A hop across the Iron Curtain

in which Alex and I make a quick foray into the former Eastern Bloc in the form of a day trip to Bratislava, a trip I couldn’t recommend more highly.

At just over 60km, Vienna and Bratislava are the world’s closest capital cities, and in the attempt to spur tourism, the city of Vienna offers a special “Bratislava Ticket,” which, for 14€, allows you to travel to and from Bratislava, in addition to giving you full access to the city’s bus system. Not a bad deal. And thus, we found ourselves on a Bratislava-bound train, and an hour later, we arrived in the outskirts of the city and hopped a bus to the center.

Our first stop was the Bratislava Castle, which serves as a good introduction from the city. Somewhat hilariously, the whole thing was burned down to the ground in 1811 or something when some soldiers got a bit drunk and rowdy. But it was rebuilt during the communist years and from up on the hill, the castle offers excellent views upon both the old town of the city and the newer, less aesthetically pleasing portions across the Danube. Bratislava’s more unique contribution to the glories of communist architecture is the lovely Nowý Most, the New Bridge (officially the SNP Bridge or something like that). Which pretty much looks like it came out of Star Trek (so noted my guidebook). Basically what happened was this: the Nazis took off all the Jews, which freed up the necessary space, enabling this lovely creation to come into existence. Note the block housing behind.

Ah, the beauties of communism!

Also visible from the castle is the Parliament, a reminder that this place is far different than it was many years ago. I always find it interesting to see parliament buildings. When you visit these dinky capital cities, it’s so easy to forget that they are, indeed, capitals.

The lovely parliament.

After wandering the complex, we headed down into the old city, which looks a great deal more like Vienna than former East Bloc.

St. Michael's Gate, I believe.

One thing I bet most readers didn’t know: Bratislava today is known for its gastronomic culture. There are many nice restaurants in the city, and on a beautiful day, as we had, it was wonderfully pleasant to sit outside. Also particularly nice: prices were considerably more palatable than in Vienna. Though our meal ended up costing about the same, we were blown away particularly by the cost of the drinks. Our beers at an outdoor cafe: half a liter for under 1,50€ or something like that. Not bad. And anyone who’s ever traveled with me abroad knows that one of the most important aspects of any stop is the sampling of the local beer. And thus, we tried the golden pheasant, Slovakia’s national beer of sorts (we tried another, too–Kelt or something).

We continued to wander down the streets. I splurged on a two-scoop, 1€ ice cream cone. We went into the Primate’s Palace (primate being a term of (religious?) nobility), which was free for students.  And with the weather cooperating brilliantly, we were generally pleasantly surprised by the city. So many people were out and about, and eating outside. Also interesting to me was the fact that my pidgin Slavic did not have to be employed at all. People spoke English wonderfully. Though, that isn’t to say there weren’t the occasional confusions…

Hää? What?!?

We wandered then over to the Blue Church, a striking art nouveau construction:

It was particularly striking when one considered the building across the street from it. A harsh reminder of the other side of the city’s past.

Having seen the sites, we headed back towards the castle to eat at a nice restaurant, where we ate Slovak specialties, which ended up amounting to sort of the generic Slavic fare (variations on ravioli and the like). With a nice beer to wash it down. And checking our watches and thinking about the rest of our day, we decided we had accomplished all we had wanted to see, and we headed back an hour earlier than we had originally planned to give us time to go back to our hostel before continuing on for the evening activities. It had been a very worthwhile excursion.


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