Bratislava, the big little city on the Danube

I am at the Budapest Keleti, to catch the 11:30 train to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The journey takes me two and thirty minutes, costs me EUR21.00 and gives me time to read up on what to do and see at my next destination.

Budapest Keleti

Set along the Danube River, Slovakia borders Austria and Hungary. My hotel, the Ibis Centrum is located in the centre of the capital city Bratislava, an 18th century old town with cobbled streets, wide pavements, cable cars and cycling tracks. My first impression is that it is a quiet city that has been overrun by Austro-Hungarian rulers.Pressburg Castle

Close to the hotel is the Bratislava Castle, once known as the Pressburg Castle. I climb up a steep, winding road and come to this imposing landmark that is a symbol of this city. This 9th century castle has seen the coronations of many rulers and became formal seat of the kings of Royal Hungary. One of the most famous of them is Maria Theresa of Austria who became the queen of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1740. Maria Theresa promised the nobles of the kingdom that she would have a residence both in Austria and in Hungary and therefore spent a lot of her time in Bratislava.

Panoramic view from Bratislava Castle

The castle has an interesting design with four wings, each with a corner tower. This gives us now, and the Hungarian rulers at that time, a panoramic view from every side. During the mid 16th century, when Bratislava became the coronation city of the Hungarian Kingdom, council meetings were held at the castle and the coronation jewels were stored here. In 1811 the castle burnt down and was reconstructed only in the 60s and, even today there is still some reconstruction going on.

Inside Bratislava Castle

One floor is a museum for art and much of Europe’s history along with its rulers are captured on the walls. Another floor has a small private church with a beautiful pipe organ. I am told that photography is forbidden.

However, in my opinion, the entire Castle has lost its definitive look due to the renovations and now resembles some wealthy landowners home.

I take a walk along Baštova Street one of the narrowest streets of Bratislava, and get onto Kapitulska Street. This street maintains its old colourful grandeur and on this beautiful day the cafes and restaurants have brought out their tables and chairs for customers to sit and soak up the sun. I indulge in a yummy hot chocolate!

St. Michael’s Gate

Another popular landmark is the Michael’s Gate, the last standing gate in Bratislava. This is one of the main entrances to the city’s Old Town and the street leads down to the banks of the Danube.

St. Martin’s Cathedral. Photograph by Miroslav Petrasko

Within a short walking distance is St. Martin’s Cathedral, the largest and finest, as well as one of the oldest churches in Bratislava. The cathedral is best known for being the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830 and has held 19 coronations, one of which was Queen Maria Theresa. The Cathedral’s 85 m high spire stands above the Old Town’s skyline.

Primate’s Palace

The day is perfect for walking so I amble towards the Primate’s Palace. Built in the 18th century, this is considered to be one of the more beautiful buildings in Bratislava. Here too, history is recorded in large oil paintings of the famous Hapsburg royalty. The rooms are covered in 17th century English tapestries, crystal chandeliers and ornate furniture and of course the stunning Hall of Mirrors, which played a significant role in Slovakia’s history including the signing of the “Peace of Pressburg” treaty in 1805. Today, this Palace serves as the seat of the Mayor of Bratislava.

The courtyard has a fountain and a statue of St. George, depicting the legendary knight slaying the dragon. According to one legend the figure of St. George represents the archbishop, and his fight with the dragon symbolises the efforts of the Catholic Church to banish the Reformation from the city. Each year, on St. George’s Day, the stone statue is supposed to come to life, turn around on his horse and bow to the inhabitants of the city. I love legends as it always inspires imagination!

Grassalkovich Palace

I come across a large fountain with a massive globe of Earth placed in the middle. This is the foreyard of the Grassalkovich Palace, the official seat of the president of Slovakia. Yesteryear it served as a venue for aristocratic events and concerts.

There are stately looking guards at the entrance that is reminiscent of Europe’s monarchy. The Palace is out of bounds and I can only admire it from afar. But an interesting piece of graffiti etched into the side of the fountain reads: we dreamt about utopia and wake up screaming. A clear message to the powers that rule and very relevant to my corner of this world too!

I have been told to look out for the famous statues at the Main Square of the Old Town. These quirky statues were installed around this square in an attempt to enliven the greyness of a once Communist era.

There’s Cumil who has been here since 1997. No one knows what exactly he’s up to or what he’s looking up at!

Napoleon’s Army Soldier leans over a bench whilst tourists stop by to sit with him for a few moments. Apparently when Napoleon and his army were in Bratislava in 1805, one of his men, called Hubert fell in love with a local girl and stayed on to become a wine producer. Hubert’s wine is considered to be very popular in Slovakia even today.

Schone naci was a poor and mentally ill man who paraded the streets of Bratislava in the early 20th century. He would dress up in velvet dress and top hat and greet passers-by and bow to ladies!

Paparazzi once hid behind the wall of an Italian restaurant and was taken away when the restaurant moved. The city authorities are trying to get this statue back.

Slovak National Theatre

I have to get to the Slovak National Theatre by 6:30 pm as I have tickets to Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, the whole drama is in Slovak but yet it was quite an experience watching this stage performance.

It’s started to rain and I hurry across the square to Wagamama a chilled out fusion Japanese restaurant. Yum! It is a delightful evening. I have enjoyed Bratislava. The food, the people and the place has been quite an experience.

Now it’s time to travel on and this time I take a boat down the Danube to my next destination, Vienna.

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