August 31, 2008
We woke up around 8 am, as we were flying over Belgium. We had breakfast (cereal, fresh fruit, and croissants with blackberry jam) and before we knew it we were landing in Vienna. The day was beautiful and sunny, so it was a good start to our holiday. We collected our packs from the luggage carousel and went outside. The airport bus to Bratislava was leaving at 10:40, which was less than 15 minutes away.
The 40-kilometre trip cost us €10 each and took less than an hour. Part of the route was on a highway, but most of it was on a two-lane road. We were let off at the main bus station, just east of the city centre, where we got our packs in order and headed off to find the Downtown Backpackers hostel. We used the maps we had photocopied from the Lonely Planet guide to get to the city centre. They weren’t very good maps, so we didn’t exactly go the shortest way, but at least it was a warm sunny day.
We got to the hostel around 12:15 pm. We both wanted showers by then, but it was too early to check in. So we put our packs into the locked luggage closet and headed out to look around. Bratislava is a lovely old town with lots of beautiful architecture, pedestrian walkways, medieval walls, and historic buildings. The Austrian embassy had a plaque on the outside claiming that Mozart performed in the building when he was six years old. There were a lot of cafés and restaurants in the Old Town, so we noted some potential dinner places.
We wandered around for quite a while before ending up beside the Danube River. It wasn’t particularly blue, rather green, but it was wide. As it was now getting closer to check-in time, we headed back up the hill to the hostel. We were given two beds in Room 5, so we went upstairs to claim them. Since we were first, we got lower bunks. Then we headed out again. Next stop was the main train station, about 20 minutes up the road, where we bought tickets for Tuesday’s trip to the Tatras. The price was only SK 1040 (about $52) for the two of us. This seemed very cheap for a five-hour train trip.
From there we walked back towards the Old Town, passing through Námestie Slobody (Freedom Square). Neither the park nor the fountain at its centre was nice. The fountain was probably nice when it was operational, but now the park was run down, with dying plants and dirty benches. From there we passed through the gardens behind Grassalkovich Palace, which is the residence of the president of Slovakia. Up on top of a nearby hill we could see a big monument, so we climbed up to see it, and to see the views looking down over Bratislava.
It was still too early for dinner, so we went back down the hill to visit the hrad (castle). It was being renovated, so it was closed, but you could still walk around outside it. This was definitely where all the tourists were, and we discovered there was a craft fair on, with folk dancers and bagpipers and so on. We walked around and looked at the crafts, which were all traditional ones including weaving, tatting, iron forging, and wood working. We were also treated to some traditional music. There must have been 100 booths, but because we only had 1000-SK notes we didn’t buy anything.
Back down in the Old Town we went for dinner. It took a while to find the restaurant we had found earlier (U Smädnej Ťavy—The Thirsty Camel), but find it we did. Rosemary had schnitzel and pommes frites, and Paul had pork goulash with dumplings. Both dinners came piping hot and were very good. Paul had a Zlatý Bažant beer and Rosemary had her usual lemonade. Unfortunately they tried to charge us for vegetables we hadn’t ordered. We had seen people walking up the street with ice cream cones, so we went looking for the ice cream shop. It was just around the corner. Paul had blackberry ice cream and Rosemary had hazelnut.