Day10: Bratislava is Churchill’s Russia?

Winston Churchill said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I similarly found Bratislava, Slovakia, to be a perplexing conundrum of puzzling mixture, a stimulating stop.

As we sailed downstream on the Danube, the first offering of this town is an ultra-modern bridge tower. The town’s castle is atop a hill just across the Danube, each staring at the other. A sign at the loftier begins, “The Bratislava Castle has been inhabited since the late Stone Age.”

This is the first of many contrasts we witness, arriving in the late afternoon, peeking at the sights into nightfall, then touring a full day, partially with the group and later on our own.

New Bridge Tower, Bratislava

From our afternoon mooring, the tower of Bratislava’s New Bridge looms o’er water.

New Bridge Tower and bridge, Bratislava

New Bridge brings many to Old Town Bratislava, where your photographer has strolled to the bridge from our dock on the Old Town riverbank.

Bratislava Castle shining through the night sky

Arrival evening ends with Bratislava Castle as viewed from our ship’s sundeck, shining brightly through the trees. At the right you might discern the prominent steeple of St. Martin’s Cathedral which, like the castle, keeps watch and also beckons a visit.

The contrasts continue in Bratislava as our group (old) visits schoolchildren (young). They sing for us in English, which is linguistic practice for their second language. Two perform a traditional dance dressed in ancestral clothing, and we visit a classroom where questions and answers fly in two directions, but only our language.
School children sing, Bratislava

School children sing.

School girls dance, Bratislava

School girls dance.

School is out for us, and the schedule first calls for a guided walk through Bratislava’s Old Town section. Many paths are narrow lanes, but there is a mix of wide streets also.
Narrow Wide
Narrow street scene, Bratislava

Outside St. Martin’s Cathedral looking toward the central square.

Wide street scene, Bratislava

From the Bratislava Opera, a long, wide boulevard.

Narrow street scene, Bratislava

Walking toward St. Michael’s gate tower that still separates Old and new”er” parts of Bratislava.

Wide street scene, Bratislava

One gateway (entrance) to Old Town, where streets are wide and homage is paid to the idea of a “gate.”

Bratislava buildings that are physically close can be centuries apart in appearance. Renovation seeks to amend the lack of exterior preservation, and one structure declares its desire to make the leap!
New Old
New building at New Bridge on the edge of Old Town Bratislava

The sky is reflected in the roofline and windows of a new building at the New Bridge on the edge of Old Town.

Older building with character, Bratislava

This building has renovated glass and a partially cleaned exterior.

Restored building, Bratislava

Renovation has beautified this classic edifice along the waterfront docks.

Unrenovated structure, Bratislava

Renovation hasn’t found this 1858 structure, also along the waterfront, but it carries on.

Biela Ulica (street), Bratislava

Truly in need, this building wants the attention given to some others, with a stenciled sign crying for help.

Michalska street, Bratislava

Michalska street is a buzz of cafes and pedestrians leading to the tower of St. Michael’s Gate in the background.

Touring alone now, we feel the allure of two churches and find our way via map plus indicators under foot and over head.

Almost a time capsule on the outside, St. Martin’s is a mix of Roman, Gothic, and Baroque architecture. Interior stained glass, jeweled artifacts, and sculpture seem to have the modest intentions of purpose and history, not the braggard’s goal of showiness.

The ornate Baroque style and vibrant color leave no doubt when we successfully locate the Blue Church indicated on the sightseers map of Bratislava. It is just as adorable inside as out.

A side story: Beneath the St. Martin’s sanctuary is a crypt with aged burial tombs. Choosing not to visit, I am gently chided by a fellow traveler for being ‘creeped out’ by such things, and later seem to validate that assessment by the goosebumps on my arm when viewing her photos taken underground.

Distances from Bratislava

St. Michael’s Gate arc in the pavement shows distance to far-reaching destinations.

Steeple of St. Martin's Cathedral, Bratislava

Crown-and-Cross-topped steeple of St. Martin’s identifies our destination.

Outside St. Martin's Cathedral, Bratislava

St. Martin’s stretches well above the other sights of Old Town. A baroque tower tops a Romanesque front, while some windows are Gothic. Centuries are blended into one site/sight.

Inside St. Martin's, Bratislava

Inside St. Martin’s Cathedral.

Little Blue church, Bratislava

Ornate Baroque style Blue Church of Bratislava.

Inside the Blue Church, Bratislava

Beauty is far more than skin deep, as we peek inside.

Castle hill, Bratislava

We seek a different point of view up Castle Hill. Being a Monday, we are forewarned that the facility (museum) is closed. But let’s get the monarchy’s point of view over the town. We find the grounds to be open, and that is enough to see a few interesting sights.

Moravian church foundation, Castle hill, Bratislava

These foundation blocks remain from an early Moravian Church on Castle Hill.

Old Town Bratislava stretches out below Castle Hill

Old Town Bratislava stretches out below the hill, while St. Martin’s Cathedral tower rises up to get a good look at the castle grounds where we stand now. Note the arched bridge in the far distance now is near our ship’s mooring on the Danube.

I briefly interrupt this story as a it occurs that Orson Wells could be the architect for this scene.

A U.F.O. and giant robotic aliens require only a bit of fanciful thought to detect their presence in the manner that Wells infused such scares on the unsuspecting in his 1938 radio adaption of H.G. Wells’ thriller “The War of the Worlds.”

UFO-like tower strides atop New Bridge, Bratislava

The cables of New Bridge Tower appear to be preying on road traffic like “death rays” from a H.G. Wells U.F.O. …

West of Bratislava loom giant, modern windmills

… and outside Bratislava, likewise seen from castle hill, an army of suggestive invaders disguised as windmills. How odd it is to grasp this at a spot “inhabited since the late Stone Age!”

Path off Castle Hill, Bratislava

The way down is clothed in soft light and ancient stone. It is the way of kings and queens for centuries, but ours for this one day.

Arced bridge of Bratislava

Our ship’s perch provides a view of night lights on a second modern bridge in Bratislava. A third is under construction and will interrupt the view in this direction. Our Danube downstream destination through the Waccau Valley will begin by going under this arc at midnight.

Hallways of the MS River Rhapsody

One last walk of the day takes me to our cabin on the lower of the two levels shown, which is the third deck. Above it our photo shows the top interior deck which is home to cabins with small outdoor sitting areas. The fourth is also the restaurant deck, so both hallways you see will be traversed often.

Bratislava has been an interesting experience. It does not have the cache of Prague, Vienna, or Budapest, so it was a blank canvas on which an impression could be formed. It did not immediately seem compelling, but became highly interesting with sights that are old, young, aged, new, refreshed, high, low, ancient, modern, and even futuristic.

Later, a dinner companion declared this her favorite stop because it generated so many, “oh!” impressions that are being newly discovered, versus the many “wow!” impressions generated by more famous and more meticulously restored sites. I’ll still rate “wow” over “oh” on my list of preferences, but I certainly enjoyed the experience of a day in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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