Travels with V
Crossing a border
Vienna part three
Waking up to our third day in Vienna we act on an impulse and decide to go on a boat trip along the Donau river. There’s a couple of companies arranging cruises but we chose the one going to Bratislava, the Slovakian capital right on the other side of the border. It’s a beautiful day on the river and we pass forests ans small villages, many of them once guarded by hilltop fortresses, now mostly picturesque ruins. In some areas huts line the river banks, And all buildings are elevated on stilts. Probably as protection for when the river is overflowing.
After just over an hour on the river we arrive in Bratislava, a city also protected by a hilltop castle, shiny white. This castle was first built more than eleven hundred years ago. And before that there was a kelt settlement here. In the distance we see high office and apartment buildings but here by the ferry landing is the old town with low houses and narrow streets. The town hall is said to be the oldest in Europe. Here and there you can spot unusual and funny statues, one of them surprisingly represents the Danish storyteller HC Andersen, another depicting a sewage worker peeking up from a well. As we stroll around this rather sleepy and silent city we can’t get rid of the feeling that this is not a capital, it’s a small country town.
If you read guidebooks on Bratislava you find that there really isn’t a lot to be seen. But we wander to the outskirts of the old town to find one of the sights, The Blue Church. Obviously designed by someone with a child’s mind, the building looks like it’s made of blue marzipan. Then we cross the old town again to climb up to the castle. At the top we find that it’s not so impressive as it is from below. Maybe because the old castle burned down in 1811 and wasn’t rebuilt until some hundred years later. So if there were any decorations on the walls they were probably destroyed in the fire.
There are two or three museums inside the castle today but we skip them, entrance fees are a bit on the expensive side. Near the castle (and even higher up) is a modern building housing the parliament, and by it a nice restaurant with fantastic views of the surroundings. And, finally, by the castle entrance there’s an impressive statue of a horse and rider. It’s Svatopluk, a local prince who in the 9th century defended his country called Moravia. He was successful, but after his death Moravia was invaded and forgotten.
After lunch we walk through the city one last time to get to the railway station and board a train that takes us back to Vienna. With no hassle. Once again we pass a border but just as when we came here on the river, the crossing is extremely un-dramatic. And anyway, these lands have during the millenniums constantly passed on from one conquerer to another, so maybe borders are still seen as temporary here. Bratislava for instance was the capital of Hungary for some two hundred years.
Vienna is a city most visited for its grand history. For it’s magnificent palaces and art museums. And to learn something about Europe and European history too. Austria was once a mighty empire in the centre of the world but now it’s a small republic in a corner. Where every restaurant makes wienerschnitzel and the skiing is superb. Where the tempo is slow and transportation works perfect. Vienna is absolutely worth a visit!