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Entries about bratislava

Der Liebe Augustin and a dressed skeleton

Bratislava and Vienna

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I arrived by bus from Bratislava at lunchtime - a smooth journey of an hour and ten minutes, including a stop at Vienna Airport. One notable thing about the journey was that not far from Bratislava and the border with Austria we passed by what must be one of the biggest wind farms in Europe. After taking the tram to Wombat's The City Hostel Lounge, dumping my stuff and putting on the bedding, I took the metro into the city centre.

The first place I went to was to Griechenbeisl, the oldest restaurant in Vienna - not to eat, but to say hello to Der Liebe Augustin in the covered walkway to one side. Who is that, you might ask... well, he's a life-size figure/puppet of a folk-figure of Vienna, who is said to be based on a real-life, popular bagpiper, minstrel and balladeer from the 17th century (the traditional song, 'O, du lieber Augustin', is attributed to him). The effigy at Griechenbeisl lies in a pit with a grate over the top which you can look through. He sits in a chair with his bagpipes and a small table, covered in hundreds of small coins and some banknotes which people have dropped through the grate. My photo of him didn't come out right, unfortunately.


From there I went on to the church of St Ruprecht via a street stall for some Asian noodles with vegetables for a late-ish lunch (I had a sudden craving!) St Ruprecht's is said to be the oldest church in Vienna, though apparently this is disputed.


It's also known for having a glass-fronted sarcophagus of St Vitalis of Salzburg with a skeleton dressed in Baroque clothes inside. I was particularly keen to see it and asked a helpful member of church staff to tell me about it. He said that it's not uncommon for Baroque churches in cities formerly under Habsburg influence to have dressed skeletons on display, put there in the 17th century as a result of the type of Catholicism practised then. The skeleton at St Ruprecht's is of a claimed early Christian martyr taken from the Roman catacombs.


There was a candle stand next to the sarcophagus, so I lit two candles. I also admired the modern stained glass windows and the carved wooden figures which looked a lot like some Early Modern examples I saw in the City Museum in Bratislava.


On my way back to the metro station by the Stephansdom I passed the Anker Clock. This is a highly elaborate, historic clock with figures on the face which move around to music when each hour strikes. I wasn't there at the right time to see the 'show', but maybe tomorrow!


Posted by 3Traveller 17:38 Archived in Austria Tagged churches bratislava vienna austria buses traditions slovakia explorations Comments (2)

The City Museum in the Old Town Hall


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Today I finally made it to the City Museum in the Old Town Hall!

The tower was open, luckily, although the wind was still quite strong. There were some great views of the Old Town and I was very glad I'd finally made it up there.


On the way down from the top of the tower I stopped to look at Dr Ovidius Faust's Study. Dr Faust was the town archivist in the inter-war period and was also a scholar and passionate book collector.


The Archive Room is in the same museum; all the most important documents of the town were kept there from the mid-18th century to 1948. They are stored elsewhere now, but some of them were on display, along with some facsimiles. I also admired the original iron door which is still in use, dates from 1749 and has extremely fancy Rococo decoration.


Adjoining the Archive Room were the richly decorated Court House and Hall of the Extended Municipal Council.


Above the gate to the Town Hall was the St Ladislaus' Chapel, the 15th-century chapel of the municipal council.


In the exhibition rooms in the rest of the museum, something intriguing which kept popping up without much explanation was painted circular wooden shooting targets, mostly with bullet holes still in. They had a range of quite detailed scenes, painted in oils and dating between 1790 - 1840.


I wondered why people would bother decorating targets in such detail only then to shoot at them. I finally got a little more information about them when I reached the section on various clubs and associations which the townspeople joined from the late 18th century onwards and came across the Shooters Club. This club actually had its origins in the 16th century as an association of volunteers formed to provide defence for the town, but in the late 18th century it began to lose its defensive function and became focused on competitive leisure activities such as free-shooting, bird shooting and target shooting. Shooting contests were very important, grand events and artists began to get commissions to paint targets for them.

Regarding other clubs, apparently male voice choirs became very popular in the 19th century, as did the Cycling Club; on display were a wooden-wheeled early velocipede and a penny-farthing. I was surprised to hear about the male voice choirs because I'd only heard of Welsh ones before.


Bratislava, or Pressburg as it was known then, was a town of guilds until the 19th century, and reflecting that was a collection of various items relating to them, e.g. copperware, stamps, fine wooden coffers, etc.


There was a section on the coronation town which Pressburg became for about three hundred years until the 1848 revolution. I was glad to get information about why Pressburg had become the seat of coronation for so many Hungarian kings, because on Monday I didn't see much explanation about it at the cathedral where the coronations happened.

Other highlights for me were some glass paintings which used to be in St Martin's Cathedral, an 18th-century polychrome woodcarving of St Florian, 19th-century musical instruments, an Early Modern special security door of extraordinary intricacy of mechanism, an exhibition of gruesome instruments of torture in the former prison cells, some original painted metal inn and shop signs, a 19th century box of board games and some early 20th century advertising leaflets for household products.


The museum was bigger than I expected, and I'm still recovering from my illness in Basel, so I was completely drained by the time I finished. Too drained to seek out the Jewish Museum, so instead of that I walked to the edge of the Danube (very swift-running today) and pondered transport to Vienna tomorrow. I saw one place that said it did Bratislava to Vienna boat trips, but it looked a bit deserted, plus I'd heard that a trip would cost about 30 euros which seemed a bit expensive, so when I got to the bus station I arrived at on Sunday and noticed a sign advertising bus tickets to Vienna for 5 euros, I decided to go with that instead.

After a long-ish rest at the hostel I went out for dinner. It was 7 p.m. but I was almost the only person there; not always a good sign, unless it's the custom in Slovakia not to eat until later in the evening, but at this place the food was good. I didn't feel like a big meal so I stuck with some garlic cream soup in bread - a big hollowed-out crispy roll with the top cut off as a lid and the soup inside - and for pudding, a parené buchty - a giant sweet steamed dumpling with chocolate sauce and icing sugar on top and with jam or custard inside (I've forgotten which).


I did take a picture of the parené buchty too but it came out too blurry to include, unfortunately.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:57 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bratislava museum slovakia clock_tower river_danube slovakian_cuisine Comments (0)

Bratislava Castle and Old Town architecture


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My only destination today ended up being the castle. I left the hostel with more energy I'd felt since arriving in Basel on the 26th, but this turned out to be premature, because the energy drained out of me on my walk up Castle Hill and has not yet returned.

On my way to Castle Hill I passed St Martin's Cathedral and unexpectedly came across a plaque to Imrich Lichtenfeld, the founder of the martial art Krav Maga and a defender of his Jewish neighbourhood against Fascist gangs in the late 1930s.


There were some fantastic views of the city and the Danube as I went up Castle Hill.


However, it was sobering to see the controversial Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising (more commonly known as the UFO Bridge due to its flying saucer-shaped observation deck/ restaurant). It's controversial because when it was built in 1972, nearly all of the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town was demolished to create the roadway leading to it.


The castle was a rather odd experience, mainly because over five public floors about 70-80% of rooms available to walk through were empty, and some others were no entry at all. At times it felt a bit like I was trespassing, although I'd had my ticket checked on entry and after that nobody said anything to me. There were very few other people apart from me inside.


The ground floor had only the cloakroom and some information about the reconstruction/ refurbishment of the castle. The first floor had the redone music room/ chapel and two rooms which were completely empty except for an antique painted wooden cabinet in one and two large oil paintings and an antique grandfather clock (without the pendulum) in the other. No information given about any of them.


The second floor had an interesting one-room exhibition of historic prints, watercolours and woodblock prints of the city of Bratislava (known apparently as Pressburg in the 18th and 19th centuries) from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.


The third floor had an exhibition on the part students, artists, musicians and other activists had to play in the Slovak equivalent of the Czech Velvet Revolution, which together caused the downfall of Communism in then-Czechoslovakia in November 1989. It felt a bit strange to think that this momentous historical occasion happened in my lifetime, albeit when I was too young to hear about or remember it.

The third floor also had the entrance to the steps up the original tower, so I went up. Nice panoramic views from the windows, though they were quite small.

I finished up with a look round the basement, as it promised me an exhibition about the Celts in Bratislava and other places in Western Slovakia. Although a bit amateurishly presented, and small, it did have some interesting exhibits, such as gold and silver coin hoards, bone dice, skeletal remains (both human and of the animals they ate), an engraving/scratching of a pig, a tiny metal figure of a dog, and glass, metal, amber and bone jewellery and other personal objects.


After leaving the main building I re-admired the views over the Danube and the rest of the city. The sun had come out, though it was still very chilly, with biting winds.


I made the decision then not to go on a day trip the next day, as I felt so sapped of energy, but rather give the City Museum within the Old Town Hall another chance to have their tower open, and to go to the Jewish Museum as well.

Pleased at having made the decision, I decided to go back to the hostel a different way to the one I'd come. The architecture and cobbled streets of the historic centre are a sight to behold, even in chilly February. Similar to Graz, though smaller.


On an impulse, after seeing someone leave and thus realising it was open, I popped into the 17th century Protestant-turned-Jesuit church next to the Old Town Hall. Lots of marble, and a large oil painting above the altar.

Posted by 3Traveller 11:26 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bridges churches bratislava museum slovakia fortifications river_danube Comments (0)

Museums and a Soviet war memorial


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Since I still felt very drained and cough-ridden today, I took it quite easy again.

I started with what I didn't manage yesterday; the Arms Museum, held round the corner within St Michael's Gate, and the historic Red Crayfish Pharmacy Museum, a couple of doors down from there.

Both are tiny and handily share the same ticket; entrance to one gives you free entry to the other. I went to the Arms Museum first. I admired their collection of pistols, giant metal 'speaking trumpet', Central European, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese daggers and swords, Central European huntsman's bag and stag- and cattle-horn powder flasks, and Austro-Hungarian armour, drum, uniforms and field-glasses.


I also walked round the viewing platform at the top of the gate, managing not to get blown off in the process (it was an extremely windy day today). Intriguingly, when looking down on one side, I noticed small coins in the copper gutters below, and that the gutter ends were shaped like dragons.


The Pharmacy Museum didn't have the dried pufferfish and bats, collections of exotic biological and mineral materials, or historic medical texts which I've seen in other pharmacy museums, but it was still interesting to have a look at its collection of wooden cabinets and ceramic, wooden, glass and tin jars, and I admired the painted ceiling in the main room. After taking a photo of a wooden cabinet near the start, I was told that photos weren't allowed, so I didn't get any of the rest of the interior, though I did get ones of the exterior; the metal crayfish sign and the historic metal gates.


After that my intention had been to go to the castle, but I was so lacking in energy I decided to leave that until the next day, when the weather is due to be better in any case, and just wander round the City Museum this afternoon instead. It's held within the beautiful Old Town Hall, practically on my hostel's doorstep. After a decent sit-down at the hostel, I walked over. However, the lady at the ticket desk told me that although the main part of the museum was open, the tower was closed today (due to the strong winds, I assume), so since I didn't want to miss going up it, I decided to leave the museum until the next day as well.


After then finding out that the majority of the Slovakian National Gallery is under refurbishment and/or having new exhibitions installed, I settled on something a bit different; the site of Slavín, the largest war memorial and cemetery in Europe.


I assume they mean the largest in terms of numbers buried there, because I'm sure some of the WWI cemeteries I saw in France and Belgium were bigger in terms of site size. This one contains the bodies of nearly 7000 Soviet soldiers who died in April 1945 during the liberation of Bratislava from the Nazi forces who were occupying the city. The statue on the memorial column shows a Soviet soldier crushing a swastika underfoot.


The memorial/cemetery lies on a hill, so there were some impressive views of the city. Very cold and windy, though, and the setting of course was sombre.


Posted by 3Traveller 15:29 Archived in Slovakia Tagged bratislava museum slovakia soviet_monument Comments (5)

St Martin's Cathedral and the Blue Church


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I had a quiet first day in Bratislava today. After quite a long lie-in, I went round the corner to St Michael's Gate. It was chilly and overcast outside, though not wet.


My aim was to visit the tiny Arms Museum within the Gate, then the equally small Pharmacy Museum a couple of doors down. I'd forgotten that museums are nearly always closed on Mondays, however - so I decided to go tomorrow morning instead.

From there I slowly made my way to St Martin's Cathedral. As I have done all day, I felt very drained and lacking in energy. I still have my cough, too. On my way to the cathedral I passed lots of lovely architecture and two intriguing sculptures; one of a man coming out of the pavement, manhole cover pushed to one side, and another of a melancholy-looking Hans Christian Andersen with a giant snail at his feet.


I'd got up so late it was now lunchtime, so I had some potato and cheese dumplings with chopped fresh chives on top from a street stall. My appetite wasn't as big as I thought it was, though, so although I liked the dumplings I wasn't able to finish them.


St Martin's Cathedral was definitely worth visiting, despite being smaller than most. It's three-nave, Gothic, and dates from the 15th century. It was the seat of coronation for the Hungarian kings from then up until the 19th century. I lit a candle when I first came in, then wandered around for a while. Amongst other things, I admired the Baroque Chapel of St John the Almsgiver (John the Merciful) and a famous equestrian statue of St Martin in typical Hungarian hussar dress, dividing his cloak to give to a beggar.


Although the tower was closed, by paying to see the tiny Treasury I got to go up to platform at the back where the organ is and the choir sit, so I got a good view internally at least.


There were some more beautiful street scenes on my way to my next stop (Tesco). A couple of interesting wall paintings on one of the buildings caught my eye.


I went to Tesco to see how it differs to the British version and to get something to have for dinner later. I thought some extra vitamin C would be a good idea, so I got two tins of mandarins in juice in addition to a filled wrap and a pot of rice pudding.

My last stop was St Elizabeth's Church, more commonly known as the Blue Church. This Art Nouveau wonder is definitely well worth the accolades! It certainly lives up to its name, although it isn't 100% blue, especially on the inside.


As I entered and sat down to rest, a voice started chanting something over a sound system, and four or five old ladies in other pews replied. This chanting and responding continued the whole time I was there - never a physical sign of the person chanting or of any other person working for the church. I thought it discreet to go to the back before taking photos - luckily I wasn't the only tourist there, so I didn't stand out too much.


It was dark by the time I left. I admired the Old Town Hall all lit up on my way back to my hostel for dinner and an early night.


Posted by 3Traveller 19:12 Archived in Slovakia Tagged churches art bratislava cathedral slovakia slovakian_cuisine Comments (1)

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