Tag Archive: Slovakia

The homeward flight is from Vienna but I chose to stay behind in Bratislava before boarding that express bus (Slovak Lines) for the one-hour easy & relaxing bus ride to Vienna Airport. I enjoyed brekkie in our hotel with the boys who left a day earlier, then took off on my own. The plan was to join the afternoon walking tour of “20th Century Bratislava”. Plan B was to do another round of the Old Town, check out the concert hall schedule, visit a museum, lunch al fresco while listening to some music from a street busker, then take the bus to Danubiana Art Gallery which is Bratislava’s own MOMA. Finally, an early evening stroll along the Danube Promenade. Those were the plans. Until it rained. As in the whole day, intermittently. 🌧 ☔️🌧

Grassalkovich Palace is the equivalent of the White House where the President resides. It has a public garden behind which seemed unexpectedly unguarded. The only giveaway that a prominent person lives here are the flags hoisted by the entrance gates. On my last afternoon here and the morning of departure from Bratislava, I passed this corner which is only a couple of blocks from our hotel and took pictures without the tourist crowd.

I took the chance to visit Trinity Church, an 18th century baroque Catholic Church. Situated at the fringes of the Old Town, trams pass by this tiny church with a surprisingly ornate interior and altar. From here I crossed the tram tracks to cross the tiny bridge by the entrance of St. Michael’s Gate. I made good time dropping by the 18th century Neo-Renaissance opera house but they only had ballet performances that evening. Would you believe Bratislava has 2 opera houses? The new one is by the Danube Promenade. I was on my way there to see if I can buy concert tickets when the sky opened up and poured! I only got as far as the Promenade past the UFO Bridge and right before the Slovak National Museum. I took shelter here and made good use of my time. It wasn’t an Art Gallery but a Museum of Natural History. Want to see an extinct woolly mammoth? Come here.

By the time the rain stopped, I’ve decided to skip the concert and the Danubiana Art Museum. Instead, I walked along the Danube Promenade and then took a turn heading for the famous Blue Church. This Church of Saint Elizabeth looks like a wedding cake with creamy frosting amidst a non-descript neighbourhood. It wasn’t hard to find, just that you don’t expect it to be situated here. It was closed but I was able to peer through the windows and took a shot of the interior. Not the best shot, but it will do. 🙄

From the Blue Church I headed back for the Old Town’s Main Square. It poured again. Thankfully, the 18th century Primate’s Palace beside the Old Town Hall has alleyways leading to coffee shops and bars. Getting stuck in LINOS Bistro and Coffee Shop wasn’t a bad idea. I claimed a seat outside watching the rain, watching people rush by, and listening to a busker fiddle with his guitar. When it rains, one drinks. No… there’s no such saying. I made it up 🍷😊🍸

Though the sun sets at 9pm here, I took an early simple dinner of soup and (massive) salad, soaked up the atmosphere of the Old Town then headed back to the hotel. One last stroll in the Main Square, wondering if that 16th century Renaissance fountain should be called Maximilian Fountain or Roland Fountain. Just one of 140 fountains to be found here, but this one’s the oldest. Truly a city of fountains! And then finally, exiting through St. Michael’s Gate out of this charming Old Town. ❤️❤️❤️

Devin is a borough of Bratislava. History records place its first settlement as early as the 5th-8th century B.C., around the time of the Great Moravian Empire. Before Napoleon’s army blew it up in 1809, it served as a boundary fortress and trading port. It became a national cultural monument in 1961 and has since been visited by locals and foreign guests for its strategic location, panoramic views and rich history. The site says the castle is closed on Mondays, but on a Trip Advisor forum someone confirmed that only the Museum is closed while the castle grounds remain open. Swell! Our troop donned our rubber shoes 👟 and off we went via 2 easy red bus transfers (#39 and #29 which terminates just below the castle) to explore the ruins of Hrad Devin. Took us less than half an hour from Bratislava to reach Devin. If you’re driving a car or taking a cab, I’d say you’re there in 15 minutes. Along the way, we’ve met a small crowd of no more than 10 pairs visiting at the same time — all eager to glimpse this well-preserved ruin depicted in Slovakian currency and stamps. In fact, the word “Devin” has become synonymous with anything Slovakian!

Devin Castle is only 12 kilometres from Bratislava’s Old Town and lies on a high cliff right at the confluence of the Danube and Morava Rivers. From the terrace of either the Middle and Upper Castle, you spot Morava joining the Danube amidst a glorious view of Austria (you can ride a boat from Hainburg) across the Danube and where parts of Hungary are visible. We were able to replenish our water bottles in a medieval well within a courtyard just before crossing a bridge over the moat. From here, one climbs the stairs to reach the top platform. I remember a girl of 8-10 years going down the same stairs while I was climbing up with one hand on the rail. She suddenly stopped, looking pale and scared as she looked down. I offered my arm for her to hold on to. Hesitantly she held on to my arm till I got her on the handrail while her dad waited for her on the lower platform. I saw myself in that young girl: adventurous with delayed nervous breaks!

The sun was relentless that mid morning as we climbed our way up the castle ruins. Before the climb, I didn’t see sheep grazing in the castle grounds but I spotted a lone donkey who kept so still under a shed. The red-roofed houses in the village presented a magical panorama amidst the mountains so green with its lush forest. On the side of the Danube and Morava rivers, the Maiden Tower draws your attention. I couldn’t take a good photo without overreaching and risking dropping my iPhone so I grabbed a photo from the Net. The tower is likewise called VIRGIN Tower and a legend goes that a bride jumped to her death from here when her groom was killed by her family who disapproved of the marriage. Sad 😔

The view from the top is certainly worth the climb. A sign says “Horny Hrad” (shut up – It only means Upper Castle 😂) which describes it as having been built in the late 13th century, only to be blown up in 1809 when French army led by Napoleon Bonaparte installed explosives to destroy it. The ruins still tell a compelling (and complicated) story of this castle fortress once held by monarchs from the Austrian and Hungarian kingdoms. It’s hard to even imagine that the border of the Iron Curtain once ran just in front of this Castle.

Photo sourced from the Net

The Maiden Tower. Photo Sourced from the Net

On a good day like we had, it would be nice to explore the hiking and biking trails. But our energy levels were down to a single bar and we were eager to ride back to the city for lunch and a bit of air-conditioned retail therapy. The hike would have been an ideal activity during spring when the farm animals are put to pasture and the flowers are in bloom. We didn’t bother checking the dining places near the castle but we’re told there are a few offering authentic Slovak cuisine. Just the same, Hrad Devin is one of the highlights of our trip to Bratislava . So glad we went even though the Museum exhibits were closed. 💕

This is my 4th time in Vienna and it’s only now that I’ve visited nearby Bratislava, Slovakia. I never thought it’s only an hour away from Vienna by bus on fare that costs a measly €5 (with snacks and bottled mineral water!). Of course you can travel in style and take that taxi ride between Vienna Airport and Bratislava for less than €100. Do note that it cost me €45 taxi fare from Vienna airport to my hotel in the city center. So, what gives? If you prefer small cities to big cities, spend more time in Bratislava where food, taxi, souvenirs, park, hotels and museum admissions are way cheaper. 👍

In our case, we rode the 2.5 hour train journey from Vienna to Budapest where we had a lovely time. From there and a few days after, we took another 2.5 hours from Budapest to Bratislava. Our train cabin was ideal for the 6 of us. My window seat was perfect for viewing the sunflower and corn fields, and tiny churches we passed. From the train station, it was just a short walk to our lovely Bratislava Loft Hotel which sits right above a popular brewery and located between the train station and the Old Town. The hotel offers a free mini bar (yes!) and a welcome drink at The Fabrika Gastropub below, which btw has a very good breakfast spread as well as a la carte meals. We were prepped for lunch while they got our rooms ready and we were happy with our first Slovak meal.

Soon after we deposited our bags in the room, we set off to meet our guide in the Old Town for our afternoon walking tour. It was another long walk (3 hours), but very informative & entertaining. We entered the Old Town through St. Michael’s Gate. Under the arched entrance is the equivalent of “Kilometro 0″ — technically the city center where distances are measured. Just before the gate is a small bridge adorned with love locks where one views the former moat below which has since been converted into a garden cum reading area. I promised myself I’d go back here on my last day with a mug of coffee and a book.

The Old Town is very compact and manageable. You can’t get lost here even if you tried. The lovely thing is there are small churches, historic buildings, fountains, tiny squares, museums, art galleries, an opera house, brass statues here and there, hemmed in by an assortment of pubs, gelato bars, coffee shops, and souvenir stores. There’s also a charming Danube Riverbank Promenade where more of the historic buildings and museums are located. You can’t get bored here. It’s really a small village, quaint and with so much character. And most everyone speaks English!

We were lucky to have blue skies and sunshine on our first 2 days here. On the third day it rained intermittently nearly the whole day. We made good time, led by our able guide whose name is as Slavic as can be – Voultjo? Not sure I’m spelling that right but this pony-tailed guide kept us hooked for 3 hours. He navigated us through the Old Town — the squares, St. Martin’s Church, old town hall, the “Gazer” statue, Opera House, the city walls, the viewpoint from where the UFO Bridge complemented the entire city view, all the way to the castle or Bratislava Hrad. He also gave us very good dining tips!

Just like our walking tour guide in Budapest, Voultjo warned us that his spiel maybe peppered with his political views. All’s well though, we can always do with a local’s opinionated views. We weaved around the quaint village (why are there so many Thai Massage Spas here?), making notes on some sites I’d like to revisit on my last solo (3rd and 4th) days in Bratislava before flying home. In particular, there’s the coronation church of Saint Martin and I spotted a few tiny churches too.

We didn’t get inside Bratislava Hrad but I was keen on going inside one of the Museums or Opera House on my last day. From outside, the castle grounds is really a huge modern park on a promontory from where one gets a 360 degree view of the Old and New Town. The UFO Bridge (it does look like an UFO) is in full view from here, and of course the same Danube River we saw in Vienna and Budapest.

Our guide led us back to where we started in the Old Town after 3 hours of good walking. Thumbs up for this guided walking tour. Being a Sunday, there were more locals and tourists around, longer lines for the gelato, more snooping on a chess game played by old men, there were services in the churches, and more people enjoying the al fresco dining places. We felt we’ve covered most attractions and felt eager to check out Voultjo’s food tips. More on that in the next blog. Watch this page!