Our time in Bratislava was a hysterical mess. The drive in was gorgeous, through fields of Viennese sunflowers or windmills. It’s odd to me that I’ve crossed so many borders without getting my passport checked. We arrived in Bratislava and we’re dropped off near the river, where the bus driver insisted we were supposed to go. When we called the guide (although we have a tour director, Chris, with us on this trip, it costs a ton of money and about four years to be certified to lead tours in cities in some parts of Europe. This probably prevents people who just want to make a buck from spreading false information to tourists, but also made it so Chris can’t give us too much information, even in his home city of Vienna, without risk of incurring a hefty fine if he is caught), and she tells us we were supposed to meet her in front of the castle, a good distance away and on top of a hill. We walked up the steep hill over crooked steps and narrow streets lined by compact, crowded buildings with a historical charm. Our guide turned out to be an ancient woman, who was probably the quietest person I have even met (seriously, she told us she would speak “extra loud for us,” but unless you were right next to her you couldn’t hear a thing). I stuck pretty close by her since I was interested in the history of Slovakia and the buildings we were walking through. We first visited the castle, but couldn’t go inside since we arrived so late due to the walk, so we visited a memorial to the soldiers of World War II who liberated the area from the Nazis. It overlooked the whole city (you can see three countries: Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia from this point). The monument itself was beautiful, definitely a fitting and peaceful final resting place for those who lost their lives. We then went to the town of Bratislava proper, where we walked the lane that the Habsburgs rode through the city on, saw gypsy like bands performing in the street to the delight of an old couple who promptly took the floor and schooled all of us at dancing, and odd statues (for example, one was of a soldier who snuck into the city to see a girl he loved as she danced in the street. His statue is peeking out of manhole cover in the middle of the street.
Our short expedition ended there, and we piled back on the bus to Vienna for our final afternoon of free time exploring the city. Laura, Sarah, and I took an adventure to the museum of miltary history, which houses the best collection of military artifacts I’ve seen. We spent way too much time on the top floor, scanning through exhibits on Austrian history from about the 1400s up to WWI, including many artifacts from Napolean Bonapart’s invasions of Europe and the Habsburgs. My camera died at this point, and then we discovered we had done it all wrong. The second we walked into the WWI exhibit, we were all captivated. They literally had the clothing Archduke Franz Ferdinand was wearing when he was shot, complete with blood crusted on the collar. They had cannons and mortars, models of the trenches the soldiers fought in that we could walk through, bomb shelters with big chunks blown out of them, and an interactive exhibit to help us understand how heavy the equipment was that each soldier had to carry. We briefly scanned the WWII exhibit, which was not nearly as comprehensive (from what I’ve seen and heard, Austrians don’t really like to talk a out WWII or implicate themselves in any way). I spent the rest of the evening finding food and walking around, and then it was off to Prague. Updates coming soon!