Friday, October 2, 2009

10/1: Bratislava means well

After a brief overnight stay in Budapest, we headed to the rail station with dreams of arriving in Bratislava for a Slovakian lunch before visiting our final vacation destination of Vienna in the afternoon. All of this came to an abrupt halt (literally) when the train glided over a dog. They didn't collide - but the train passed over the dog and his tail got pinched in some machinery.
After a two hour wait for veterinarians to carefully free the tail -- plus the train was almost an hour late leaving Budapest to begin with -- we arrived in time for an early dinner. Olga was looking for anything reminiscent of a popular Soviet-era Slovakian tv show "Spadle z Oblakov" (She fell from the Sky). Sadly, the only aliens we found were ourselves.

To me, Bratislava is reminiscent of what Prague could have been - or still could be - but its grandiosity was stopped short and the buildings have since been crumbling during the past few regimes. Some squares -- Hlavne Namestie (Main Square) and Hviezdoslavovo Namestie (the other square?) -- have been painstakingly restored to their former glory, but otherwise you see what it looks like when the Hapsburg Austrian empire is left to battle with the relentless armed forces of time.

In the past 15 years, with dreams of luring suburban families back into Bratislava -- and tourists too -- the city has created a series of cute statues throughout the Old Town. There is Schoner Naci (the friendly guy with the top hat who likes to hit on Slovakian women), Cumil (the peeper who keeps an eye on things from a manhole), Napoleon (recreated shoeless and with a hat several sizes too large), and the paparazzi (who is just dying to photograph me reading a book).

Hats off to Rick Steves for pointing out the most precious gem in Bratislava: the chocolate shop Cokolada on Michalska in the Old Town. After a hot cokolada/kava (mocha) drink and Moly (ice cream beverage) -- and a doggy bag with 4 chocolates to try on the road -- we were ready to head on to Vienna for the night.

If there's anybody out there who (besides me as of yesterday) has even been to Germany but not Austria, note that Austria has the same exact public transit system: U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Strasse-Bahn, and ultra-efficient long-distance rail system. We rode 3 of these yesterday on the way to the hotel, and hopefully will explore more in our final day as tourists in Central Europe.

We are staying in Dr Geissler's Pension, which is an apartment building with several of the apartments converted into rooms for rent, some with toilet, some with shower, some with both, some with neither. It is bare bones, but absolutely clean, have everything a traveler needs (breakfast with fresh breads/meets/cheese, elevator, convenient subway access), but nothing luxurious (wifi, chocolate on the pillow, possibly maid service?). Sort of 3-star quality/cleanliness/efficiency with 1-star amenities. Works our perfectly for ending of our trip in the most expensive city we have visited so far.

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