Bratislava, Then and Now

When I first visited Bratislava 18 years ago, it was not yet part of the European Union.  I had traveled to Europe with my High School German class during winter break.  After visiting Vienna, Austria (see post My First Austrian Encounter), our bus traveled to Slovakia.  Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is about a 30 minute drive from Vienna.  There isn’t much to distinguish the two countries, especially now that there is no border control to speak of, except for the Soviet Era architecture of the buildings.

Back in 2000, however, it wasn’t so simple.  I wrote in my diary that our bus was boarded by boarder guards, who collected a passport and $20 from each person.  Reflecting on it now, it was probably the fee for the Visa to enter the country.  In my diary I remarked that lunch was cheap, only about $4.  I didn’t write the name of the restaurant in my diary, but I can report that lunch is no longer as cheap (but it is in no way expensive).

Having returned to Bratislava in February, 2018, I can highly recommend it for a weekend trip.  According to Google Maps, the drive from Linz to Bratislava takes about 2 hours and 28 minutes.  We left on a Saturday morning and arrived in Bratislava around early afternoon.  We stayed at the Falkensteiner.  The hotel room was decent, and the price we paid was about €60 per night.  If you want to eat breakfast at the hotel, there would be an additional fee.  We did not chose this option.

Interestingly, the Falkensteiner rooms were designed to have a window between the bathroom and the bedroom.  In the photo below, I am in the bathroom, and my boyfriend is looking in at me from the bed.  Needless to say, this feature was fun, if not also slightly creepy.

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After checking in and playing Peeping Tom, we went for a walk in Old Town, which is only about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel.  On the way we found cute little shops like the one pictured below.

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We had not pre-selected a place to eat lunch and we figured that we would just walk around and find something.  Since Old Town is a very touristy spot, we were expecting many tourist places.  We were surprised to find a cute cafe on the main street called Enjoy Coffee.   This place sold its own blends of tea (both to enjoy at the table and to take home).

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As a person who is both vegetarian and gluten intolerant, I was able to find several options on the menu.  I had the mushroom buckwheat risotto with feta cheese.  My boyfriend, who is not vegetarian, had the duck sandwich.  If one has kids, this place was also extremely kid friendly, with a small play area in the back.

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Mushroom buckwheat risotto

After lunch, we walked around Old Town.  Since the town is rather small, it is possible to see all the tourist sites within one afternoon.  To see some good suggestions on what to do, check out this article from The Huffpost.

We had no itinerary, and found that walking around had its advantages.  Along we way we spotted:

  1. Statue of the Man at Work.  20180303_160504
  2. Old Town Hall.  When we were in Bratislava, we tried to purchase tickets to walk up to the top of the tower, but it was closed.  If you would like to do the same, go through the archway (bottom right hand of below picture).  On the other side you will find a small square.  To the right are glass doors.  You purchase the tickets inside from a very unfriendly woman who doesn’t speak any English whatsoever.  Don’t worry, there will be signs posted in English if the tower is closed.20180303_155017
  3.  Michael’s Gate:  20180303_153005

In the square by the Old Town Hall, we found (purely by chance) an awesome wine bar called Wine Not.  They have literally hundreds of different wines from all over the world, including from Slovakia.  One in particular that we absolutely loved was called Vulcanica.  It was a white wine that was self carbonated due to the fermentation process.  As lovers of all things fermented, we just had to try and we were not disappointed.  Price per bottle was around €26.  We loved it so much we ended up taking a bottle home with us.

This place is cool not only for its enormous selection, but also due to its ambiance.  It was warm and inviting, and the staff was super friendly.  They answered all of our questions regarding the wine.  If you visit on a weekend night, it is advisable to make a reservation, especially if you want to sit in the front room looking out on the square.

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Back room of Wine Not

For dinner, we walked from our hotel to Lemon Tree, a Thai fusion place.  Unlike the other places we had been to, Lemon Tree was a little on the expensive side.  It is located next to the American Embassy on the top floor of the building.  We stopped to take pictures in front of the American flag (because MURICKA!)–the guards with the automatic rifles were watching us closely from the other side of the fence.

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Outside of the heavily fortified American Embassy

The view from the restaurant (in the background of the picture below) was of the St. Martin’s Cathedral, which I visited in 2000, but did not have the chance to again in the 2018 trip.  My fruity Prosecco drink pictured below is topped with cotton candy.  It was very tasty.

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The St. Martin’s Cathedral can also been seen from the Bratislava Castle.  In my diary from 2000, I wrote that the inside of the cathedral was much plainer than the cathedrals of Austria, but more decorative than the ones in America.  I also wrote that “the wooden pews were so rigid that when you sat in them, you were forced to sit straight up.”    I remarked that I was not allowed to take photos of the inside, but purchased a post card (which has been since lost to time).   Had I remembered I had visited the Cathedral back in 2000, I would have made a point to go inside for comparison.  Next time.

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If you like dancing to Latin music, drinking cocktails, or even smoking cigars, the place to visit in Bratislava is Cuba Libre.  This place was packed with what appeared to be locals as well as tourists.  I even observed some high local drama, as a man escorted the scantily clad woman he had been closely dancing with out of the bar.  10 minutes later he reappeared with a more demurely dressed, plainer woman, who could only have been his girlfriend.  Crisis avoided(?) People watching is hilarious.

The next day before heading back to Linz, we ate brunch at Ranno Ptacka.  The food was good, but the service was horrendous.  The waitress forgot to put my order in.  After finally noticing that I had not gotten my food (as everyone else’s food was dropped off by another waitress), she asked me “if I still wanted my food”.  To which I answered, “Of course!”

Finally, after everyone had finished eating, I received my food.  It was good, but I am not sure it was worth a 30 minute wait to receive it.  In any event, if I even find myself in Bratislava again, I would still go back there.

Lastly, on the way out of town, we visited Bratislava Castle.  We didn’t go inside, as we were tired from our previous night out.

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All in all, Bratislava is a great weekend trip, and one that I would recommend to anyone.

My First Austrian Encounter

March 2000

From the Diary of my 17 year old self (edited):

March 14, 2000: Breakfast is so much better in Österreich than in Italy.  The bread was excellent.  After breakfast we went to Salzburg. We had a tour with this really nice German lady.  I got a 3rd hole in my ears! I think that my mom will probably kill me.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any rubbing alcohol at the pharmacy.

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Mirabell Garden, Salzburg (March 2000)

March 15, 2000: It’s snowing! The flakes are huge and so much bigger than at home! Last night it was raining…awful weather.  We are going to Vienna tomorrow.  Hopefully we get to go to the disco tonight!  The Mondsee Church (Mondsee Abbey) was so large it makes American churches seem insignificant.  The Monastery was huge! It was as big as 20 High Schools put together, some stacked on top of each other!  The place we ate at for lunch was a total rip off!  They charged us 50 cents per packet of ketchup! Last time we got ketchup it didn’t cost us anything!  We just got back from the pool. We had to pay 60 shilling (to put my 17 year-old self’s annoyance in perspective, this amounted to about €4.40).  We just got back from the disco.  It was so smokey that sometimes I thought I was going to die.

March 16 2000: We just got back from seeing the palace of Maria Theresa (a.k.a. Schönbrunn Palace), the mother of Marie Antoinette.  It is so cold! The wind chill makes it even colder.  The palace was huge! It had something like 1,444 rooms in it (actually 1,441, but close enough).

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Schönbrunn Palace Gardens (March 2000)

Still March 16, 2000: We are now having a bus tour of Vienna.  We just passed a really big porn/erotic dancing shop.  We are talking Cherry and Web big (I have no recollection of how big this is).  We have just passed the winter palace of Maria Theresa (I believe this is the City Palace).  It had like almost 2,500 rooms.  There are so many churches here!  The ones back home are so plain in comparison (thanks 17 year old me, you already said that).  And none of them are less than a few hundred years old.

We just got back from seeing this really weird house.  It is called Hundertwasser.  Don’t ask me why it is called that.  Oh wait, I was just informed that the last name of the guy who built the apartment building meant “hundred waters”.  They named the building after him.

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Hundertwasserhaus (March 2000)

Still March 16, 2000: I am back at the hotel after a nap and a shower.  Everyone went swimming, but I didn’t want to pay the 60 shillings again (get over it 17 year old me, it was like literally €4.40).

March 17, 2000:  Last night we went to a Strauss concert.  It was really good.  The only problem is, was that we missed the first half of the concert because we went to the wrong Lichtenstein Palace.  But I really liked it.  I thought it was going to be boring, but it wasn’t.  Our teacher told us we had to get up this morning at 6:30 a.m., but I was like, yeah, right.  I got up at 7:00 a.m. (what a rebel I was back then).   Last night before bed, !”§$% dyed my hair brown.  I think it looks good.  Everyone likes it here but I wonder how people are going to react at home.  We just crossed the border into Slovakia…(to be continued…)