Country number: 34
Territory number: 36
When? March 1990, coming from Krakow, after the Wall Came Down, going on to Budapest
How? On the train
Who? With friend Jenny
‘I don’t think falling in love in Slovakia is much different from falling in love in Tunbridge Wells’.
On the night train from Krakow to Budapest, and again from Budapest to Vienna, rattling through what is now Slovakia and was then Czechoslovakia.
When? June 2019
How? Boat, bus, on foot
Please note: I’ve included a little on my trip to Vienna here. It seemed awkward to cut it out, but this section is repeated under Austria.
Somehow, I’ve ended up on a trip up the Danube to Vienna. That’s what the lady on the desk suggested. It seems there isn’t much to see in the city of Bratislava. She says I can easily do that tomorrow. Bratislava at first sight seems ultra-modern, so I’m surprised to find that the boat is still being repaired and men in overalls are running around with welding irons. And then our speedy catamaran turns up and moors alongside my ship, which is just a glorified pontoon.
One out of the urban area, and away from the castle, an unmissable landmark dominating Bratislava ( it takes two minutes), the river passes through undulating wooded countryside, interspersed with the odd quarry. It’s a shame they’re not playing the Strauss waltz over the PA system. (Not for the quarries of course) and then the inevitable castle, impressive Devin , towering above a little red roofed town. It’s very pretty despite the rain. I’m popping up on deck with my camera to brave a drenching every time I spot anything interesting from my (you have to pay extra) window seat. The waiters are getting us into the Viennese cafe spirit bearing sachertorte and whipped cream to passengers too sensible to venture outside.
Vodafone informs me when we’ve crossed the border and we’re passing the eastern most town in Austria, Hainburg, which also has red roofed houses and a church with an onion steeple, as well as some famous walled fortifications and a crumbling castle on a mound behind it.
Next, the Danube National Park and then through the Danube Canal to the city. The narrow canal stretch is a bumpy ride and we are exhorted to stay in our seats while we lurch along.
I’d forgotten how gorgeous Vienna is. The baroque architecture is ridiculously grandiose but at its best in the sun (which has gratifyingly appeared) and I spend all day marching through gardens past palaces and churches with intricate spires and patterned tiled roofs. The city centre is mainly pedestrianised, the ways lined with elegant street konditorei offering torte and strudel.
I’d forgotten how gorgeous Vienna is. The baroque architecture is ridiculously grandiose, but at its best in the sun (which has gratifyingly appeared) and I spend all day marching through elegant gardens, past ornate palaces, sparkling fountains and churches with intricate spires and patterned tiled roofs. There’s a statue of a man on horseback on nearly every square or corner. The city centre is mainly pedestrianised, the ways lined with elegant street konditorei, offering coffee and strudel. the city is thronging with tourists- many of them Japanese, so I’m going into competition and trying out my selfie stick again. I’m not very successful – I’ve left my hands – and the stick -in the shots…
After revisiting the main sights, the museum area and the Hofburg Palace (more ornamental greenery, linked gilded squares (look up to the pediments for the most interesting decorative features), parliament buildings and the Spanish Riding School again) I search for the Cafe Central, planning a return torte extravaganza. But first I get lost, as my phone dies, taking my Google map along with it. I forgot how quickly it loses its charge when it’s been plugged to a European socket and I didn’t bring my charger. So I happily set off in totally the wrong direction, till I’m put right by a kind woman at a bus stop. Fortunately, nearly everyone speaks some English.
When I eventually track the cafe down there’s a queue snaking down the street. I’ve no inclination to stand in that, so I take a photo of Peter Altenburg (he’s still waiting just inside the door) for old times’ sake and settle for tea by the river.
Back in Bratislava, there’s a tasting menu at the Houdini restaurant tonight. Five courses with a slight Austro-Hungarian flavour and some liquid carbon dioxide wafting around. The raspberry and chocolate dessert is the best.
So today it really is an exploration of Bratislava and yes, the lady on the desk was right. You can see the main sights very quickly. It’s a more compact version of Vienna – a central historic centre that’s pedestrianised and lined with bustling cafes, and an outer ring served by trams. There are onion steepled churches galore, a string of bars ( several stag parties looking worse for wear) plenty of fountains and bronze statues and a plethora of pastel coloured baroque houses and shops. Prices are modest and most of what is on offer seems modern and up to date – except for the public toilets. Some of the clothes and stationery on offer seem a little shoddy. But then the offerings at times at home too. There’s also a blue and white church that looks just like a huge iced cake.
After I’ve walked as much as my legs will allow (I’m stiff from yesterday’s exertions) I take a ‘Panorama City tour’ on a scarlet mini bus, where I pal up with Terence, an affable student lawyer from Chicago, who’s working in Prague. This works very well, as it takes me to the sights and viewpoints that are out of the centre. Most notably the World War II Soviet Slavin monument (great views over the city and castle) and then the castle itself. It’s pouring with rain by now, so I run round the gardens and back to the bus. Just time for a last cake at my hotel before I leave.
It’s been a relaxing and enjoyable break apart from dealing with Ryanair’s rules and regulations and delayed plane. It’s the only airline that serves Bratislava from the UK – unless you count WizzAir.
The Slavic tribes settled in the territory of present-day Slovakia in the 5th century. Following the disintegration of the Great Moravian Empire at the turn of the 10th century, the Hungarians annexed the territory comprising modern Slovakia. In 1918, Slovakia and the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, Czech Silesia and Carpathian Ruthenia formed a common state, Czechoslovakia. German intervention in Sudetenland led to the dissolution of the country, and a separate Slovakian state, a German puppet regime. After World War Two Czechoslovakia reemerged as a communist state. The end of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, in 1989, during the peaceful Velvet Revolution, was followed once again by the country’s dissolution, this time into two successor states.