For our second day at Vienna we were offered three choices:
- A visit to the Schoenbrunn palace
- A visit to the stables of the Spanish Riding School’s winter quarters
- A visit to Bratislava
I was pretty much over extravagant palaces before we started this tour. All that glitter, all that money spent on trinkets, baubles and status almost offends me. So Schoenbrunn was out. Much as I would have loved to go to the stables, I simply can’t. The effects on my health would have been devastating. So Bratislava it was.
Mind you, if I wasn’t violently allergic to horses I would have taken the fourth option – do my own thing and buy a ticket to the Spanish Riding School’s performance. I’ve seen them on telly, but it’s not the same, is it?
Anyway, off to Bratislava. All of us fitted easily on one bus, which took us back through the countryside to Bratislava, which we had actually passed on the way to Vienna. Squatting on both sides of the Danube, the city was called Pressburg until 1919, when the powers-that-be carved up Europe to suit themselves, and made sure those presumptuous Germans would never regain so much influence. So Bratislava, suitably renamed, became part of Czechoslovakia. Like all of these towns on the banks of the Danube, its history went much further back than that. A major Roman military city (Carnuntum)was established there. Our guide shared a little of its history with us. I would have loved to visit the ruins, some of which have been restored. But that wasn’t part of the program.
The coach took us on the usual city tour, stopping first at the castle strategically placed on a high promontory above the Danube. The castle saw its fair share of wars over the centuries. It was one of the few places that withstood the attacks of the Ottomans in the 13th century. Napoleon sacked it prior to the Peace of Pressburg, signed, of course, right here in Bratislava. It has been restored to its former glory (on the outside, anyway) and now presides over the most prestigious suburb in Bratislava. Our guide pointed out all the embassies as the bus made its way up the hill, and also pointed out where Alexander Dubcek, instigator of the “Prague Spring” in 1968, lived in his youth.
At the end of WW2 Bratislava was ‘liberated’ by Soviet troops. Like many other European cities devastated by war, this one needed affordable housing quickly. Under Stalin buildings were utilitarian and (let’s face it) ugly. Bratislava has its share of block after block of horrible housing, as well as this upside down pyramid thing to remind it of its Soviet past. Yes, this is a functional building. It’s used by the Slovak radio and includes a large theatre and recording studios. Here’s the info.
And of course there’s the old city, the medieval town with its narrow, cobblestoned streets, quaint shops and local food and wine. Our guide took us to a shop that specialises in old fashioned Slovak items. That was fun.
There are a number of fun statues in this town. We saw several at our first stop, the modern shopping mall where we had the obligatory toilet stop.
We found a T shirt at a souvenir shop in the main square, then it was back on the bus to return to the Amavenita. Most of the ship’s staff are from Eastern European countries. I shared our pictures with one of the stewards who comes from Bratislava. His eyes positively lit up when I wore my T shirt to dinner.