Friday, May 20, 2011

Let's visit Slovakia! Wien und Praha, Part IX

Once again, I took so many pictures, so please go see more at your leisure. :)

April 10, 2011

Months ago, my good friend Meg told me that if I visited Vienna, I had to take a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. While I only barely scratched the surface of Vienna on
Saturday, the next day, I took the U-Bahn to the Wien Südbahnhof. I arrived an hour early, because I hate to be rushed in unfamiliar circumstances. This train station consisted of a tiny cafe, restrooms, and outside platforms. I bought coffee and walked well out onto a platform to find a bench in the sunshine. The wind ripped through the station. I was freezing by the time the train arrived.

Thankfully, the Österreich Bundesbahn train was quite comfortable and warm! The ÖBB provided a "Bratislover" pamphlet detailing (in German and English) the stops on the hour-long ride between Vienna and Bratislava and describing popular tourist sites. It nicely complemented the photocopied library book pages I brought with me. While watching the beautiful Austrian scenery change into lovely Slovakian landscape, I planned my day. Green rolling fields, pretty forests with little streams, and tiny towns with rusty cars, swingsets, and the occasional farm animal lined the tracks. I was thrilled when the street signs changed from German to Slovak. Our conductors switched languages with the border crossing, too.

I'd been learning basic Czech phrases in preparation for my Prague trip (to follow the next day), and ascertained that they should be understood in the Slovak Republic, too. Still. This would be only the second country I'd visited without taking a year of college classes in its language first, so I was a wee bit nervous. And I feel so sad using the excuse that "everyone speaks English".

(Those college classes: English, Spanish, and German. [Okay, technically, I've never taken a year of college classes in the English language. {This could explain some things.}])

Armed with my map, a smile, and some prayers, I left the train station.
Back to the train station!

Bratislava around the train station is like New Jersey around the airport. Not pretty. Just kind of dirty.

However! A short 10-15 minute walk landed me at the Presidential (Grassalkovich) Palace, which was quite pretty:
Grassalkovich Palace

Empress Maria Theresa rides her horse in its garden:
Maria Theresa

From the palace's front plaza, you can see a bit of the nondescript part of the city, with hints at its beautiful old areas. Notice the Bratislava Castle in the background to the right, and Michael's Gate peeking out to the left:
More modern part of the city

(Pause: I must defend New Jersey, my adopted home state. It also improves the farther one travels from transportation hubs. Parts are *quite* beautiful.)

I am always intrigued by the contrast of old and new. Michael's Gate was originally built in the 1300s, but modified in the 1750s:
Michael's Gate

I am also fond of local wildlife...

...and perplexed as to why KFC and McD's are all over the world. Everywhere.
Sigh. Our country's exports.

Soon, I reached the Staré Mesto: the Old City or Historical Center:
Slovak and English

After a brief stop in a tourist center (to get another free map), I headed to the start of my self- and guidebook-planned walking tour, stalking runners on my way:
Old Town

In the charming Hlavné námestie (main square)...

...I stopped for lunch in a bagel shop. While not traditionally Slovakian, my bagel sandwich and latte were delicious.

Then, I started my tour. I admired the Old Town Hall with its cute dormer windows:
Old Town Hall tower

I said hello to Knight Roland, one of Napoleon's soldiers, and a guard in a booth:
Napoleon's Soldier and me
Napoleon's Soldier...just chillin'

I compared the Jesuit Church...
The Jesuit Church
Inside Jesuit Church the Franciscan Church...
Franciscan Church
Franciscan Church cross base
Franciscan Church inside

...and found that only the latter explicitly banned ice cream.
Franciscan Church: no ice cream

Next, I was pleased by the pastel pink Primatial Palace:
Primatial Palace

It's known for being the site of the signing of the 1805 treaty between France and Austria. Unrelated, it has a statue depicting St. George slaying a dragon.
Slay them dragons!

The narrow stone streets reminded me of the medina in Fes.

I bought a couple of souvenirs and had to speak for the first time in the country. The shopkeeper didn't really speak English, so we smiled and pointed at things. She helped with me the pronunciation of thank you (ďakujem)!

Finished with the Staré Mesto, I began my trek up to the Bratislava Castle. Along the way, I caught my first glimpse of the Nový most (New Bridge):
New Bridge

The Hrád (castle) is on quite the hill.
Climbing up to the Castle
Bratislava Castle

Which means it had fantastic views of the city and the Danube:
Chillin' by the castle, lookin' at the bridge

St. Elisabeth of Hungary has a lovely statue in the park:

Soon, I walked a different way down the long hill.
Climbing down from the castle

And was briefly tempted by "Welcome! Beer, Food."
Welcome! Beer, Food

Underneath this massive new bridge,
Walking to the new bridge

Is a terrific pedestrian and bike bridge:
New Bridge/Novy Most
Hi, Hrad!

At the top of the bridge, there's the UFO restaurant, where you can watch, taste, and even groove.

Here's a good layout view. To the left is (obviously) the Hrád, to the right is the Staré Mesto, and directly behind them is the train station.

The wind blew incredibly hard on the observation deck of the tower:
Windy and Green

Notice how GREEN the grass is! When I left New Jersey, it was a brown, dead, end-of-winter color. Spring had clearly arrived in Austria and Slovakia!

This is difficult to read, but the frosted window says, "Enjoying the view?"
"Enjoy the View": on the window in front of the toilet

It's in the women's restroom, at eye-height when one is doing one's business. Ahem.

If the wall couldn't be a window, it was mirrored in that little WC. I decided to give y'all a chance to see my wind-chapped self.
In the bathroom at UFO, top of the New Bridge

As quickly became a theme on this trip, I warmed up with a cappuccino in UFO. :) The server automatically greeted me in English, and I spent my respite eavesdropping on an English-speaking group of Brits, Americans, and Germans.
UFO: restaurant with delicious cappuccinos.

I walked back to the Staré Mesto and found the embassies of a couple of my favorite countries:
German embassy
US Embassy!! Hello!!

The Slovak National Theater is quite gorgeous:

The relaxed Man-at-Work sends his greetings:
Manhole man.
Man at work

A sweet young gal with a cute puppy offered to take my picture as I was struggling with a self-portrait:
Me and Hat Man

"I know, I'm always on my own, too," she said, with a smile and British-with-a-hint-of-something-else accent. :)

Chilled to the bone and super tired, I wandered up to the Hlavná Stanica and waited for my train. I had a wonderful time in Bratislava, and highly recommend it as a day trip from Vienna!
Leavin' for Vienna

On the ride, I napped, read, munched on almonds (the last of my airplane travel stash from home), and spoke a bit of German with my seat companion. While language was not at all an issue (English and charades sufficed), I noticeably relaxed upon re-entering Austria. I'm by no means fluent, but I feel so at home around Deutsch. :)

Back in Vienna, I U-Bahned to the city center to exchange euros for Czech crowns, and have a last hearty Viennese meal of meat and potatoes. I bought cute little petit four zum mitnehmen back to my hotel. After packing up for the morning's early departure to PRAGUE, I ate my dessert and SLEPT.

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