3 January 2016 – A very cold day in Bratislava, Slovakia!
We had planned to use one of our days in Vienna, Austria to travel to nearby Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia and has a population of about 500,000, making it Slovakia’s largest city. It is only one hour on the train and approximately 62km (it is a slow train!) between the 2 cities, so it makes an easy day trip. As we only had the day to explore Bratislava, we had to make the most of our time there. We were all up just after 6am for our day trip. A good couple of hours before the sun came up!
We all rugged up and left the apartment just after 7am. It was still very dark and -6 degrees, with an apparent temperature of -12 degrees (yes those are minuses). The forecast temperatures for Bratislava were very similar so we were prepared for a rather cold day. The previous day in Vienna had been similar, weather wise, and we all felt the cold… so rugging up was definitely the plan. We headed to Wien Hauptbahnhof (the Vienna central station) by a short walk and two trains. As usual the Vienna public transport was exceedingly efficient and we arrived at the HBF in very little time at all. Due to the early hour (and cold) it was pretty quiet in all the stations.
As we had awhile until our train we grabbed some coffee and pastries, as we hadn’t eaten much before heading out. The Wien HBF was only opened in October 2014, and was definitely shiny and new. There was a shopping mall within the station, plenty of places to eat, and many of the trains come inside, above the cafes and shops. It made for some interesting viewing, while having our breakfast.
We had to venture to one of the outside platforms to get our train, and it was fairly empty, so there was no rush for seats. There are a number of stops between Vienna and Bratislava and it is very obvious when you cross over the border and into Slovakia. The Austrian stations, are modern, clean and have indoor areas. The Slovakian ones are pretty much a shed (or nothing) next to the tracks, and you have had to walk over the tracks to get onto the train. The train conductor in Austria was lovely and let Astrid punch all our tickets. Astrid has become quite fond of having our tickets checked, and gets quite annoyed when the conductors don’t get to us before our stop.
We get off the train in Slovakia at about 9.40am, and immediately notice how we are back in an Eastern European country. Despite the very small distance between Vienna and Bratislava, they couldn’t be more different. Everywhere you look in Vienna there are ornate buildings, beautiful statues, splendour and finery. Everything is clean and beautiful. In Bratislava, there were vast amounts of concrete, abandoned buildings, grafitti and steel. OK, so that makes it sound very unappealing, but don’t worry, parts of Bratislava were in fact quite beautiful. The main train station, however (Bratislava – Hlavná stanica), is the polar opposite to Wien HBF – old, cold, dirty and not very appealing. Luckily, things did improve once we departed the station.
It was already pretty cold in the station and, while our German wasn’t fantastic, our Slovakian was about on par with our Czech ……. so we really had no clue where to go or how to find the correct bus or tram. We headed outside and the apparent temperature was -14 degrees. We nearly freeze to death trying to figure out how to buy tickets and locate where the trams are. We eventually found where the trams left from, and which one to catch to the UFO, our first stop in our day of sightseeing. While waiting at the tram stop there was quite the covering of ice and snow, so we had our fingers crossed for some pretty sights around town.
The tram was not all that warm, although significantly warmer than outside (which admittedly wouldn’t be hard). At least it gave our fingers a chance to defrost. The tram was very slow, and stopped frequently, but we did eventually get to the closest stop to the UFO, with some help from a kind local, who had taken pity on the poor, frozen and confused tourists.
The UFO Bridge and Tower are one of the well-known landmarks in Bratislava. The Bridge is apparently the 7th largest hanging bridge in the world. I really couldn’t be bothered looking up what the top 6 are! I have also seen the bridge described as ‘romantic and perfect for walks as couples’. I would have to say that this bridge is probably one of the least romantic I can possibly think of. At least the freezing grey day we were there!
We hopped off the tram at Novy Most (at the edge of Old Town) and walked across the bridge towards the UFO tower (so named because of its resemblence to a space ship. It was a very cold and icy walk, and the water below looked far from inviting! The views across the river and the snow-covered city were nice.
You can go up the UFO tower via a 45 second lift ride. The lift is located in one of the legs of the tower. Unlike the Berlin TV Tower, which has an enormous foyer and is quite roomy, has multiple lifts, and lift operators – the UFO has a tiny desk inside the door, where you buy tickets before hopping in a small lift that you control yourself. The lift was both small and pretty cold, but the ride was uneventful. Once we got out of the lift we decided to go up to the observation deck, which is outside – and rather cold! There are very nice 360 degree views across the city and the river. The Old Town and the Castle perched up on the hill above the old town, certainly look pretty with their dusting of snow and ice.
As it was not particularly warm up there we headed back down the stairs and into the restaurant and bar, which was blissfully warm, and not too busy. The views from within the bar and restaurant are pretty good, and with it being far less busy than the Berlin TV Tower, the experience was much more pleasant. We ordered hot chocs with toasted marshmallows for our morning tea. The hot chocolates were almost entirely melted chocolate and the kids (unsurprisingly) love them.
After warming up and having our fill of the views it was time to head back out and over to the Old Town. Before we left we visited the bathroom facilities, which were rather impressive, with clear glass windows looking out over city so you could check out the views while peeing. Pretty much everyone going in was taking photos out the bathroom window. I hear the view from the men’s was even better but I didn’t go in, as that would be taking it a bit too far!
From a distance the UFO looks quite modern and interesting. The restaurant and bar are very nice but the Tower has a totally different feel once you are in it. At half the price of the Berlin TV Tower, and about 10 times less people, it was a much nicer experience.
We headed back down in the lift and across the bridge towards Old Town. It hadn’t gotten any warmer while we were inside. The kids were nice and snug in their snow suits though. Soren even fell asleep on the walk over to the castle and stayed that way for quite some time. There was still a lot of snow on the ground and the parks and alley ways looked very pretty.
Once we were back on the Old Town side of the Danube River we decided to head up to Bratislava Castle (Bratslavy Hrad). The Castle’s position on an isolated rocky hill, overlooking the Old Town and Danube, make it one of the city’s dominant features. Despite the Castle’s size, and the fact that you can see if from everywhere, it actually took us awhile to find entrance.
When we eventually find the entrance and where to buy tickets, we are informed that entry today is free (although you still need a ticket), but there is a 2 Euro fee for photography. We decided to pay our photography fee (at least the 2 of us with cameras) and head into the castle. We had to check bags, and everyone but me got to take off their coats and check them. I was stuck in my heavy coat, with a Soren sleeping on me. The Castle is a large rectangle and has 4 towers (one on each corner), although the Southwest Tower is the largest. The central courtyard contains an 80m deep waterwell.
The Castle is quite big and very modern and airy compared to most Castles we have visited. It is more in the style of Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, than many of the more ornate or Medieval castles. There is also access to a large percentage of the Castle’s floors and rooms, unlike many Castle tours that only show a few rooms or a small section.
We wander through all the open sections of the Castle. The large staircases with their red carpet and gold trim were quite impressive. More than the odd tourist stopped by the mirrors on each floor to take a selfie! There was also a room with an exhibition of children’s artwork which was very colourful and interesting.
I was getting quite warm walking around in my coat with a sleeping Soren. He eventually woke up, just before we decided to head up the Tower, which was our last stop on our Castle tour. The Tower has a large number of steep steps. The wooden staircases are fairly wide in most parts, but ridiculously steep for little legs. The views from the top were really good, but you had to earn them!
At the top we were actually higher than the UFO and Bridge and Tower. It certainly looks less modern and stylish from this angle! After climbing the Tower we also went down some spiral stairs to check out some crown jewels on display in one of the rooms. This involved quite a lot of steep spiral stairs, and you had to give way to people in the other direction, which was difficult when you couldn’t see how many people were on the staircase before you started.
All feeling a bit hungry, we grabbed our coats and headed back outside in search of food. It was now 12.30pm and it had been a long morning with a fair amount of walking around in the cold. The walk back into Old Town was a little slippery on the icy cobblestones, but we made it unscathed.
We found a small restaurant that looked like it has something we’d all eat. There were only a few tables, and the service was rather slow but we weren’t in a hurry and it was warm. I had gnocchi with sheep cheese. Anto had duck breast with mashed potato and orange sauce. Alan has Pork medallion with prunes and chips. Mikl has roast pork with bread dumplings. The kids got to share a bit of everything. The boys have beer (as usual). The food is acceptable, and fairly resonably priced.
After our sit down in the warm we decide to walk the Old Town. It’s still very cold (around -5, apparent of -12). The Old Town has lots of lovely streets with pretty buildings. The Christmas markets were all closed up now, but look like they would have been festive.
Bratislava also has lots of statues scattered about the Old Town streets that were often quirky and fun to take photos with. Some were more challenging than others!
We wanted to pay the ‘blue church’ a visit. St Elizabeth’s is located in the Eastern part of the Old Town and is a Hungarian Secessionist Catholic Church, that was originally served as the school chapel of the neighbouring High School. It is best known for its blue facade, mosaic tiles and even the Christmas decorations were blue!
It was something rather different and fun to look at, and definitely worth seeing. There are some very ornate buildings in the area, with deserted concrete ones opposite. It seems to be very much the style of Bratislava!
After a little more wandering the streets of the Old Town, we decided to get warm drinks before heading back to the train station. We’d spied a chocolate cafe on our travels, so head in that direction. It looked both warm and popular (and had all manner of chocolate available) so it was a winner. Mikl and I have Vienese coffees, Anto had a hot chocolate with raspberry (which was amazing), and Alan had an Irish coffee. Despite it being freezing outside the kids have a chocolate milkshake.
All warm and full of chocolate, we headed back outside and wandered to the tram. It was still really cold and we had all pretty much had enough for one day. We found the correct tram back (and even helped some other even more confused tourists!). This tram was decidedly warmer than the morning one. We were at Central 20 mins before our train back to Vienna, and it was freezing waiting at the platform.
Unlike the morning, the train to Vienna is quite packed. Both kids were getting tired and were talking non-stop for the whole trip, much to the amusement of all the surrounding train go-ers, who thought their questions and observations were hilarious. It was dark all the way back but we had lots of pretty lights and snow beside the railway tracks to keep us amused. The trip took just over an hour, and we were back in Vienna around 5.40pm. We caught the local trains back to our closest station and the second of the trains had the most heated seats we’ve ever experienced and we almost cooked.
We get out of the station and it sadly hadn’t got any warmer since our departure that morning. It’s -6 degrees with an apparent temperature of -13 degrees again. We had a quick walk around trying to find something for dinner, and ended up back at the pub from 2 nights ago as we had quite enjoyed it. This time I tried the fried dumpling with egg and green salad which is really good. Anto and Mikl had learnt from the boiled beef experience and had roast pork, sauerkraut and dumpling. Alan has beef, onion and roast potatoes. As usual the boys have many giant beers and I had more of the cheap and good house wine. The kids got their kinder schnitzel with potato salad and mineral water. Soren now chants ‘schnitzel, schnitzel’ every time we go into a restaurant! The kids had remembered the mix-up with the mineral water from the other night and requested the water with bubbles again, so we ordered it for them to keep the peace! Anything for tired kids….
Once the kids had eaten, Soren was rather tired so Anto took him back to apartment for a shower and bed. The rest of us decided to stay for dessert. My German was passable enough that waitress keeps talking to us in German and then she’d go too fast we all got confused, and it was obvious that we really had no idea what they were saying to us! For dessert we ordered chocolate mousse and pancakes with berries, both of which are really nice. While we were having dessert Astrid practices her German on the waitresses which they all thought was cute.
All full of food we were back to apartment about 9pm to find Soren asleep (thank goodness). We had a very tired Astrid who didn’t take long to go to sleep. It was still officially cold, at -5 with a -16 apparent temperature!
Statistics for the 3rd of January 2016 – in both Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia, the minimum temperature was -6 degrees and the maximum was -5 degrees, with a mean of -6 degrees. The apparent temperature sat at at about -15 degrees all day – definitely freezing (in case you couldn’t tell by the photos)! The total walking for the day was 14km, a good way to warm up….. or at least not freeze to death!