Bratislava = Ice Hockey, Boatels, FUN!

Where Hockey Rules

One look at the above picture tells you several things:  Michael had a great time in Bratislava; Michael is thinking about adopting their national flag as his own; Michael still cozies up to blondes; what happened in Bratislava, stays in Bratislava.  So this will be a short post…..

Seriously, we had a pretty good time in Bratislava, which turned out to be party central while we were there.  Contrary to what my husband thinks, he was not the raison d’être for all the merry making, although he certainly put his heart and soul into it!  (And BTW, the blonde’s boyfriend is in the foreground, on his cell.)  Nope, our visit coincided with the international ice hockey semi-finals in Europe, and Bratislava was revved to the gills with national enthusiasm and pride.

Our “boatel”, anchored on the Danube, with Bratislava Castle and the national parliament (to the left) above.

We spent three nights on a “boatel”, a small hotel on a boat anchored in the Danube River.  I knew it would be cramped, but come on – who else do you know has been rocked to sleep on the Danube, unless you’ve taken one of those tony river cruises?  The boatel came with a decent Indian restaurant atop and a rollicking bar on the bottom level, so we headed down the gangway  after dinner to enjoy some live music.  We discovered the bar full of an interesting combination of 40 20-something Slovakians and about 20 40-somethings Brits from Birmingham.  The latter were there for a stag party or bachelor’s party.

The themed stag party has become an increasingly popular event in Europe, particularly among the Brits.  The friends of the groom-to-be will pick a theme – usually related to sexual exploits or sex in general – and make up tee shirts or costumes for the entire group to wear.  We have seen groups of men wearing cartoon-themed outfits, doctors’ scrubs (with accompanying gynecological tools), Waldo (passé but popular still for male dress-up), and, most commonly, colorful and lasciviously-captioned tee shirts. Also in vogue are men dressed (skimpily) as women, usually those employed by bordellos and strip joints.  You’ll understand why I refuse to post pictures of overweight guys in near-nude drag.

Having boisterous (and sometimes riotous) themed parties of all-male Brits descending on various European cities for a weekend of heavy drinking and etcetera has become popular among British bachelors & friends, but they are not as appreciated among the continental Europeans.  In fact, in Amsterdam, most of the people find these roving drunken bands a huge annoyance.  To read more about these unique parties go to http://fireflygroupevents.com/blog/2010/08/16/british-stag-do-vs-american-bachelor-party-staggered-tells-all/,

But, despite their rather lewd tee shirts, this group from Birmingham was actually very nice, even posing for a few pictures.  Unfortunately, between them falling down inebriated, the bar rocking in other boats’ wake, and (I’ll admit) having had a few glasses of wine myself, none of the pictures turned out too clearly. So any editorial decisions were settled for me.

On to more serious stuff…

The former Czechoslovakia, showing the current division between the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

Our second night in Bratislava turned out to be the semi-final in which Slovakia went up against their penultimate arch rivals, the Czech Republic.  Ironically, the winner of this match would go on to face the Russian the next night in the all-Europe ice hockey championship.  In the briefest history lesson ever:  these good-natured rivals spent nearly a century combined together as “Czechoslovakia” before an amicable divorce in 1993. As one, however, during the 20th century they were invaded by first the Nazis (anyone remember the Munich Agreement?) and then the Soviets, under whose dominion they suffered for over four decades, even brutally during the insurrection of 1968.  Today, both countries are doing well separately, but equally  thankful to have shed the hated Soviets. So, for all three countries, these two nights were more than just a couple of hockey games.  There was friendly rivalry, and there was some bad blood.  Literally.

Czech player on the left, Slovak on the right.

Back to more interesting stuff.  Slovakia hadn’t beaten the Czechs in 6-10-12 years – who knows how many years? (we never did get a consistent answer from anyone).  Since ice hockey hugely surpasses football (soccer) as the Slovak national sport, this game was a big deal.  I’d told our tour guide earlier that we bring countries we visit good luck in sports (I won’t go into a catalogue, I promise).  So that evening we planted ourselves in an outdoor bar and watched the game on TV with about 50,000 of our new best friends.

Slovakia creamed the Czech Republic in the third period, and as the game was sewn up, EVERYONE in the entire country went collectively nuts. From the lead picture at the head of this posting, you can see Michael shared in the local if not national enthusiasm.

The next night, downtown Bratislava was awash in red, white and blue, and it wasn’t the stars and stripes.  The city had set up a huge screen on the biggest plaza, and thousands of people were gathered to watch the final, Slovakia versus Russia as broadcast from Helsinki.  Unfortunately, Slovakia didn’t win, not even close.  But it was still a fun time.

On the more touristy end of Bratislava

I mentioned a tour, which was a source of some merriment for us.  Advertised as a “FREE walking tour of Bratislava”, the small print quickly established that while the tour was “free,” it cost €4 person.

So out came the Euro coins, and while it wasn’t the best tour we’ve ever had, it was definitely worth €4 apiece.   Here are some photos:

Bratislava Castle, also known as Pressburg Castle.  Nearly destroyed by a careless cooking fire in 1811, the castle lay in ruins until the early 1950s when restoration began, continuing on to this day.

Bratislava is known for its street statues of unusually posed figures. Probably the best known is this man emerging from a manhole.

Within a couple of meters of the bronze statue posed a bronzed man, manhole cover and all, with an incongruous top hat soliciting funding for his clever street art. Question: is this life imitating art or art imitating life?

A statue of a popular Bratislavan denizen who walked the streets greeting one and all, spreading the daily news.

The bell tower of the town hall. Notice the hole to the left of the second floor window: Napoleon’s army deposited a cannonball in the tower as part of their attempt to take Bratislava.

Somehow, the Slovaks seemed to still like Napoleon, hence the statue below in one of the main squares:

Michael’s Gate in bottom right. Hapsburg monarchs, crowned in St. Martin’s Cathedral, walked along the main road to the gate to show themselves to their subjects. Today, the royal way is marked by bronze crowns inlaid among the cobblestones.

St. Martin’s Cathedral, where Hapsburg monarchs received their crowns.

St. Martin’s is where nearly all the kings and queens of the Hapsburg Empire were crowned until the 19th century.  Once crowned, they were supposed to walk among the people from the church to Michael’s gate, one of the medieval entrances to the old city, to announce and show their presence to their subjects.

Within a few yards of St. Martin’s there is a sculpture and a wall of remembrance of the city’s oldest synagogue and entire historic neighborhoods that were razed by the Soviets in the early 1970s to build a bridge and highway through the city.  This travesty was pointed out by guide books and tour leaders, all noting that the old town had lost about half of its historic area and buildings because of the Soviet callousness for history.

“Wall of Remembrance” and sculpture memorializing the old synagogue razed to make way for a bridge and highway.

But the Soviets were not entirely devoid of imagination.  Some aspiring architect of that era decided to append an edifice on top of the western span of the bridge.  The Bratislavians disparagingly call it the “Ew-pho” (UFO), which, of course, it resembles.  Regardless, the restaurant and nightclub atop the bridge apparently do a killer business!  And as sacrilegious as this may sound, I actually think the bridge and the “Ew-pho” are quite pretty and unusual.  It’s just a shame that the Soviets couldn’t have built them either east or west of the old town and synagogue  and left more history standing.

The UFO Bridge

Devín Castle

In between ice hockey games, we managed to squeeze in a touristy side trip.  On a recommendation, we took a cruise up the Danube to Devín Castle, once a proud fortress that had withstood invading armies over the centuries until Napoleon Bonaparte came along.  In typically Napoleon fashion, he blasted the castle to ruins.  Seems like his artillery had improved its aim since blowing off the nose of the Sphinx.  Archeologists have made some headway sorting through the rubble, and there are some interesting sights and vistas.  If we’d had more time, we’d have rented some bikes and brought them out for a day of cycling and picnicking, an activity many Bratislavians like to do in nice weather.  Much of the area below the castle promontory is a protected environmental area wound with lovely walking and biking paths.  Devín sits at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers, so ample opportunities exist for nature watching as well as getting in some serious exercise.  For refreshment, there are a few cafés strategically assembled at the lower entrance to the castle grounds, ready to resuscitate weary bikers and hikers.

Good-bye from Bratislava!

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