Day 4, Sat 8/27: Bratislava, Slovakia


Hrad Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia

We each slept well and headed down to breakfast just after 7am. What started out as a leisurely morning thinking we had lots of time, ended up being a morning of bad timing and we missed trains and trams by minutes. All that to say: we didn’t get in to the city of Bratislava, an hour away from Vienna, until about Noon.

The history of Bratislava is complicated. Like Estonia which we visited last summer, Slovakia has only been an independent nation since the fall of the Eastern bloc in 1993. When the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was broken up at the end of WW1, it ended up as Czechoslovakia. It changed forms several times between 1919 and 1993, but it’s simplest to say it was mostly Czechoslovakia during that time, then split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Prior to World War 1, its population was 42% German, 41% Hungarian and only 15% Slovak. After WW1, the city name of Bratislava was adopted and the Czech and Slovak populations sort of took over. (That’s a huge over-simplification by the way.) Prior to 1919, the city was known as Pozsony or mostly Pressburg for over 1000 years. Where the name Bratislava comes from is not well documented, but it’s been around since about 900 AD, as a derivative of castles and/or rulers.

It also has a very close connection to the Habsburg monarchy we’ve learned so much about this week, and was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1536 to 1783. Maria Theresa is as well known and loved here as she was in Vienna, and was crowned in St. Martin’s here as Queen of Hungary, as were about a dozen other monarchs.

Unlike Estonia, Slovakia doesn’t seem to have thrived as well since its independence. Definitely poorer, it doesn’t have nearly the charm that Tallinn did and but it does seem to be working at it.

 This is St. Michael’s Gate, a major entrance into the Old Town. Like many medieval cities, it was once entirely surrounded by a wall, with 4 gates at intervals to let people in and out. This is the only gate left standing. Originally built in the 1300’s, the decorative top was done in the 1700’s. No matter what, old by any standard.
 Looking back up at the clock on the gate tower, Old Town beginning behind me. This town has lots of public clocks we discovered.
 The town square, with the Old Town Hall in the background, where we went first. And another clock.
 Outside the Town Hall…
 …and the inner courtyard of the Town Hall. This was supposed to be the history of the city. We had great luck with these in other towns but this one was hard to follow. It was in desperate need of a professional curator. They tried hard, but we didn’t feel like we learned much. (Much of what I wrote in the intro we got later in the castle or from other sources.)
 We did get to go up to the clock tower and got some nice shots off the city form there.
 The steeple on the far left is St. Martin’s that I referenced earlier. We went there next but couldn’t go in because there was a local wedding going on. the big white building left of center in the background is the castle we went to after that.

After we went in search of lunch and found a cute little restaurant that had an interesting local menu.

 Dan had potato gnocchi stuffed with smoked meat, ham it tasted like to me. Sauerkraut and onions in the middle.
 I had the mutton that came with roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips. It was excellent, but oddly disappointing in that it tasted exactly like something I’ve made at home. The mutton tasted very much like beef to me.

 It was a hike up to Bratislava Castle, locally referred to as Hrad. This was already several hundred feet up front street level and there is still a ways to go. All those stairs came next.
But we got some nice views once we were up there. The thing in the background – the flying saucer on stilts? It’s called a UFO Observation Deck. Supposedly the best views of the area up there, and a restaurant, but since we were now higher than that we didn’t feel the need to go.

 

 

Full front of the castle. There has been a structure on this hill of some kind dating back 3500 years. Bratislava history dates it back to around 900 AD, having been through several renovations since. It was largely destroyed by fire in 1811 after being bombarded by Napoleon and left to ruin. In 1957, after much talk of destroying it, it was decided it would be restored. The results you see are renovating it back to the glory it was during the reign of Maria Theresa. This was one of her residences as Queen of Hungary and her daughter, Maria Christina, and her husband Albert of Saxony (of Albertini fame if you read our “Vienna Day 1” entry) lived here as well.

 

 They have put a ton money into restoring the castle, it’s essentially been completely renovated inside out, but keeping to the design from the mid 1700s. There’s a display outlining the reconstruction, with some remnants of some of the original pieces.
 A photo from 1898 showing the castle and St. Martin’s.
 If it looks brand new it’s cuz it is. It’s stunning though. The white, gold and red work well together and with the sun – especially as we were leaving there was a lot of it – really makes this feel light and airy.

 

 The inside courtyard.
 A painting from the original castle that had been restored. The documentation around how they did the restoration – including the before and after – was pretty interesting.

 

 A model of the front of the castle with a peak of the town in the windows in the back.
Several rooms like this with a fair amount of art, several other rooms all part of the museum with a wide range of history documented, all the way back to Stone Age.
 We went up into the tallest tower and got some great shots of the Danube River.

 

 And some nice shots of the rest of the town as well.

 

 There was like 5 or 6 flights of these from the fourth floor of the castle to the tower lookout. We’d never seen stairs this steep before.
 We walked around town a little more and made our way over to the last stop before heading to the train station.
 St. Elizabeth’s AKA “the Blue Church.” Folks onTripAdvisor raved about it.
It’s blue alright. Couldn’t get good shots of the inside because there was service going on.
We caught the 5:38 train and were back to the hotel by 7pm. We had dinner in the lounge, then went down to the steam room about 8pm. We had planned on going out for dessert again but decided we were tired, and certainly didn’t need any more calories!
Tomorrow we leave for Prague.
Ah, almost forgot. So for the past couple of days, my siblings and I have been discussing our ancestry over Facebook. As I said in the Pre-Departure entry, the narrative we grew up with was we were mostly German with a good chunk of Austrian thrown in, and some “Bohonk” in there somewhere. As I studied a genealogy that was done in the early 1990’s based on birth records, I figured out the 4th generation – great-great grandparents to us – is only 12.5% German (but where Haas comes from), 25% Austrian and 50% Bohemian. We also knew that Granny, our mother’s mother, was from a place called Silesia in Austria. For some reason I always thought Silesia was a town. But I could never find it on a map anywhere. My sister Anne this week supplied the name of the town Granny was born in: Fulnek. According to Google Maps, that city still exists – in the Czech Republic. According to Wiki, it is in an area now referred to as the Moravia – Silesia region. Moravia was a name I saw referenced a couple of times in the birth records – on both sides of the tree as I recall. And I kept seeing that name today at the castle, usually as “Great Moravia“; it was a big deal about 1000 years ago.
At any rate, the last thing we did at the castle was this exhibit called “The Legacy of Charlemagne” and it was a pretty interesting piecing together of a lot of European history over 1000 years. No photos were allowed but there was a map of the Austria-Hungary Empire as it was in 1914 just before WW1. Sure enough, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia were all there. Granny was born in 1910. So yes, she was born in Silesia and it was part of the Austrian empire. None of those names exist anymore, but according to this map those areas are now completely within the current borders of the Czech Republic. What’s the capital of the Czech Republic? Prague.
Excited.

 

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