Saturday, July 18, 2015

I went to Bratislava twice this summer

"Man at Work" sculpture in Bratislava

 Bratislava in May

Bratislava was the second stop on the Danube River cruise my sister and I enjoyed. On May 29, we cruised from Budapest in the morning and arrived at Bratislava ready to jump on a small bus. The bus took ten of us to something called a Home Hosted Visit in the Slovakian region called Modra, famous for its Slovakian pottery. Anna and her sister Maria showed us around Anna's home where she had her egg decorating tools set up. These decorated eggs are a Slovakian folk art. The designs are painted on dyed eggs with melted wax using a skinny paintbrush.
Anna decorating eggs
Here's a shot of some finished eggs. Notice there are different sized eggs from different sized birds. Each is emptied of its contents, cleaned, dyed, and finally decorated.

We were invited into Anna's living room where we were served cold lemon water and cake, and encouraged to ask questions about Slovakian life and culture. Our guide Zuzana translated for us, and the conversation went from Anna's family and their occupations (mostly automobile manufacturing) and education, industry in Modra, the transition from communism to the present. Anna showed us her extensive garden which came in handy during the transition from communism because there just wasn't anything to buy even if one had money. We ended up in her pottery studio which was part exhibit and part work area:

I have to admit that when we first arrived, I wondered how this visit would play out. My sister and I are introverts and not the best conversationalists--would we be expected to come up with questions?! Oh no! My fears were for naught. This turned out to be an illuminating and enriching experience, and we loved telling our fellow cruisers about it back on the ship.

Bratislava in July

In order to participate in that Home Hosted Visit during the river cruise, we forfeited the standard, included, City Tour. I was intrigued by that cool castle at the top of the hill, but a visit would have to wait until my next visit to the Danube in July when Bratislava was scheduled as an excursion. This turned out to be a 100-degree July Fourth Saturday, when approximately twenty writing students and their leaders rode a big red bus from Vienna to Bratislava's hilltop castle. Our guide, Miro, showed us around the castle which looks like an upside-down table with a courtyard in the middle.

Bratislava's Gothic Castle

The castle's well (in the courtyard)

Bird's-eye View (conveniently posted on a barrier)
 Bratislava is a very old city. There's evidence of civilization there back to the Stone Age and continuously through the centuries to now. The name might not be familiar to you, but if I told you it's the capital of Slovakia, situated on the Danube River, the Germans call Bratislava Pressburg, and the Hungarians traditionally called it Pozsony, you might recognize a name or the location. Slovakia has been part of the Austrian Empire, and more recently part of Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic and Slovakia split apart in 1993, with Prague and Bratislava emerging as the capitals of the two.

Next we toured Bratislava's Staré Mesto or Old Town where we found Saint Martin's Cathedral. Eleven kings and 8 queens were crowned here.

Part of St. Martin's Cathedral, cleverly shot through neighboring buildings

We saw another church connected to the Convent of the Clare Nuns where composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945) took classes as a boy. He lived here from 1893-1899. His mother was Slovakian and his father Hungarian.
The Church and Convent of the Clare Nuns with the castle in the background
Later, Béla Bartók would move to Hungary and would be forever identified as a Hungarian composer. This video of a performance of his Six Slovakian Folk Songs by a multi-national choir was recorded in Hungary.

We walked through St. Michael's Gate, the last of the old town gates...
St. Michael's Gate--see the archway at the bottom of the tower?
 And the Red Prawn, a pharmacy on Michalská Street which houses a pharmacy museum.

The Red Prawn Pharmacy--see the prawn in the middle of the sign?

Poppy seed strudel
After lots of walking in super-hot heat, we found our group's restaurant destination, the Bratíslavskå reštaurácía or Bratislava
Flagship, a huge pub with dark wood paneling, tables, and chairs. Most in our party did not care for their meals, but my theory is that on a cooler day this heavy food would have been more welcome. After an amuse-bouche of HOT chicken noodle SOUP, we had our choice between pork, beef soaked in a dill sauce, or a vegetarian entree which turned out to be dumplings in a cream sauce (not beloved by our vegan writer). The pork people were the happiest because theirs turned out to be schnitzel-style with vegetables. Dessert was poppy-seed strudel with vanilla sauce, and most did not eat theirs. I had gotten used to this particular pastry on the cruise in May, but was secretly wishing that poppy filling was chocolate.

After lunch a group of us searched for the gelato place that Miro had recommended. One scoop of chocolate gelato cleansed my palate and prepared me for a couple of hours of free time in Bratislava's shops.
Authentic Slovakian embroidered linens and crafts in the Staré Mesto

To help us find the big red bus at the end of our Bratislava free time, Miro told us to look for the UFO Bridge and the bus would be parked nearby.

The "UFO" Bridge--there's a restaurant in the round part of that tower.

I don't remember much of that bus ride--I slept soundly all the way back to Vienna!

The writers I talked to enjoyed Bratislava in spite of the oppressive heat, and one even said she'd like to make Bratislava her secret writer's getaway. Although we were there on a sunny summer Saturday, it was not crowded and there were many restaurants, cafes, and gelato establishments to encourage a writer's creativity.

No comments: