Monday, July 23, 2012

Day Tripping To Bratislava Slovakia

June 9th - Saturday

It's going to be a long one, people.  But well worth it, because you see, we left Budapest.  We even left Hungary and it wasn't to go home!  Frankie had been wanting to take a train to somewhere, anywhere, ever since the first time we went to Europe. Now was the time!  Rick Steves (have I mentioned how much we like him?), mentioned several day trips from Budapest and we looked at them all and decided we would add a trip to another capital city to our growing list.

We decided to hop on a train and travel to Bratislava, Slovakia!  Don't worry if you don't know where that is.  Honestly, I didn't even know Slovakia was a country before we decided to go there.  Yes, that was embarrassing to admit, but hey, as I told many people, a lot of Americas are really really bad at geography!  Let me help you out some by showing you a map and it may even help you see where Budapest is located as well. (I was surprised at the number of people that thought it was in South America or Africa!) I still have to search to find it on a map, but now I know the general direction to start looking!

We knew we needed the Keleti Metro station which was also the railway station.  We were almost too late in getting there and almost missed the train!  We stood in line to buy tickets and when it was our turn we walk up and the lady said we needed to get a number and she pointed to the corner of the room.

There were no signs (at least not in English) telling us we needed a number.  Ugh!  So we get a number and get back in line.  Luckily, there were not very many people there or we would have missed the train for sure. 

We bought our tickets and got on a train. There were no indications we were on the right train.  We went to the correct platform and got the train there, but there is always that nagging feeling.  There was no one around to ask, either.  There were only a handful of people on the train.  We were not sure if we were in 2nd class, which is what we paid for.  Here is what it looked like inside the train.

2nd class train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia 

We sat there just hoping we were in the right place.  The train schedule said this train was going to leave at a certain time and they were not kidding.  At exactly that time it left.  There were no shouts of "all aboard" or shouts of anything, it just started moving!  So be aware of the time and have your behind on it or you are out of luck!

Eventually, a ticket conductor came along and we were apparently on the right train because they didn't say anything.  We made the ticket conductor mad though.  It wasn't on purpose, I promise.  Frankie asked him where the dining car was (his main concern) and the conductor mumbled something we think in English, pointed, barely made eye contact and then continued checking tickets of the people in front of us.

We didn't really understand what he said to begin with and then his mumbled I-hate-you-and-everything-else-around-me attitude cracked us up.  We both started laughing! We couldn't help it.  It was funny!  

Well, he didn't appreciate us laughing and he whipped his head around to give us the stare down.  I will never forget those icy blue eyes starting me down.  It was still hilarious and we tried to cover up our laughing by pointing to the direction he pointed and saying, "That way?"  He turned back around and continued his job as we sat there like children in church trying to keep our laughter from seeping out.

After we were sure the coast was clear of the mean man we headed to the dining car for breakfast and coffee.  It was much more colorful than the rest of the train!

Dining car on  train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia

Frankie liked his "fine dining" on the train in Europe!  (Hey look it's Rick Steves!)

Frankie drinking coffee on  train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia 

We stayed along the Danube river for awhile.

Danube river seen on train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia  

I feel that I take a lot of pictures of toilets on our trips, but I can't help it.  When confronted with something new, I find it very interested and want to share!  So you are going to learn about the toilet on the train!  I think the cartoon was saying to not put trash in the toilet.  Ok, fine I won't but can you please tell me how to flush it....

Toilet  on train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia 

Turns out the green buttons on the wall between the toilet and the sink are what control the toilet and the sink.  But, when the button was pushed there was a few seconds before anything actually happened.  It was weird to not really know what to do so you just start pushing buttons and it takes it awhile for anything to happen making you think that the wrong thing was pushed.

Then there was the toilet paper that looked like an ace bandage.  It was more like a paper towel and I will not go into the why it could be like that.  Let's just move on....

Toilet paper  on train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia 

Two and half hours is a rather long travel time. It is good we were able to get up and walk around but you tend to get bored.  We walked all the way to the back of the train where we could see the tracks.  I was surprised we could go that far. It was really strange walking between the cars, it was blocked off so we couldn't fall, but it was still a strange feeling.

Train tracks from back car  on train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia 

Like I said, you have to find things to do to keep occupied, so I take pictures.  I even have time to do "artsy" shots of myself!

Jennifers reflection on  train ride from Budapest to Bratislava Slovakia 

We made it and Slovakia was very welcoming to the English speaking people!

Welcome to Slovakia sign Bratislava Slovakia 

We followed Rick Steves' Bratislava walk and started on our way to the city center called Old Town.  Along the way we walked right by the Slovakian president's residence called Grassalkovich Palace.  It was so strange that you could get so close to it and go into the park that is behind the residence.  In America you practically  need binoculars to see the White House and here you could go almost right up to it!  It was a beautiful place.

Back view of Grassalkovich Palace the Presidents residence Bratislava Slovakia 

Here is an example of what the language Slovak looks like.  I had no idea what it said. So I checked on and got a general idea: "In the countryside and public parks in the Bratislava Old Town prohibits: Access to venues that are not reserved for visitors" and so on.

Slovak sign in Bratislava Slovakia 

This one needed no translation, they don't allow basset hounds in the park behind the president's residence.  He must have had a bad experience with one once.  (How could you not love them?  Just look at these faces!)

No basset hounds are allowed in Grassalkovich Palaces garden in Bratislava Slovakia 

If you can get past the fact that the Slovakian president hates basset hounds and continue on your way to the front of his palace you will see this fountain.  It is called Earth - planet of peace, but in Rick Steves' book it is just called Big Fountain.

Close up of fountain in front of Grassalkovich Palace in Bratislava Slovakia 

I think that Czech Republic-Slovakia has a different definition of talent than America might have.  Just an observation.

Czech Republic Slovakia's Got Talent sign in Bratislava Slovakia 

Once you get to this cathedral you know that you are close to the city gate.  Do no go in front of the church you want to go towards the small street, alleyway, walkway between buildings that forks in the left direction. (I don't know if that made any sense, but I can see it perfectly in my head.) This cathedral has the longest name I have ever seen.  Are you ready? This is the Cathedral of St. John of Matha and Felix of Valois in Hurban Square, also know as Trinity Church.  I like the longer name but could probably only remember the shorter one.

Cathedral of St. John of Matha and Felix of Valois in Hurban Square in Bratislava Slovakia 

Finally, we made it to the city gate!  How awesome is that!  It is St. Michael's Gate and is the last surviving tower of the city wall.

City Gate in in Bratislava Slovakia 

Here is another view of the gate with a extremely European man in the picture.  His name has to Marco,  Jacques, or Philippe.

European man at City Gate in Bratislava Slovakia 

As you walk through the gate, Slovakia has its version of the zero kilometer marker.  This is where they start measuring all the distances in Slovakia.

Zero Kilometer marker in Bratislava Slovakia 

This is as close to Texas as I could find.  It is far no matter what!

Closest marker to Texas at the zero km marker in Bratislava Slovakia 

If you have crossed through the gate you are on Michalská Street and in the beginnings of the tourist center.  You will know.  There will be no questioning where you are.  There will be souvenir shops.

I heart Bratislava store in Bratislava Slovakia 

There will be WAY overpriced food that is foreign to even Slovakia.  Take for example this quesadilla.  Now, I am from Texas and we have Mexican food.  It is Tex-Mex, which is different from Mexican food in Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, and California in some ways.  But this quesadilla offering just messes it all up.  They put blue cheese in it.  They put bacon in it.  That's just WRONG!  To top it all off they were charging 11.59 Euros!  That is $14!!!  Someone asked me if they shipped the ingredients from Mexico to justify that price.  I doubt it.

12 dollar quesadilla with strange ingredients in Bratislava Slovakia 

We didn't eat there and kept on walking to see more sights.  I love this little gremlin!  He is just as cute as a little grouchy gremlin can be!

Grimlin statue up close above door in Bratislava Slovakia 

Take a look at you see it?  Do you see the cannonball?  It is a cannonball from the Napoleonic Wars. In 1809, Napoleon's army hit the city with cannon fire from the Danube river.  I had no idea a cannonball could travel that far!  It is almost a full mile and it is really stuck in there good!  This one is above a chocolate shop.

Cannonball from Napoleon above chocolate shop in Bratislava Slovakia 

We continued further into the depths of Bratislava and came to the Main square.  It is as cute as cute can be!

Main Square 1 in Bratislava Slovakia 

One of my favorite things in this square was the statue of Napoleon.  Are you thinking, "Why would they have a statue of some French dude who caused so much destruction in their city?"  No? Well, you should have, but now take a look at the statue, which just happens to be in front of the French Embassy.

Napoleon statue in front of French embassy in Bratislava Slovakia 

Napoleon's hat is pulled down over his head and he is barefoot.

Barefoot Napoleon statue in Bratislava Slovakia

It was Slovakia's final revenge to this man, a lifetime of people laughing at him.  By this time we were hungry again.  Didn't we just eat on the train??  We decided to eat at Roland Restaurant Cafe in the Main Square.  This was taken from inside the cafe through they window we sat at.

Looking out window at Roland Cafe  in Bratislava Slovakia 

We ordered an appetizer of a traditional Slovakian dish called bryndzové halušky.  It is potato dumplings with sheep's cheese and bacon.  It was excellent! I ordered a pasta dish and Frankie ordered fish and chips but those aren't as exciting as a brand new food.

National dish bryndzove halusky-potato dumplings with sheeps cheese and bacon at Roland Cafe  in Bratislava Slovakia 

After lunch we continued on with our exploration of Bratislava.  Notice another cannonball embedded into the wall?  This is Old Town Hall and we walked through the gate to head towards Primate's Square.  (No, it didn't mean monkeys, it has something to do with the size and power of the city compared to the other towns in that country.  I found this link that might help explain because all I kept thinking about was monkeys, too.)

Cannonball from Napoleon in Main Square in Bratislava Slovakia 

A few pictures of things we saw in Primate's Square.

Winged dragon in Old Town Hall courtyard  in Bratislava Slovakia 

Full view of three headed dragon statue in Primates Square  in Bratislava Slovakia 

Frankie looking through statue in Primates Square  in Bratislava Slovakia 

It started sprinkling/raining and it was time for a coffee break.  Understand that there was more time between eating and this snack than it seems.  I have left out a lot of our wondering around.  I just don't want anyone to think that all we do is look at a city item then eat, look at something and then eat again, and so on.  It does seem that way now that I look back, but I promise we did more than eat!  But man, when we did eat, it was GOOD!  Catty-corner to Roland Restaurant Cafe where we ate lunch was Kaffe Mayer, which has been serving coffee and cake since the year 1873!  We chose two coffees and a slice of sissi karamelova torta (caramel cake) to share.

Coffee break  at Kaffe Mayer in Bratislava Slovakia 

The rain let up and we continued on our way.  Bratislava has some really fun statues in it.  You saw the Napoleon one, now let me show you this one.  This is Schöner Náci, he was a real man who lived in Bratislava in the 1960's. He would dress up in his one suit and top hat and stroll the streets flirting with the women he found beautiful.  He would often tell them they were schön (pretty in German) and that is how he got his nickname.

Schoner Naci statue in Bratislava Slovakia 

Just down the street is another statue called Čumil (the Peeper).  This was the first fun statue in Bratislava and there is no story behind him.  He is just a man sticking up from a manhole in the ground.  He has been run over a few times though.

Cumil statue  in Bratislava Slovakia 

Nearby there is yet another fun statue.  This one is called Paparazzo, which is the singular form of paparazzi. Do you see him?

Paparazzo statue from far  in Bratislava Slovakia 

Here is a closer view.

Paparazzo statue from side  in Bratislava Slovakia 

One thing that Rick Steves did not mention in his book but the website Trip Advisor did was something called the Blue church.  This was something we had to investigate!  So off the beaten path we went!

Once you get out of the main tourist area, it is very apparent. This town took a beating from Napoleon, then the World Wars broke out, and then the Soviets took over.  After WWII the city was just a shell of its former self and the communist didn't care about the past only the future.  They even sold the medieval original cobblestones from the roads to German towns who were rebuilding after the war.  With the fall of communism in the 1989, the new government tried to return property to the original owners who then rebuilt.   This took years and there are still some buildings under dispute.

Building tht has not been restored  in Bratislava Slovakia 

We found the Blue Church whose real name is church of St. Elisabeth and let me tell you, the pictures do not do it justice.  It is so beautiful!  I have never seen a church like this!

Full view at church of St Elisabeth aka Blue church  in Bratislava Slovakia 

Many of the reviews on Trip Advisor said that when they went to the church it was closed and they could only see the outside.  As it so happened, it seemed as if a wedding was about to take place there and it was open.  No one had gone inside yet to sit down, so Frankie and I snuck in and I took some pictures.  The inside is just a beautiful as the outside!

Inside at church of St Elisabeth aka Blue church  in Bratislava Slovakia 

Red velvet seats at church of St Elisabeth aka Blue church  in Bratislava Slovakia 

We just knew that the wedding was going to start any moment with the people who were outside starting to come inside.  Frankie was telling me to hurry and take my pictures and then we would sneak out the side door.  So being goofy, he made the face of terror as he exited the side door.

Frankie sneaking out at church of St Elisabeth aka Blue church  in Bratislava Slovakia

We got out before anyone was the wiser! Along our path we managed to find a grocery store to go in and look around.  I was happy to find the tortillas (I do worry about places where there are no tortillas) and found it hilarious that they were with the other "ethnic" food.

Tortillas with other ethnic food in grocery store in Bratislava Slovakia

We started back towards the main tourist area of town and Frankie decided to share some of his Red Bull he bought at the grocery store with a random statue.  I think the statue appreciated it!  She even got the buzzed look from all the caffeine of the Red Bull!

Frankie sharing his Red Bull in Bratislava Slovakia 

One of the strangest things we saw was what everyone calls the UFO.  It was part of a bridge built by the Soviets.  It is now an expensive restaurant with great views of the city.  We didn't go to it.  By this time we were getting tired and ready to head back to the train station to wait for the train.

UFO on New Bridge in Bratislava Slovakia 

We still found some interesting things along the way.  I love this picture of the manhole.  I am not sure why; I think it might be the symmetry of it.

Manhole cover in Bratislava Slovakia 

Then there was this.  What is it?  Why it is nothing more than a mailbox drop.  Of course!

Interesting mailbox in Bratislava Slovakia 

We had to backtrack a little and then Frankie tried to get us lost.  The map we had was not the best, but somehow we managed to make it back to the train station.  I don't remember waiting too long for the train and I think it was another case of almost missing the train back.  If we had missed it, it would not have been awful.  It would have meant finding something to do for two hours while we waited for the next train.  We didn't want to wait so I am glad we made it.

We ate supper on the train.  It was not much to write home about except for the dessert.  We both chose a Hungarian dessert called Gesztenyepüré.  It is a chestnut puree.  It was so good, but it had this taste that I recognized but couldn't place.  We talked to the waitress (I guess that is what they are called on trains) and she said that it along with the chestnuts it had sugar, whipped cream and rum.  The rum is what I recognized and I cannot even begin to tell you from where.  I don't drink alcohol so this is a mystery to me.  I tasted that rum for the next several hours.  It just doesn't go away!

Gesztenyepüré - chestnut puree dessert train food from Bratislava Slovakia to Budapest 

We arrived in Budapest and headed back to the hotel.  In the metro they have this sign as you exit and that one 14-letter word means goodbye.  It is a mouth full too!  Luckily, they also use a shorter version.  It is szia  (pronounced like see-ya).  

Viszontlatasra-goodbye in Hungarian seen in metro Budapest

So with only two more days left in our trip to Budapest for me to blog about that is what I will say to you now, szia!