This is the second instalment in my essay series written while in Europe this summer.
We reach the pinnacle of Bratislava shortly after lunch. The weather is perfect with a good breeze, enough cloud cover, and a surprisingly strong sun I find out later through shoulder burns. We walk through winding alleys and up old rock steps to the top of the city to Bratislava Hrad (castle) which sits high above the Danube on land that seems to protrude slightly over the hill. It’s white washed walls, tall corners, and newly designed garden all remind me of Vienna and that infamous baroque style so widely known and I can picture kings and carriages and the many empires that occupied this humble castle so many centuries ago. They say Bratislava Hrad sits almost in the middle of the entire city- the perfect vantage point for anyone to want to occupy.
Early that morning our group of 12 + pile into trains and head towards Bratislava. Wanting to truly seize the European moment, as a last minute decision M and I sit in the dining car with its ironed white tables cloths and curtained windows and order cappuccinos as the train rolls towards the capital. I have never been in a car so designed, so business-like and formal; though very very far off from the opulent world of trains in the 18th century; it feels a bit like we were riding in some sort of Oriental Express. Almost. We sip our coffees enjoying the alternate world we find ourselves in for the moment.
Arriving at the station after the quiet of the dining cart, I remember that it’s Monday. People are everywhere getting connections to other trains; to cars to buses- it’s a workday. We shuffle past groups of people and start walking up through the wealthy villa quarter of Bratislava towards Slavin, a monument that sits high above the city. The streets surrounding this monument are steep and lined with beautiful houses and trees and we walk up long stone staircases until we get to the top. Slavin is a memorial monument and cemetery honouring the thousands of Soviet Army soldiers who fell during World War II while liberating the city in April 1945 from occupying German forces. The monument is square and simple, designed by Jan Svetlik in a Stalinist architectural style. A statute of a solider sits on a pillar high above the building. The grounds of this memorial are large and if you walk over to the edge you see Bratislava unfolding, the houses and hills all disappearing into the distance.
Our whole walk, from train to top, takes about an hour or so and that makes us hungry. We walk down the steep roads to the main street and through the beginnings of Stare Mesto (Old town) to a pub conveniently titled Slovak Pub. It’s eclectic décor, dark wood, and mysterious, historically bohemian vibe reminds me of Harry Potter, and also that Slovakia used to be apart of Czech Republic. (This is the kind of place i’d typically see in Prague.) We sit down to a meal of krémová cesnačka, (creamy garlic soup) in large bread bowls, big glasses of beer and bryndzové halušky, a famous traditional Slovakian meal using a specially made dumpling noodle and soft sheep cheese topped with bits of smoked bacon. Our lunch is slow and we enjoy the break from walking
It’s late afternoon now, after lunch. The tourists with their selfie sticks and loud laughs in different languages scatter around the perimeter of Bratislava Hrad: the garden, the park, the courtyard with its tiny souvenir shop. I lean on the stone wall that separates everyone from the grounds deep below and watch as tiny cars zip up and down the bridge that runs over the Danube, the one with the UFO building high above. I wonder if they know people far, far away, on a castle courtyard see them commuting around the city. The clouds have parted and direct sunlight floods the surroundings. We decide it’s time to move on and begin down the hill.
Stare Mesto is bright and hot even though the sun has dwindled. We pass Čumil (the watcher), the famous bronze statue at the corner of Laurinská and Panská street whose raison d-etre is ambiguous. Some say he represents a communist worker unbothered by work; others say he stoops in the manhole to look up ladies skirts. Another common story is that rubbing his head makes a secret wish come true. People gather around him, photographing him, stooping to his level. Laughing at the funny little bronze man in the hole.
By this time the group looks for their second wind and we find some energy in the ice cream from Luculus in Hviezdoslav’s square. This pedestrian road is shady and beautiful and the pistachio ice cream delicious. The server puts on a show as he takes our order, throwing scoops of zmrzlina (ice cream) in the air, playing tricks with the paper and cones he hands to us. We take our cones to the fountain near the philharmonic, eating slowly and tired from the full day. Slowly, little by little, we wind down and begin to head back to the trains, tired but content in the day we’ve had.
It’s been fun Bratislava. Dovidenia!