Monday, September 8, 2014

Bratislava, Slovakia - Day 5

Monday, September 8
Welcome to Slovakia -- a country that didn't even exist until 1993 when Czechoslovakia separated into two separate countries: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. 
This morning we arrived around 10 and enjoyed a lecture by Martin Sloboda, a 35 year old native, who gave us an overview of the country's history and his personal experiences transitioning from communism to independence. Beginning 1,000 years ago, it was part of the Hungarian Kingdom, and at one time, Bratislava was its capital. A 100 years ago, the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Europe's largest monarchy until 1918. Then Bratislava was at the geographic center of the empire.
After WW I, when the borders of many Central European countries were redrawn, Czechoslovakia came into being. That lasted through WW II and the Soviet era until 21 years ago, when the split occurred with a simple majority vote by Parliament.
Today Bratislava is in the corner of 3 countries - Hungary, Austria and Slovakia. There is no other capital that is positioned like that.
Although a small country, about the size of West Virginia, Slovakia has done well under democracy. It is one of the biggest car producers per capita in the world. One million cars a year are produced in a country with only 5 million people. They currently are the only manufacturers of Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7, and in 2 years will produce Lamborginis and the Bentley Falcon (SUV ). The country is also very progressive with its flat tax and use of the euro.
Our boat docked right by the old city where we began our tour. An old Soviet-era custom house is now the welcome center.
Like many European cities, the town square and major cathedral(s) have been preserved and restored, along with adjoining neighborhoods. We were able to walk to everything of note, including the Opera House and along the main promenade which was once the Danube River.
We visited St. Mark's Cathedral, built between the 13th and 14th centuries and site of the coronation of Maria Theresa (1740-1780). 
Then we went to the main square where we saw the town hall and lots of thriving shops and cafes.
Afterwards, we stopped for coffee and cake and walked around.
We spotted two street performers with some very energetic music.
Then Ed went back to the boat. I stayed behind and hiked up the hill to Bratislava Castle. The views from there were incredible. I love this photo of the "new" bridge with what looks like a UFO on top.  It is actually a restaurant.
The other observation from this view is how modern the city is with a number of sky scrapers.

The old town is only a tiny part of the city.
The site of the Castle dates back to 907 AD. After 1526, it became the seat of Hungarian monarchs. Its current appearance dates to a reconstruction that occurred in 1953. 

Tonight on board we were treated to some traditional Slovakian folk music which resembled the dancing in Budapest, with lots of high stepping, kicking and thigh slapping.
Before bedtime, we departed for Vienna.

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