Originally published 12 May 2012.
So, we don’t really use trains very much in the States. Where I grew up, trains were Thomas the Tank Engine and something people used in the 1800s to get across the country—not something people use as an alternative to driving or flying! I’ve ridden trains before in Japan and Switzerland, and each time it’s a fun and exciting experience. While my previous train ride from Warsaw to Krakow was not the most pleasant I’ve experienced, I was still looking forward to my night train trip.
After a bit of confusion getting on the right train, I was quite pleasantly surprised! The interior was small, of course, but the “room” I was in was plenty big enough for me! There were three bunks, and mine was on the bottom. I thought maybe a couple of other people would be getting on, but nope! Just me! It’s really interesting how space can be so well utilized. There was even water, a towel and breakfast provided. Quite nice!
The only problem came when we started moving… it was a bumpy ride! I have trouble sleeping on anything that moves, even on an airplane. I had hoped having an actual bed where I could lay down and perhaps the methodic movement of the train would actually help me sleep—but boy was I mistaken! We stopped and started, sped up and slowed down, went around curves, etc. I might have only gotten an hour of actual sleep, but I survived it, and I can say I did it. I’m to have had the experience!
The train got in at 5:38 am, right on schedule. And I had no useful money. I had US dollars, a few Polish zlotys, even some Swiss francs, but in Slovakia, they use the Euro! So, I had no money for a bus or a taxi, the exchange places in the train station weren’t open yet, and I didn’t see an ATM anywhere. What’s a poor girl to do?
Fortunately, my hostel was within walking distance of the train station, and it was already daylight! Unfortunately, the directions were a bit confusing! The roads in Bratislava are very curvy, and I couldn’t quite figure out their naming system. Somehow I missed a turn, but I kept going toward the Old City center. The Slovakian “White House” was on the way, so that was cool to see, and you know what else I saw? And ATM! So I got me some Euros and went on my way. Crisis averted!
Bratislava’s Old Town is really cute and quite pretty, but my goodness it’s complicated! The roads are not in any kind of order, and people drive and park anywhere—sidewalks, squares, wherever you can fit. I was getting kind of frustrated because no one I asked seem to have ever heard of the street where my hostel is located, but eventually I met a kindly police officer, and she said I was on the right road! I just needed to go a little further, and the hostel would be on the right—and it was! Again, crisis averted. 😉
The hostel’s front desk girls were very nice and let me go ahead and check in early so I could put my stuff in the room. They gave me a key and pad lock for a locker and said whatever lockers were open were free to use. They gave me a map, suggestions for where to eat, told me about some of the features of the hostel—full kitchen, “chill room” where people can “chill out,” and they sent me on my way! So I dumped my stuff, changed clothes so I could feel like I actually did start a fresh, new day, and set out to find Shtoor, a coffee shop the girls recommended that serves homemade Slovakian food!
Shtoor is really cute, and they have great stuff! Coffee was typical European (strong), and I got whatever was the most Slovakian. I asked the girl at the counter what the best thing would be, and she told me about this thing called Bryndzik. It’s whole grain bread (with beans in it) with spiced sheep’s cheese spread; it also came with salad. The cheese was on there THICK, so I ended up taking some of it off, but it was really good!
And it definitely stuck with me till I had time for lunch. I read that Mr. Shtoor was an interesting kind of guy. He actually was the person who codified the Slovakian language!
I had some time on my hands until the free walking tour at 1:00, so I headed uphill to Bratislava Castle, which is not really a castle like we might think of it. It’s nice-looking, but it wasn’t build for kings and queens. They were coronated, or crowned there, but they didn’t usually live there. It was built as a fortification to protect the city.
It’s situated up on a hill, and there are lookout towers so you could see who was coming from far away. The Ottomans tried to get in and take over Bratislava, as did the Monguls, and as did Napoleon himself in 1805! No one succeeded while this fortification was in use, at least not on their first attempt; Napoleon was successful on his second try in 1809. They also have a barbican gate here, like the one in Krakow. The Krakowian barbican has two gates at a 45 degree angle from each other, which has its benefits, but the Bratislavan barbican gates are at a 90 degree angle. That would slow down an army quite a bit to have to make a complete 90 degree turn just to get into the city. This bought the Bratislavan army some time to shoot arrows into any attackers!
Anyway, there is a lot of reconstruction going on because the castle had fallen into such disrepair after WWII, and it’s taken this long to get together the research and funding for repairs. But they’ve really done a great job with the parts that are open to the public. In one exhibit are various items that have been excavated. There were tools and jewelry and weapons from as far back as the third century BC, before the castle was even built! The first written account of the castle was in 907 AD, and it’s changed hands several times since then but always remained Bratislavan. In the 16th century, the Hungarian capitol liked the place so much, and Bratislava was basically the most popular place to be, so they moved their capitol from Buda (Budapest) to Bratislava! I’m not sure where the boundary lines were at this time, but they felt comfortable coming on over!
The other exhibit open to the public showed models of the castle in its heyday, as well as pictures from the 1950’s when it was at its worst. There were a few things about knights, too, which was pretty cool. No, my knight in shining armor was not there. The search continues!
I still had a bit of time, so I familiarized myself with the main square and made my way over to the Hviezdoslav statue, where the day’s free tour would start at 1:00! Check back soon for details of the Bratislava walking tour!