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Michael’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 07 Feb 2009

Location: Bratislava, Slovakia

MapOn Thursday I headed off to Bratislava (and Vienna) for a long weekend. Sitting at work on Thursday morning, the snow was sitting on the ground and was getting deeper. Checking the internet at work, Bristol airport was declared closed at about 830am, and I spent most of the morning wondering if my 6 pm flight would get off the ground. At about 2pm the airport was declared open again and then the question was weather it would stay open, and how long would the delay be. Thankfully for afternoon the Sun was out most of the time, and arriving at the airport the flight was still on schedule.

Arriving in Bratislava, I checked in quickly and headed out to see if there was any nightlife on offer on the Thursday evening. After wandering around the centre of the city I finally landed in a place called KGB Bar. It was in a cellar, with the back wall dominated by the massive portrait of Stalin. It looks as if it had been attacked, almost as if someone had tried to cut out the face at some point in time. On either side hung an American and an old USSR flag, or all around the bar was other soviet memorabilia including other portraits and statues of Stalin and Lenin. Each time I ordered a beer at the bar, it seemed as though the beer I was after was running out, and they had not interest in changing the kegs over. In addition, it also quickly opened my eyes, and nose, to the fact that many places in Eastern Europe haven’t introduced any smoking bans yet! Whilst at the bar the other thing that stood out was the Slovakian (presumably) hip-hop sounds incredibly like Aussie hip-hop, particularly in the intonation of the lyrics. I thought I was hearing Bliss N Eso for a moment. After a couple beers I called it a night and crashed.

Yesterday I got up reasonably early and headed out to wander around the old town. I was an awesome day, one of the nicest I had seen in months. It must have been at least 15 degrees and sunny – how lovely! I grabbed a quick breakfast at Macca’s, and then continued my wander around the small back streets of Bratislava. I walked through the small city square Primaclalne nam and then on through the big town square, Hlavne nam. The big square is a pretty large central square, but certainly not with the splendor of many other main town squares in Europe. In fact, everything looked rather modern, yet not communist. The focal point of the square has to be Roland’s Fountain, which at that point in time had dirty snow packed around the outside of it. Built in the late 1500’s, it is rumored that it may have been used initially as an early fire hydrant.

There were a couple strange statues in the square, one called The Frenchman, which looks like Napoleon leaning on the back of a park bench in the middle of the square. The other one was a statue of a security guard standing in a guard house. In fact, there were a number of brass statues scattered about town, including The Watcher, which is a man peering out of a fake man hole on the corner of a road. Rumor has it that it is the most photographed landmark in the city. Apparently a number of cars have run over the statue in the past and done some major damage to their undercarriages. Another statue I noticed around town was called The Photographer, and was of a man peering around a corner with a camera.

Coming towards noon, I headed north to the top of the city and found the train station. At noon, my friend Reka whom I met in Budapest last Christmas arrived at the train station. We haggled over the price of a cab briefly, and instead walked into town and dumped our bags. Not much later, we headed back into the old town. Again we walked through the small and large town square, and then continued down to Hviezdoslavovo nam, which was more of a boulevard near to the Danube River. It was here that we passed the Slovak National Theatre. We wandered up the boulevard, and headed towards the New Bridge. Along the way we passed ANOTHER statue in the town, this time of Hans Christian Anderson. The reason for the statue I am not entirely sure.

A bit further on we arrived at the New Bridge (Novy Most) which crosses the Danube River. On the far side of the bridge was a massive tower with a circular building on the top, known as the UFO (pronounced “ewe-fo”), which has a restaurant and nightclub up the top. On the city side of the bridge at the top of the hill is the Bratislava Castle. We wandered up to the top up the typically steep streets that surround castles in Europe, only to find the entire castle closed to the public for renovations. Typical. The castle had a pretty unique design, looking like a 4-poster bed, and was mainly built in the 15th century, and at one point in time, it was the seat of Hungarian royalty when the Turkish were occupying Budapest.

After wandering around the outside and deciding there really wasn’t anything worth seeing, we headed back down the hill and across the street to the St. Martin’s Cathedral. We stepped inside the Cathedral and I was astounded at how quickly the noise from the busy highway outside was silenced. The church was a built in the 14th century and eleven ruling monarchs crowned in the church. It is said that the vibrations from the passing traffic is actually shaking the building to the core. It really was a serene place inside though.

Afterwards we wandered some more through the old city, eventually coming to St. Michael’s Gate, the last of the original 4 gates that lead into the medieval city, still complete with 51 m high tower. It was in this area we found a nice cafe and headed in for some hot chocolate. By the time we left the cafe the sun had set and we continued wandering through the old town looking for a place to have dinner, trying to sample some of the local fare. From what I can remember it was a nice meal (should have written this ages ago!), and we had some Hungarian wine to wash it all down! We wandered through the streets some more after dinner, making the most of the lovely weather – it was almost like walking the streets on a mild summer evening... almost.