Wasn’t Brastislava one of the shooting locations for the guts-and-gore movie, Hostel? Perhaps it was that factoid that had me wrapped in a sense of foreboding or maybe it was the Adult of the Corn driving our rental van. Funny, his name was Michael, too. Our jampacked Vienna schedule had us all nodding to his dated playlist through the hour and a half long ride. Apparently, Michael learned to rock.
We checked into the Apollo Hotel and left shortly to make the most of the overnight trip. Located between the old town and the business district, the hotel was a brisk twenty minute walk in either direction but the spoiled group piled into Mercedez-Benz taxis to speed to the town square. In ten degree weather with frequent rain showers, we began the tour with Zmrzlina’s – the Slovakian equivalent of gelato, and began to lose the ability to appropriate distribution of vowels in our speech. A dozen flavors included classics like Lemon, the clichéd Bubblegum and the adventurous but very spot-on Red Bull.
I jokingly refer to Cebu as the city where streets have no sidewalks but downtown Bratislava beats us with actual stone brick-paved, free-for-all narrows that even squeeze in outdoor seating for cafes and restaurants. What are even more amazing are their bigger roads that host pedestrian, private vehicle and public transport traffic including road level trams.
Ten Euros got us a seat on the Old Timer, a tour bus specially designed to mimic a vintage motor coach. From the Slovak National Theater and Slovak Philharmonic, we pulled out along the banks of the Danube. Church upon beautiful church breaking for the postmodernist inverted pyramid of the Slovak Radio Station. There was also the Presidential Palace, the ancient City Wall and other remarkable sites culminating in a stop at the hilltop Bratislava Castle with a spectacular view of the entire Little Big City.
We had more Zmrzlinas on our return to the heart of Bratislava where we hopped on a smaller Old Timer to go through the cobblestoned streets and alleys of the Old Town. On the expansive Main Square stands the Roland Fountain, the city’s oldest. Legend has it that at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s, the statue at the very top spins and those who see it will be granted their most earnest wishes. The van meandered almost impossibly through the barely car-width alleys to take us along St. Martin’s – the coronation cathedral of Hungarian kings, St. Clare’s Church, the last remaining well-preserved town gate of St. Michaels, the popular Venturska Street and the be-all-and-end-all Executioner’s House. Aside from offing heads, he was in charge of the city’s sanitation (disposing of consumer byproducts along with the human bodies, why not?) as well as the city’s brothel. Imagine that.
The Sunnier-Side Up came by the Svätopluk I ordered for dinner at the Original Slovak Restaurant — chicken breasts baked with peach halves and cheese. Misa Starloslovenskej Kuchyne is my new supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Translated to “plate of old-Slovakiay cuisine”, it is way more than just the mouthful it is named with inclusions of roast pork, chicken, sirloin slices, sausages, bacon, dumplings, potato and potato pancakes. As I mentioned previously, beer is cheaper than water around these parts. Going local, I asked for a Czech beer and was served the original “Bud”, the Czech local beer Budwieser Budvar.
Daylight was up late and so were we with a nightcap at the Moose Bar across our hotel. The bartender introduced all his local brands adding notes on each of the ABV’s with their strongest , the Slovak Zlaty Bazant ’73 Golden Peasant at only 5%. I took the opportunity to do research and tried the Krusovice Kralovsky Pivovar Czech Premium Beer, the half white-half black Zlaty Bazant Special, the Edelweiss Weissbier with the Zlaty Bazant Alcohol-free Lemon Beer to wash.
Breakfasts in Bratislava are beautiful. Or, at least, mine with assorted cold cuts, cheeses, olives, sundried tomatoes & white grapes assembled from the inclusive buffet at the stately restaurant of the austere Apollo. We still had time to burn before our bus schedule for Prague and spent it at the hotel’s Salt Cave.
Salt Caves were a popular spa treatment among the Czech royalty in their heyday and us indio peasants lapped up the experience. Basking in the the roomful of varieties of salts from around salt mines in the region was said to have similar effects to a few days breathing fresh seaside air.
I wouldn’t take a Czech’s word on a five-minute walking distance again as we found ourselves pulling wheelies three long blocks to the bus terminal. Next stop, Prague!