Travel Blog of the Gaps
Hello, again, Blogonauts! Although their notoriety is far from equal, Vienna has a neighboring national capital: Bratislava, Slovakia. In fact, at a distance of only about 40 miles, the two are the closest pair of capital cities in the whole world. It seemed a shame to let little things like international borders, language differences, and a legacy of communism stand in the way of a nice sidetrip. So on Sunday, April 12, we boarded a Bratislava-bound bus and took off across the countryside and behind the historic "Iron Curtain." The journey is now about as dramatic as taking a bus to Brattleboro. Bratislava's bus depot sits troll-like beneath the Nove Most (New Bridge), which itself looks like a refugee from a sci-fi set. (See the photo to see what I mean.) The Soviet-era span spews oodles of auto traffic into the center of town and onto a highway that inexplicably disrupts the medieval city's natural (and historic) traffic flow. Were the designers vengefully gnarling up the then-Czechoslovakian city's daily life? I doubt it. When the choice falls between blaming either ineptitude or malice, I usually find ineptitude is sufficient. We taxied out of troll territory via a meandering but inevitable series of backtracks to our hotel. Then our first foray into the city was the short climb to the city's castle. As a landmark, the castle is probably better appreciated from afar. But as a location to take in the cityscape (and surrounding forest of wind turbines), it is a spectacular spot. The castle unfortunately sits on the wrong side of Stumblebum Boulevard, so I had to make my way up and down, through alleys and walkways finally to reach the lone bridge that allows access to the old city. Once there, I found a showplace worthy of greater renown. Bratislava is not a newcomer onto the world's stage. For over 100 years, while the Ottomans held Budapest, Hungary moved its capital here. And the city's proximity to Vienna has meant a vibrant trade going back to the Habsburgs. Communism was not nearly so kind. But since the Velvet Revolution restored freedoms for the Czechoslovakian people, and then later Slovakia separated and re-established its capital, there has been a persistent but sometimes slow effort to beautify Bratislava. It seems to be paying off. I eventually wandered through St. Michael's Gate (a final remnant of the city wall) and onto Michalska Street. I sat eating French fries at one of the many cafés while Gary triangulated his way from the Castle to find me. We gave ourselves only about a day to get to know Bratislava, and so some of the sightseeing fell to the wayside as we spent time buying train tickets for the next day. But that gave us a chance to enjoy the public transit. Bratislava is served by inexpensive and frequent trams. They can traverse even some roads that are otherwise closed to motorized traffic. And as complete neophytes, we had no trouble using them like champs. I expect the city will continue to become more enticing. And as for the highway that cleaves the city in two? They have already thought of that. There is a plan on drawing board to run it underground. Next, glorious Prague! Blog to you later!