Bratislava, Slovakia is a small city compared to Vienna and is only a 1 hour train ride away. This was no train ride I have ever experienced before. The train had a connection point, so we all had to get out and then normally, you would just jump on the connecting train. However, this small station only had one platform and the connecting train was on a track behind the original. No walkway in sight, they herded us all down and across the tracks in order to get to the train. The great part of all of this is that it ushered in a “meet cute” for me to meet an English couple. We were all very astonished that this experience was even happening. We talked on the train and I found out that their children were grown and so they decided to start traveling all over Europe for weekend getaways and how surprised they were that with the internet they could book trip details so easily 😉 They knew where they were going so I tagged along until we got to the old part of town. They were incredibly sweet and i am really glad I met them.
It was All Saints Day, so the town is deserted other than a few tourists. I poked my head in one of the first churches I saw and the priest had just begun the service with a song in Latin. The rhythms were soothing so I stayed a while to listen.
The old castle loomed in the distance, so I began my trek up the hill until I came to white gates that welcomed you into the fort-like structure. The door was open with no signs so I went in only to be told I need a ticket. I guess you were supposed to know that a foreboding wooden and basically unmarked door was the ticket center. The castle was full of little passage ways and crawls spaces that led from one room to the next or even one floor to the next. I think I would have liked to play hide and seek here as a child. They had many relics of pottery, very old armor, headdresses and other adornments of an age gone by. When I left the castle, I decided to take a different exit and that was a questionable choice. This was the beginning of my realization that Slovaks only believe in signs up to a point and then you are on your own through random passageways that are not on the tourist map. I finally decided to just orient myself based on church steeples.
One such steeple, I found at the base of the castle and within was the most beautiful stained glass. After this, I walked along until I got into the heart of the old town where to my surprise a few shops were actually open! I went in almost every single one, which was not hard to do since only about 5% of them were not closed for the holiday. One little shop caught my eye down a corridor because it had yellow flowers adorning its entrance. I walked in to discover a little honey shop. The shop keeper was probably excited someone was there on such a slow day and let me and this other girl try one after the other. I bought a few to bring home including a strawberry honey.
For lunch, I found a cozy restaurant full of bricked archways. Again, the entrance out front by the street had a sign, but once in the square you had to guess what door led into the restaurant and that when you opened it someone didn’t shew you out in protest. I picked the right one and was welcomed in and given a menu which was in Slovak so I just pointed to “Salat” and got a delicious salad with chicken, potatoes, sweet peas, tomato and greens. It was hearty on such a cold day.
Later after shopping a bit more, I was in one of the main squares and saw a beautiful gilded door with all kinds of antiques in the windows. When I got closer, I noticed it was a very large coffee shop all decorated for Christmas already. I sat down and ordered a latte and apple strudel. I did this basically because I thought I should. My idea of strudel has always been a sort of doughnut or take away type of desert. Not at all! It was more like a layered apple pie and absolutely delicious. I might have to find a recipe and try making one this Christmas.
My last exploration for the day was the Presidents Palace. Again, I felt like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when she opens the Beasts’ castle looking for shelter…Anyways, up 2 flights of stairs there was a ticket booth…So incredibly worth going to see. The estate rooms are not roped off and somehow unlike any other apartment rooms I have been in, I felt as if I actually walked into someones ornately decorated home. It didn’t feel like a museum at all. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live in such opulence, the palace even had its own church.
Getting home that evening was quite the experience and I am forever grateful for my car back home. At the station my train was cancelled so I had to wait an hour for the next one. No problem, I found a coffee shop outside of the station to pass the time. When I finally did get on the train, it stopped about 1/2 way and said they needed rescue so we all had to get off and wait for buses. They only sent one bus at a time every 15 minutes or so and I didn’t get a ride until the 5th bus. They brought us to a different train station and this got us to our final destination. What was supposed to take 1 hour, took 4!
The important thing is that I arrived to my hotel that evening still, because I had an early flight home that next morning. Overall, I really liked Bratislava. If I came back, I think it would be to explore the other side of the country where I am told they have excellent skiing. How fun would that be?