ABOARD VIKING GULLVEIG – In contrast to the elegant city of Vienna we visited yesterday, we traveled in time – and to another world in Bratislava, Slovakia. Once part of the Hapsburg Empire and much later, under the domain of Russia, it’s a stark contrast to anything we’ve seen on this trip.
In 1993 the Slovaks and the Czechs separated in what is referred to as the “Velvet Divorce” and Slovakia became an independent state, joining the European Union in 2004.
Dubbed the “Country in the Heart of Europe,” because of its location, Slovakia borders Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Ukraine and is slightly smaller than Massachusetts.
Today, this medieval city shows scars from its past as a Communist country in buildings that have been ravaged by time and services which are not yet up to par with the 21st century.
Despite this, Viking provided First Class services with a bus and walking tour which included an overview of residential areas – including neighborhoods housing embassy residences including those of the US, Great Britain and China.
With temperatures of 28F, combined with a very dense fog, we weren’t too anxious to walk too far but we did make a quick stop at a former Hapsburg palace high above the Danube, before boarding our bus and heading out to explore the old section.
Passing through the original town gate, ancient sites we passed included the former executioner’s home, Michael’s Tower, St Martin’s Cathedral and other relics from the city’s past.
Our guide left us at a small, yet interesting Christmas market where we saw handcrafted Christmas decorations unlike anything we’d seen before.
A necessary frothy hot chocolate topped with soft mounds of whipped cream managed to warm us up before we headed back to the ship for a very welcome lunch, which included delicious potato-leek soup.
Following lunch, Captain Is van Blasé did a presentation on the “lock” system of adjusting to the river’s varying depths, followed by a tour of the ship’s wheelhouse.
Right after that, we went through the largest lock in Europe – Gopcikovo Lock, where I watched the system at work. It really is a marvel in engineering!
Everything is so efficient on board Viking Gullveig and everyone is happy, that it’s hard to believe that anything bad is going on in the world around us.
Tonight we were treated to a festive Captain’s reception, Christmas caroling and tree decorating. It really is a wonderful time of year on the Danube.
Later tonight, we arrive in Budapest – sadly, our last port-of-call.
Photos by Michelle da Silva Richmond