Bratislava is close enough to Vienna that people do a day trip to the capital of Slovakia and then head back to Austria before the sun goes down. There are river cruises and bus trips, and then there is how I ended up in Slovakia. My wife and I were picked up at our hotel in Vienna and driven to Bratislava in a fancy car by three lovely ladies. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Well it was.
Two of the young ladies were ex-exchange students I knew from a few years ago. I was expecting to see Linda because Slovakia is her home country. Irene was a surprise. She lives in Madrid, which is not anywhere near Slovakia. (Okay if you were sitting on Mars, Madrid and Bratislava would look pretty close.) The third young lady was Linda’s friend and along to give directions and help Linda find her way around. What I noticed right away was that when people speak in Slovakian it sounds like they are fighting. It is the kind of language that wars are made from. (The Slovakian accent is almost exactly like Natasha from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.)
Our first stop was at a castle, Hrad Devin, where the Morava River meets the Danube. This place is amazing. They believe it was established as early as the 5th century BC. I don’t know how they determine these things since Wikipedia hadn’t been invented yet, but figuring that stuff out is not my job and therefore I trust these so called experts. There was a little museum inside the castle where they had laid out all the stuff they found from all the ages and it was pretty cool. (Once the lady behind the counter found out we were Americans she started trying to sell us all kinds of fridge magnets, books, and postcards. She was really disappointed when I passed. I think I got an eye roll from her.) The exhibit focused on the slow transformation of making pots from clay to then working with bronze. It is almost miraculous to see pots made from easy to work with materials and then see the next step and the next step, like the first person who said, “I wonder if putting an onion ring on a hamburger is a good idea,” and then someone else said, “But what if you also put BBQ sauce on that?” I don’t know who first discovered that heating dirt makes it melt, but he/she must have been a pretty smart person. Since then, we have been turning that stuff into things to kill other people with, we are a creative bunch. Mankind hasn’t changed all that much when you take the long view like Carl Sagan and I do.
Here’s the important part, if you are going to Bratislava you must go to Hrad Devin, it is super awesome, and I got to shoot an arrow at a target. (I missed. The bowstring hit my left arm so hard I had a big bruise for two days.)
After the castle it was off to downtown Bratislava. We parked at a mall that could be dropped in any major American city and be pretty swanky looking and then walked along the riverside to the historic city center. The riverside is really cool and there were lots of restaurants with seating alongside the water. The historic center is one of those places that time seems to have forgotten. Lovely, really just lovely. Winding little cobblestone streets, fountains, and some of the coolest statues you will ever see. The Slovokians have a little bit of a sense of humor.
We ate lunch at a traditional restaurant. I ate some meatball things covered in some type of dumpling stuff and accompanied by a sweet and sour cooked cabbage deal. My wife ate a plate of pasta with a Slovakian cheese sauce that Linda said most people don’t like at first, but it was good too.
After lunch we began a grueling up hill climb to the other castle, the new castle, about 10,000 feet above the city. It was hot, it was steep, I am old, and we eventually made it to the top. The views were worth the climb and if I were 30 years younger I would not have felt like I was going to pass out from exhaustion.
We took a bus down the hill and went to the train station. I had to buy a train ticket for the next day and you can’t do that online because…I don’t know why, but you can’t. So you have to go to the train station, and buy a ticket like the old days. Linda did all the ordering, and when I insisted on reserving a seat the ticket lady didn’t look pleased, actually she never looked pleased, but I got my tickets and reserved two seats. (Here’s a life tip for all you rookies out there. If you are traveling by rail in Europe during the summer, RESERVE A SEAT! Especially if your train is leaving in the afternoon. Early in the morning, before 9am, you’ll probably be okay, but once the dirty-backpacking-across-Europe-on-a-Eurail-pass kids roll out of their flea infested hostel bed there will be zero seats for people who aren’t willing to body slam someone else for a seat. It costs a couple extra bucks and when you are taking a four hour train ride you’ll thank me.)
Linda then drove us to her hometown. It was really interesting to see the Slovakian countryside. It is a poor country. People look worn out, the houses look worn out, the streets are worn out, but being a part of the EU will slowly transform this sleepy little country. Linda’s hometown is about 20,000 people and about 45 minutes from Bratislava. For dinner Linda took us to the golf course. I have never had dinner at a nicer golf course. This place is amazing. It is a Jack Nicholas designed course and was the type of place where if it were the US someone would have come up to me and said, “Sir, you know you don’t belong here. It’s time for you to leave.” Instead, I ate dinner overlooking the 18th’s green (an island) and not one golfer hit it into the water.