Trevor’s Travels: An enlightening stop in the historic city of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia

First, I have to confess to a certain ignorance with my European knowledge.

I always thought that Czechoslovakia was one country until the European Union carved out the Czech Republic from the other bit. Then, if you had asked me what Bratislava was, I would probably have said that it was some country somewhere.

Actually, Czechoslovakia was a nation from October 1918 to Jan. 1, 1993, when it was separated into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Slovakia’s capital is the city of Bratislava.

Furthermore, the two parts don’t like to be thought of as one and fiercely defend their two identities.
My visit to Bratislava was insufficient to let me dwell much more on the personalities of the two places, but I bet in true European fashion they tell jokes about each other and have stereotypes of various characteristics.

Before the advent of political correctness in the U.S., we used to do the same thing here, and Europeans still do tell such jokes and without the slightest embarrassment.

Recently, we left Vienna on a very smart and modern bus — I have to say I always feel safer in a conveyance either large or small if seat belts are provided — and made our way across flat, rich countryside filled with wind farms.

Our eventual destination was Budapest, but as we were traveling along not far from the Danube it seemed obvious to make a stop in Bratislava, which also sits alongside this big waterway. It’s just 35 miles from Vienna and it didn’t take long.

Bratislava is a mix of industrial plants and blocks of workers’ flats. Some of these have been painted bright colors, but they still have a tall, chilling look about them.

Eventually, the bus came to a halt and we walked the short distance to the hotel, which overlooked the beautiful blue Danube. Sadly, its romantic color was not in evidence that day; perhaps it was the season or more likely it was the winter runoff that gave it a brown tinge.

The rooms were not quite ready and since it was only to be a short wait, we went into the bar for a coffee. Immediately, we were brought back 30 years with the strong smell of tobacco smoke. Obviously, Slovakia has not embraced the trend of banning the activity in public spaces. One forgets how intrusive it is.
Also, the center of Bratislava has an old-fashioned look. It is preserved as a living museum with ubiquitous red tiled roofs and a large castle overlooking the town.

Around the streets are several bronze statues, some of which are decidedly whimsical. I particularly liked “Cumil,” who is a little fellow emerging from a manhole cover — he always draws a crowd with their cameras and smartphones ready.

We looked into a large church where there was a long line of supplicants to enter the confessionals. I had to wonder what these oldish, stalwart citizens could possibly have to confess in their quiet middle European lives — perhaps excessive smoking?

St. Martin’s Cathedral beckoned us and we managed a half hour before we were told that it was about to close. It was silent and majestic, and as usual I was struck by the number of people who had worshiped here over the centuries and during some very difficult times.

Slovakia was once part of the Soviet bloc; there is no evidence of that presence and so I imagine that such memories are not good ones. Before that, it was overrun by Nazis, so in the last century alone there have been some nasty things going on.

At least I now know about the city and the lower half of Czechoslovakia, and I shall not wallow in my ignorance of this region any longer.

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