WALES AWAY: Slovakia 2024 Part Three – Goodnight Vienna (Hello Bratislava) (07/06/24)

A tale of two cities. Today we head from Vienna to Bratislava, the two closest capital cities in the world. Or it might be Europe,  I can’t remember.

After our early, slightly soggy night, getting up early isn’t a problem. After a quick shower I go foraging for essentials, like croissants, fruit juice and super strength bin bags to put our wet clothes in to travel. Despite hanging in the shower all night, they are still wetnzie. I soon find an Aldi and am back to the ranch, mission accomplished. Tom Cruise could learn a thing or two from me.

The planned trip down the Danube had been a highlight we were looking forward to. But c’est la vie. (Did I mention I’m a cunning linguist?)

Once packed, we hopped on the underground again and were soon hopping off at the Central Station. It’s a big little bugger, so big that Google maps was telling us the underground and the train station were two different places. Completed in 2015 and handling 268,000 passengers a day, it has been ranked, by people who like to rank things, as the second best station in Europe. It is pretty cool,  but there was one thing that was a pain in the arse and, in this day and age, quite unnecessary. Our ticket had been e -mailed to us, and they insisted it must be printed out. Just showing the e-mail would not do. Given that we are travelling football fans, not travelling printer sales persons, we didn’t have a HP ink jet tucked away in our luggage.

We went to the info point. I was expecting him to tell us to go to the ticket machine and punch in a code. Or even print it for us. But no. We had to go to a print shop, e-mail them the ticket and they would print it for us. And charge us for the privilege!

I kid you not.

If that’s what we have to do, that’s what we have to do. No point grumbling,  nobody listens. Armed with our freshly baked ticket, we hit the pub. (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

There are twelve platforms in the station and we were departing from the twelfth. We marched onto the platform armed with our ticket, the ink still wet, and passports ready. Like the e-mail instructions had been very clear we should do. Then we got on the train, ticket and passports un-checked.

Either everyone is very honest here or the public transport system must be losing money hand over fist. Or maybe the ticket inspectors have huge jars of lube* (*if that doesn’t make sense, go back to the first blog of this trip and read that first. I’m not writing this for fun you know** (**I am writing for fun actually – nobody would pay me for this shit.))

The train is comfortable,  clean and modern. The terrain we whizz through is mostly of the flat variety. Clearly this not where people come to ski. Fields stretching as far as the eye can see, only briefly broken by a huge wind farm. I recall seeing this wind farm from Bratislava,  so we can’t be far now.

And low, we get off the train and waltz into Bratislava without once having our ticket checked.  There’s a bit of a theme developing here.

We wander around the station only mildly confused.  We hadn’t really researched how to get into town. Megan takes charge again and asks a local. We jump on what we know to be the right bus. We are not sure how to pay so ask the bus driver if he speaks English.  I don’t know what words fell off his tongue but his eyes were saying ‘just get on and stop bothering me’. We got on. And stopped bothering him.

I’m beginning to wonder if we wasted our money paying for our flight. Nobody seems to want to take our money.

Our accommodation is in the old town, which is pedestrianised, as all good UNESCO sites are. After a short walk from the bus stop we come to St Michael’s Gate.

Of the original four entrance gates, only the northern Michalská gate has been preserved. It was completed in the 14th century. It was named after the Gothic church of St. Michal, which was located before the fortification and was demolished in the 16th century due to incursions of Turkish troops. Since its creation, it has been extended several times until it got its final appearance in the 18th century, shortly before almost all of the city’s fortifications were demolished.

Due to its high onion-shaped roof, the gate tower is one of the landmarks of the Old Town. The balcony offers a panoramic view of the castle hill, the roofs and towers of the city, as well as the villa district in the hills.

The tower was built with a clock on three sides. There was no clock facing the Jewish Quarter because they refused to pay for it. Although given they could still hear the chimes for free,  they weren’t too put out.

The gate/tower is pretty damned impressive and is one of the main attractions of the town. And do you know what? We are only staying in it for four nights. Well, I say in it, we are next door, but it’s close enough for me to tell my grandchildren I stayed in it in years to come.

But where do we pick up the keys? Well, wouldn’t you know it, we have to pick the keys up from a pub. I think you can guess what happened next.

We also had the best risotto I’ve ever had. I was late to Risotto, first having it around fifteen years ago. It was truly amazing. I’ve tried it several times since and it rarely matches that first one, so I rarely order it. But on my last trip to Bratislava I formed the opinion that they are the best cooks in the world here. And I wasn’t disappointed today

When we finally climb the spiral staircase to the apartment, I have to say, it is pretty stunning and befits a flat that is in a 14th century tower. Yes, I know it’s not in the tower,  but let’s not get bogged down with details.

Our host has even left a bottle of the famous local cherry liqueur in the fridge. It would be rude not to….

There’s a shop right next to us selling groceries.  We pop down to get essential supplies, like bread, coffee, eggs, cheese and cider.

“Shall we have a swift half before we get the shopping in?” someone suggests.  (I think it might have been me.)

We soon find ourselves acting out a Mickey Flanigan routine. “We only came out to get bread. We’re not actually out out, we’re just out.”

Several dark beers later we are back in the Great Tower of Bratislava eating cheese and bread, drinking cider and plotting the night.

I had been scouring the net for weeks looking for gigs to go to and found nowt. Last tine we were here I went to a gig in a place called Fuga, and I’d not seen anything for this weekend. But as I triple- check their website out of desperation,  I note a gig has suddenly appeared. We had a quick listen to some of the bands on various streaming sites. Whilst none of them blew us away, it sounded like something we could get into, so we booked tickets.

We started heading through the old town in the general direction of Fuga. It’s busy, bordering on ‘bumping’. Cafés, restaurants and bars are gently buzzing with life.

When we first landed at the railway station I had picked up on something,  and it’s more evident now. In Vienna all the shop names, information boards on public transport, menus etc were all in German. You can’t really grumble about that, it is the Austrian national language after all. But here in Bratislava, everything either has an English translation underneath it, or is just in English. Probably a sign of how touristy the city is.

The streets are lined with alfresco dining areas. Diners soak up the early summer sun as they get stuck into the wide variety of cuisines from around the world on offer.

We opt for a restaurant that had enticing pretty pictures of food on the menu,  but didn’t give much thought to the origin of the cuisine. I spy some genuinely tasty looking healthy dishes but my eyes keep getting drawn towards a dangerous looking triple decked sandwich thing with cheese literally melting out of it. I can’t resist.

As we sit waiting for it to arrive we come to the conclusion that it is probably French.

We hear a wandering busker playing Bella Ciao on an acordian. We had already donated to this busker twice when we had sat outside the previous pubs we had visited, and decide to not give again. But when this young lad wanders as far as us we discover it’s a different busker. A lad of about ten years old. It’s Bella Ciao, the Italian Anti-fascist folk song. How can we not give again?

Eventualy, we move on in the direction of Fuga. And just like the last time I visited,  we walk past it three times. I think it must be the font on the sign, it doesn’t in any way resemble the word ‘Fuga’. We descend the stairs into the cellar and admire the dimly lit arched  gig space.

We ask what beer they have and the cheerful barman – who speaks better English than anyone we met in Vienna – advises they have nine, ten and eleven beer. I’m hoping he is referring to the strength of  the beer (he’s not) so we opt for two pints of eleven. Rocking in at €2 each. That’ll do nicely. We wander out to the beer garden which is full of young punks, emos and goths. Presumably the vandals had just left (See what I did there?) because the walls are covered in funky graffiti. There’s a bizare hessian curtain separating this courtyard in two. On the one side we have our young, local and hip crowd chilling before the gig. On the other side there’s a smart restaurant full of Americans.

Eventually Sunnbrella plug in. We go back into the basement to check them out. Initially they are back lit with a smoke machine adding to the ambience. They start to play and I’m immediately impressed.  Their website describes them as ‘Shoegaze Pop’ and I can’t really argue with that, but I’ve never really associated those words with music I like. And I like these guys. They rarely look up, hence ‘shoegaze’, and strum out an atmospheric indie vibe that walks a tightrope between pop and rock. They, at least in this set, never lean quite into pop, but do occasionally step into rock territory.

I add them to my Bandcamp wish list.

We try to order Jagerbombs,  but I’m not sure if they do them here. Rather than a small shot of Jägermiester dropped into a glass of Red Bull, we appear to have half a pint of Jagermeister each with a Red Bull top. But hey, I’m not arguing…

Sunnbrella exit stage left and are replaced by Temny Rudo, a local hip hop unit that seem potentially quite interesting,  but sadly our weary old legs are telling us it is time to head back to the Tower of Babylon.

We breeze past the predictably loud Irish Bar, past various statues and back up our spiral staircase to our home for the weekend.  The windows are open to let in a breeze, but that also allows the noise from outside in. Bizarrely, there is a singalong to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, going on. We hear lots of English being spoken,  but I don’t think it’s the Red Wall advance party. I think this is a bit of a stag party type destination.

We drown it out by putting Baby Driver on Netflix and get stuck into cherry liqueur. Tomorrow,  the trip is likely to start getting a bit footbally.