Neither my father, nor I knew much about the history of Bratislava before we stepped off the train and into the city. The first thing we did was took a bus into the pedestrian district at the city center, which is loomed over by Bratislava's own castle-on-a-hill. Slovakia is another country who's history is fragmented by Soviet occupation, unification and division, and the whim of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was a major coronation site during the Hapsburg dynasty, joined with the Czech republic in 1993, and only became its own soverign state again 18 years ago.
Bratislava is a charming little city filled with the same sort of architectural diversity as old-town Vienna, along with a few Soviet architectural scars and a monstrosity of a 1960's neo-futurist bridge across the Danube. We started things off with an hour-long tour around the old town and the castle to familiarize ourselves with the area and history. Sites of interest included the state opera house, the president's house (still in use), the castle (created as a fortress but quickly convered by the Hapsburgs into a getaway castle), St. Martin's Cathedral (a coronation venue of Hugarian royalty) and Pálffy Palace.
Afterward we spent a few hours wandering around the town center pedestrian district stopping at various plazas which, in Slovak, are called Námestie. Then we stopped in a cafe for our inevitable "Ryan eats his way through the city" stop. Here, my father had a bowl of a creamy garlic soup in a bread bowl and I had a local cabbage soup with bits of ham and *oodles* of Hungarian paprika. Then my father went for some potatoe dumplings loaded with smoked meat, and I had another local speciality called 'halusky s bryndzou' which are potatoe gnocchi with a sheeps milk cheese and bacon. The sheeps cheese was very salty, and coupled with the bacon, made this dish very full-bodied and a little too salty for my taste. Still, it was a unique experience and it was washed down with a pint of Zlaty Bazant, a Slovak beer.
The other crucial thing I wanted to have a try of in Slovakia is a juniper brandy called Borovička, but it turned out the only way I was going to get a taste was to buy a bottle of it at a local corner market...and I mean a full 750ml bottle, not the airplane-sized portions. But it was only 9 euro, and if we can't manage to finish that bottle in the next 7 days, we'll probably make some Berlin hotel cleaning staff very happy by letting them finish the rest. On the flavor -- it's not gin. When you think juniper berries, I know that's where the mind wants to go, but this is a brandy flavored exclusively with juniper. It's slightly sweet and very herbal and not at all what I would describe gin to taste like.
Around 5pm we took the hour-and-change train back to Vienna. No one, between Germany, Austria, and Slovakia, has ever asked to see our passports, by the way. I guess during the tourist season it's not worth the hassle, or there are border arrangements between all the countries to not bother, much like we used to have between Canada and the US.
We closed off the day with some pastry from a bakery and a snifter (ok, a hotel water glass) of Borovička, and we'll be resting up for tomorrows adventures. Tomorrow it's the Art History museum, which we've read is far too large to actually complete in a day, so we'll just have to see. Then, we'll see the lower Belvedere Palace and the wander the Naschmarkt. Thanks for reading, everyone, and thanks for the concern about my health. I'm pretty much recovered now from the chest cold other than a few hacks every now and then. The knee is still acting up; I'll have that looked at when I get back to the States.