Beauty on the Danube

[26 Dec 2015]

And that would be the official nickname of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, a country that only came about in 1993 after the Velvet Divorce. Thanks to this day trip, we are adding another country to the list of countries we have visited.

We couldn’t have picked a worse day to visit, though. It was foggy the whole duration we were there, and even if we had wanted to return on another day, we couldn’t since we would be leaving Vienna for another part of Austria the following day. And so, we made the best that we could out of it.

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The vibe I got from the central train station of Bratislava was very similar to Prague’s, except that it was decidedly smaller, scale-wise. Little wonder to the similarity, since before 1993, there existed Czechoslavakia. Everywhere we turned there was constant reminder that we have entered Eastern Europe, in part because we couldn’t make sense of their signs since they were in a language truly foreign to us, and in part because the city was far less crowded compared to the bigger cities we just bade farewell to in the last week. Perhaps it being Boxing Day had something to do with lesser people out in the streets.

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Our first destination – Bratislava Castle. It took us some time to determine which bus we should be taking, and then took us a little while more to wait for the bus. We literally dropped in the middle of nowhere, got so confused even while using Google Maps (the fog hindering visibility didn’t help one bit). We started hiking up a hill, walked through a residential area and doubted if we were headed in the correct direction but persevered anyway. The mister is a confident navigator like this.

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We met not a single soul on the long hike up the hill but came across this little resting area with a statue in the centre (very sadly wearing a broken lamp as a hat). The existence of this quaint park in the middle of nowhere gave me hope that we were on the right track, after all. 😀

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And finally, Bratislava Castle and now the Museum of History! It might or might not have been opened to visitors that day. In any case, we decided not to explore the interior, preferring to explore its surroundings, trying our darnest to be cheerful in spite of the gloom that accompanied the thick fog.

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Oh, did I mention that we finally met some people there? Yea, a group of Thai travellers were also exploring the vicinity of the castle when we arrived. Felt less lonely because of them. 😆

We lingered a little more at the top of the hill hoping that the fog would disperse, but to no avail. View from this hilltop was supposed to be great, giving us an awesome overview of Bratislava old town, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

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St. Martin’s Cathedral, one of the oldest and finest churches and the very same in which Queen Maria Theresa was crowned was our next destination. In fact this gothic church held a total of 19 coronations. Impressive! This church also has a couple of crypts with catacombs opened to visitors, but there was unfortunately a service going on so we took a quick look of the church interior when we entered and retreated quietly in order not to cause any disruption.

From St. Martin’s Cathedral, we continued to stroll around the old town, including looking for a shop that sells stamps since we already purchased a postcard. Strangely enough, while we usually can purchase stamps together with postcards in other parts of Europe, we never did get to send out that particular postcard. Because no stamp (we did finally find a bookshop that sells, but not opened). 😦 Bratislava, you have to do better. In the very least, make stamps more widely available!

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If there is any outstanding landmark within the old town that is a must see, it has to be Michalská Brána (aka Michael’s Gate), the last standing gate to the medieval town. And everywhere you walk within the old town, its tower stands tall amongst the baroque buildings. It seems that scaling the tower would also give one a vantage view of the old town, and we were ready to climb. Except that it was not opened for admission. In fact the whole city seemed to be still in Christmas mood on Boxing Day. That would explain why it was so quiet all around, including the closure of many shops along the main shopping street in the old town.

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A short walk away, we arrived at the heart of the old town, the town square and town hall. I’m sure the whole square looked splendid in better weather but by then, the fog was getting tiresome since it simply made everything look grey and gloomy. There was an interesting Nativity display in the centre of the square though, carved out of wood. I’ve seen enough of such displays throughout Europe, and I have to say this one, while not resplendent, was probably more reminiscent of the actual event that took place in a barn with only the bare essentials, and most certainly not a place deemed suitable for birthing.

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On our walk towards the famed Danube River, we passed by an impressive building. To be honest, research for this day trip was minimal; we thought to wing it although I did question the wisdom of it when we traipsed about not knowing what to look out for.

In any case, anyone could tell that this must be some building with historical value. Further investigation including walking nearer revealed that this is the Slovak National Theatre. Okay…

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And the Danube River was… practically engulfed by the fog. The visibility was so bad I didn’t know to cry or to laugh at our ill luck. At this point, we had given up all hope that the fog might dispel, if at all. We decided there and then that it was time to call it a day.

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The walk back to the bus-stop where we were to board a bus that would bring us back to the main train station gave us a glimpse into how charming Bratislava really is. Another time, perhaps. I would come ready, armed with all relevant information to enjoy this city better.

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With regret, we bade farewell to Bratislava. I wonder when our next encounter would be.

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