Up at 7:00 p.m. and Barry leaped into the shower while I tried to catch a few more zzzz’s. Eventually, though, I was forced to drag my sorry butt out of bed and clean up for the train ride to Bratislava. We got our train tickets the day before and opted to splurge a bit by purchasing business class seats. Even though we haven’t exactly been living a pauper’s life in our travels, we haven’t been living like jet-setters, either. How frustrating to realize later that the frau in the Munich ticket office screwed us royally on tickets to Bratislava.
After grabbing a breakfast of pastries and coffee (I LOVE European meals), we waited for the train to Vienna where we would disembark and catch another train for the final leg to Bratislava.
Riding along in business class, Barry and I conked out for a short nap in our luxury seats. Upon waking up, I decided to start writing. As Barry napped in the seat next to me, I watched the green German and Austrian countrysides whiz by. It’s raining once again, at least in Germany. After crossing the border into Austria, it appeared to clear a bit. At least there was no rain and the sun tried to peak through the clouds.
We stopped in Salzburg and marveled at a castle on a mountaintop. Barry pointed out the cathedral featured in The Sound of Music. Why didn’t I download the soundtrack onto my iPhone? I suppose at some time I’ll get to Salzburg.
After about four hours we reached Vienna where we had a one-hour layover. Both Barry and I felt a twinge of nostalgia and wished we had decided to spend some time there. We’ve both visited Vienna before and we were feeling a bit nostalgic for the music scene. And Austrian pastries…does anyone observe a trend emerging with me??
From Vienna, it was a short trip to Bratislava. Remember, Bratislava used to be communist. It is the capital of Slovakia, the other half of the former Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic being the other half. Slovakia has been a part of the European Union for a short time, but is much less affluent than the Czech Republic. Probably, as Barry pointed out, because Slovakia chose to adopt the euro while the Czech Republic has resisted. As a result, the Czech Republic, on its own currency the kroner (crown), finds its products and produce less expensive to see in the EU.
Anyway, this blog is not supposed to be a history or economics lesson. I want everyone to remain awake. There will NOT be a test afterwards.
So, we arrived in Bratislava. It was humid and the train station was practically void of people. I mention the communist association because there still seems to be vestiges of the old communist attitude towards customer service here. You can still see Soviet-era buildings, void of allure or architectural integrity, strictly severe in their functionality. The same can be said of customer service.
When I entered the train station, I left my bags with Barry as I rushed to use the “WC” or water closet as it’s referred to in Europe. Or “can”, as we intelligentsia say in America. After charging into a stall, I was chagrined to find no TP. I walked outside and saw a spindly little man sitting in a booth. There was a sign: toilet paper: .20 euros. Seriously??
Well my worst nightmare had just come true; I had to pay for TP. However, if I didn’t pay for the TP, my other worst nightmare would come true. The power this spindly little man held was not lost on me. I called him the TP Nazi. I forked over the euros for two small pads of what appeared to be communist paper towels. Red Robin gives you more paper napkins at dinner.
While I was working through my emotional dilemma, Barry attempted to get some information from the woman in the ticket office but she was useless. Barry later admitted that perhaps he was too hyped-up, talking too fast from caffeine for her to understand. Either way, she was useless.
A cabbie offered to take us to the hotel for twice the going rate. I refused. The cabbie watched us walk back and forth up and down the street (laughingly, I’m sure) as we tried to find our hotel. I called the hotel to get some sort of direction and advice. Later, after talking to roughly half a dozen people, we finally found the right bus. We rode across the Danube and hopped off, confused. After asking directions at another hotel, we found the right street and trudged through the rain and humidity to our destination.
Our lodging, Hotel Saffron, was much nicer than we had expected. It’s very new, very sleek and modern. Upon entry, we saw marble floors, a coffee bar (!!!!!) and a lounge area. All this for $180 for two nights, total. We were so drenched from the walk that water was dripping off my head onto the paperwork I was signing. I was wringing out my hair in the sink of our room.
We got to our room and took a nap before setting out to see Bratislava. Initially, we were a bit disappointed by the city. Although our hotel was very nice and modern, the area seemed very run-down with a lot of graffiti, abandoned buildings, low-end shops and the aforementioned Soviet-era buildings.
So, we strolled along, not really sure where we were going or what we would see. We were commenting about how cruddy the city seemed to be. I was convincing myself that the city hadn’t recovered from communism, hence the unattractive surroundings, when we stumbled upon the River District. At least that’s the name I gave it.
This area hugs the banks of the Danube River and travels for ten kilometers. Outdoor restaurants line the promenade. Hotels and apartments look out on the river. People were strolling along the river, kids were playing on outdoor equipment. It was a relaxing environment. All the restaurants were packed and we could smell wonderful foods as we walked along. Cruise ships lined the riverbank. These ships are not the type Americans know like Caribbean Cruise Lines. For one thing, these don’t sink. Har, har. Bad joke.
No, these ships cruise the Danube River, some going as far as Vienna and Munich. They feature private rooms, rooftop dining, a bar and restaurant. Perhaps in the future I will take one of these cruises as I fell in love with Munich and Vienna and I was starting to fall in love with Bratislava.
Well, we plugged into a riverside restaurant called Le Bar. A very forthcoming young man approached us as our waiter. He was Slovakian but with a very British accent. His name was Patrick and we learned that he had studied in Britain for several years before returning to Slovakia. A great host, he waited on us hand and foot.
After splurging on a business class train ticket to Bratislava, we opted to keep the high-end behavior going. My dinner consisted of salmon crème fraiche and bruschetta while Barry had another salmon dish also with a bruschetta. Patrick talked us into a plum brandy chaser with our beer which did not go down too well. But hey, when in Bratislava, do as the Bratislavans, right?
We stayed at the restaurant for probably three hours. I ordered a mint shisha, which is a water pipe with flavored tobaccos. I had tried a mint shisha when I was visiting my brother in Dubai during the holidays in 2012. My sister-in-law suggested it. I found it to be refreshing and a way of relaxing after a dinner. It’s a cultural thing in the Middle East and I was surprised to find it here in Slovakia.
As night fell, we got to experience the true beauty of Bratislava. Modern bridges traversed the Danube. High rises glittered with lights. The Danube was flowing rapidly so we could hear the water lapping. The constant chatter of diners and tourists buzzed in the background.
Around midnight we decided to go for a stroll. Barry, mountain person he is, HAD to see Bratislava Castle which is on a hilltop. I was slowly dying from fatigue but opted to follow him. Fortunately, he only wanted to see it from a vantage point along the river, not climb the hill to the actual site.
From there, we started walking. It was at this point that we actually experienced the true Bratislava. We stumbled into Old Town and I swear that every single street and side street was jammed with outdoor restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs. Hundreds of people were walking or milling about. Eating, drinking and talking they epitomized the café culture of eastern Europe.
These areas were void of graffiti. The streets were immaculate and the sidewalks unbroken. Buildings were gorgeous and well-maintained, their architecture embellished with beautiful patinas. We walked for at least an hour, both of us marveling at how magnificent this little city is. I, for one, was swept away by the environment. As many of you know, I am into experiences and food so I was in my element, once again whining with my common refrain of “so many restaurants, so few belt notches”.
Today, we got up late. After an evening of several beers for Barry and a huge shisha for me, we had been dead tired. We had a late breakfast and took off for Bratislava Castle. I have to admit that I found the castle less than satisfying. There just wasn’t much to it. Architecture wasn’t terribly inspiring; we couldn’t get inside. We just took some photos from our vantage point and returned to our hotel for yet another nap.
Tonight we will have dinner in Bratislava. I found a number of outdoor restaurants smack dab in the middle of the café area that serve traditional Slovakian food. However, my Facebook postings resulted in a recommendation from a friend of mine who visited Bratislava a couple of years ago. Apparently this place he recommended is the oldest brewery in Slovakia and has fantastic traditional Slovakian food. I can also see us exploring the café culture again with another walk along the Danube.
I should mention that from now on I’m thinking of referring to Barry as Encyclopedia. Barry is a high school teacher who is this close to getting his master’s. He has been a wealth of knowledge about virtually every city in central and eastern Europe. Truth be told, I’m more than a little envious.
Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have written that last statement because Barry reads my blogs and he’s an arrogant little son of a bitch who will lord that statement over me. I will then have to listen to him crow about his superior intelligence for the rest of the trip! Of course, he is in constant, knee-weakened awe of my writing prowess so I guess we’re even.
No, really, his knowledge astounds me. As a history and culture buff, it’s wonderful for me to have him embellishing these experiences with real life history and relevant facts. I wish I had his knowledge.
As I mentioned earlier, we are no longer visiting Kiev. We found that the flights available were not beneficial to our timetable and that the costs were quite substantial. So, we are going to Warsaw for three days, instead. We will fly from Budapest to Warsaw and then from Warsaw to Moscow. Stay tuned. Same bat-time. Same bat-channel.