Bratislava, Slovakia on Monday, October 27, 2014


“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.

The Slovak National Uprising Bridge in Bratislava, (10-26-14)

The Slovak National Uprising Bridge in Bratislava, (10-26-14)

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.

Bill and Dallas on the tour bus (photo taken by Sue)

Bill and Dallas on the tour bus (photo taken by Sue), (10-27-14)

Approaching the castle gate (10-27-14)

Approaching the castle gate (10-27-14)

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Glimpse of the castle (10-27-14)

Glimpse of the castle (10-27-14)

The Bratislava Castle (10-27-14)

The Bratislava Castle (10-27-14)

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Walking up higher (10-27-14)

Walking up higher (10-27-14)

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Approaching the main entrance to the Castle (10-27-14)

Approaching the main entrance to the Castle (10-27-14)

Since 2010, the main entrance area has featured a statue of King Svätopluk I by Slovak sculptor Ján Kulich (10-27-14)

Since 2010, the main entrance area has featured a statue of King Svätopluk I by Slovak sculptor Ján Kulich (10-27-14)

The view of the Danube and the Most SNP Bridge below (10-27-14)

The view of the Danube and the Most SNP Bridge below (10-27-14)

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.

Soviet-era architecture (photo from slovakrepublic.ca)

Soviet-era architecture (photo from slovakrepublic.ca)

Walking back down the hill to the bus (10-27-14)

Walking back down the hill to the bus (10-27-14)

The bus dropped us off near the ship (& bridge), but from there we began our walking tour of the Old Town area of the city, (10-27-14)

The bus dropped us off near the ship (& bridge), but from there we began our walking tour of the Old Town area of the city, (10-27-14)

We could see the Castle up on the hill from the street (10-27-14)

We could see the Castle up on the hill from the street (10-27-14)

Sam and Susan, who are both very cold today! (10-27-14)

Sam and Susan, who are both very cold today! (10-27-14) (photo taken by Sue)

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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.”

Nearing the Holocaust Memorial, with St. Martin's Cathedral behind, (10-27-14)

Nearing the Holocaust Memorial, with St. Martin’s Cathedral behind, (10-27-14)

A depiction of the former synagogue (10-27-14)

A depiction of the former Neolog Synagogue on black granite (10-27-14)

The Holocaust Memorial, urging us to "Remember" the victims, (10-27-14)

The Holocaust Memorial, urging us to “Remember” the victims, (10-27-14)

Schoolchildren's graffiti on the wall near the Memorial (10-27-14)

Schoolchildren’s graffiti on the wall near the Memorial (10-27-14)

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Part of the old wall that surrounded the city (10-27-14)

Part of the old wall that surrounded the city (10-27-14)

The nearby street & buildings (10-27-14)

The nearby street & buildings (10-27-14)

Looking up at St. Martin's Cathedral (10-27-14)

Looking up at St. Martin’s Cathedral (10-27-14)

Another view of St. Martin's Cathedral (photo from Wikipedia)

Another view of St. Martin’s Cathedral (photo from Wikipedia)

Another view of the old city wall near the Cathedral (10-27-14)

Another view of the old city wall near the Cathedral (10-27-14)

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St. Martin's Cathedral doorway (10-27-14)

St. Martin’s Cathedral doorway (10-27-14)

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.

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Some of the Cathedral treasures (10-27-14)

Some of the Cathedral treasures (10-27-14)

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The Crown of St. Stephen (10-27-14)

The Crown of St. Stephen (10-27-14)

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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.”

The scene at the top of the stairs leading down to the crypts, (10-27-14)

The scene at the top of the stairs leading down to the crypts, (10-27-14)

Dom & Sam viewing the crypts (10-27-14)

Dom & Sam viewing the crypts (10-27-14)

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Bill ready to climb back out of the crypts (10-27-14)

Bill ready to climb back out of the crypts (10-27-14)

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We left the Cathedral and began walking toward the center of the Old Town area.

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First glimpse of St. Michael's Gate (10-27-14)

First glimpse of St. Michael’s Gate (10-27-14)

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.

St. Michael's Gate (10-27-14)

St. Michael’s Gate (10-27-14)

Here’s a close-up view of the gateway from the web site slovakrepublic.ca.

St. Michael's Gate showing gateway (photo from slovakrepublic.ca)

St. Michael’s Gate showing gateway (photo from slovakrepublic.ca)

Some of our group here (10-27-14)

Some of our group here, with a view of the Castle up above (10-27-14)

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A plaque commemorating the child prodigy composer Franz Liszt, who was born in nearby Hungary & performed here in 1820 at the age of 9, (10-27-14)

A plaque commemorating the child prodigy composer Franz Liszt, who was born in nearby Hungary & performed here in 1820 at the age of 9, (10-27-14)

Franz Liszt in 1843, at the height of his musical career (photo from Wikipedia)

Franz Liszt in 1843, at the height of his musical career (photo from Wikipedia)

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A Mexican food restaurant??  (10-27-14)

A Mexican food restaurant?? (10-27-14)

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.

The Old Town Hall in Hlavne Namestie Square (10-27-14)

The Old Town Hall in Hlavné Námestie Square (10-27-14)

Now we could see the Roland Fountain to the left in the Square, (10-27-14)

Now we could see the Roland (or Maximilian) Fountain to the right in the Square, Bill G. on the left, tour guide on far right (10-27-14)

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.

A closer view of the Roland Fountain (10-27-14)

A closer view of the Roland Fountain (10-27-14)

This photo shows the Hungarian Exchange Bank (yellow bldg.), & the Palugyay Palace to the right, (10-27-14)

This photo shows the Hungarian Exchange Bank (yellow bldg.), & the Palugyay Palace to the right, (10-27-14)

A better photo of the Hungarian Exchange Bank (yellow) & the Palugyay Palace to the right, (10-27-14)

A better photo of the Hungarian Exchange Bank (yellow) & the Palugyay Palace to the right, (10-27-14)

A last look at the Roland Fountain in front of the Hungarian Exchange Bank, (10-27-14)

A last look at the Roland Fountain in front of the Hungarian Exchange Bank, (10-27-14)

An interesting-looking souvenir shop in the Square, (10-27-14)

An interesting-looking souvenir shop in the Square, (10-27-14)

A market area off the Square where Bill & I explored later.  We bought some good souvenirs there.  (10-27-14)

A market-stall area off the Square where Bill & I explored later. We bought some good souvenirs there. (10-27-14)

Our funny tour guide (10-27-14)

Our funny tour guide (10-27-14)

Our guide was telling us about Kaffee Mayer, a famous coffee house in Bratislava, (10-27-14)

Our guide was telling us about Kaffee Mayer, a famous coffee house in Bratislava, (10-27-14)  Also, the Greek Embassy (see flag) is above the café.

Bill and I decided to try out Kaffee Mayer as soon as the tour was over!  (10-27-14)

Bill and I decided to try out Kaffee Mayer as soon as the tour was over! (10-27-14)

Cakes in the side window of Kaffee Mayer, (10-27-14)

Cakes in the side window of Kaffee Mayer, (10-27-14)

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.

The Cumil bronze statue (10-27-14)

The Cumil (Man at Work) bronze statue (10-27-14)

Next, we walked over to the old Slovak National Theatre building at Hviezdoslav Square, (10-27-14)

Next, we walked over to the old Slovak National Theatre building at Hviezdoslav Square, (10-27-14)

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.”

Ganymede's Fountain in front of the old Slovak National Theatre, (10-27-14)

Ganymede’s Fountain in front of the old Slovak National Theatre, (10-27-14)

Another market area in Hviezdoslav Square, (10-27-14)

Another market area in Hviezdoslav Square, (10-27-14)

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.

Lots of goodies to choose from in Kaffee Mayer, (10-27-14)

Lots of goodies to choose from in Kaffee Mayer, (10-27-14)

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Fox & Bill waiting for their cakes in Kaffee Mayer, (10-27-14)

Fox & Bill waiting for their cakes in Kaffee Mayer, (10-27-14)

My cake and coffee (10-27-14)

My cake and coffee (10-27-14)

Bill's cake (10-27-14)

Bill’s cake (10-27-14)

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.

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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.

The front gate area of Schloss Hof (10-27-14)

The front reception area of Schloss Hof (10-27-14)

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The Neptune Fountain at Schloss Hof, (10-27-14)

The Neptune Fountain at Schloss Hof, (10-27-14)

The palace and courtyard, (10-27-14)

The palace and courtyard, (10-27-14)

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Entering the palace behind Dan & Jan, (10-27-14)

Entering the palace behind Dan & Jan, (10-27-14)

After this point, we were not allowed to take any more photos of the interior of the palace, (10-27-14)

After this point, we were not allowed to take any more photos of the interior of the palace, (10-27-14)

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.

Looking across Terrace 3 toward the Fountain Grotto, (10-27-14)

Looking across Terrace 3 toward the Fountain Grotto, (10-27-14)

Zooming in to the Fountain Grotto area, (10-27-14)

Zooming in to the Fountain Grotto & Gate area, (10-27-14)

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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.

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The stables (10-27-14)

The Stables (10-27-14)

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Lipizzaners in their stalls, (10-27-14)

Lipizzaners in their stalls, (10-27-14)

We walked outside and behind the Stables, where they kept some white (and also some black) goats with 4 horns!

One of the goats with 4 horns in the Petting Zoo pen, (10-27-14)

One of the goats with 4 horns in the pen behind the Stables, (10-27-14)

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Our first glimpse of one of the white peacocks, (10-27-14)

Our first glimpse of one of the white peacocks, (10-27-14)

The beautiful white peacocks looked very regal! (10-27-14)

The beautiful white peacocks looked very regal! (10-27-14)

Bill (center) walking through the Rose Garden, (10-27-14)

Bill (center) walking through the Rose Garden, (10-27-14)

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The Herb Garden (10-27-14)

The Herb Garden (10-27-14)

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Another white peacock (10-27-14)

Another white peacock (10-27-14)

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.

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These donkeys are NOT albinos--they were bred specifically by the Habsburgs to be white with blue eyes. (10-27-14)

These donkeys are NOT albinos–they were bred specifically by the Habsburgs to have white coats and blue eyes. (10-27-14)

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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.

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Here's a map of the Schloss Hof Palace and grounds, (10-27-14)

Here’s a map of the Schloss Hof Palace and grounds, (10-27-14)

Another beautiful garden at Schloss Hof (10-27-14)

Another beautiful garden at Schloss Hof (10-27-14)

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!).

Bill, Fox, Bill G., Dallas, & Lois in the dining room, (10-27-14)

Bill, Fox, Bill G., Dallas, & Lois in the dining room, (10-27-14)

The Captain & our Cruise Director, Jeannette, in the center rear (10-27-14)

The Captain & our Cruise Director, Jeannette, in the center rear (10-27-14)

The chef coming out of the kitchen to lots of applause (10-27-14)

The chef coming out of the kitchen to lots of applause (10-27-14)

Bill G. & Sam, our cute housekeeper, to his right (10-27-14)

Bill G. & Sam, our cute housekeeper, to his right (10-27-14)

We cheered the loudest for Sam! (10-27-14)

We cheered the loudest for Sam! (10-27-14)

The Captain was kind of a touchy-feely guy...(10-27-14)

The Captain was kind of a touchy-feely guy…(10-27-14)

After dinner, our group all went back up to the small lounge for a nightcap and more toasts to Ann.  (10-27-14)

After dinner, our group all went back up to the small lounge for a nightcap and more toasts to Ann. (photo taken by Sue, 10-27-14)  (I was wearing my new barrette!)

Tomorrow we would be in Budapest!

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