On Tuesday morning, we woke up in Vienna, Austria and traveled on a one-hour train to Bratislava, Slovakia. By the end of the day, we will be in three countries: Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. Bratislava is sort of on the way to Budapest, so it gave us an opportunity to see the city and also visit a new country. This is our third country on this trip and my third new one. While Marshall had been to Germany and Austria prior to this trip, this is his first visit to Slovakia and Hungary as well.
Once we arrived into the train station in Bratislava at 10:20am, we were able to check our main luggage bags into a luggage storage place (All for just $4.50 Euros for both bags – and one of mine is quite heavy). We attempted to take the public bus from the train station to Devin Castle, but after waiting for 30 minutes, the bus number we needed did not appear and there was a language barrier between us and the one attendant who sold the bus tickets. So, we hailed a taxi and $35 Euros later we arrived at Devin Castle, which was about a 20-minute ride away. On the way back into town, we called an Uber and it was only about $8 Euros. Go figure.
We arrived at Devin Castle and we were thoroughly impressed. This has been an important site for the past 2,500 years. And when you get up on the fortress, you can see why. It intersects with the Danube River, which also connects all the way down to the Black Sea. It was an important lookout point where one could see intruders coming from quite the distance.
During the 1st century A.D., this site was on the edge of the Roman Empire. In later years, the Turks crossed here as part of the expanse of the Ottoman Empire. In the early 1800s, Napoleon bombed it and mostly destroyed it. But the remnants here remain quite intact and we could walk around the very large grounds of what must have once been quite the castle. We spent about an hour at the site. We had just missed the public bus back (which appears to come once an hour), so that’s when we called that Uber, which actually worked out well.
We took the Uber to the old city area. Our driver was young and did not speak English. We don’t speak Slovakian, but with Uber, you just enter in the address on the Uber app and they take you where you need to go. It reminded me how Uber is indeed changing the world and how we travel. Hopefully more cities, states, and nations incorporate it to help bring more people together and help break down language barriers as well as have full transparency in the price and navigation.
We had our Uber driver drop us off near the Bratislava Castle in the old city area. That castle is in the center of the city but looked pretty big and more modern and we didn’t have time to explore that. But we did have time to have a delicious Slovakian lunch at an amazing restaurant named Modra Huizeda. The interior was dark and it appeared to be built into the rocks, along with some bricks that had a cellar like feel. Marshall ordered the rabbit foot and I had the lamb shank. They came with sides of potato pancakes and potato dumplings. Everything about this place was great – the beautiful and friendly waitress, the great service, the amazing food, and the quaint and cozy atmosphere that just made you feel like you were someplace different.
From there, we walked off our lunch by walking through the old city streets. Most of those streets were pedestrian only. We crossed the bridge over the highway and into the other side of the city center, where we passed through Michael’s Gate and took in the atmosphere, including some street music. From there, it was about a 20-minute walk back to the train station, where we were able to chill out for another 40 minutes before our train departed at 3:53pm. We were in this city for just five hours, but it felt like the perfect amount of time. Another few hours might have allowed us to see a few more sights, but it was the perfect place to spend a half day and then move on.
The only real previous knowledge I had of this city was from movies I had seen, including Eurotrip and Hostel and Hostel 2. I joked with some friends earlier this year that it might be fun to stay in a hostel in Bratislava just to say we did. Well, we didn’t quite do that. But I can say those movies piqued my curiosity and when I saw Bratislava on the map as an option between Vienna and Budapest, I decided to check it out. I’m glad we did! During the first part of my life, Slovakia wasn’t even its own country – it was a region that was part of the larger Czechoslovakia, a satellite state in the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR, many countries maintained their independence and Slovakia became its own nation once again. It is actually the first territory I’ve visited that was part of the Soviet Republic.
The train ride from Bratislava to Budapest was about 2 hours and 20 minutes long. In this place, we are staying at a private apartment that we booked through Airbnb. While I have stayed at a number of Airbnbs in the States, this is the first I have stayed at in a foreign country. Everything seems to work the same. We are staying here three nights. The place is decked out with a full kitchen, so we ran up to a market to get some food and drink items to save us both time and money, especially with all the eating out we’ve been doing. But hey, part of the experience of being in foreign countries and new cities is the dining experience. And we’ve been diving right in exploring many different varieties.
We don’t have anything really planned in Budapest other than a handful of items on the list of places we want to see, including social experiences we want to partake in. After doing that quick grocery shoppoing, we walked about 10 to 15 minutes north of where we are into the historic Jewish quarter. We found a great place called Spinoza Café. We ate the traditional Hungarian goulash, some pita bread and hummus, and some local wine while we listened to an 86-year old Hungarian Jew play from the Great American Song Book on the piano. It felt like something out of a movie. Just a small little place alive with the local culture.
We then walked down the street, had a drink at Mozel Tov, which is one of the ruin bars. This area has lots of “ruin bars,” which are basically older buildings that were bombed in WWII and never fully rebuilt. Most are open air with the old bricks making up the sides of the building. Really neat. But also a reminder that while we partake in good food and good fun, we must not forget the sacrifices the people of this city and this country made during the deadliest war in mankind’s history. We hopped around a bunch of other ruin bars next door. There must have been at least 20 different rooms and it was a really col experience to see. The night crowd seemed to be a mix of tourists (mostly college students and young professionals) from all parts of Europe, the U.S., and other parts of the world. We hung out there for an hour or so and then called it a night and took about a 15-minute walk home. And it felt like home, as we entered a modern apartment in the city center of Budapest.