After our morning adventures in Vienna we took advantage of our close proximity (just 30 miles) to another country and headed to Bratislava, Slovakia.
Never in a MILLION years did I ever think I'd be visiting this country. All growing up you heard "Slovakia" and you immediately thought "Scary". But keep reading and you'll come to see that it's a very different place than it once was.
Above the chocolate shop's entrance, a cannonball is embedded in the wall, commemorating Napoleon's two sieges of Bratislava, which together caused massive devastation - even worse than the city suffered during WWII. Apparently there are cannonballs all over town - somber reminders of one of Bratislava's darkest times.
This is the bustling centerpiece of Old World Bratislava. Cute little kiosks sell local handicrafts and knickknacks Easter through October and similar stands fill the square from mid-November until December 23rd when the Christmas market here is a big draw. Juuuuust barely missed the Christmas markets dangit! Virtually every building around this square dates from a different architectural period.
Peering over one of the benches in the Main Square is a cartoonish statue of a Napoleonic officer. With bare feet and a hat pulled over his eyes, it's hardly a flattering portrait - the Slovaks' revenge for the difficulties they faces at Napoleon's hands.
At the top of the Main Square is the impressive Old Town Hall marked by a bold yellow tower. We found another cannonball embedded in the facade. They just paint right around them!
Primate's Palace is a neoclassical palace, built from 1778 to 1781 for Archbishop József Batthyány, after the design of architect Melchior Hefele. In 1805, the Palace's Hall of Mirrors saw the signing of the fourth Peace of Pressburg, ending the War of the Third Coalition. Today, it serves as the seat of Mayor of Bratislava.
Back into the Main Square, we saw this charming vehicle - looks fun!
Another pretty street lamp and the fortified US Embassy. Naturally surrounded by guards and gates galore.
As with most Soviet-era landmarks in former communist countries, locals aren't crazy about this structure - not only for the questionable starship Enterprise design, but also because of the oppressive regime it represented. However, the restaurant and observation deck up top has been renovated into a posh eatery called (appropriately enough) UFO.
We got a spectacular view of Bratislava Castle from the other side of the river.
Fall is still hanging on!
We walked back across the bridge towards St. Martin's Cathedral.
Part of the old 15th-century city wall.
If the freeway were any closer the off-ramp would go through the nave! (And a picture of me in front of the castle that we went to later in the day.)
Sad as it is now, the cathedral has been party to some pretty important history. While Buda and Pest were occupied by Ottomans for a century and a half, Bratislava was the capital of Hungary. Nineteen Hungarian kings and queens were crowned in this church - more than have been crowned anywhere in Hungary! In fact, the last Hungarian coronation was not in Budapest, but in Bratislava. A replica of the Hungarian crown still tops the steeple. We would have liked to go inside to see such an important church, but alas, it was Sunday and not open to tourists.
Sometimes you just gotta let them roll around...
Walking around Bratislava.
The imposing fortress, nicknamed the "upside-down table"is the city's most prominent landmark. There surely has been a castle on this spot for centuries as is evident from the old foundations in front of the castle.
The oldest surviving chunk of the castle is the 13th-century Romanesque watchtower (the one slightly taller than the other three). When Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa took a liking to Bratislava in the 18th century she transformed the castle from a military fortress to a royal residence suitable for holding court. She added a summer riding school, an enclosed winter riding school out back, and lots more. Maria Theresa's favorite daughter, Maria Christina, lived here with her husband Albert (Albertina!) when they were newlyweds. I wouldn't have minded living in a place this big when we were first married...
The castle burned to the ground in an 1811 fire and it was left as a ruin for 150 years before being reconstructed in 1953. Unfortunately the communist rebuild was drab and uninviting; the inner courtyard feels like a prison exercise yard:
Then it started raining and getting cold. Luckily we were done with all we wanted to see and do so we loaded back into the car for the short 45 minute drive back to our apartment in Vienna.
The next morning we planned to go to Schönbrunn Palace AND Belvedere Palace, but it was raining cats & dogs and the kids were so done. These pictures sum up our 5 hour drive home to a "T".