One day in Bratislava

I woke up silly early – before Thomas had to rise for work – and let myself out to catch the 8:00am bus to Bratislava. This was a hugely busy bus, so if you’re going to make this trip ensure you book in advance. A lot of people do Bratislava as a day-trip from Vienna, so the first and last buses of the day are often full.

The guard who checked our passports at the border kindly stamped mine when I asked so I have another one for the collection. I disembarked at Novy Most (the new bridge, also called the UFO bridge because of the flying-saucer like structure on the top of it). I’m not sure if this was the stop I should have got off at, but the old area of Bratislava is small enough so I decided to explore a bit and try to find my hostel.

Wandering around, I discovered a nice little town on the whole. There’s a lot of history here and it’s very old-looking in a nice way. Cobbled streets, old well-maintained buildings, statues and so on. I passed by the St Martins Cathedral where numerous European kings were crowned for a few centuries and straight across the town centre before locating my hostel almost by chance.

This was their first day and they had literally just opened, so I dumped my stuff, grabbed a map, asked for some information and went on my merry way. I was informed that KFC didn’t have a branch (yay!) so I settled on McD’s for brunch (boo!) as it was actually one of the cheapest options in the area.

I found some of the main attractions such as the mayor’s office / town hall (with free wireless in the square outside) and the manhole man statue (complete with person dressed as the statue next to it accepting money) as I walked back to the bus station with the intention of catching a local coach to Devin castle. Only I found out there are no buses between 10:30 and 13:30. Beware therefore if you go there yourself and catch an early bus – you’ll likely get stranded until after lunch!

Instead, I walked up to the local castle up on the hill for a lovely view of… some flats. The nice stuff nearby isn’t easy to see from the top and instead you catch a sight of the newer parts of the city, which is a shame. The bridges over the Danube are nice, however. I’d like to point out, though, that the Danube certainly isn’t blue any more. Maybe it was when Mr Strauss penned his little ditty (the main music for the Elite game for all you geeks) but now it’s a rather murky brown colour.

Back at ground level, I returned to the bus station and waited for the Devin Castle bus. Which didn’t show. And there was no mention of it on the “arriving / departing soon” list. As such I stopped trusting the timetable and decided to skip the castle. A shame, but as it worked out it was a fortunate decision to make.

As I walked back into the town centre, I saw a bit of a gathering around what I think was the British embassy. A handful of consular cars with flags flying were outside and a gentleman in a suit collared me when he saw my Toon shirt. It turned out he was Brian Binley, the MP for Northampton South and he was there for some function or other. We talked for two minutes and I mentioned The Walk as I do. Without hesitation, he pulled a 1000 SKK note from his wallet and asked if that would help. It most certainly would! It’s roughly £20 or $40 and would pay for 6 months’ education for one of the Blue Dragon kids. I’ve already posted about this on the Walk page, but again I would like to publicly thank Brian for his generosity.

From there, on a bit of a high, I walked to the train station which is a bit of a hike. The heavens opened for a few minutes which was a relief from the heat to start with then far too much water to put up with within 5 minutes. It petered out and I reached the station in around twenty minutes where I enquired about my ticket for Budapest the next day. Note that the windows you see when you enter the station all have big “I” signs which will make you assume they provide information. They don’t. You have to go down a passage at the back to a specific office where they’ll print you off a timetable, but can’t give you prices. Then back to the front of the building to enquire on the money involved and purchase the tickets. What a palaver. Bizarrely, the quickest train was 40% of the price of the slower one so I picked that ticket.

At the hostel I repacked and showered then had a huge pizza and a Slovak beer (10% *hiccup*) for around £2.50. As it was cheap, I opted to walk the 30 minutes to a “nearby” cinema over the UFO bridge to see Zodiac which I thoroughly enjoyed. Even better, it was “bargain night” so even less than I was expecting. I also like the way you can reserve tickets online without paying for them, so no booking fee. Just turn up at least 30 mins before the performance. And Slovaks don’t talk in the theatre unlike the Brits.

The walk back was pleasant on almost empty streets with many of the buildings lit up. My dorm was full when I returned with a family from Brazil settling in. I said hello, goodnight and tucked myself in.

More Viennese hospitality

Just like in Prague, the sounds of construction woke us but this time the noises were from inside the building. I think some of Thomas’ meighbours were adding a new wall! Still, we’d slept well and it was a late morning. I finished the pizza from the previous night, and the girls and I left at around 10:00. If I remember correctly, they were heading for Spain.

I, however, picked up a day pass for the public transport (EUR5.70 – good value) and walked around the city centre grabbing snaps of the places I didn’t see the day bafore. The Anchor clock was an accidental discovery. I spotted a crowd gathering looking upwards at slightly before midday so they had to be waiting for a clock to do something. On the hour, a progression of historical characters parade past as bells chime.

Nearby I managed to find the Holocaust Memorial to all the Austrian Jews killed during the war. It’s a strange sculpture – a crypt covered with books, their spines facing inwards. The square in which it is situated is lovely, with narrowm winding streets and traditional wood-fronted buildings wending away in all directions.

There’s an area with many (expensive) museums which is worth a visit for a few photographs and I got some snaps of Karlsplatz, including a handful of drunk students walking through the large fountain… and one falling over on his backside. Whoops.

The KFC challenge arose and with the help of a nice lady at tourist information who thought I was mad, located the only one in Vienna – a train ride away in an out-of-centre mall. I swung by Thomas’ place for a shower then back into town to meet Anita and her friend Agnes (a Polish import!) for more walking around.

Anita showed me a couple of things I would have missed, such as the Gaudi-inspired Hundertwasserhaus and the garbage-burning factory remodelled by the same artist/architect. Utterly weird, but still pleasing on the eye. Somehow. We then headed back to Anita’s where a rather nice spicy pasta dish and chocolate was consumed, washed down with a pretty decent Austrian beer. Anita – thank you for your hospitality! And letting me play with the cat!

Agnes made sure I got on the right bus for the city centre where I walked around the outer ring again, getting some decent (I hope) night snaps of the city. Back at Thomas’ we chatted until far too late and I collapsed in bed – another coach to catch early the next morning.

Viennese whirl

I managed a long lie in until the heady time if 7:00 before getting up for a rather awful McD’s breakfast and to jump on my coach to Vienna. As the Czech Republic is an Eastern European nation, we had to stop at passport control on the way out and two girls managed to get their passports stamped – I should have thought of that! The border guard quoted them 5 Euros per stamp and they were quite taken aback until he said he was kidding.

The coach dropped everyone off on the outer ring road, but it took a while to figure out where I was as there are three Eurolines stops in Vienna. I managed to wander up to the East train station in the sweltering heat only to find that half of their left luggage lockers were “kapput” and the other half were in use. Great. So I lugged my bags around with me all day.

This included a walk to the Eurolines office I would be leaving from in two days time, to colletc my ticket and to figure out where it was. I’m glad I checked as Lonely Planet has the correct address, but the dot on the map is around 4km away from where it should be. An underground ticket is a much better way of getting there than shoe leather.

I walked around a fair bit of the centre then spent an hour trying to locate a payphone to call my couchsurfing host, Thomas. I finally did and we arranged to meet just after 5pm at one of the underground stops.

Vienna does “grand” the same way Prague does “fairy tale” with some of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen. The parliament building is done in Greek style, the town hall more gothic (though I didn’t get any photos as some muppet had decided to put a summer festival up in front of it so I couldn’t see the thing), the music halls as good as anything in London or Paris… simply breathtaking.

Unfortunately, it’s also really expensive like those cities. Within the centre, at least, expect the internet to hit 5-6 Euros an hour. I wolfed down a Burger King before hopping on a tube to Ottakring, out to the west, where Thomas was waiting for me. His flat was only a short walk away and we were there in minutes where he got me settled in, provided me with slippers and showed me the ropes.

While at Thomas’ I managed to get in touch with Anita, another local couchsurfer and arranged to meet her the next night for some sightseeing and dinner. It chucked it down that night as I was trying to locate a pizza shop – quite a change from the bright sunshine earlier in the day.

I slept on the floor this first night as Jamie and Hanni from Singapore had decided to stay another night and they had first dibs on the couch. Thomas offered me a camp bed but I wanted to get used to my sleeping mats.