“At the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains is Bratislava, the dynamic capital of Slovakia,” reads our Avalon Waterways river cruises guide for today. Our ship had just docked along the Danube near a very interesting bridge, which rose up out of the fog looking somewhat like a huge futuristic robot from The War of the Worlds. The bridge, as a matter of fact, has a “UFO restaurant” in its flying saucer-like top. According to the site slavakia.travel.en, this bridge, named The Slovak National Uprising Bridge (Most Slovenského národného povstania v Bratislave), is the “first asymmetrical suspension bridge and the second of this kind in the world.” It was called “the building of the century” upon its completion in August 1972. Visitors can take a “speed lift” that is hidden inside one of the arms of the pylon up to the restaurant. Unfortunately, our tour today did not include a view from the top.
After breakfast we headed outside to meet our Slovakian tour guide who, by the way, was an excellent guide with a very cynical sense of humor. Actually, she was quite hilarious. We all enjoyed her as we rode on the bus from the dock up to the Bratislava Castle. She told us that the Castle looked like “an upside-down table” with its legs sticking up. According to Wikipedia, the castle was constructed in the 10th century, “when the area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary…under Queen Maria Theresa, the castle became a prestigious royal seat.” Unfortunately, in 1811 the castle was destroyed by a fire but was rebuilt in the 1950s “mostly in its former Theresian style.”
Today was very cold and windy, especially near the castle, which is perched on a hill above the city. We walked a bit around the castle grounds but did not go inside, and so we were all quite happy to once again be aboard the bus and on our way back down the hill to view some of the rest of Bratislava, a city of about 463,000 people.
As we were riding on the bus driving up to the castle, our tour guide had pointed out some “communist-era apartment buildings.” According to the web site slovakrepublic.ca, “During this communist era, a large number of apartment buildings were constructed using a mass production, cookie-cutter approach. The architecture of these state-owned buildings was similar to what was built in the Soviet Union, East Germany and other eastern European states.”
On this day, due to the fog, we weren’t able to see very far beyond the Danube, but the buildings are usually visible from the castle grounds.
As we neared the St. Martin’s Cathedral, we came upon the Jewish Holocaust Memorial. This is located upon the site of a former synagogue, which was torn down by the Soviets in order to build the highway. Our tour guide said that, as you can imagine, this (the tearing down of the synagogue) did not go over too well with the Jewish people living in Bratislava. She said that, even though there was a memorial erected here, commemorating both the synagogue and those who died during the Holocaust, it hardly made up for the loss of their beloved synagogue.
According to the web site slovak-jewish-heritage.org, here is some information regarding the memorial:
“The main Slovak Holocaust Memorial is located in the center of the Old Town of Bratislava, on the site of the former Neolog Synagogue demolished in 1967. The Memorial was erected in 1996 by the Slovak Republic to commemorate the memory of 105,000 Holocaust victims from Slovakia. The location was not selected accidentally. The Holocaust memorial was composed as a place of public remembrance, where two layers of history intertwine: the memory of the tragic event and the memory of the former Rybné Square synagogue, still remembered by many Bratislavians, and which can be often found on historical photos hanging in Bratislava cafés. The memorial consists of the black wall with silhouette of the destroyed synagogue and the central sculpture with non-figurative motif and a David Shield on the top, placed on the black granite platform with “zachor” [remember] and “pamätaj” inscriptions. The plot of the former synagogue is owned by the Bratislava Municipality, which leases the site for an annual symbolical fee to the Museum of Jewish Culture, which maintains the memorial.”
Now we entered St. Martin’s Cathedral, which was originally consecrated in 1452. Approximately 20 Hungarian kings and queens were crowned here. The cathedral tower stands 85 meters high.
There was some construction going on inside the Cathedral, so I didn’t take very many photos. Also, by this stage in our trip, I, among others, was suffering from some “cathedral overload!” Our guide told us that the Cathedral had been built on the top of a cemetery. She pointed the way toward some catacombs and crypts underneath the building, so some of us headed over there to have a look. According to Wikipedia, the crypts hold “the sepulchres of many significant historical figures, up to 6 m (20 ft.) below the church.”
We left the Cathedral and began walking toward the center of the Old Town area.
We got a glimpse of St. Michael’s Gate at the end of this street. St. Michael’s Gate is a gateway under an old 14th century tower. The Bratislava City Museum is located inside the tower.
Here’s a close-up view of the gateway from the web site slovakrepublic.ca.
Now we were nearing the Hlavné Námestie Square, the central square in Bratislava. The Old Town Hall is located on the Square. These days, the Town Hall houses the Bratislava City Museum, where there are exhibits of the city’s history and also of numerous torture devices. We did not go inside the Museum.
Our tour guide was telling us a story about the Roland Fountain (aka the Maximilian Fountain), which was ordered to be built by Maximilian II in 1572. She said there was some controversy years ago surrounding the figures depicted on it. Apparently, some of the town’s people thought the boys’ depictions were too risqué, so the fountain was modified several times. There are also a few legends involving the fountain, “mostly featuring Maximilian as the town’s protector,” according to Wikipedia.
Our guide pointed out a famous Bratislava bronze statue (there are several others). This one, called the Cumil, features a worker peeking out from a manhole cover. According to the web site slovakrepublic.ca, “It is unclear, however, if this man is intended to be a spy or just someone out to watch the ladies! In either case, Cumil is a popular attraction for visitors to Bratislava.” The guide said she thinks he is trying to look up women’s skirts! She said it is considered good luck to touch the top of his helmet, but we didn’t do that.
According to Wikipedia, Bratislava was well-known for its music scene in the 18th century. “Mozart visited the town at the age of six. Among other notable composers who visited or lived in the town were Haydn, Liszt, Bartók, and Beethoven. It is also the birthplace of the composers Johann Nepomuk Hummel Dohnanyi Erno, and Franz Schmidt.”
Our guide showed us another way back to the ship where we could walk past the market area above, and go back to the river. Then she said goodby to us, and Bill, Fox and I headed back to Kaffee Mayer to warm up and have some special coffee and treats. After that, we looked around and bought our souvenirs. I bought Ann some earrings with rabbits on them, because she’s a rabbit collector. I bought myself a pair with birds on them from the same artist because, as almost everybody knows, I love birds! Finally, we headed back to the ship, where we ate lunch and got ready to leave on the bus for Schloss Hof Palace.
Here’s a good web site that shows many photos of the interior of the beautiful Kaffee Mayer and also some other interesting sites in and around Bratislava: http://www.welcometobratislava.eu/portfolio/kaffee-mayer/
Bill and I and some of the others in our group boarded the bus to Schloss Hof at 1:15 p.m. Schloss Hof is actually located in Austria, but it’s very near the border of Slovakia. According to Wikipedia, the palace “once belonged to Prince Eugene of Savoy who purchased it late in his life in 1726. He had it enlarged in the Baroque style by the architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt in 1729, and used it as an elaborate hunting lodge. He left it to a niece in his will, and it was later purchased by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and became part of the imperial estates.”
We had to drive through some small towns to reach the palace. There were some interesting buildings along the way.
We arrived at the grounds of Schloss Hof, and our bus was parked in the parking area. We walked around a pond and up to the reception and ticketing area. We then walked through the gate and up past the Neptune Fountain, towards the main palace building.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos of the inside of the palace, but it was gorgeous, of course. Something interesting the tour guide told us was that, back in the 18th century, there were no bathrooms in the houses (or palaces). So, people had to use chamber pots. However, the chamber pots were almost never situated in another room–they were just positioned right there along a wall where everyone in the room could see! Women would just go over to the pot and sit down with their skirts spread out to shield what they were doing. The guide said that the men would often just urinate on the walls!! Even though the help would place incense around the rooms, the smell eventually became overwhelming. That’s when the whole household would pack up and move to the next palace while the help stayed behind to give it a thorough cleaning.
The guide did say, however, that Empress Maria Theresa was the first one to insist on having her chamber pot located in a small side room off the main entertaining room. She would just make her excuses to leave the room whenever she had company, and then head off to do her business in the side room, and no one was the wiser.
Our guide also told us that the Habsburgs insisted on keeping many pure white animals and birds here at Schloss Hof. The pure white signified pure blood lines, I think she said. She told us to be on the lookout for the white donkeys (with blue eyes) and the white peacocks on the grounds.
After touring the inside of the palace, our guide took us to the kitchen area, where they had a thriving schnapps-making business. They made all flavors of schnapps, and we were each offered small glasses of two different kinds, if we wanted. It was good, but very strong!
Our tour guide then left us to look around the rest of the grounds on our own. We exited the back of the palace building and stood on the edge of Terrace 2 to get a view of Terrace 3 and the palace gardens. We could see the Fountain Grotto at the back of Terrace 3.
Then we walked north, past the Orangery Garden area and toward the Stables, where they kept some Lipizzan horses (in keeping with the white animal theme), which were the direct descendants of the original Lipizzaners owned by the Habsburgs.
We walked outside and behind the Stables, where they kept some white (and also some black) goats with 4 horns!
At this point, I was able to find our tour guide, and I asked her where the white donkeys with blue eyes were held. She pointed me in the right direction.
Bill and I walked over to a small café on the grounds and ordered some coffee. Then we walked back toward the entrance and shopped in the Gift Shop, where I bought a nice book called The Habsburgs: A Portrait of an European Dynasty, and some other souvenirs, including a gorgeous painted barrette from Natasha Farina of Paris.
We left Schloss Hof and took the bus back to Bratislava and to our ship. We were back in time to dress for dinner and meet in the main lounge for the Port Talk, where we would have the Captain’s farewell cocktail and hear instructions from Jeannette about the upcoming disembarkation in a few more days. Tonight’s dinner was the special Farewell Gala Dinner. We toasted all the workers on the ship, including the chef, all the wonderful kitchen help, and our personal cabin housekeepers (ours was Sam, who was always smiling!).
Tomorrow we would be in Budapest!