Saturday March 17 – Bratislava, Slovakia

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

For the second day of our 3-day break, Michelle, Suzi and I decided to go over to Bratislava, Slovakia. It’s just an hour away by train, very easy to get there. We’ll be there this coming Tuesday for a performance, but we won’t have time for tourist activities that day. Besides, this allowed us to get the lay of the land a bit. For example, Slovakia has been accepted into the EU, but they still check passports at the border. They still have their own currency too (the Slovak Koruna, about 25 to the US dollar).

We had a lot of fun. The main train station is just a 10-minute walk from the restored, refurbished Old City section. In the old city, most of the streets are pedestrian-only, so we could relax and enjoy the cobbled streets, the beautiful architecture, the delightful new surprises around every bend in the road. We had heard that Bratislava has been greatly restored and improved over the past 10 years, and we can certainly believe that. It was really beautiful and charming. Colorful, too – a pale orange and yellow church here, a pink palace there, pattern-tiled roofs, and occasionally a bronze figure in an unexpected place, like the Napoleonic soldier leaning over the back of a bench, or the guy coming up out of a sewer manhole. The tall spire on Michael’s Gate, the only surviving city gate from the Middle Ages, is quite a city landmark, as is the fortress-like castle up on a bluff overlooking the Old City.

The Old City area is teeming with restaurants. At least every second business was one – maybe more than that, even! Lots with Slovak cuisine, but also a lot of Italian restaurants, and a variety of others as well. We finally decided on one for a late lunch, which turned out to be really wonderful. I had a superb venison goulash. And they even had a (rare) non-smoking room well-separated from the smoking area. Very friendly waiters too, also not too common.

In general, we found the local people to be pretty grim. Unsmiling, often unwilling to be of any help, and I think very uncomfortable even thinking about stepping out of whatever narrow box they’re in. We realized that this no doubt was largely because of their recent release from Communist rule, which must be a very difficult transition. The younger people tended to be friendlier.

Shopping was fun, though not without difficulty. We discovered to our dismay that, this being Saturday, the majority of shops closed at noon or 2 PM. But perseverance paid off, and in the shops that were still open we found some great things (mostly traditionally-decorated Easter eggs for my part). They make lovely pottery here too. And some delicious chocolates!

This being St. Patrick’s Day, we headed for the local Irish pub in the late afternoon – it was quite a hopping place! I think everyone with any sort of Anglo connections was there. The pub itself was fun. Wonderfully rustic tables and benches, fake storefronts along the side walls, etc. It was a great place to spend a bit of time. We encountered a Chicago schoolteacher there who is on a full school-year Fulbright teacher exchange. She was very interesting to talk to, and was able to give us some useful information about Bratislava. One of her companions was celebrating a birthday, so Michelle and I embarrassed him with a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday. Everyone else seemed to like that.

Heading back in the direction of the train station, it was getting near dark. We popped into a beautiful church during mass, so could only peer at the nave from the back, but it was a really gorgeous, ornate Baroque church. The organ was ok, the cantor was terrible! We listened in at another church as well – wonderful organ and organist there, a rather plain sanctuary but much better singing.

Walking back to the train station we enjoyed the occasional floodlit building, especially the President’s Palace. Then another easy train ride back to Vienna. Michelle and Suzi went on back to their apartment; I didn’t feel like sitting for a restaurant meal so I tried to pick up something at a food stand, but the only ones open tonight were a take-out sushi place and McDonalds, so I must confess I ended up eating a McDonalds Filet-o-fish sandwich tonight. A pretty good choice, as it turned out – the restaurants on the way to my apartment were all closed , though it was just 8 PM! Can’t imagine why they’d be closed on Saturday night, but hey, I don’t write this stuff! :-)

The weather is getting colder – it was very windy today, and thinking about rain. Doesn’t bode well for the coming week . . .

Love to all,


Last updated 12/07. Copyright 2007 by Richard C. Morenus. Questions? Send email to