Wednesday, June 2, 2010

day tripping in the wrong direction

Bratislava is an odd cocktail of a city. I'm not talking about the Old Town section, which, like most old towns in Europe I've visited, are a (at times woeful) mix of historic architecture, trashy souvenir shops, cafes, and ice cream stands. Outside of the old town is a juxtaposition of a dilapidated city emerging from the clutches of Communism, flashy glass office highrises, and various architectural eye candy. One of the more picturesque sights is the Blue Church of St. Elizabeth - located directly across the street from a gruesome Sovietesque apartment building which may or may not have been inhabited. Elsewhere in town were gutted buildings and piles of what appeared to have once been buildings, just a short walk away from a neatly manicured park along the Danube embankment.

I arrived in Bratislava at 10:30, and sometime around maybe 17:00 realized that my scheduled two days and two nights had been overly generous. I had placed a moratorium on museums, so there wasn't a whole lot to do except wander around the Old Town and its environs, and since Old Town is pretty dinky, even that didn't take a whole lot of time. The few hours after arrival even included sitting for a spell in the sun along the Danube embankment, detouring into a shopping mall for a snack and a pit stop, and catching a disco snooze when I checked into the hotel later mid-afternoon. Which is not to say Bratislava is devoid of charms, it was just a sleepy sleepy place after the Vienna whirlwind. Other than gaggles of tourist groups snapping photos of the weird statues dotting the town, the streets were kind of deserted. Maybe it had something to do with being Sunday, and it was also overcast and sprinkling all afternoon. By 19:00 I had made my way up to the castle, where I killed more time sitting on a wall, hiding from the rain under my umbrella, gazing out over the city, and contemplating my next move for the following day. As I had already paid for two nights at the hotel, options were:

a) day trip elsewhere in Slovakia
b) sit in a cafe all day
c) go back to Vienna

I had spent all my pre-vacation time prepping for Russia, and everything after that has been done on the fly. In other words, I wasn't prepared for anything post-Russia. None of the day trips suggested by my guidebook grabbed my attention. I'm not inclined to sit still on vacation, unless there's food or coffee in front of me. And I figured if I was going to sit in a cafe, I'd rather do it in Vienna where there was more going on to keep me entertained. Vienna and Bratislava are only a one hour bus ride from one another. After spending Monday morning trying to take in a couple of sights, I caught the noon bus back Austria-way. Most of the day was spent wandering the maze of streets around the Graben, which I went to specifically to search out the swankiest public toilet in central Europe, designed by Adolf Loos, and totally worth the 50 cent usage fee. I tried to take some photos, but none of them really came out; I was worried that the hefty matron would yell at me in German and/or physically remove me if I lingered too long in the stall, so all my pics came out fuzzy in my haste. I wish I could just transport one stall back home to be my toilet. After downing another whipped cream topped Einspanner coffee, I spent a final evening in the 2 euro standing room at the Volksoper (Die lustigen Niebelungen). I hadn't done my homework on the synopsis, and as this performance had no supertitles, all the dialogue was lost on me. It was oddly liberating, because all I could do was take in the action, listen to the music, and laugh at the cameo of two pugs dressed in green dragon suits. The written word can be a distraction. Sometimes I find myself going through museums and reading all the captions, but forgetting to look at the object on display. One the bus back to Bratislava I was the only passenger - an entire squeaky clean Eurolines coach and driver all the myself for a paltry 6 euro. The driver appeared slightly perplexed at my appearance at the VIB Stop 3 at 22:30. I was wondering if he was obliged to make the run if no one was aboard, but didn't know how to ask.

In conclusion...Bratislava is definitely worth visiting, but perhaps a day trip from Vienna would suffice. And as cute and car-free as the Old Town is, I found the area immediately outside the center more interesting.

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