Bratislava 2010

We flew back to Vienna from Bulgaria then immediately took the bus to Bratislava which took about an hour. The bus had free wi-fi! The drive into the city took us past some Communist era(?) blocks of flats.

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We get dropped at a bus station and ask at various shops for a map of the city, with no luck. There is a tourist information machine but it is only in Czech? I had read that the taxi drivers in Bratislava are liars and thieves and you should never get in a cab without knowing what the fare should be. We were kinda stuck here, we did not know how far we are from the hotel. I know where the hotel is on the map but hey, no map. So we ask the first taxi how much to the hotel, he replies 15 Euros. So we offer 10 Euros and he gets kinda pissed off so we leave him and go to the next guy. We say the name of the hotel and say 10 Euros? and he says Yes, so we get in. The taxi is 30 year old Nissan, it is dirty and noisy.

We get to the hotel and immediately the hotel staff descend on the taxi and remove our cases. I pay and tip the driver who seemed both poor and grateful. We enter the hotel. I had booked a 5 star hotel which is part of a group called Small Luxury Hotels . I never paid 5 star prices though, it cost as much as 3 star hotel here.
It was kinda old school, top quality and slightly worn but very shiny.

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We were immediately offered a welcome drink of either bubbly, juice or beer. Brilliant. We checked in and settled in our room. The room was well kitted out an the bathroom neat.

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they offered not only free unlimited broadband but they would also provide a laptop if you didn’t have one

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The minibar did not have any spirits only beer, wine and bottled water but it was all free. We stayed for 3 nights and the 5 stars really was all about service. Everywhere you turned there was someone to open the door for you. Everyone greeted you day or night. You just had to ask. Fresh fruit in the hallways and nothing was too much trouble.

Breakfast was brilliant, there was everything from eggs and bacon to home made yoghurt and even bubbly, which we did see one couple drink every morning for breakfast. Everything about this place was good. On the first night we had dinner in the restaurant.

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The waiter introduced us to the chef. Alison ordered the Rolled Trout

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and I had the Grilled Pike

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Sound expensive? $36 each

Bratislava was a bit of a surprise. I’d read about it and heard from various people about it, but it was better than Prague in my opinion. Initial impressions were good with a laid back feeling to it all. Felt safe and people were friendly. Another graffiti covered cityscape

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also with the historical stuff exempt. Lots of slightly rundown buildings with renovated ones scattered amongst them. Saw buildings being renovated and clad with marble and the overall impression was one of a city on the up. It also appeared to be a city that had lots of young people. It was around 30 – 33 degrees most days so maybe the old ones were hiding or maybe at this age everyone looks young or maybe I just noticed the very short skirts that lots of women seemed to be wearing. Alison noted that the style of dress of the women was quite different from NZ in that more colours and styles were evident.

Surprising was the amount of well preserved vista, not individual buildings but whole streets, squares and boulevards.

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 that plaque reads 

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and you’ll never guess who lived next door?

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and I’ll bet you thought she was English huh?

This is where it was different to Prague. Prague has an “old city” and pretty much all within it looks like it hasn’t changed in the last 300 years. From walking around you could see that under the Russians nothing was done in the city itself, most of it was slightly run down

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and no-one had been spending money there. You could say that this was really a good thing as once again it was pretty much historically intact and coherent except for the advertising which was kinda just stuck on. Some really nice buildings there and heaps of really old historic stuff

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There were exceptions of course, we found a modern-ish Tesco supermarket in a plaza that was from around the 80’s I’d say.

Health & Safety in Bratislava? One day while walking along I spotted someone on a rooftop

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using the zoom on the camera I saw this

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Fancy your chances?

One day we walked to the train station to buy tickets to Prague and the closer we got the more run down it became. The station itself was surprisingly seedy and there were some shady looking characters around. It was heavily patrolled by the police and it was the one place where I felt we had to watch our backs. The station had that winged wheel symbol

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on the roof that was popular with the Nazis who stole it from the past as they did with all their symbols. It goes right back to early christianity, do a search for Yahweh on Wheels and you’ll see what I mean.

The hotel was one block from the Danube and we walked along there pretty much every day apart from our other walks. There were cruise ships tied up along the river from Switzerland, Russia and Germany. The river flowed surprisingly fast.

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There was a walkway along the river that linked up with a rail trail we passed on the way in and at the hotel were a group of Belgian cyclists who were cycling from Belgrade to Germany, a distance 897kms in 10 days along the banks of the Danube. They were all old guys and oddballs.

The walkway was busy every day with all kinds of folk, a lot of people with children, dog walkers and runners, riders, you name it. Lined with trees, benches, statues and monuments it was nice place to spend time and presence of the river made it seem cooler. As you can see John Rambo was here in 1944.

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Interestingly, the river bank walkway had free wifi along its length and we saw that this was provided by the good folks in Taiwan.

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In fact everywhere had free wifi including open public spaces. And free as in no pages of conditions to accept, no login screens, just lots of free unsecured wifi networks.

The UFO Bridge

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This unlikely looking object is a Soviet built landmark. Up the top is a restaurant and lookout. The steel legs are not vertical and therefore the lift travels up at an angle. This is only noticeable at the start and stop of the journey. We couldn’t get into the restaurant as it was booked so we just went to the observation deck which is that flat bit at the very top. It was very windy but given that it was around 35 degrees down below it was most welcome. From there you could see the famous upside down building.

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and some pretty awesome panoramas

 

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Me and Yoko Ono

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We made a reservation for lunch the next day and the food was once again simply brilliant (but expensive). The odd thing though, was that the whole structure shudders and moves when something large goes over the bridge. An articulated bus was enough to make the water in my glass wobble around. Coming from Christchurch it was pretty unsettling and Alison would laugh every time I jumped.

On one of the walks along the river I explored an abandoned bridge that is now a pedestrian/cycle bridge.

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I was surprised to find a small house at the beginning of the bridge. It used to be a customs house as the river was once a border. It was now a mini-museum and had display cases of confiscated goods like Lucky Strike cigarettes. It was tiny inside but managed to have 3 rooms in there. One of then showed photos of this buidling immediately after a gun battle during the war including one of a dead soldier lying just inside the door. The man in charge wore full military uniform and he didn’t speak English so I just looked at the pictures and read what I could on the wall. Small as it was it was packed. He was holding forth and pointing at various item in the display cases.

Meanwhile I was reading (in English) about a series of bunkers which the leaflet said was based on the design of the Maginot line and intended as defence against the Germans. The Germans took it without a struggle and then it eventually fell to the Russians and became part of the East – West border. The Russians pretty much just let them stay there and used a few but the others were just locked up and left complete with all their original gear inside. It then said that after the Berlin Wall came down, that one day the Russians just got in their trucks and drove away abandoning this fiercely held border to whoever came along. It turned out that looters came along and sacked everything the Russians had left behind including these “time capsule” bunkers. Since then a group of dedicated people had gathered enough gear together to re-furnish one of these bunkers which is now a tourist attraction?

Things I liked:

  • Food was incredibly tasty and relatively cheap
  • Service was good
  • Toilets clean and cleaned
  • Rubbish bins on every street
  • Nice looking cars everywhere, not many old dungers
  • No hassles on the streets

Go there!