits, brochures, DVDs (including a modern, five-minute film on Bratislava), and photographs will be available to visiting journalists.

The summit has also hastened the interior renovation of Bratislava castle, the location of the presidents' meeting, and the Primate's Palace, where the presidents' wives are expected to visit.

The palace is a significant venue for social and cultural events and was witness to the signing of the peace agreement between Napoleonic France and the Austrian monarchy 200 years ago.

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