Bratislava Is for Walkers

Tuesday, April 03, 2018 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Balkans & Beyond, Day 9:  Bratislava, Slovakia.  Though it was not known as Bratislava until 1919, Slovakia's capital city has deep roots in its position astride the Danube River.  Human occupation of the area dates back seven thousand years.  Celts established the first significant settlement here about 200 BC, the first group of people to occupy and influence the development of today's Bratislava—later to include Romans, Slavs, Germans, Hungarians, Austrians, and of course, Slovaks.
After World War I, the city was incorporated into the newly formed nation of Czechoslovakia, even though its population was almost 90% Hungarian and German.  Within 30 years, Hungarians and Germans fled or were forced out, and the city's population had shifted to 90% Slovak.
The view from our Airbnb apartment
With a population of only 450,000, Bratislava is one of Europe's smallest capital cities.  It is the world's only national capital that borders two other nations—Austria and Hungary.  A pedestrian-only area known as Old Town is home to most of the city's medieval buildings.
Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall, a group of three buildings constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries, stands guard over the Main Square, the heart of Old Town and the city itself.  Today the structures house the Bratislava City Museum.  Visitors can climb up the narrow winding stairs of the tower for a bird's eye view of the square and adjacent streets below.
View from Old Town Hall tower
In addition to the Old Town Hall, Bratislava's Main Square its lined with grand houses which once served as residences for the city's wealthiest merchants.  Today these elegant structures are home to cafes, shops, and foreign embassies.  The French Embassy sits unassumingly at one corner, looking like any other building, except for the French flags flying over the entrance, of course.
French Embassy
In contrast, the U.S. Embassy in another nearby square has the appearance of an armed fortress, the only embassy we noted with this kind of entrenchment appearance.
U.S. Embassy
Perhaps the French feel safe because one of Napoleon's soldiers is hanging out in front of their embassy.  One of Old Town's popular life size sculptures, the young warrior is said to have fallen in love with a local girl and abandoned his commission to stay and marry her.  Now he leans jauntily over a bench where visitors pose for photos with him.
Similar sculptures can be found around Old Town, all attracting admiring paparazzi, but no other draws crowds to rival those of the sculpture actually designated on tourist maps as Man at Work.  Every day you'll find this affable fellow peeping up from a manhole, watching the world go by, unconcerned about whatever work he should be doing below ground.  Tourists seem willing to go to any lengths to have their photo made with him, lining up to wait their turn lying on the sidewalk atop him and his manhole cover.
This guy has almost 3,000 mostly positive reviews on Trip Advisor!
The only remaining gate preserved from Old Town's medieval fortifications is near the main square.  Constructed around the year 1300, Michael's Gate gained its current design from a baroque makeover in the 1700s.  This was one of four heavily fortified gates that provided access to the medieval town.
Michael's Gate
Though there were no signs or other indications, we knew from our research that it was also possible to climb to the observation deck below the clock on Michael's Tower.  It was a bit tricky because one has to visit the Museum of Arms to the right of the gate and follow the exhibits up one floor after another until you arrive at the door to the viewpoint.  Like the Old Town Hall, the gate tower offered a terrific view of the ants below.
View of Michalská Street from the observation deck
Though not in the same league with Vienna, Bratislava does have its share of interesting churches.  We visited several, but found two more memorable than the others.

Located at the western edge of the old city, just below Bratislava Castle, St. Martin's Cathedral is the largest and one of the oldest churches in the city.  Construction began in 1311 and was completed in 1452.  The 279-ft. tower was built into the old city walls and served as part its defense.  From 1563 to 1830, St. Martin's was the coronation church for the Kingdom of Hungary.

East of Old Town is another local favorite house of worship, fondly called the Little Blue Church.  Built between 1909 and 1913, the small church is consecrated to Elizabeth of Hungary, daughter of one of Hungary's kings.
Designed in the Hungarian Art Nouveau style, the church features a pale blue facade, accented with blue mosaics, a blue tile roof and even blue pews inside.
Even though there were ample public buses and trams available, as well as Taxify (a younger version of Uber, which is currently out of favor in town), we chose to navigate the cozy streets of Bratislava on foot.  In the last three days, we've walked a total of 22.5 miles and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Tomorrow we'll catch another train east to Budapest, a two and a half hour journey.  Our last visit there was in 1985.  No doubt we'll notice some changes.

    •  Started in:  Bratislava
    •  Ended in:  Bratislava
    •  Miles walked:  8.3
    •  Weather:  45° to 67°, sunny
    •  Friendly photographable sculptures in Old Town:  10
    •  Increase in foot and car traffic over Easter Monday:  24,871%
    •  Danube Cruise passengers in town today:  2,834

Loved:  After the overwhelming excess of opulent and landmark buildings worthy of visits in Vienna, we enjoyed scaling back to a more manageable sightseeing agenda in Bratislava.

Lacking:  Letterboxes.  We searched thoroughly for two in the city which another letterboxer claimed to have found in the last ten days.  We're skeptical.

Learned:  With a strong and long history as a Hungarian city, Bratislava (previously known as Pressburg) was summarily stripped from its homeland and made part of the new country of Czechoslovakia at the treaty table at the end of World War I.  Later when the mostly Hungarian and German city tried to return to Hungary or declare its independence, rebels were quashed by the new Czechoslovakian army.

More Sights from Bratislava
The old Slovak National Theatre
Roland Fountain in the Main Square
Decorated Easter egg on display from the government of Croatia
Bratislava Castle above the city, now home to the national history museum 
Bars in Old Town have wonderfully funny signs. 
Bratislava straddles the Danube River. 
Parliament building located adjacent to Bratislava Castle
Slovak Radio Building, constructed in 1967 in Socialist Realism style
Grassalkovich Palace, residence of the President of Slovakia