3 PICTURE ALBUM
Sunday, August 3
Today we decided to get a little adventurous, and took a day trip to Bratislava,
the capital of Slovakia. Bratislava is only an hour away from Vienna (everything
seems so close in Central Europe!), so this was an easy trip to make.
Slovakia is extremely interesting because it's such a new country, and because
it has a very rich history. Slovakia was created in 1993 when Czechoslovakia
split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. We learned today that this was
not popular with the people, and was a quick decision made by the government
without any sort of public referendum. This was preceded only 4 years earlier
in 1989 by the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. The country of Czechoslovakia
was originally created immediately after WW I in 1918. Prior to this, it was
part of the Habsburg dynasty that ruled much of Central Europe for over 600
We hired a private guide today, which greatly enhanced our understanding
of Slovakia, Bratlislava and the changes that the people have lived through.
We spent time exploring the Old City and the Bratlislava Castle, but also
enjoyed seeing and learning about the newer parts of Bratislava. The Old City
is small and charming, and is filled with several beautiful churches, squares
and monuments. The architecture is very similar to what we saw yesterday in
Vienna. Today, the Old City is filled with nice cafes and shops,
and attracts many tourists who take advantage of the very low prices (especially
compared with Vienna). We took advantage of the low prices in the form of
a very large lunch that only cost $30 (this would have cost more than $75
We learned that Slovakia has its own language (Slovak) and currency (the
Slovak Crown), but that Slovakians have maintained very close ties with the
people of the Czech Republic. Many people regularly travel between the two
countries, and no passports are even required. The languages are 90% the same,
and the currencies are largely interchangeable. In the opinion of our guide,
not much has changed in the daily lives of the Slovak people as a result of
the split of the countries.
Slovakia is scheduled to become part of the European Union next year, and
will adopt the Euro somewhere between 2006 and 2008. The economy is still
sluggish (15% unemployment), but improving.
We didn't realize that Slovakia won the world ice hockey championship last
year, and that the country is fanatical over ice hockey. Our guide explained
that next week, there's a major international ice hockey exhibition being
held, attended by players and scouts from all over the world (the NHL is a
We saw evidence of the Communist regime in the creation of large numbers
of plain cement apartment complexes all along the Danube (across from the
Old City). We learned that the streets had been specifically designed to meet
at right angles to prevent Imperialist tanks from navigating through the city
if they decided to attack. We also learned about the existence of religious
persecution in the destruction of a Jewish synagogue that the Russians insisted
be torn down to make way for a highway ramp (despite the fact that there were
several other options available).
We enjoyed hearing our guide's perspective about the changes which came about
in 1989 following Communism. She explained that there is still a whole group
of older people who prefer a Communist society - they talk about things like
the lower prices and the lack of drugs and crime that existed prior to 1989.
However, most people are clearly happier with today's freedoms - our guide
remembers very well how it felt to be so restricted in what she could study,
where she could travel and in the kind of employment her family could seek.
After our train ride back to Vienna, we took a subway to meet Michael and
Julia at a restaurant in the Vienna Woods, in the far western part of the
city. This was a neat outdoor restaurant with picnic tables on a lawn overlooking
all of Vienna. Michael and Julia explained that this is a "heuriger"
restaurant, meaning "wine of the year." There are a series of these
restaurants around Vienna, specializing in serving all types of local wines.
We had a great meal and long conversation with Michael and Julia comparing
life in Austria with life in the U.S. We arrived back at the hotel at 11:30
- another extremely long day, but a great one! Tomorrow, we're sleeping in
Distance Walked: 3.87 miles