BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – The River Duchess left Vienna, Austria, at 3 a.m. this morning and traveled about 40 miles down the Danube to another country. In fact, a very brand new country: Slovakia.Over its long history, this small country has been ruled by many powers, including 400 years under the Hapsburgs, but is best known to most Americans as the Slovakia part of Czechoslovakia. That country was formed in 1918, after World War I, and was under communist rule until 1989 when that regime was toppled.
Four years later, 1993, the prime ministers of the two countries met, shook hands, and signed an agreement to amicably split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Bratislava became the world’s newest capital city.Those many years under communism had taken a toll on the city whose history dates back to medieval times. Many beautiful facades had been covered with grey cement and few buildings were ever painted. Our tour guide, Jana, recalls that as a child she remembers her home town as being “grey and drab.”
Today Bratislava is a jewel, if a bit still unpolished. It continues to restore its historic buildings. It is repairing its many cobble-stoned streets. There is fresh paint everywhere. The country is a member of the European Union and of NATO. The euro is its currency.
Some of the damage inflicted by the communists will be harder to remedy. They demolished much of the city’s Jewish quarter in order to build a ramp for a new bridge over the river to Hungary. And that huge ramp to that bridge runs right near St. Martin’s Cathedral, where between 1563 and 1830 Hungarian kings (and one queen) were crowned. The vibration and pollution from this road is damaging the church and they are unsure how to prevent this.Nonetheless, our hour-and-a-half walking tour through the Old Town showed us a city that is really trying to be better. Its many small streets are lined with cafes. The streets are free of litter and there is very little graffiti. And they have built the largest indoor shopping mall in Central Europe, which we visited today in search of cold medications, Diet Coke and air-conditioning.
River ships dock right at the base of the Old Town so it is easy to stroll in and out of town from the ship. I am sure that many of us would have spent even more time wandering the streets if it were not so hot. The temperature here today is nearly 100 degrees.Tonight we will have a music and dance program on the ship before dinner and we are looking forward to that.
July 1, 2012
Photos by Chet Janssens