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Friday, December 19, 2014


From our base in Budapest, we took an overnight trip to Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia. It’s surrounding  geography has been added to or carved up by empires since Austro-Hungarian times; after WW I the Slovak and the Czech republics’ were combined into the victorious Allies muddled construction of Czechoslovakia. 
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and mostly through the efforts of Václav Klaus, in January 1993 these two culturally autonomous regions were formally split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This “Velvet Revolution” should stand as a model for currently contentious independence and separatist movements in both Europe and Africa; it was a peaceful and collaborative endeavor.

Slovak National Uprising Bridge
We entered the city from the south, over the 1970’s iconic Slovak National Uprising Bridge, with its asymmetric cable-stayed construction and strangely perched UFO restaurant, shaped as a Soviet inspired flying saucer, at the pinnacle.

Our hotel, Radisson Blu, was well located on Hviezdoslavovo Námestie (“square” in Slovak), although the hotel itself was a bit tired and dated.  We were quickly out to the old town.

Old Town Hall
First stop was the Hlavné Námestie, centered on the 1572 Maximilian Fountain. Unfortunately, the Christmas Market cluttered things, the haphazard wooden huts huddled together with their seasonal trinkets, sausages and other not so culinary delights. Surrounding the square was the 17th century Jesuit Church and the 15th century Old Town Hall, with its tall Baroque tower – a long climb of stairs is rewarded with an excellent view of the city. Klostolná Street leads off this square to Primaciálne Námestie and to the Primatial Palace; one of the city’s finest Neo-classical buildings, its pink and gold façade is crowned with the bishop’s coat of arms and topped with a giant-sized cardinal’s hat.

St. Martin's Cathedral
Moving further north we took in the Franciscan Church and the 14th century Michael’s Gate, the only surviving gateway to the medieval city. Turning south again, we walked through the Františkánske Námestie with its Marian Column and then west toward St. Martin’s Cathedral. It is an imposing Gothic edifice, completed in 1452 and host to coronations of eleven Hungarian kings and eight queens.
We returned to the hotel looking for the Esterházy Palace; unfortunately some misguided architect had grafted on a hideously contemporary dark stone boil of a structure, totally annihilating the esthetic of this classical building – thankfully it was closed for renovation (hopefully demolition).

The hotel’s restaurant was inexplicably completely closed for a private function (to hell with its guests, comrade!).Trip Advisor gave La Monde Restaurant a good review, so I booked there. It was close to the hotel, the décor a bit odd, but the food and wine didn’t disappoint. A short walk after dinner, we crashed to bed.

Up early the next morning, we visited the Bratislava Castle, first foundations dating to 907. History
Bratislava Castle
took it though the competing architectural styles, but in 1811 it burnt down, reconstruction not beginning until the 1950s and still ongoing. Eventually its Baroque splendor will be restored; there is a pleasant new picture gallery on the second floor. Afterward, we returned to the Old Town Hall to visit the City Museum, well worth the time. By noon we had checked out and were on our way back to Budapest.

Bratislava is still finding its way from a provincial administrative center of Czechoslovakia to the capital city of Slovakia within the European Union. Its geography pins it to the western boarder of this new country of 5.4 million and awkwardly, it is more closely in tune with Vienna than its eastern citizens. An old civilization trying on a new skin and political reality – I will be curious as to the future.

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