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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

353: Four countries in two days

It's nice to be back 'home' in Warsaw after my weekend trip to Slovakia. I stayed in a very pleasant boatel (a newish word for a boat that has been converted to a hotel) on the Danube at Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The overnight train from Warsaw arrived at 5.30 on Saturday morning and I was immediately (but not literally) struck by how many hundreds of local people were milling about the station at that time of the morning. I found my way to the river (courtesy of google maps and piggybacking off a local hotel's wifi)  and the staff of the botel Gracia were kind enough to allow me to check in extremely early and to allow me an extra breakfast. Then a short nap - the overnight train journey had been enjoyable enough but the hard mattress put me in mind of what a morgue is probably like.
Having woken up refreshed I set off to explore the old town. (I'm beginning to think there's not a city in Eastern Europe that doesn't have an old town component). Very picturesque and chock-a-block full of tourists, even this late in the season. Some of the locals were dressed in period costume and performing re-enactments of various battles. Shots and explosions could be heard throughout the day. It takes more than that to wake me from my power naps. A nice city but apart from the old town and the castle, high on a hill overlooking the Danube, I don't think Bratislava itself has too much to offer tourists. I decided therefore to head to Vienna the next day. It is only an hour or so West along the Danube. I would have gone by boat but the water level was particularly low so lots of 'cruises' had been cancelled. I went by coach instead. Cheaper anyway. Vienna, capital of Austria, formerly one the two centres of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a very grand city indeed with lots to see and do. It needed more than the few hours I gave it to do it justice. I managed to visit St Stephen's cathedral and then a short walk to view the (outside of the) opera house. After finally catching the right tram going in the right direction, I visited the Hundertwasser house and museum. What is that I hear you asking, as indeed I was until two days ago. It is a fine example of expressionist architecture (co-)designed by the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). It is a very unusual multi-coloured, multi-faceted, apartment block. Do please click here for some images. Found a nice little cafe there where I was able to speak Russian with the ByeloRussian ladies who were serving there and preparing the food. What a mix of cultures and nationalities everywhere these days. From there out to Belvedere (not that Belvedere, Hazel) to look at the Royal Palaces and gardens and then back to the centre of Vienna where it was time for afternoon coffee and cake in the very swish and suave (and of course pricey) Mozart Cafe.  Click here for more images.
Cultured out.
Time to head back to Bratislavia where, in stark contrast to the upmarket sophistication of the Mozart Cafe, I enjoyed a beer and a quesadilla in a pub/restaurant called Slang.
Monday arrived and it was time to catch a series of three trains back to Warsaw. The first train was 10 minutes late arriving so I was in mild panic mode for the 50 minutes or so up to Breclav, in the Czech Republic. The train stopped at 11.00 which was the right time for it to stop at Breclav. The burning question was had it made up the lost time or was it still running late. Looking down the platform I saw only a sign that said Kuty. Was that the name of the station or was it the Czech word for Exit? I got off and then mentally tossed a coin. Together with my weekend case, I jumped back on the train as it was moving off. Turned out to be the right decision as Breclav was 10 minutes further down the track. Thankfully they had been holding the next train until this one arrived so a quick change of platform and settle down on the next train, heading for Ostrava. Again in the Czech Republic. At Ostrava there was an hour to wait before catching the Prague->Warsaw express for the last leg of the journey. Time enough for lunch but whereas Slovakia now has the Euro for its currency, the Czech Republic uses Czech Krone so there was a need to change some Euros for Krone before buying food. Of course I could have waited until the train arrived and then eaten in the restaurant car and paid in Polish Zlotties but when it's lunch time it's lunch time.
This particular blog is now too long. Time to stop. Here are just a few photos of the trip but I do recommend clicking on the two links above - for the hundertwasserhaus and Mozart cafe.
Naturally enough there is also a video clip of the Blue Danube walz.
P.S. for Gareth - I think we must have Europe pretty much sewn up between us?
Statues like this are all over Europe and just as you convince yourself it is real the damn thing winks at you.

How incongruous is this - downtown Bratislava!

Bacchanalia - I'm sure I went to parties like this when I was (a lot) younger. If only I could remember.

I'm still trying to work out if the guy with the machine gun is supporting a wounded comrade or strangling an enemy.

Botel Gracia. I think I was 3 down and 1 across, or was it 1 down and 3 across. Who cares.

Bratislava castle at dusk.

I'd dearly love to be..... If I knew then what I know now.......

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