08 August 2010
So there we were, on the train, when Christian went “oh shit, we’re here!”. ‘Here’ being Bratislava of course. What a non-event of a station. Looked as desolate and ramshackle as the last few very rural ones had – and we’d expected something a little more urban and impressive. Nonetheless, new places and excitement. Jumped into a taxi (a 1980-ish Opel Astra) with an aging rocker-style driver, blaring Iron Maiden while pointing at things ‘n stuff along the way and repeatedly telling us everything was “Short walk. Centrum”, with Yellow Pages finger walking motions for full effect.
Bratislava seemed very grimy, dirty and ‘modern’ compared to Prague (ie not the pretty old facades and bridges, rather grey, grimy glassed buildings you’d expect in Pretoria or any other place that had a building spurt in the 70s and little interest paid to it since). We had a bit of a sinking feeling that maybe we’d started on too high a note, to the detriment of the more modest Central European countries, and that we’d made the wrong choice opting for the extra night in Bratislava over one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vienna.
But all was not lost… we loved our hotel from first moment.
Described as “70s retro” by their own website (www.hotelkyjev.com), the place is a gem, with a little yellow Police Trabbant in the foyer, amazingly helpful staff (who speak good English), a pocket-buster of a metal art nouveau room keyring… and pints for 1 Euro (emblazoned everywhere as ‘the best price in Bratislava’ – we subsequently checked and it sure is!). The room is spartan in a 70’s porn way, with an all-in-one built-in carpeted headboard, side-table cum ledgey thing coupling with a mid-shin coffee table and a burgundy velvet(een) chair to make a very comfortable seating amenity, next to the double-paned windows with blinds between the panes (boy did that keep us entertained for the first few minutes) and the brightest, happiest, least hotel-ish yellow, orange and brown floral curtains you have ever seen!
We tested the in-house bar. The pints were indeed 1 Euro each (and very lovely cold Staropramens – new favourite so far – at that) and the staff amazingly accommodating and friendly (seeing as we got there at 22h50 and they close at 23h00 after actually working an entire day). They forgot to mention on the flyers that the bar also has the highest barstools in Bratislava (and potentially the world, I bet). ironic since the locals all seem quite squattish bulldoggy sorts, men topping out at about 5ft8.
They do a cracker of a buffet breakfast too. Always hate a continental breakfast, feeling like – being the morning person I am (not) – the effort to be grateful for the breakfast inclusion isn’t worth the croissant and fruit offering. This one was a pleasant surprise!
– cereals x 3 with chilled milk (didn’t touch)
– danishes and breakfast pastries platters (didn’t touch)
– fruit (nabbed an apple and orange for later)
– yoghurt (had a strawberry one at breakfast, Christian took a raspberry take-away)
– bread baskets with white and brown rolls and slices of health bread (nabbed rolls for breakfast AND lunch take-aways)
– cold meats platter (nabbed 2 types of ham and salami for lunch rolls)
– cheese slices in 2 light cheese varieties and a basket of cream cheese triangles (liberal handful grabbed)
– fried and scrambled eggs (me scrambled, Christian fried)
– bacon: strange little 5cm x 3cm mini-slices, half fat, half meat (grabbed a heap of that mmmm)
– viennas (nabbed)
– chourico (nabbed)
Too many goodies so we did cooked breakfast subs at the table and made ham and cheese rolls for take away and hit the streets of Bratislava.
We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to see as we’d spent some time studying the map in the bar the night before. We had no idea how close everything was though. Turns out that everything’s a couple of roads this way or that and it’s a really manageable city to navigate around – fortunately with enough to see and do for us to keep ourselves out of trouble for the better part of the day. We walked ourselves flat, touring the Castle, seeing countless churches (including one called The Blue Church, very obviously from it’s garish brrrright blue paint job worthy of no less than Lenasia! Not sure if this is a sign or a warning seeing as things have finally started moving on The Blue House), the Old Square, the Old Town etc etc.
Couldn’t defy convention, so settled into a nice avenue cafe for some sundowners in anticipation of the final trawl home. The Hare Krishna squad had set up shop in the park opposite and were dishing out mounds of white, reddish and yellowish stuff. Likely rice and lentil sorts of things. Bratislava’s needy are an orderly, presentable and well-behaved bunch, queuing for their plateful, retiring to the park to eat, rejoining the queue and wash/rinse/repeating until it was all gone. Not sure where they went afterwards though because, despite it’s humble first impressions, the city is spotless and seemingly free of vagrants or underworld of any sort.
Stopped en route back to the hotel to get a ‘Rich Man’, which Christian had read about online. A chain of sandwich shops (seemingly mostly operating from little portable kiosk akin to the cell phone ones at home) that specialise in a heated sandwich with ham, cheese, mayo and cabbage. 1,60 Euros for a mammoth sandwich that fed the 2 of us. We tried, we like.
Quiet evening in (beer and cards in the hotel bar) to save strength for impending day trip to Vienna (oh, and we were knackered from a day of pushing the pavements. And we love our hotel) and then ended the day with a quick visit to the local KFC. Very disappointing. Mash very good, gravy like coloured water. Skinny chips like McD’s, but cold and chewy. I had the Grander burger, punted as the equivalent of a Chomp to a baby hippo. All that was bigger was the bun, so the poor little chicken fillet looked like Nigel No Mates. On a BROWN bun. I mean, really? Christian’s Tower Zinger was ok.
Still counting ourselves lucky we didn’t hit the McD’s though. Had interest piqued since Prague by their new campaign, which is all blue background, with a feature burger… with a whale tail behind it. Seriously. Closer inspection seems to indicate that the blue / whale theme is supposed to be Mediterranean. The feature menu is:
1) Tzatziki and feta beef burger on a herby focaccia
2) Parmesan beef burger on a parmesan ciabatta
3) Provenciale crinkle cut potato wedges
4) Tempura-style deep fried prawns
Check it out http://www.mcdonalds.sk/sk/novinky/prid_na_chut_stredomoriu.shtml . Very odd.
Up and out bright and breezy this morning. Same routine with the breakfast / take-away rolls for lunch routine, then out for a brisk walk to the bus station to catch the 09h30 to Vienna. Although only something laughable like 47kms away, the bus takes an hour and a half, slowing to a crawl through some very narrow one-lane country towns along the way. Very pretty countryside though – and still pleased not to have to drive as the right hand side of the road is no more comfortable than when we first got here.
Great day out in Vienna. Beautiful city, with beautiful old buildings and plazas, conveniently tightly locked in a very manageable epicentre so we got to see everything – and some stuff we wouldn’t have bothered with had they been any further out seeing as we were on foot and only had the one day to explore. Got loads of pics of us posed like proper tourists in front of all sorts of buildings and fountains that am sure will be a challenge to caption when the time comes, but still…
Made a stop in at the 1516 bar and tried out the local recommendations, then hit the other side of the Danube to see what the residential quarters had to offer. Managed to find a cosy little wendy-house type thing to settle in for our sarmies and joked that with property prices what they’re likely to be, this would be our new settling home should we move to Vienna (which incidentally, we think we’d do in a flash).
Caught the Twin City liner down the Danube for a riverboat route home and can’t say there’s much to report on the journey or view. (Probably because we were both napping after another day of marathon mileage on foot).
Boat docked in the new part of Bratislava, which we hadn’t bothered with. Glad it did – awesome marina with loads of riverfront bars and cafes, a live concert set-up, wonderous sunset… and the inevitable sundowners (Christian’s beered out now and onto wine).
Sticking with the mariners theme, fish, calamari and chips for dinner, accompanied by a local special – potato dumplings with bryndza (sheep) cheese. very good.
Up and off to Budapest tomorrow. Might have to have a lasty in the hotel bar tonight to get Christian to sleep any – he’s super-excited about seeing Bad Religion tomorrow! Bring on Sziget!!