On December 20th, I had a day trip planned to Bratislava, Slovakia. I've had lots of people look at me like I was crazy when I said Bratislava and asked "where's that". A little geography/history: Up until 1918, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but that year it broke apart as part of Czechoslovakia. In 1993, it split with the Czech Republic, and Bratislava became the capital city of Slovakia. Slovakia is surrounded by Czech Republic to the west, Austria to the southwest, Hungary to the south, Ukraine to the east, and Poland to the north.
It's only about an hour train ride from Vienna, so I decided to just make a day trip of it. I had read mixed reviews about Bratislava, but I was pretty excited to go. There isn't really a guidebook dedicated to it, it's just an chapter in Budapest or Vienna books. I didn't have a great map, so I planned to hit up the TI once I got there to get a better map. I took a taxi from the train station and this is where the wheels started coming off this day.
I had a very nice taxi driver who was very chatty. I asked him to take me to the Old Town, which I knew to be about 1/2 mile from the train station. Taxis are often unregulated in some of these European countries, which means they can rip you off. He charged me €20. It wasn't like I didn't have enough money, it just ticked me off to get ripped off. So he dropped me off, and I wasn't 100% sure where I was, but I knew I could see the river, and set about trying to find my way.
I'm still not 100% sure what that building is (I think the National Theater), but there was a Christmas Market around it. This market had lots of food vendors.
This is known as the UFO Bridge. Today, there is actually a restaurant at the top. Back in the day, it was a real source of pride for the communists.
Dóm Sv. Martina, or St. Martin's Cathedral. While Buda & Pest were occupied by the Ottomans from 1543 to 1689, there ended up being 19 Hungarian Kings and Queens crowned here...
Making my way through the streets of Old Town Bratislava
Old Town Hall
The Christmas market in the Main Square
So I climbed up the clock tower to get a view. But when I got to the top, it appeared to be locked. When I got back down, the ladies who really didn't speak english claimed it wasn't locked and to go back up, but I said to heck with it. I was trying to get this view, but from up a little higher. This is from a window (you can see St. Martins and the castle)
Primate's Palace. You know I love a pink palace! There was a little ice skating rink set up in front...
This is the Church of St. Elizabeth, or the Blue Church.
It's not in Old Town, but is off the beaten path. I wanted to see it, so I ventured out to find it.
Of course, per how this day was going, I found it closed! There were signs on the door, but none in English, so I couldn't tell what the hours were. You could step just inside one of the doors and look through glass at the inside (hard to tell, but is mostly blue too...blue pews, etc.).
At this point, I was not feeling the love for Bratislava. It was fine. I'm glad I saw it. But I was done. I had an open ticket back to Vienna, which meant that I could catch any of the trains that left once per hour. I decided I wasn't getting ripped off again by a taxi driver, so I was just going to take the tram to the station (I didn't know the tram went to the station when I got there. Rick Steves...You failed me here!). I made my way to the tram stop and was trying to buy a €1 ticket for the upcoming tram, but the dang ticket machine was out of order. I had to go to the one on the other side of the street, which meant that I missed the first tram, had to wait 8 minutes on the next tram, and missed that hour's train back to Vienna by 3 minutes! Ugh! So I got to spend an hour in the Bratislava train station waiting on the next one.
Before I leave off on Bratislava, I will say that I think they are coming along from their days under communist rule, but they've done so a little slower than Prague or Budapest. It's still has a little Eastern European Communist Vibe in my opinion. Not as many people speak English at the tourist sites, the signs are not in English, etc.
Once I got back to Vienna, I went about checking off one major item I hadn't gotten to the day before. I headed out to the Belvedere...
It's a little out of the way, so you have to have that as your actual destination. In other words, you aren't going to happen by it.
The Belvedere is actually a complex made up of the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, gardens, an orangery, etc.
This is the upper Belvedere and the Christmas market set up outside...
These are the elaborate gardens looking down toward the Lower Belvedere...
The Upper Belvedere was actually my destination. It is an art gallery and I went to specifically see the Klimt collection. This is "Judith and the Head of Holofernes"...
The most famous painting there... "The Kiss"
(The Selfie Station one)
I found them far more stunning than I expected. They have a larger Klimt collection than just these two. I was glad I made the visit.
(Have you seen "Woman In Gold" with Helen Mirren where she fights the Belvedere and Austria to get back the Klimt painting of her aunt Adelle which the Nazis stole from her family?)
I also had to stop and admire the Monet and other impressionists in their gallery...
I took the train and then the metro back to St. Stephen's and the Graben to see the lights after dark.
Chandelier overload! But I just love them sparkling at night!
A couple of short videos of the lights.
And that's a wrap on Vienna. Stay tuned for my final stop...Budapest!