Tag Archive: Travels



Here you are, way too giddy with excitement in the vastness of the Savannah plains. Then your camera jammed, wasted after all that zooming in for close up shots. Must be dust in the lens. What do you do? You fish out your iPhone and try your best not to lose your calm. These animal sightings have been your Safari dreams and NO ONE, and NOTHING can ruin this holiday for moí. Seriously. Then, I found a solution. It was my good fortune to be traveling with a hobby photographer. And I did push my luck by unashamedly asking if I could grab some of his photos. Master Photographer Ernie Albano, you saved the day for me! Even if my camera didn’t conk out on me, I couldn’t have taken these lovely, stunning closeups of the safari animals we met and experienced. And just so you know, your dear wife takes pretty neat photos too with her tablet! 😊

Simba and his Queen both make good profiles but admittedly, the Lion King looks more impressive with his royal mane. Ernie caught him with his mane blown by the wind in the vastness of the golden savannah. And don’t you agree he snapped a good impression of the lioness with keen hunter’s eyes? Or have a look at the Mommy and Baby Ellie out on a stroll, or this cheetah with spots so clear you’d want to run your fingers on its fur. Those zoom lens are good but obviously, Ernie has mastered these shots. I’d be afraid to have him take my closeup — warts, wrinkles and all. 😱

Some animals really look lovely. Like the swans of the Savannah — the giraffes, looking so demure with soulful eyes generously endowed with thick, long lashes. So with the regal lions, exotic cheetahs, graceful gazelles and impalas, majestic elephants, tough looking rhinos, smart baboons, sexy zebras. But I couldn’t find an adjective to describe the hippos. We found more of them in Lake Naivasha and in Ngorongoro, but the stinky ones we encountered in Maasai Mara look just the same. Non-descript smelly mammals who look fearsome and aggressive? I’m trying here. Or maybe I’m just biased against them after the mauling incidents and attacks in Lake Naivasha.

Ernie took very good photos of the birds too. The yellow weavers responsible for those nests we found in many trees grace many of Ernie’s frames. My favourite. And there were others — kingfishers, herons, egrets, vultures, cranes and many more species we couldn’t name. We stopped to let him take these impressive shots every so often until we grew tired and connived to refrain from alerting him of our spottings. My bad! 🤐

Thank you, Manong Ernie, for sharing all these Safari photos with me. So crisp and clear, and such depth. Very generous of you. And ohhhh, the last 2 photos I took. Not as crisp nor clear, but just so the readers see you “in action”. Hakuna Matata!😊


I’ve had Safari dreams. The Big 5, witnessing a “kill”, perhaps a mating, or even just watching the Great Migration. Every year, some 2 million wildebeests travel from the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. This annual spectacle in these animals’ search for grass , lasts from July through October covering nearly 3,000 kilometers. To see all these wildebeests with zebras as their likely travel companions from a hot air balloon sounds mind blowing. And for good measure, a champagne breakfast in the bush after that awesome ride won’t hurt. 😊

https://youtu.be/Pc07D7si6ts

📸 by Ernie Albano

We were a party of 12 pax. The 12-seater basket held all of us comfortably, 6 to each side, with Captain Peter right in the middle. Peter is a most amiable man who just happened to love his job taking tourists up in the air over the Maasai Mara National Park. He gently reminds us about the rules while acting as captain, spotter, narrator and even photographer. Every now and then, he’d point to the balloon shadow on the vast Savannah and the Safari cruisers following our flight on the ground as we drifted quietly over the plains. He navigated the balloon right up to the Tanzanian border and pointed out the animal tracks for the migrating animals, the rivers and even joined us briefly for the post-ride breakfast in the bush. He was gone before 9 am. He did warn us while up in the air that he’d make a quick, quiet leave in keeping with his “5 to 9 job” 👌

Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley is contiguous with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Wildlife viewing during the dry months when the wildebeests and zebras migrate from Serengeti to Maasai Mara starting in July is simply magical. Named after the Maasai tribe who lived in the region and using the Maasai word “Mara” which means “spotted”, this reserve is home to the Safari Big 5 as well as to many other wildlife animals. Up in the balloon, Capt. Peter spotted some zebras and wildebeests seemingly playing “follow the leader” as they either moved in a line or as a pack or herd. He likewise spotted a lion but only one of us saw it. I wasn’t quick enough. He lent us his binoculars but I just knew I couldn’t build a career as a spotter. Amazing how these animals expertly camouflage themselves on trees or in the vast wilderness of the Savannah fields. Zebras make a breathtaking sight too when spotted from the air — white animals with brown or black stripes. Yes Virginia, brown. We’re told young zebras have brown stripes which turn black as they mature. I know. I didn’t know that too before coming here. What a spectacle seeing these striped animals run along with their wildebeest buddies!

This experience is absolutely worth waking up to at 3 am. Cold and sleepless, we left our hotel like zombies by 4am for a bumpy one-hour ride towards the “take off” spot where several other balloons lay on their sides before being inflated. It was very cold. And very dark. I went back to the Safari van to keep myself warm while the sun began to peek out before rising. Then the hot air balloon was readied for flight. Take off and landing were smooth. And I do like the pilot’s calm demeanour and modulated voice as he gently prepped us for minor bumps upon landing. The excitement made us forget we’ve been without nourishment since we woke up at 3am. Bush breakfast came with flutes of champagne. We can’t complain. Even the loo with a view was literally “with a view” because there is a huge gap between the flaps so that one sees the vast fields while doing his/her business.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap. But I’m glad I did this. Would have wished to see zebras or wildebeests running and crossing the Mara river while predator lions and crocs lurk, eyeing the weakest among them. But the Great Migration is all there, running or not. Truly G.R.E.A.T. This natural phenomenon is just magical. Fantastic memories stored forever in my heart and mind ❤️


It was not planned and it wasn’t exactly a detour. Lake Naivasha was right along the way and it was a no-brainer to go for it. Some do this as a day trip from Nairobi. After all, this 2nd largest freshwater lake in Kenya is only 100 kilometers northwest from Nairobi and is along the way to Nakuru. Of course we didn’t know at the time that there have been hippo attacks in this area. Hippos being extremely territorial have attacked humans, with the latest incident just 2 days after our visit.

Blue skies and blue waters, with dead trees reaching up, and many water birds resting on a branch or twig. We took the boat safari and motored up to an island where we found a community of hippos lazing around. Most of them looked like they’re sleeping but every now and then, one or 2 would stand up snorting and grunting to stray a bit from the group. It’s hard (and scary) to imagine one of them biting into one Chinese tourist’s chest a couple of days after our visit. Read the tragic news after the wonderful morning spent here where we actually felt safe. A couple of hippos we found wallowing in the waters, peeking out, but our boat carefully observed a distance.

The water birds are another thing. The lake was teeming with trees sprouting out of the lake, providing resting branches for the pelicans, ibises, storks, and many more we couldn’t name. The trees by the lake shore bore many nests, mostly from yellow weavers. The entire place looks so serene and relaxing. The one hour boat safari was enough to see the resident hippos and birds. No wonder this place was chosen as one of the movie locations for “Out of Africa”. Remember that Redford-Streep starrer? I know, you must be humming the movie title’s song now. 🎵🎶

📸 by Ernie Albano
📸 by Ernie Albano

Some Hippo Trivia:

Hippos are 3rd largest land mammals after elephants and rhinos.

Hippos can run at 30 kms per hour.

Hippopotamus is a Greek term for “water horse”.

Hippos need to stay near the water to remain moist. If skin turns dry, it can crack.

Stay away from a “yawning”, honking, snorting and grunting hippo — such are signs that they’re marking their territories.

Life span is up to 40 years.

Closest relatives are whales and porpoises.

One of dangerous animals in Africa because they are highly aggressive especially when you get between them and the water.

Although they largely wallow in water and come out 4-5 hours only to graze, hippos can’t swim nor float. They can however hold their breath for up to 7 minutes.

Even while sleeping, hippos can resurface from the water without waking up.

Hippos secrete an oily red substance that acts as moisturiser and sunblock, but gives the appearance that they’re bleeding.


I have been to Africa before, but never in Kenya. The Great Migration and River (Mara) Crossing is top of mind, but we were eager to see those long pink legs in Kenya. Lake Nakuru was first on the list. Never mind that the flamingos have moved to Lake Bogoria where pink flamingos found a more abundant feeding ground. Algae forming in the lake bed attracts these flamingos with thin, long, pink legs and just as thin, long necks. Still, the few who remained in the area of Lake Nakuru managed to present quite a spectacle amidst cape buffaloes frolicking by the fringe of this soda lake. An iconic image of both Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria is a swathe of these birds feeding as a flock thus carpeting and turning the lake pink or taking flight thus turning the sky pink. To say such scenery is breathtaking would be an understatement. But the numbers have dwindled and the lake in Nakuru is hardly pink.

Still, not all is lost in Lake Nakuru in the Great Rift Valley some 150 kilometers northwest of Nairobi. It is the first rhino sanctuary in Kenya, home to both white and the more elusive black rhino with hooked snouts. The threatened Black rhinos number 25 here, the biggest concentration in Kenya. It also abounds in game animals like leopards and prides of lions who’ve decided not to make an appearance during our visit. 😔 But we were rewarded with sightings of zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles, elands, baboons and many species of birds we couldn’t even name. Birdwatchers will have a heyday here.

By the time we’ve reached Lake Bogoria, it was late afternoon. The “kill” we’ve been praying for happened here. Nothing as grand as a “wait, chase and kill” of hunter beasts seen in NatGeo videos but rather, an unexpected predator bird patiently waiting by the edge of the lake. The whole drama unfolded before our eyes. A Marabou stork threateningly flapping its wings, scaring them pink flamingos to take flight. Flying as a tight flock can be disastrous as these birds may accidentally break their wings as they collide into one another especially in a sudden flight. And a pink flamingo with a broken wing is this stork’s easy next meal. How tragic. The marabou stork lost its charm with our group as we witnessed this lone stork feast on this lovely bird, still moving and flapping its better wing while its predator pulled out what looked like its intestines. Ouch!

(Trivia: Pink Flamingos have pink eggs (inside) and pink milk. Would their intestines be pink too? Must be their diet of brine shrimps, Blue green algae and crustaceans.)

📸 by Master Photographer & good friend Ernie Albano

We can only watch with mixed emotions as the “kill” provided excitement and the slow death made us cringe with disgust as the stork delighted on its meal. We tried as best as we could to soak in the whole African credo that such is the “nature of Nature” — an acceptance of the circle of life. Survival of the fittest may sound harsh, even cruel, but Nature is a universal law of life here without question. We share this same acceptance but seeing Marabou storks the next few days on this trip reminded us of the sad plight of one pink flamingo with a broken wing that lay dying in front of the entire flock, seemingly indifferent to the whole drama. Sad. But such is Nature.

https://youtu.be/Jb-bgXIbxA8


It doesn’t look much – may even be overrated – but it lays claim on history as the Safari lodge where “Elizabeth came as a Princess and left as a Queen.”That’s right. Queen Elizabeth was billeted here in 1952 when her father, King George VI died in his sleep. Her bodyguard at the time wrote on the Visitors Logbook these now-famous lines:

For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen — God bless her.

She acceded to the throne and remains Queen of England to this day. Mom to Prince Charles. Grandma to Prince William. That’s a long time to be Queen. And she sure looks like she’d live to a hundred.

Treetops Lodge is located right within Aberdare National Park in Kenya. A waterhole and salt lick renders the lodge an almost sure pit stop in the elephant migration pathway towards Mount Kenya. This magnificent wildlife can be viewed from the deck, windows or even from the ground, day and night! During dark nights, the hotel lights up a thousand watt “artificial moon” for the animals stopping by the waterhole. But we didn’t have to wait long till a herd of cape buffaloes, elephants, and some antelopes we couldn’t name, dropped in. From nearly 5pm to 9pm, we never grew tired watching them as they passed, stopped, drank, frolicked in the mud. A buzzer in the room can be activated to alert guests that the animals have arrived. Initially, we were happy to see so many cape buffaloes and waterbucks…. until whole families of elephants came. We jumped out of our beds to view elephants seemingly marching down in a line like following their leader who made a thunderous noise exactly as he passed our window!

I’m writing this while seated by a large window watching them elephants. There’s a big one I see now. The alpha male dominates the scene. I am not sure he’s the same elephant I spotted just before sunset. I can skip dinner just watching these animals. I even spotted one peeing! I would have wanted to snap shots from the open balcony overlooking the watering hole, but it has grown too cold for comfort. Also, I feel I’ve taken way too many shots and it’s time to just sit by the window and watch. And listen. So happy for this experience! 😊

Postscript: It’s 12mn now and we have an early wake up call tomorrow. Still looking out the window from our hotel room viewing a couple of elephants and something just passed under our window that I couldn’t make out. The buzzer is quiet. But I’m still fully awake, waiting if I’d get lucky to spot a hyena or a leopard. Another look at the electric fence separating our hotel from the animals around the waterhole gives comfort. 🙄

Some Trivia that’s fun to know:

Cape buffaloes and elephants have exceptional memories. It is said an elephant never forgets while a Cape buffalo never forgives.

Buffaloes have killed more hunters in Africa than any other animal. They are also known to kill lions and their cubs as “preventative punishment”.

Elephant females can have babies till 50 years old.

Elephant trunks can pick up very tiny objects like single rice grains.

The African elephant has bigger ears than its Asian cousin. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks; only Asian male elephants grow tusks. It is said that African elephants have ears that bear the same shape as Africa. Asian elephant ears resemble the shape of India.

Touchdown, Nairobi


My excitement started long before I boarded that Qatar flight bound for Nairobi, Kenya. I have long wanted to experience this after that first African Safari in South Africa in 2012. At the time, I was tentative, hesitant, dripping with excitement, adrenaline pumping, nearly out of my wits. After all, it’s not everyday you see wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, zebras, kudus and cape buffaloes having a “party” out in the open Savannah, hear a roaring lion, sit still while a rhino crosses your path, or wait till the pair of cheetahs grow tired of the shade under a lone tree in a vast field. It’s wild. And then and there, I knew I’d never ever want to see any of these beautiful animals in a zoo or caged, whipped like in a circus.

Our tour escort sent a video a week before our departure. The video was captioned “spotted near the border” where we are headed for. Read: “happening now”. Just enough to whet our appetites for the long-coveted Great Migration or Maasai Mara. We pocketed those “dreams” as we struggled during our long flights via Doha, Qatar. The Doha airport looks so much better than the last time I was here in 2008. And it’s a very busy airport too.

As we tried to dismiss the same thrilling thoughts of animal sightings, we touched down this one bright afternoon in Kenya’s capital, just south of the equator. Almost anti-climactic as there isn’t much to do upon arrival. We felt wasted, post-flight, and needed to recover our energy. Not even a quick city tour of the capital’s historical landmarks perked us up. We did spot some really huge birds though up in the trees lining the roads leading to our hotel. Birdwatchers would have a heyday here. It would also have been lovely to visit the Karen Blixen House and Museum but there isn’t much time. Besides, we’re told much of the furnishings in the house were really production sets from “Out of Africa” — a movie based in Ms. Blixen’s book of the same title. I’m really quite happy with the movie and the house at the foot of Ngong Hills would have been interesting. But that visit can wait for another day. Instead, we headed straight for Sarova Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. I wasn’t confident to venture out of the hotel after freshening up. A few of us braved walking towards the market and narrated their encounter with a couple of “aggressive” locals who kept asking them where they came from. They promptly returned to the hotel after that episode. As for me, I stayed in the room and decided to rest till dinner. I just knew I’d doze off as soon as my back touched the comfortable bed, with my head snuggled between the soft pillows. And so, it was a quick soak in the tub before the dinner inside the hotel. The adventures can wait. My apologies for a very uneventful day. These long trips really suck my energy. Tomorrow we head for Aberdares where we booked at Treetops. Should be quite a relaxing day in a very historic place. Karibu, Nairobi! Goodnight 💤 💤 💤

Bratislava Food Porn


When in Bratislava, eat tons of potatoes, meat, cabbage, blood sausages, venison and other game meat. Drink lots of beer too! And the locals will remind you not to forget the dumplings and the kofola — which is like Coca Cola with a hint of coffee and lemon. And just like its neighbouring countries, it has its own spin on the Hungarian goulash. On my last dinner in Bratislava, I wanted a light meal and settled for soup and salad. When dinner was served, I just stared at this massive salad in front of me. And the soup? It was goulash with dumplings! The one who served me promised a very Slovak dinner even if I just wanted soup and salad. The portions were so generous I wanted to make friends with the pair seated at the table next to mine! Lesson learned: Slovak cuisine is both hearty and generous. Oh yeah. If you’re eating alone, suffer. Or go just have a drink and pica pica.

From Day 1 in Bratislava, we fell in love with their Creamy Garlic Soup and Cabbage Soup. In this corner of the world, cabbage and garlic is life. I should have stuck to those. I said NO to brynzove halusky — potato dumplings with creamy sheep cheese sprinkled with bacon. That happens to be the Slovak national dish and the waiter from Linos Bistro can’t see how I can leave their city without trying it. And so we settled on soup with dumplings. Except that the soup turned out to be the hearty goulash…. with dumplings. Touché!

If I were dining with the boys, there wouldn’t be this problem. I just feel bad about wasting food, but neither do I want to get sick for over stuffing myself. If we didn’t have dinner 2 nights in a row in Bratilavsky Metiansky Pivovar, I would have gone there and ordered the Creamy Garlic Soup. One bowl of that could have been a good dinner. In fact, everything we ordered here those 2 nights were good. The boys enjoyed the pork ribs (even the side dish of peppers), the veal, while I swooned over the soups and grilled cheese. The chicken dish was so-so but ain’t bad. We found this gastropub through our tour guide. Beer was excellent, and I like that one can order a half a litre or 1/3 liter of beer.

Our Bratislava Loft Hotel houses the Fabrika Brewery Restaurant where we had our first meal soon after arrival. We enjoyed our welcome drinks of beer 🍺 and rosé 🍷 as well as ALL of the dishes we ordered. From the salad to pork scratchings (I swear that’s what they called ’em), to lamb shank to risotto. We ordered the risotto thinking we must be missing our Asian staple. 🙄 All winners! Even when we did retail therapy and found ourselves having lunch in a mall, we enjoyed our burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. For drinks, we tried the Slovakian cola. It’s like Kofola. And if you ask me, I’d rather have a lemonade.

This trip was planned in a breeze. Maybe because there weren’t too many expectations and we’re all feeling cheery, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. It likewise helped that we had good appetites and drank heartily. Not too much, but we sure love to drink a glass or 2 with our meals. And because the food and drinks bills here didn’t burn a hole in our pockets, Bratislava is ❤️. (How can you complain over wine that costs less than €2? Or beer costing €1.20? One dinner we paid €45 for the 6 of us. And that includes our beers!)


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!