Monday, July 30, 2012

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA

Shortly after Bob and I got married, I made a list of things for him to do and tacked it to the refrigerator door.  BIG mistake. Bob rather firmly informed me that I was never to make lists for him.  I've been pretty good about that during the last 32+ years, but I must say that he has done an admirable job of taking up the list-making habit for himself.

However, whereas my list for him looked somewhat like this:
- dump garbage
- mow lawn
- pick up socks
- clean dog kennel

HIS checklists are "Done" lists rather than "To-Do" lists and are a bit more exciting than the one I made.  He has lists of unusual foods he has eaten, Fourteeners he has climbed, restaurants where he has dined, states he has visited, Presidential libraries he has seen, and foreign countries he has been to.

It is because of that last item on his "Done" list that we ended up in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia.  As you can see, it is conveniently located between three other cities we visited on our trip, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest.  Bob decided that he needed to add Slovakia to his "Done" list, even if it meant staying for only an hour or two.  Chris and Stan were willing, and the plan was set.
We hopped on a train in Vienna, and in about an hour we were in Bratislava.  We spent a total of two-and-a-half hours there, an hour-and-a-half of which was spent walking from the train station to Old Town and back. (Yes, Bob, you were right and Rick Steves was wrong. We should have hailed a cab to save time.)

When I was growing up, Slovakia didn't exist.  It was part of Czechoslovakia.  Up until 1918, Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Empire.  In 1918, the region declared its independence and became the sovereign state of Czechoslovakia.  After World War II it was part of the Eastern Bloc controlled by the Soviet Union, gaining its independence after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.  It remained one country until 1992, at which point it peacefully split into present day Slovakia and the Czech Republic in an action sometimes called "the Velvet Divorce."

Bratislava is a modern metropolitan city defined by a somewhat decaying old elegance.  Although it has almost a half million people, it felt much smaller than that. It wasn't as well-preserved or restored as Prague and Vienna.  In fact, the city's time-worn cobblestones from the streets and sidewalks were sold by the Soviets to German towns that were rebuilding after the War, and they replaced them with ugly pavers.

Grassalkovitch Palace, where the President of Slovakia lives and works, seemed relatively accessible and unguarded:

There were Palace Guards and they were very cute, but I'm not sure how effective they would be against invaders. The KGB (or even Secret Service) they ain't.

As in most European cities, Bratislava was full of interesting public art:




This beautiful statue of a mother with two children was in someone's front yard, right next to the driveway:

"The Fountain of Joy" is located in a somewhat run-down park across from the Presidential Palace.  Note the lack of water in the fountain:
The Peace Globe Fountain was built, ironically, during the Communist Era:

Can I have a front door like this, Bob?  Maybe Andrew could do the art on the individual panels.  I wish I knew more about it.  The word "charita," which means "charity" in English, is painted in a line along the top of the door:
One of my favorite pieces of "art" was this simple compass in the center of town.  Many capital cities, including Moscow, Tokyo, Paris, and Washington, D.C., have a similar "Kilometer 0" plaque from which all other distances in the country are measured.  This one, however, shows the direction and distance in kilometers from Bratislava to twenty-nine other cities of the world. (Maybe that's because not many people have heard of any city in Slovakia other than Bratislava.)
I thought some of the distances were very interesting. Remember that 1 km = .62 miles.
*Vienna - 57 km, Budapest - 165 km, and Prague - 290 km (the three other cities we visited)
*Warsaw - 530 km (the next closest city after the three listed above, and one of the places that is high on my list to visit)
*Berlin - 555 km and Moscow - 1632 km (the two super powers on either side of Bratislava during World War II)
*London - 1288 km and Paris - 1094 km (not much help against Russia during the War because Germany was in the way)
*Jerusalem - 2,371 (a long way for displaced Jews to go)
*New York City - 6856 km (add 3900 km to get to LA and we were about 10,856 km, or 6745 miles, from home)
*South Pole - 15,337 km and North Pole - 4667 km (Santa Claus wins out over penguins)

Walking through some parts of Old Town, with its narrow streets and ancient buildings, made us feel like time travelers:
Just ignore that antenna

Approaching St. Martin's Cathedral, the one place where we spent more than a few minutes:

It was built between 1311 to 1452. (It was finished 40 years BEFORE Columbus.  That's OLD.) At one time, Bratislava was the capital of the Hungarian Empire.  Nineteen Hungarian kings and queens were crowned in this Gothic church from 1563 to 1830.


Does this organ look a bit more modern than the cathedral to you?  Well, it is.  It was just installed in 2010.  As a novice tourist of old cathedrals, this clash between old and new used to bother me.  We saw a lot of it on this trip, however, and it has started to grow on me. After all, some of these churches have taken centuries to build, making their way through several architectural styles, and this is just one more style to show they are still a work in progress.


Bob researched the story behind the statue below and its connection to the cathedral.
Here is what he wrote: St. Martin refers to Martin of Tours, who lived from 316 to 397. Martin was born in Hungary and his father was a senior officer in the Imperial Horse Guard, a unit of the Roman army. He grew up in northern Italy where his father was stationed. Martin, himself, joined the cavalry at age 15 and was stationed in Gaul, at what is now Amiens, France. While in the Roman army and stationed in Gaul, Martin was approaching the gates of Amiens where he was met by a scantily clad beggar. Martin cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels, “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clad me.” Martin was later baptized at age 18. In 371 he was named Bishop of Tours. In 372 he founded the Abbey of Marmoutier, just outside of Tours.

The cathedral was full of interesting art.  Note the painting to the left of this beautiful altarpiece.  Who is that man?  It doesn't look like the last person crowned here, Ferdinand V.  If anyone knows, please tell!
 
Tender depictions of Christ:
 

I LOVED these wood carvings that adorned the choir seats.  The first one is my favorite:
 
 


The church was built on the site of a cemetery and so there are extensive catacombs and crypts beneath it.  Before we left, we took a trip down these stone stairs to the one crypt open to tourists. It contains more than 90 graves.

 

As we walked around the cathedral, we noticed that there is a very busy road that runs within a few feet of the front entrance. 
The road is the access ramp to a huge bridge over the Danube built in 1972 during the Soviet era.  In the middle of the bridge is a flying saucer-shaped structure atop a tower that has a restaurant in it.  I'm not sure where someone who wants to eat there parks, and walking to it on this busy bridge looks a bit scary.  Very interesting.

I'm always intrigued by graffiti, and I liked this art that we saw on our walk back to the train station.


Of course, all that walking made us hungry. The good news was that gelato in Bratislava was cheaper than any other gelato on our trip. It cost 60 Euro cents per scoop, or about 78 cents U.S.  In my notes I gave the dark chocolate an A and the strawberry a B+.  Bob, we need to go back to Slovakia for more gelato.

This poor old woman obviously did not get enough gelato as she was aging:

We had just enough time when we got back to the train station to pick up the second course of our lunch. This juice almost looks like it is called "Judy":

. . . and then we were on our way to Budapest.

5 comments:

  1. I'd forgotten our mistake of not taking a taxi. Ah well, one must burn those gelato calories somehow.

    Judy, I've got to say Bob makes better lists than you do. I think I'd let him make all the family lists if I were you.

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  2. I'll go to Slovakia because of my list and you'll go back to get cheap gelato. Somehow I think it is okay on both counts. If we could have had another couple of hours, I think it would have been about just right.

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  3. Did you notice the old woman has an adjustable cane so she can keep making it shorter every year?

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    1. You are right! It's hard to imagine she could be any more bent over than she is.

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  4. Fun. I like how you led with chocolate, then finished up with lunch. I, too, love the carvings on the pews in the church. We toured a lot of "second tier" citiesk in Italy, and while they all have their charm, we feel about the same--that the money's gone to the Big Boys in terms of tourist sites. We always discover something interesting, but in terms of touristing, it's spotty.

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