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Published: September 16th 2014
KJ On Brat's Long Park Along The Danube
Cannot say enough about the beauty of Brat's old city area. Very touristy but somehow it all works.
On the 24th of April 1944, two Jewish men named Rudi Vrba and Alfréd Wetzler arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia with an incredible story. They claimed to have just escaped from a German concentration camp known as Birkenau located in Poland. The escapees met secretly with Jewish leaders and over the next two days they wrote highly detailed reports regarding the operations in Birkenau and provided detailed drawings of the gas chambers and crematoria there. By this time, Slovakia, an ally of Germany, had already sent 60,000 of the country's 87,000 Jews to their deaths. The publication of the report in Swiss newspapers later that year was too little too late and by the end of the war it is estimated that only 300 Slovakian Jews had survived out of the original 87,000 children, women and men who had lived in the country.
Karen and I were walking around Bratislava's old city on our first day there. Beautifully preserved buildings. A walk back through time. Franciscan monasteries and convents for the Order of Saint Clare. Mother Theresa has a convent here. Outside a large Roman-Catholic church on the Danube something semi-big was happening. The place is called Rybné Square. It is
the spot where the city’s Neolog Synagogue once stood. The president of Slovakia is making an appearance. Young security men wearing dark suits and wraparound sunglasses press fingertips to their ear-buds Secret Service style. They casually survey the small crowd. A military band stands idly by. A few ancient men sit to the side of the dais on folding chairs. The smiling President says a few words into a microphone. A handful of news cameras are pointed at his coiffed mug. Behind him is an abstract bronze sculpture. The Holocaust memorial. The president says; 'Mistakes were made.' When he finishes his apology a Rabbi takes the microphone and sings a short prayer in Hebrew. The security men glance down at their wristwatches and sigh. The president shakes hands with the seated men. He wears a grave expression. He departs. They do this on the 9th of September every year. Last year, for the first time, the Catholic diocese sent a representative to the service. A week before this ceremony, in Čadca, Slovakia, a Roman-Catholic priest named Fr. Floris tells a crowd of hundreds during church services that ' the Jews who owned hotels, shops and restaurants in Čadca before the
war, were “very very hard and greedy” towards “our people”, and “not social at all”. A Slovakian Archbishop refuses to criticize the priest when asked for comment. André Gide — 'Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.'
Bratislava; The capitol of Slovakia, lays just an hour's train journey east of Vienna. Being that the city is more of a Vienna suburb than a separate entity the train ride isn't very scenic. Rail yards and small factories line the track. Once you're in the train station you can catch the X13 bus to the old city. The bus fare is included in the 15 Euro one-way ticket you bought back in Vienna. Just don't throw your train ticket away.
We stay at the Pension Petit just outside the old city. 6th floor room. Rickety elevator. Small balcony with a decent view of Bratislava's castle. Clean bathroom and a comfortable bed run $52 a night without breakfast. Our experience in Eastern Europe is that your hotel charges will always be the most costly item in your travel budget. Food is very good and inexpensive but
Heavily Roman Catholic the Franciscans and the Poor Clares maintained large operations in Bratislava.
everything is relative. This same $52 room, if it were in Germany, would have cost us well over a hundred dollars per night. We use Tripadvisor to research hotels and guesthouses. Couchsurfing is more difficult in Eastern Europe. I don't know why. Hosts respond only half the time and those who do reply to your queries are often busy or out of town.
Bratislava has a population of about a half-million people. It sits at the juncture of the Danube and Morava rivers. Originally a Neolithic settlement, it has a seven thousand year history. It borders Austria and Hungary. Historically important spot both militarily and trade-wise. Favored resting spot of Crusaders on their way to Holy Land carnage. To loosen up they would gather together Brastislava's less cautious Jews and burn them at the stake. It is the largest city in Slovakia and the country's business and financial center but enough about that.
The big draw is the 'Old City'. The original walled-enclave of rabbit-warren cobblestone lanes, churches, grand homes and more churches. It seems as if every order in the Roman-Catholic church has an operation here. There must be a hundred overpriced cafe's lining the streets. Quirky
Bratislava's Old Cemetary
Beautiful and well maintained graveyard next to the city park. We spent an hour here studying the stones and monuments.
statues and fountains abound. Beautiful little parks and a memorable cemetery. The town is clean and beautifully landscaped to within an inch of the Danube, Bratislava is cute, cute, cute. Viking-Line Danube cruise boats stop here daily. Around noon the place is jammed with westerners following guides around town in groups of twenty. In the early morning you have the place to yourself as the Slovaks really don't get started until 10AM.
Wonderful shopping here. Stylish clothing of excellent quality and at very low prices but you have to shop outside the old city. Nobody in their right mind shops in the old city as the prices there can be 200-percent higher. You'll find odd little neighborhood photo studios where you can have a portrait taken in Slovakian garb and there are lots of sex shops around though I never saw anyone patronizing them. Maybe there's a tunnel entrance. There is a large, modern shopping mall in the SE part of town on the Danube. Pretty expansive place with high prices and terrible service. The Slovaks really haven't grasped the whole 'Customer Relations' idea. Salespeople are sullen and smirky. Ask for something twice and they look like they want
A dozen spots like this one are sprinkled throughout the old city.
to reach over the counter and give you a good slap. It's actually quite strange. Karen bought a pair of shoes from a Slovak woman who used to live and work in the States. She told Karen that she knew that if she gave the same service in Bratislava that she had learned to give in the States that she could do quite well for herself and she has. The problem seems most acute amongst the older workers who learned their trade under the Tito regime when demand was high and inventory was so low it didn't make any difference how you treated a buyer. The younger workers are better at the game but not by much.
We are visiting Eastern Europe at a perfect time. In September, tourist numbers are down, the kids are in school and the weather is quite comfortable. Daytime in the 70's and light jacket evenings if even that.
Karen and I replace our tattered wardrobes. You can only wash an article of clothing so many times before it starts to fall apart and we only carry what one small suitcase can hold. This amounts to four outfits each. We don't eat out
Brat Park Sculpture
Kitschy little burg with hundreds of statues, monuments and sculptures.
at a lot of fancy restaurants but man, can we move fast when we have to.
For all its charms Bratislava is a three day town at best. On our last night there we walked around looking for a likely supper candidate. On Obchadna Street just outside the old city we find a Slovakian pub called the U Sedliaka. It's an old place. Thick, Terra-Cotta tile floors under Heavy oak trestle tables. Pine log interior walls are scalloped with decades of tobacco smoke. A short haired, muscular woman pulls drafts behind the bar The staff looks as worn and tough as the furniture. English is not spoken much in Bratislava though all of the restaurant menus have English translations. Most of the citizens here speak German in addition to their native tongue. Our waitress brings our menus and gives us a big smile. This is new! I order the meat platter and Karen the Bratwurst. They eat a lot of meat in Bratislava. I mean, A LOT of meat. A salad here is usually a medley of pickled cabbage and carrots. Fresh lettuce is a rumor. My plate hits the table with a thud. Slices of ham, sausage, six thick
Died in 1930 at the Age of 26
Many of the old headstones bear photos of the deceased that were copied onto ceramic tile.
strips of smoked but uncooked bacon, sliced onions, pickled hot peppers and big dollops of mustard and fresh-ground horseradish. The cold bacon is a new one for me but I quickly discover that you can eat anything when it's smeared with enough horseradish. The Slovak pub regulars are a happy bunch. Lots of laughing along with the drinking. They take big gulps from half liter glasses of Pilsener at $1 a pop. Our dinner tab with all the bells and whistles comes to $24. We walk back to our room in the chill dark. It gets dark quickly in Europe in the fall. The electric lights are coming on and we stop to look at the beautiful store window displays. Gold mannequins modeling this winter's latest in apre's ski garb. In the morning, as we depart, there will be a cold, hard driving rain. Our timing, once again, is perfect.
Tips to travelers: Load up on Euros before you come to Slovakia. ATMs will only accept chip embedded cards (a rarity in the States) and even then you'll be paying a minimum seven percent commission. Currency exchanges are even worse. Travelers Cheques? Forget about it. Visit the
U Kubitsu Cafe in the old city for either breakfast or lunch. Beautiful little operation with good food, service and affordable prices and best of all you can play with their coloring books. For all of our candid and sometimes vicious reviews of the restaurants, hotels and attractions we have visited go to: http://www.tripadvisor.com/members-reviews/N0ahsdad
Shout to Peggy Christ; How you doing girl. To Tom and Ellen; We discovered the original home of the Clan of the Cave Bear in a place called Liptovsky Michula. No lie.
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