On my New Year’s bucket list was going to at least one new country. While I can’t really count an overnight in Belgium as visiting a new country, I did visit Slovakia and Austria. Check. We stayed in a great little hostel in Bratislava, the Hostel Possonium, well located not far from the city center or train station. I’d definitely recommend it if you travel to Bratislava!
I’ve seen neither Eurotrip nor Hostel, but I hear these films give Bratislava, Slovakia a very bad reputation. I know that my parents were probably the most worried about me visiting this city, but honestly (and somewhat sadly), I felt more safe there than I do in Nîmes. The people I met were all so friendly! From what I saw and experienced, there was nothing to give it such a bad rap. If it deserves anything, it’s certainly a good reputation! Slovakia is the first Central European country I’ve been to and it’s the country that Briana and I spent the most time in. Granted, two days would probably be enough to explore the small city pretty well.
Hans Christian Andersen, upon visiting the city, declared that the city did not need a fairy tale because it was one. While the old city, or staré mesto, certainly retains an eastern fairy tale look, one can only wonder what it looked like in its full glory before communism defaced it in the name of standardization and function over looks. On the other hand, the Communist-style architecture is historically interesting and provides a contrast. The older buildings are beautiful in saturated pastel pinks, blues, oranges, and greens accentuated by white. I have to admit that the castle isn’t the most stunning I’ve seen, but in a way, its simplicity makes it unique. There are several statues around the city which beg you to interact with them. We obliged, of course. It’s really whimsical. Upon finding the Danube, I pulled out my iPod and Briana and I waltzed (or something like that. A for effort?) on the banks of the Danube to the Blue Danube Waltz. Why yes, I do have that on my iPod. You never know when you might get the chance to waltz on the banks of the Danube ; )
On the second day, my friends Lenka and Zuzka from the European Meeting came to meet us in Bratislava. It was so wonderful seeing them again! You never stop laughing with those two. Often one goes to such events as the European Meeting and makes friends that they never see again, but I’ve had the great fortune of seeing Dawn as well as Lenka and Zuzka after the Meeting. They and their friend Veronika were fabulous tour guides and a great asset in learning about Slovakian culture. Did you know that on Easter in Slovakia, boys chase girls around and throw water at them and hit them with sticks? And then the girls have to give them a gift like chocolate or alcohol? Apparently it’s supposed to bring the girls health and beauty. Maybe I’ll avoid spending Easter in Slovakia. We had lunch at the Slovak Pub, which I would recommend to anyone looking to try some good traditional Slovak food. Some specialties are bryndzové halušky(Slovakia’s delicious answer to macaroni and cheese, gnocchi-like dumplings with melted goat’s cheese and bacon), bryndzové pirogy (pierogies with goat cheese), and kapustové strapačky (gnocchi-like dumplings with cabbage and bacon). I surprised myself by liking the kapustové strapačky best. I guess I didn’t realize I liked cabbage so much. Poppy seems quite popular in Slovakian cuisine. To wash down your food, you might want to try some Kofola, Slovakian soda. I’m not a huge soda fan, but I definitely prefer Kofola to Coca Cola because it’s less sweet and less carbonated. Parenica is a delicious smoked cheese you have to try if ever in Slovakia! I enjoyed Slovakian food. Our last day in Bratislava was spent shoe shopping because my brown boots decided they could no longer hold it together. One lost its sole. The sadness. Thank goodness it happened in Bratislava and not in Milan! I’d have probably gone shoeless if it happened in Milan given the prices there.
Lenka and Zuzka helped Briana and I buy train tickets to visit Austria at the Hlavna Stanica (train station and possibly my favorite Slovakian word I learned). €13 round trip to go to Vienna? I think yes! So our third day Briana and I were off to Vienna. Vienna and Bratislava are the two European capitals with the least distance between them. Vienna was really impressive and grandiose. And expensive, at least in comparison to Bratislava. We went to a Jewish history museum which was really interesting, although I think the presentation could have been better and more engaging. There were many museums and we ultimately chose the Jewish history museum over the music museum because of its price, though I kind of wish we did go see the music museum. There was even a museum about Freud, except to Briana’s dismay, my interest in Freud is pretty much nonexistent. Sorry. I love wandering cities and there were many things to see in Vienna. I don’t speak German, but I did look up a few phrases and successfully got directions after getting lost trying to find a certain church for Ash Wednesday. Wo ist Augustinerstrasse? That particular church had one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve ever seen, simple yet elegant. The perfect wedding backdrop. It was a wonderful experience that night trying to order falafel with only the words “ja,” “nein,” and “danke.” Slovakia and Austria, besides completing part of my New Year’s bucket list, are also the first two countries I’ve visited where I didn’t speak the language. I actually enjoyed that because it meant I was able to learn several words and expressions.