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 years.

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 in Vienna).

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 major participant).

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












Next Day
Prior Day