The friday before I left for Bratislava the other students and I had a Mexican food night. For weeks we’ve all be craving Mexican food and so we finally decided to just go out and find the ingredients for burritos, no matter how long it took. In reality, it wasn’t all the hard. Many of the ingredients we were looking for were labeled “MEXICAN” on the side in giant letters. Apparently, we haven’t been the first nor will we be the last to crave Mexican food in Austria.

That night we made a wonderful meal and we got to talk with Clifford, a student from Berlin. Currently he is staying with Addison, whose host mother has a German student, Japanese student, and an American student all under one roof! It was really great talking with Clifford. Throughout the night we shared our different experiences, with things from movies to politics to requirements to get your driver’s license, which by the way sounds A LOT harder in Germany, although they do get to drive faster here than in America.

After a very long, but very fulfilling dinner, I headed back to the apartment to get ready for our next big trip. This time to Bratislava.

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Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and only an hour away from Vienna by train. As soon as I stepped off the train, I knew we were going to have a hard time getting around. There were barely any English signs and when we tried to ask the woman at the ticket booth how to get a bus from the station to the city center, she just shook her head, making it obvious that she couldn’t speak English.

The Railway Station

Looking at the map we had acquired in Vienna, we could see that the city center wasn’t too far from the train station, so we decided to walk down the main street. Along the way we managed to get lost because two of the street names were spelled almost exactly the same, one was Štefánikova and the other was Štefanovičova.

An example of the language, Slovak.

We also became worried, when there was no one else out on the street and we thought perhaps there really wasn’t anything to see in Bratislava. However, the giant castle that sits above the city was our North Star and eventually it guided us to the old town. Once in the old part of the city, we were greeted by huge groups of tourists. By the end of the day, the streets were filled with people. Apparently everyone in Bratislava likes to sleep in.

Anyone heading into the old district from the train station must pass under Michael’s Gate. It is the only gate in the city that has been preserved from the middle ages and it used to be apart of the city’s fortifications. In the past, if anyone wanted to enter the city they would have to enter through one of the four gates that stood around the town.

After entering the gate we decided to make our way to the castle, which basically meant wandering until we found a road that lead to it. While we walked up the hill we came upon the Church and Convent of the Order St. Clare. From the front, we got a great view of the church’s tower and also the castle in the background. While we were there a huge group of German tourists walked up to us with a guide and we stayed off to the side and listened to him speak for a bit.

Although the  majority of Bratislava is not like made of up buildings like the ones in my photos, for reasons I’ll discuss later, the roads in the old town reminded me a lot of Venice. The roads were small with only enough room for ten people or less to walk side by side.

A few of the streets had some of the worst cobblestones I’ve ever seen. They were basically just nicely shaped rocks lying in the street, which wobbled when you stepped on them. Eventually we gave up counting the number of times someone tripped and almost fell while walking.

To get to the castle we had to cross under a huge roadway, which had a lot of really cool graffiti underneath.

The Bratislava Castle or Bratislavský Hrad in Slovakian, stands on a hill overlooking the Danube. When I hear the word castle, I think of something extravagant and over the top. The Bratislava Castle is indeed impressive, but to me it was more of a fortress than anything else. The walls around the castle are not to be messed with, and although the outside walls of the castle are white and bright, they are very plain and much more intimidating that inviting. In fact, the castle was used as a fortress in the past, as it was an important point for trade routes when the area was first settled.

The current castle looks as it does because of many different reconstructions, one specific reconstruction was made because of a fire that completely ruined the castle. Inside the castle there are now many different exhibits. One of the cooler exhibits has old objects destroyed in the fire, such as a knight’s armor and swords. Some of the other exhibits included paintings of important figures, prints of the castle, modern art and the altar painting, The Assumption of Virgin Mary.

The largest tower is called the Crown Tower and it is where the crown jewels were once housed. Today, people can walk up five sets of staircases to reach the top and get a great view of the city. Climbing to the top of the tower was somewhat scary considering how steep the stairs were and by the time we reached the top our legs were burning as if we had just run a mile!

The Crown Tower, which we climbed.

One of the more interesting aspects about Bratislava was the influence of communism. I’ve personally never been to a country or a city heavily affected by communism, but just walking through a small part of Bratislava is was easy to see some of the communistic aspects.

After World War II, Czechoslovakia (which is now two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) supported the Soviet Union, because the Soviets had come to their aid during the first war. This caused an extreme transformation of the country and Slovakia became a very heavily industrialized area. When we climbed the tower of the castle, it was obvious which side of the city had been most influenced by communism.

On the right there were cute little houses with cobblestone streets and red roofs. It reminded me a lot of Salzburg in a way.

To the left the city is filled with row after row of stiff-looking apartments, factories and roads. This area is called Panelák and is a good example of what buildings built during the communist era look like. 

From the top of the tower Bratislava was basically two completely different cities.

The Slovakian flag, waving proudly from the castle.

After visiting the castle it was later in the day and there was a lot more activity in the center of the town. In the streets there were statues of men sitting, working, or in the case of the photo below, taking pictures of the tourists. It was a really cute touch and every once in a while there was a real person dressed as a statue, which really confused us when suddenly, the statue moved!

The oldest church in Bratislava, the Franciscan Church.

After walking around for a long while, we couldn’t resist getting something warm and sitting down for a break. We ordered hot chocolate with mint, which actually turned out to be almost pure melted chocolate, somewhere between a pudding and a hot chocolate drink. It was wonderful on a cold day! We also wandered around the main square of the town, looked at all the trinket shops and ate at a local restaurant, which served really good sandwiches.

Soon after, we made our way back to the train station, making sure to stop by Grassalkovich Palace, Grasalkovičov palác, which is the residence of the Slovakian president. Behind the palace is also a garden, where people were relaxing and enjoying the last of the nice weather.

Tomorrow, I’ll be headed to Prague, which is in the Czech Republic. Everyone has been telling me that I need to go there, so I’m super excited for the trip!

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