Thursday, February 27, 2014

Honeymoon in Europe: Bratislava

Continuing on from Paris, Salzburg and Vienna.

Shortly after Christmas, Chrissy and I decided to take a quick daytrip to Bratislava, Slovakia...mostly because it was so close. And really, why not!?

Our journey from Vienna was extremely quick at approximately 70 minutes. On our train to the Slovakian capital we compared our relatively small amount of knowledge that we had on the country. We both knew the basics; former part of Habsburg Empire, part of former Russian block as Czechoslovakia, independent for a relatively short time (1993). Other than that I knew mostly it's hockey history through it's most famous NHL'ers; the Statsny's, Bondra, Demitra, Satan, and Chara...quality players.

Conveniently we snagged a Rick Steeves travel book on our way out our hotel and for the last few minutes of our transit we crammed all the tourist info we could into our heads.


Grassalkovich Palace

A short walk from the train station led us to a beautiful garden and the residence of the President of Slovakia. 


We arrived just in time to see the ceremonial changing of the guard, snap a few pictures and then continue on...no time for lingering on a day trip.



Old Town Hall & City Museum

Due to our work history at EEDC, Christina and I have an affinity for tourism information centres. Our first stop after the Palace was to stop at the info bureau to pick up maps and get some local recommendations.
The young very tall gentlemen working at the info centre gave us some great tips and then flipped the script on us and started asking question after question about Canada and Alberta. Our helpers inquisitive nature pleasantly surprised us and set us into our own inquisitive mood. This resulted in us walking straight out of the tourism centre and straight into the Old Town Hall & Bratislava City Museum.

The museum was extremely well organised with many artifacts displaying the history of the building, the city and the day to day life of citizens over the last few decades. Best of all was the old ladies working at the museum. Other than Chrissy and I there was probably only 3 or 4 other people in the whole museum. This led to special attention by the staff as they casually watched us and guided us through the building. We couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand us but their knowing nods and directional pointing added a lot of charm to the experience.

The museum is definitely worth a visit, as is the square located just outside.


Check out the picture below. You'll see a cannonball still embedded (or at least replaced during renovations) that was shot by Napoleon's soldiers during the bombardment of the city in 1809.


Touring the Historic Old Town

After all of the hustle and bustle of downtown Vienna, Chrissy and I really enjoyed casually strolling through the heart of old Bratislava. 

Slovak National Theatre

Michael's Gate

Cool architecture and a contrasting facade

Cannonball above Cukráreň na Korze (chocolate shop)

Bratislava Castle in background, Capuchin Church in foreground

St. Martin's Cathedral the coronation church for Hungarian kings

Bratislava Castle

In the 10th century, Bratislava became a key part of the expanding Hungarian state. To solidify the cities position a stone palace and a church  were built on what is now known as castle hill in the 11th century. Ever since this time a fortified 'castle' has sat upon this elevated perch overlooking the Danube River.

Both Chrissy and I are a sucker for castles so it was a foregone conclusion that we would visit the attraction.



The interior of the castle is admittedly a little weird. Slovakia has recognised the importance of tourism to their economy and has done a fabulous job of developing and updating their tourist assets. This leads to beautifully redone interiors with fresh looking paint inside of buildings that trace back to medieval times

Restoration of the Castle: A little paint goes a long way
Perhaps the most memorable experience we had at the castle came during our descent down an exceptionally steep set of stairs from a tower spire. Multiple weeks of walking 10+km's a day, the climb up to the castle and the near vertical steps finally took there toll on me and my legs literally gave out. I had a moment of burning, and then numb - I gingerly folded in on myself to sit on my rump. Thankfully after a couple of minutes I got the strength to continue. Chrissy was quite worried but I just thought it was comical.

Back outside we rested our legs and looked out at the New Bridge and the UFO deck.


A Sense of Whimsy

It seems that Slovaks must have a great sense of humour as we encountered some really funny intentional and unintentional (?) things during our trip.

Within the Old Town there are multiple statues commemorating some infamous citizens and historical periods including my favourite: Schöner Naci.

Schöner Naci
Schöner Naci, whose real name was Ignác Lamár, is remembered for being one of Bratislava's social institutions...he was famous for wandering the streets of the city, elegant in morning suit and top hat. He would frequently doff his hat to the ladies he passed and offer them flowers or a song.1
The Rubberneck statue is a remarkably simple yet ingenious statue. The happy workman is emerging from the manhole cover that looks out on an intersection. Over the years he has witnessed many an accident including a couple cases of hit and run where he has been ran over and slightly damaged.

Rubberneck
I am a fan of gargoyles and this guy was exceptional.


For lunch Christina and I stopped at the Slovak House restaurant. It was just a stones throw away from St. Michael's gate right in the centre of old town. We didn't expect such 'lustful gluttony' decorations when we entered. Needless to say, it certainly helped my appetite :)



This next picture just goes to show the historical basis (picture taken at Old Town Hall) for the character of "Fran" from the movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.



Other Highlights:

Excellent beer at Zámocký Pivovar

Great prices for a couple of awesome pints of beer

Notes: 

  • It was really interesting to see how hard the locals are working to create a positive tourism experience in their core. Signage everywhere was in multiple languages, the people were friendly, and everything was exceptionally clean.
  • Our one day visit was sufficient for us but it would have been nice to spend a full night there to explore a bit more and try a few more of their excellent local beers.
  • Compared to nearby Vienna, the prices were significantly less expensive.
  • Next stop - Budapest.



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