We are now behind the Iron Curtain in the beautiful city of Bratislava Slovakia. There are 5 bridges here with the New Bridge being the oldest and the Old Bridge the newest. Go figure! During the Soviet rule the UFO restaurant on top of the new bridge was closed so that the people could not see Austria and long for a different time. Interestingly you can stand on the ground and see both Hungary and Austria just fine.
Bratislava is a large city of half a million people with a small and vibrant old center. It is only an hour trip from Vienna so many Austrians come for cheaper concerts and even cheaper partying. The main square Hviezdoslav is more like a rectangle with restaurants along one side, the American Embassy on the other and gardens in between. The locals are looking for the US Embassy to move off the square as the iron fence around the embassy is an eyesore in comparison to the rest of the street.
The square is named for a famous poet who was schooled in Hungary. When he read his first poem to his mother she cried as she couldn’t understand it. From that point on he wrote all his poetry in Slovakian. Though according to our guide Richard it didn’t help much as his poems are so very complicated.
A very interesting bronze statue of Hans Christian Andersen sits in the square with many of his characters from his stories. It was financed by the Danish Embassy and made for the children. The legend goes that if you touch his finger you will have writing talent… good thing I had already done that.
We can see the Castle or Hrad of Joseph II but no point venturing up. During the Soviet occupation the bombed out castle was reconstructed but not too its historical level. Instead it was done in ugly grey concrete. This sadly was typical of many buildings restored by the Soviets post WW II.
The city is split into 3 sections; Jewish, Protestant and the Catholic, which is the old town. You enter the old town at the site of San Marten, the Catholic Church which was also the site of the royal coronations. Beside it is the memorial to the Jewish Temple that once stood on this site but was destroyed by the Soviets.
As we wander the narrow pedestrian streets we see many plaques on the building walls that tell the stories of their famous people and events. Including two that commemorate the concerts of both Mozart and Liszt when they were 6 and 9 years old respectively.
We stop at Michael’s Gate the only remaining gate of the medieval wall after Maria Theresa had them destroyed to enlarge the city. However as this gate was a gift to the people she felt she had to leave it. Finally we arrive at the Main Square and MacMillan fountain in front of the Old City Hall. Built and rebuilt over the centuries the hall gives you views of all historic styles; gothic, renaissance, baroque and 19th century, each wall different.
The city has some fun statues too, not just historic ones. One is of a French soldier who as the story goes met a girl and decided he no longer wanted to fight. He leans on a bench his back, in fact, to the French Embassy…moving to his new life. This is the most sat on bench in the city as everyone gets their picture taken with him including us.
But the most fun is the ‘canal worker’ which is that of a sewer worker poking his head up out a manhole on one street corner. The look now adorns their caution street signs.
After our tour we take time for a beer and to try the local speciality Haluszky. A potato and goat cheese dish served with crispy bacon. It is a little like gnocchi but with sharper cheese… a Slovakian mac and cheese. Pretty tasty.
We take a quick scan through the little market of trinkets and then we all scatter. Some back to the boat, others to the shopping area. We head up to the tower of the Old City Hall and climb the narrow circular stairs. The hall was built out of 4 homes starting with the original in 1387 to the last in 1434. The tower originally constructed in 1638 was destroyed by fire in 1733 and quickly rebuilt in the baroque style of the day. From here you have spectacular views of the city.
After lunch on one of the side street cafés we cross over to the Jewish centre to visit the House of Good Shepard. It is one of the few remaining buildings of the original settlement. Today it houses a very well done clock museum. The people of Bratislava have been clock makers for centuries.
We are back to the boat to start the pack process and clean up for the Captain’s farewell cocktail party. Tonight we meet all the crew except those on the nautical team as we have just set off for Budapest. They have been incredible and we have a bit of a sad moment. However Albert, the absolutely lovely Hotel Manager, puts it best. “Don’t be sad your leaving, be happy it happened “.