Wednesday, November 25, 2015

One Day in Slovakia

Before going to Austria, I had stumbled across an article about day trips from Vienna. One particular city caught my eye... Bratislava. I couldn't turn down the opportunity to visit a new country, so I decided to make a day trip to Slovakia.

For 13 Euros you can buy a roundtrip train ticket between Austria's and Slovakia's capital cities. The ride is only about an hour.

On the train ride over, I heard a variety of languages. It was obvious my train was full of day-trippers, who like me, couldn't resist the chance to tick off another country from their global visit list. I picked up a few tips by listening to the Spanish couple behind me chatting about what they were going to see.

We arrived at a particularly unimpressive train station with a bright overhead sign welcoming you to Slovakia. Comprised of a few cafes and vending machines, this station in no way resembles its counterparts in other European cities. But who cares, no one comes to cities to see train stations anyway.
Bratislava main train station, everything but tracks pictured.
I followed the somewhat bewildered mass of tourists from the train platform to the bus stop right outside. As if all on cue, we entered the same bus into town, occupying all the available space. Residents must hate this.

The tour guides had said that there are two options of stops for the city center. I decided to wait until the majority of my fellow tourists disembarked. Travel 101: follow the masses, at least someone will know where we're going.

Bratislava sure does give tourists a run for their money. After leaving the bus, we found ourselves by a busy highway, with no signs to point the way to the city center. We foreigners huddled together to devise a strategy. If you must get lost in a new city, it might as well be with 20 other strangers.

Someone had a feeling that the city center could be reached by crossing the busy highway on the overpass. Like sheep, we mindlessly followed and lo and behold, he was right! We walked together until we reached the main street in the old town and then nodded to each other before breaking off into our individual units.

Entering Bratislava's old town.

I had done my preparation on the city, as I always do, but found myself a little turned around without a map. All the articles I read about Bratislava basically said there were a few key items to see and the rest was enjoying a leisurely stroll around the compact center.

I spent the first hour or so wandering around aimlessly. Whenever I encountered what appeared to be modern buildings, I knew I had reached the perimeter and turned back inside the old part of town.

I went into a beautiful little church that I didn't know the name of and found relics from a Catholic martyr, including a mummified finger. I hadn't seen one of those since visiting the cathedral in Avila where Santa Teresa worked and lived.
This beautiful Church that I still don't know what is...
I asked some passerbys to take my picture in front of a pastel pink building, again not knowing the name. I was taking mental notes to research everything when I got back to the hotel in Vienna.

Primate's Palace, previous home to Emperors, not monkeys.
I then entered the main city square and saw the statue of Napoleon's soldier that I had read about. This statue is a hotspot for tourist photos. Cafes and coffee shops lined the plaza and the weather was nice. The day was turning out just as pleasant as all the guides predicted.

For the win tourist pic.
I ate lunch in a restaurant with outside seating Solvakian dishes. I ordered some kind of meatball dumpling dish that was really tasting and (thankfully) less hearty than Austrian cuisine. (Sidenote: when traveling in Germany or Austria, just prepare yourself of the feeling of continual fullness.)

Meat dumplings and sauerkraut.

Stolling around the Opera House.
To finish the day, I crossed the highway again to hike up the hill to the Bratislava Castle. I didn't have time to go inside, but the views from the hilltop were impressive. You could see the Danube, plus all of the old city juxtaposed against the modern part.

Bratislava: the mix of old and new.
Bratislava Castle.
I walked back to the bus stop, got on with all the other tourists, and rode back to the train station. Bratislava may not be the biggest capital city, but it's certainly worth seeing. Plus, when might you ever get another chance to go to Slovakia?