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Bratislava, Slovakia: Small in size, big in culture
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Born in 1989, Slovakia is a young country. Though very young, its Capital city, Bratislava, takes pride in maintaining the country’s heritage that date backs to 5th century and its rich culture that came along with it. On the other hand the city has embraced modern infrastructure and outlook.
We were in Vienna, Austria for 3 days. One of the days we had kept aside to visit Bratislava which was only 60 kms away. Visitors have the option to hit the road, or take a train or the boat. Cruising River Danube was a good idea for us as it is for thousands of visitors. Good to know that Bratislava is the only Capital City of the world that’s so close to another Capital city. Bratislava and Vienna make a Capital pair.
The pier of the Twin City Liner is at Sweden Platz. The jet boat makes 5 trips every day from Vienna to Bratislava and back. Your day and time of travel will decide the cost of the trip. The one-way ticket could be Euro 22 or 29 or 31. For our outbound journey we took the one departing Vienna at 9AM. The return journey would depart Bratislava the same evening at 6:30PM. Do make it a point to buy your tickets in advance. During holiday season, the boats run pretty full.
We took a taxi from our hotel. In about 15 minutes we were at Sweden Platz where the pier is. The travel time between the two cities is 75 minutes. While the indoors were plush and air-conditioned, many of the travelers, including us, enjoyed the sundeck. The gush of wind, however, made it hard for me to stand still to take pictures.
Actually, it’s a canal in Vienna that eventually meets with River Danube. On both sides of the river are fishermen’s cabins with their typical Chinese fishing nets. Some homes of the rich and famous also dot the banks. As we crossed the Austrian borders and entered the Slovakian waters, the crew made it a point to hoist up the Slovakian flag… I guess that’s a legal norm that needs to be followed. Exactly the opposite happened on our return leg… with the Austrian flag going up.
When we were about 10 minutes away from our docking pier, the glimpse of the Burg Castle (aka Bratislava Castle), sitting proud on a hill, hinted that we were near. We docked as scheduled at 10:15AM.
Welcoming us were the volunteers of Flora Tour. This company has cute little red coloured open buses that take visitors on tours of Bratislava. I think they are tied up with the boat company because one of the volunteers was selling bus tour tickets on board itself. It was a good idea to spend Euro 10 per person for the scheduled 60-minute tour. The bus would take us through various sites in Bratislava including the castle and drop us in front of the Opera on the edge of the Old Town. Our plan was to foot the Old Town thereafter. In fact, that’s the best way to explore the Old Town albeit there’s an option of taking an even smaller bus to do the Old Town tour!
In our bus tour, we passed through Jesenskeho Street, famous for the shopping opportunities; The Inverted Pyramid, actually it’s an office of the Slovakia Radio; Grassalkovich Palace, official residence of the President of Slovakia. We made a 15 minute halt at Burg Castle. That gave us the opportunity to walk around the castle premises and view the city and the River Danube from a vantage point. The observation tower on the New Bridge and the St. Martins Dom, towering above the city roofs were the prominent sights.
The Bratislava Castle is a dominant feature of Bratislava. The site was inhabited as far back as Celtic and Great Moravian times. The castle went under massive reconstruction during the Gothic and Renaissance period and during the reign of Maria Theresia. During my visit some renovation work was going on. Visitors can inspect the Courtyard, the Treasury and the first exhibition room.
By 1PM we were dropped in front of the Slovak National Theatre. That would be our starting point to explore the Old Town. We had almost 5 hours of walking to do.
As soon as we entered Panska Street, we were greeted by Bratislava’s most famous mural – a statue sticking out from a hole. Named Rubberneck, this poor soul lost his head twice because of some reckless drivers.
Further up in Sedlarska Street is another statue that commemorates the eccentric dandy who dressed in a top hat and tails and lived in the beginning of the 20th century. He was often spotted strolling around Bratislava’s korzo (a pedestrian zone) handing flowers to ladies passing by. Good soul!
Soon we walked into the Old Town Square the location of the Old Town Hall – a 14th century house with a tower. This is a fascinating place to unwind. We decided to grab a bite in one the many bistros… sandwiches, fries and cola ensured that we would survive the rest of the day. For the next 45 minutes or so, we just chilled seeing the world laze by. Few street artists and performers were busy with their tricks.
Next, we walked the Michalska Street, one of the prettiest and indeed the busiest. The stone paved road had shops and houses on both sides. The Michalska Street leads into St. Michael Gate – a 51 meter tower that once served as one of the four city gates during the medieval times.
We were back in the Old Town Square. The many souvenir kiosks attracted our attention and encouraged us to buy a few Slovakian craft – essentially laced tableware. Poorer by a few Euros, we continued our walk to reach Primatial Palace, which was former archbishop’s winter palace that dates back to 18th century.
After hours of walking, we came back to our starting point. Just opposite the Slovak National Theatre is a beautiful garden. We took a bench and enjoyed a much needed break. Just nearby was the Reduta – an eclectic building completed in 1919 on the site of the former state granary. Today it is the home of Slovak Philharmonic.
For the next 45 minutes we walked along the Danube. By 6PM we reached the pier. Our jet boat left as scheduled at 6:30PM. At 7:45PM we were back at Sweden Platz. A little walk got us to a junction of streets that was full to the brim with locals & tourists. The neighbourhood is famous for its many restaurants offering world cuisine. Dinner that night was at Kohinoor, an Indian restaurant. It was a well deserved meal after a long tiring day.
We took a taxi back to our hotel. Tomorrow morning we would leave for Prague.
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