- Day 1: Vienna, Austria
- Day 2: Bratislava, Slovakia
- Day 3: Salzburg, Austria
- Day 4: Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
- Days 5-7: Munich, Germany and Oktoberfest
- Days 8-10: Hamburg, Germany and Tracy’s Wedding
- Days 11-12: Hallstatt, Austria
- Day 13: Innsbruck, Austria
- Day 14: Innsbruck to Murten
- Days 15-16: Murten, Bern and the Swiss Alps
- Day 17: Lucerne, Switzerland
- Day 18: Zurich, Switzerland
Dates: September 18-October 5, 2015
A day trip from Austria to a whole other country? Easy
enough when you’re in Europe, and not the only time on this trip we did so. Our
second full day in Europe we drove over the border to Slovakia’s capital city
of Bratislava. Slovakia, like the Czech Republic, Hungary and other neighboring
eastern European countries, is a country occupying the land that was previously
influenced by the communist Soviet Union. Coming out its communist days, the
city was known for being rather drab next to its charming neighbors like Vienna
and Prague. Nowadays, though, the city is making a comeback, especially its
car-free 13th century old town.
Welcome to Slovakia!
Before its Soviet days, Slovakia had been part of the
Hapsburg Empire, and when that broke up after WWII, they were merged with
present day Czech Republic to form Czechoslovakia. This union didn’t go so well
– Czechs resented having to take care of the poorer region. Communism was also
unkind to the country and left the economy in shambles. Then they gained
freedom from the USSR in 1989 as part of the Velvet Revolution and in 1992 the
Czechs and Slovaks mutually agreed to part ways. This was made official in
1993, and Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004.
Bratislava these days is absolutely booming with a mere 3%
unemployment rate, but the poorer eastern region of Slovakia feels as if it’s
only getting poorer.
When we got into the heart of the city, we realized right
away from the road closures and masses of people in the streets that we were
arriving in the midst of some kind of demonstration or protest. After finding
parking and following along with Rick Steves’ self-guided walking tour, we
asked a waitress what it was all about. She didn’t really know, other than
something to do with “liberty”.
A mysterious protest – if you know the language, let me know what that says.
Our self-guided tour took us through the Old Town
and Michalska Brana (St Michael’s Gate). This area had been badly damaged by
bombing in WWII and then the Communist regime ignored the area entirely. It
became desolate until the fall of communism in 1989. At this time, the
government began a long process of restitution to determine who had the rights
to what parts of the buildings. Once that was sorted out (10 years later), the
town became a car-free zone and private owners restored their properties.
Old Town and Michalska Brana
Notably, throughout the Old Town, you can still see
cannonballs embedded in the walls of buildings- not from WWII, but rather
Napoleon’s siege of the city.
We also stopped at the most fabulous chocolate shop I’ve
ever been to. I say this because I had the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve
ever experienced – a rich, creamy dark chocolate drink with raspberries. Of
course, this was to accompany the assortment of chocolate truffles and cake we
got there too. If you’re ever in Bratislava, please visit the Cu Karen na Korze
chocolate shop in the Old Town – you will not be disappointed.
Our cake and truffles. The hot chocolate was too busy being consumed by me to pose for a photo.
Our walking tour ended at St. Martin’s Cathedral after
visiting the unique and moving Holocaust Memorial. From here, we had a view of
the SNP Bridge, a strange, UFO-esque remnant from the days of Communism. This
was a fitting note to conclude our meanderings through Bratislava’s history:
its medieval Old Town, its WWII and Holocaust aftermath, its subsequent period
of communism, and now the intersection of all of these, where an old cathedral,
a bustling highway, and a futuristic symbol of Communist “success” all meet.