The Bridges

Bridges are fascinating. I wonder when was the first time humans created a bridge. But I’m sure that it must have been the day when the course of human history took a big turn. Humans were suddenly able to cross rivers and lakes for going from one place to another and returning back, thus making trading possible for everyone and not just the adventurous sailors! Bridges meant possibilities..

There is a reference to the construction of a bridge of stones in the Hindu epic – Ramayana – which is a story of around 12000 years ago! According to the legend, the bridge was made by the monkeys, to help Ram and the monkey army get across the sea to Lanka from the Southernmost tip of India to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted by Ravan, the king of Lanka. Believe it or not, in the satellite images, the remains of such a bridge can still be seen (immersed now), named Adam’s Bridge in English. You can read more details of the scientific analysis being done to determine the timelines here. So far, I didn’t have the chance to go there yet, but who knows, may be one day I will be there.

So coming back to the present, I’ve had the chance to see so many wonderful bridges. Some of them are world-famous and some are just serving the purpose – helping people get across from one point to the other.

Enjoy.

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A bridge connecting two villages in Switzerland
Bridge Enroute Dresden
An interesting road bridge in Eastern Germany
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A wooden bridge in Switzerland
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A brick bridge in Belgium
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The longest suspension bridge for pedestrians in the world, in Austria

For more interpretations and pictures of wonderful bridges, explore here.

Viennese Waltz – Routine 2

Starting now with the second part of my impressions of Vienna. Hope you enjoyed the first routine. I was very tired after the walking through the city on the first day. So decided to call it an early day.

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Decoration in a Window

The next morning, the skies looked ominous and tried to put the idiomatic damper on my spirits. But I just borrowed an umbrella from the Pension and decided to make a trip to the famous Schoenbrunn Palace. It was a little far from the city center and so, I had to take a train. While waiting, I often find myself looking at advertisements at the underground stations when I am visiting a city and try to get an idea about what’s new.  I don’t know if the locals ever pay any attention to the posters!

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Metro Station Karlsplatz

Finally on reaching the palace, I found an Easter Market set up in the grounds despite the overcast skies.

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Easter at Schoenbrunn Palace

The Schoenbrunn Palace looked quite impressive in yellow color and as it was drizzling a bit, I decided to take a tour of the rooms inside the palace first instead of looking at the gardens.

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Schoennbrunn Palace

The rooms were interesting and as the rest of Vienna, had most stories about Maria Theresa and Sisi. Interesting to know was how much effort Sisi put in maintaining her figure (exercises and dieting) and ankle length hair (a full day every week dedicated to cleaning and conditioning the tresses).

After coming out, I wandered a bit into the gardens which looked quite pretty to stroll in but it was drizzling and the wind was too strong to keep the umbrella open. So I decided to move on.

Now, I was getting hungry and I had heard about the Naschmarkt. So I headed towards it. By the time I got out of the train at the stop nearest to the market, it was pouring. I managed to reach there and looked through the shops and restaurants but didn’t find anything that I could eat. So I searched for an Indian restaurant around as that is usually a safe bet if one is looking for a warm, vegetarian and gluten-free meal. And as luck would have it, I found myself at a restaurant whose owners were from the same part of India as I am! On the menu were two delicacies that I love but haven’t had in a really long time and so quite naturally, I asked for those two items. It was serendipity at work again :-).  I was not disappointed. The owner and I chatted away for some time about life back home and abroad. Looking out of the window, I found that it was hailing. So I stayed for some more time before venturing out again.

I went to the central railway station to get myself the tickets for the next day and then proceeded towards the Opera. Walking towards the Opera, I came across a beautiful church – Karlskirche. It was not possible to get inside as it was getting ready for a concert.

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Karlskirche

Moving on, upon reaching the Opera, I found an impressive 19th century building. Initially it was the place for royalty but then in 1920, after the removal of the Hofburg dynasty, it was named the State Opera. I wasn’t particularly interested in watching the performance (it was Parsifal by Wagner that evening). But I had read that one could get a chance to stand and watch for as little as 3 Euros. So I tried my luck but even the standing tickets were sold out. The lady at the counter told me that I could try again for a ticket post break and the break was at after 90 minutes. Since I was tired anyway of all the walking, I went to the adjoining Opera Cafe and ordered myself a coffee.

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Vienna State Opera

When I came out to try getting the ticket, I found that it was again sold out! So much for the waiting. Then I came out of another exit. And what do I see there? A big screen showing the performance from inside! There were also chairs. Why didn’t I come out earlier?

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Big Screen outside the Opera

Anyway, I didn’t find it engaging so I moved on. It was getting darker and the square was lit up.

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Haas Building

It was much more interesting to listen to the street musicians than watching the Opera. After spending some time listening to them and then having some dinner, I decided to call it a day.

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Street Musicians at Stephansplatz

 

Viennese Waltz – Routine 1

The first thought that came in my mind while writing this post was, “what can I write that has not already been written about this city?”.

But I guess everyone writes not about the place but their perception of the place. So let me write down mine.

First things first – how did I land there. If you are a follower of my blog, then you know it already from the post about Bratislava. I’ll state it briefly here – it was a matchmaking done by software. I gave the dates and cities I would be willing to go to and the airlines software informed me that I would be going to Vienna at the end of the booking.

Since I had not been there and everyone who had been there talked very highly of it, so I was quite looking forward to it. There were some change of plans due to unexpected circumstances and I won’t bore you with that. One interesting thing I learnt in this journey was the name of a country I didn’t know existed – Moldova. A friend commented just recently that he gets the feeling it’s an imaginary place :).

Anyway, so there I was at 9 am in the city after an early morning flight. The sun was shining and I could feel some humidity in the air. My trusted advisor – google – could not tell me the right public transport connection to my hotel. So once I reached the city from the airport, I walked as per the map directions given by the aforementioned advisor despite having the day pass for the city transport. It was not too long but not too short a distance either. But that gave me a chance to get the first impressions of the city. Like this one below.

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It appears Austria is more fond of beer than Germany..

Upon reaching the hotel, I realized it was in a residential building. It was my first experience of what is called a Pension (pronounced Pen-see-on and not Pention). While I was standing and wondering how to get in, a resident of the building came by after bringing coffee from outside. She rang the bell to her apartment and when the main door opened, she let me in and we chatted briefly in the lift. She was British and had been living in Vienna since a couple of years.

I reached my Pension on the second floor (or was it third?) and rang the door bell. I was greeted warmly by the host who showed me my room and let me relax a bit before the formalities of signing stuff. It actually felt like going to a relative’s home rather than a hotel. May be that’s how Pensions are – I have had no prior experience with that.

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Entrance of the Pension..

Then after restoring my energy, I came out and the owner explained everything about the place to me and gave me a map too. Then I hurried towards the place – Albertina –  from where a free walking tour would be beginning. Upon reaching there, I found a huge group already leaving and it looked like it was difficult to find my place in it. Another couple there was also wondering what to do. We got to chatting and thought that may be we should go with the paid one. Checked inside the tourist information center which around. The tour was due to start in some time. We were joined by another family of four. Then we started. We went through parts of the old city. Usually I like the walking tours but this one was quite boring for me. It felt like someone’s reading to you from a History book! I would recommend to take the free walking tour where you tip the guide at the end of the tour. I think they are more entertaining than the ones whom you pay upfront, as the former’s tips depend on how much the people enjoyed the trip!

Anyway, here are some glimpses of what I saw in the walking tour. The starting point was this “Monument Against War and Fascism”at the Albertinaplatz. The sculptor of this monument was Alfred Hrdlicka. It is there to remind people of the atrocities that were dealt on the people during the second world war, to keep the memory alive, so that the cruelty of that kind doesn’t take place ever again. It is pretty powerful, once you look carefully and understand what is represented by the different pieces of the monument.

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Monument Against War and Fascism
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Old Jewish Man – part of the Monument Against War and Fascism (the barbed wire was not part of the original sculpture but some insensitive tourists started sitting on this old man for photo opportunities – hence the wire was put on it)
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Imperial Hofburg Palace

The Imperial Hofburg palace was another stop – this was the place where so many generations of the Hapsburg dynasty lived and ruled from. But in the 20th century, it became the place (look at the balcony) from where the announcement of Anschluss (merging of Austria into Nazi Germany) was made by Hitler.

We had a lot of other interesting discussions – things that I didn’t know – on the way. For example, I didn’t know that Hitler was actually welcomed rather than opposed in Austria!

Let’s get to “sweeter” things. We reached the famous Demel Cafe which originally was a bakery that supplied to the royal kitchen. But then in the 1950s and 60s, it was in a legal battle with Sacher Hotel over the claim over the original “Sacher Torte” – a chocolate cake! Finally Sacher Hotel won and now sells pricier Sacher Torte than Demel Cafe. I stepped inside the cafe and found nice decorations for Easter.

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Inside Demel Bakery

The tour went on for some time and the impression that I got of the city was that how much of it revolved around Maria Theresa (18th century). At second place was Sisi – Empress Elisabeth of Austria (19th century) who was the wife of the Emperor Franz Joseph. For sure, there would be many more noteworthy people in Vienna but most of the stories that I heard in the tour were around these two ladies only. That says something about their influence and impact.

One interesting point mentioned by the tour guide was that in those days of Kings and Queens, the marriages were arranged for political gains, which everyone knows, but Maria Theresa allowed one daughter of  hers to marry for love. That was Maria Christina. She married Duke Albert of Saxon. They were big patrons of art. So it’s befitting that their residence is a big art museum today by the name of Albertina.

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Albertina

The tour guide showed us also a dig (quite small) from the Roman times. Based on the coins found there, it was concluded that it must have been the Red Light area outside the city walls hosting the Roman military camps. Of course, over the centuries the walls were broken and the city expanded. The Romans were forgotten and also their stories. But then many excavations in the 20th century brought out the history.

Every stone of the city seemed to be wanting to tell some story but sadly I didn’t have the interpreter. When I started writing this post, I thought I won’t have many things to write but now so many words are gushing forth that one post will not be sufficient. May be that’s what happens also when one starts to enjoy the Viennese Waltz. Pausing here and composing my thoughts, so as to bring the second routine of the Waltz with some more impressions of Vienna I brought home with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serendipity

There were once three princes of Serendip who were asked by their father, the King, to get out of the country. The King was not punishing them although on the face it would appear that way. Instead, his hidden motive was to make his sons learn more about the world before they ascended the throne. So the princes did go out and made interesting experiences and also discovered a lot of things by accident. Well, so is the interpretation of the western authors that those were accidents. My interpretation would be that anything seems like an accident because one doesn’t expect it but aren’t most interesting discoveries like that? And another thing is – accident in my dictionary is a bad thing while discovery is usually good. If you find what you are looking for, then probably the term discovery won’t fit!

Anyway, so back to these princes and their discoveries. An author Horace Warpol coined the term Serendipity from this story which means “making fortunate discoveries by accident”.

I often feel like those princes of Serendip when I make these kind of discoveries with no plan whatsoever. (But I was not asked by my father to leave the country..that happened just as an outcome of some work related thing). So here I am today, on a warm summer day, sitting in the middle of a lovely village, having a sundae surrounded by interesting buildings and chatter of the locals.

Sundae

And it was not planned at all. Yesterday, a very close friend of mine C and I sat down for lunch at work. She and I get to meet only every two weeks or so as she has a working schedule that gives her more time to be with her little daughter. So I was filling her in about my adventures from last weeks. Then we came on the topic of what I could do on this long weekend. And out of nowhere, we decided that I come with her to her home  – which is in a region where I had never been before. So after a long journey in which we chatted the whole time, we reached her home. She had told me that she needs to go to a nearby village for some work. I decided to come along instead of sitting at home. And it was a good decision. See for yourself.

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Church

 


I arrived at a place I would have never planned to come on my own but yet ended up at and then getting to enjoy the atmosphere with a nice big bowl of icecream on a warm summer day…

Now shouldn’t I call this Serendipity?

Charmed by Bratislava (3)

Hope that the first and second parts sparked your interest in Bratislava. So here’s the rest of the story from my journey.

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The “Train”

While on the walking tour, we reached this very interesting bronze sculpture. The guide revealed that it was the statue of Hans Christian Anderson, the famous Danish author of the unforgettable stories which you might have also read as kids (remember Thumbelina, Little Mermaid, Ugly Duckling, Emperor’s New Clothes?)  who loved being in Bratislava and spent a lot of time there. You can see the sculpture with the characters from his stories. There used to also be a goose near the foot but sadly, someone stole it away!

 

There were some souvenir shops shaped like huts, like at so many other tourist places. The interesting thing here was that these huts had lovely sketches of how the city looked in the past, on their tops!

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Sketches on top of Souvenir Huts

Now, those who know the history of the erstwhile Czekoslovakia, would know about the Prague Spring. It was when Alexander Dubcek (pronounced Dubcheck) tried to introduce some economic and political reforms for the people of Czekoslovakia. The country came under the domination of Soviet Union in the aftermath of  the second world war and hence had a Communist regime. This “Spring” lasted from Jan to August 1968 and then the Soviets invaded the country and took over the control from Dubcek. There are a few iconic photos that became the channel for spreading the news of that invasion beyond the iron curtain.  It sounds quite improbable in this day and age that the western world wouldn’t have known about this for a long time, had it not been for those photos being smuggled out of the country! One such photographer was Ladislav Bielik who actually was a sports photographer, but who captured the picture below (and may be several others) and immediately went to the magazine’s office where he worked, developed the photos and came back and started handing them over to the people who had western passports so that they could take these photos with them and let the rest of the world know about it! Due to this action of his, the news was known in the countries on the other side of the iron curtain within two-three days of this event happening instead of weeks/months that would have been the case otherwise! There was another iconic photographer Josef Koudelka whose photos also show the scale of the invasion. You can read what I had learnt about this invasion from the guide in Prague. It was very interesting for me to know what was happening in two different parts of the country – Prague and Bratislava – when the Soviets invaded!

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Emil Gallo baring his chest and facing the Soviet tank

Thankfully, all this ended by the end of the 80’s decade and Czekoslovakia got a democratic government. In 1993, the Czechs and Slovaks separated amicably (velvet divorce) and thus the two countries – Czech Republic and Slovak Republic were formed.

Another interesting thing that I learnt from the tour guide, that I want to write about is about the Bratislava Castle. So the site of the castle has been inhabited since the stone age! But the first written records are from early 10th century. It became the seat of Hungarian monarchs from the 16th century. In the 18th century, under the reign of Maria Teresa, it was transformed into a luxurious Baroque residence. Now the interesting part. The castle had some Italian soldiers in it sometime in 1811. The story goes that they got engrossed in eating and drinking that they forgot to put out the cooking fires. By morning, the whole castle was burnt down! A favorite joke that runs among the locals is that a castle that survived several centuries of invasions, could not survive an Italian Dinner :-). The form that we see today is a work of around 60 years (renovation started in 1953 and completed in 2010)!

I went to the castle the next morning by myself. It’s lovely up there and gives a lovely view of the city. There was a nice looking restaurant also up there but I rather enjoyed sitting on a bench, watching the river and having some lovely strawberries that I had brought along from the downtown.

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While coming down from the castle, I came across this statue which reminded me of Medusa! It is called “The Witch”. And at this point, I am thinking that probably I should make one additional post about the statues of Bratislava! Other touristic cities also have statues but they are like one at every corner and hence, not interesting anymore! I found the ones from Bratislava much more intriguing.

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The Witch

Then I also came across an abandoned church. I have no idea what happened there.

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Abandoned Church

And as luck would have it, I got to capture this picture of a family which was clearly taking a break. What is interesting you ask? Look closely. They are not praying! The dad and the sons are busy with their smartphones while the mom is taking a power nap :-).

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Tired Family

And with this I conclude this post.  There are some more stories and may be I will make a fourth post. All this reminiscing has stirred in me the longing to visit Bratislava again. I don’t know what is it that attracts me to Prague and now that same attraction is developed for Bratislava. Until next..

Charmed by Bratislava (2)

In the last post, I gave you the background story of my trip to Bratislava. Let’s continue on the journey from there.

So after relaxing a bit in my lovely hotel room, I came out as I was feeling hungry. The breakfast  that I’ve had had, was lovely but had become a distant memory by then.

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Breakfast

So I searched on Tripadvisor and reached a restaurant that was supposed to have simple vegetarian Indian food. Unfortunately, it was closed. So I searched a bit more and found that there was another good restaurant nearby. I went there and sat for a meal. The decor was beautiful and reminded me of the lovely colors of South India. Now the first thing I ordered was a kind of tomato soup (rasam). The proprietor warned me that it was spicy but I was in reckless mood and didn’t pay attention (assumption was that he was comparing the chili level by European standards). But then when I had it, I felt like it was made with the intent to clear the sinuses! Nonetheless, I waited for my rice pulao and the cook had mercifully added green chilies to it in a way that I could take them aside :-). That was good and so satiated, I moved on.

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At the Restaurant

Now I wanted to go to the old town but I got completely confused with google maps telling me which way to go. Why? Because all I saw was a kind of highway with roundabouts. So I decided to be adventurous and boarded a bus. I thought I would stop at the next stop or where I would feel it looks like the old town. See this picture here, which I took later when I was more familiar with the topography of the city, to make you understand my confusion – there is an old city wall, then the St. Martin’s cathedral and then suddenly that UFO like building..all by the side of a highway! Details of this strange juxtaposition later.

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Once I was aboard the bus, one stop went by, second stop by went and I found myself on a highway and then some kind of software technology park (with glass buildings like we are used to seeing nowadays. Then I understood that something was not right – google maps had told me that the old town was very near to from where I boarded the bus. So I got down there and wondered how to get to the other side of the highway to take the bus back. Thankfully there were two girls who got down with suitcases and since there were apartments beside the highway, it was quite probable that they would be going there. So I just observed and followed. And it was the right decision for I found the way.

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Then I had a few minutes to click the photos of the surroundings before the bus arrived. (The experience was quite like in Bangalore especially on the outer/inner ring road with apartments everywhere. The only difference is that in Bangalore, there is no safe way to cross the road while in Bratislava there is!).

Anyway, so I returned and after two more tries, I finally managed to reach the old city. Now I wanted to join a walking tour which was supposed to start at 3 PM, so I had enough time for all this adventure and to still be before time at the venue mentioned on their website.

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Then slowly the people started arriving and also a few tour guides. The guides had a good system. They counted the people and then depending on the number, they distributed them into three groups – each group with one guide. In Vienna on the other hand, all the people (irrespective of number) had to go with one guide, which was the reason I didn’t join the free walking tour there (story of Vienna for later).

The tour started from this square Hviedzoslav Namestie named after a famous poet of the country. Our guide explained that he invented a new form of poetry which they had to study during their school days and it was, let’s just say, not so easy :-). As per wikipedia – “he introduced the syllabic-tonic verse into Slovak poetry and became the leading representative of Slovak literary realism. His style is characterized by extensive use of self-coined words and expressions, making it difficult to translate his works into foreign languages.

I won’t go into the history of Slovakia – there is enough information here if you are interested in the details. In short, it has been a place with settlements from pre-historic times. The Romans were here, then the Magyars (Austro-Hungarian Empire) and later it came under the Hapsburg monarchy when Ottomann Empire took control of the erstwhile Hungary.  From 1526 to 1830, nineteen Hapsburg sovereigns were crowned “Kings and Queens of Hungary” in the Saint Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava.

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The guide explained to us the details of that strange way the city looks as shown in the picture above. The Hapsburgs broke parts of the old city wall to expand the city. Then a few hundred years later the communist government decided to build a highway going through the middle of the old town! It of course didn’t care that there was this historic church whose foundations will become weak with the highway being constructed right next to it!

Anyway, so that’s how it is now. With this I will end this post. I hope to write the next post very soon to complete the story of my journey. Enjoy reading!

Charmed by Bratislava (1)

Remember the movie Hostel? If that’s the reason you have not visited Bratislava so far despite having the opportunity, then set your fears aside and take the next chance to visit this charming and intriguing city. I don’t watch the horror genre and when my friends had told me about the movie so many years ago, I had of course stopped them from telling me anything about the plot. And I am glad I didn’t know anything – because one does form an opinion about things despite being aware that something is just a work of fiction. Danger seems real if the mind is focused on seeing a snake even if it’s just a rope! Seeing the eerie picture above, one would get afraid by making the association with a fictional story one saw or heard about the city!

Coming back to my story. There I was one day, wondering what to do on a four day trip to Vienna as I was not so keen on spending all four days in Vienna despite its popularity. Then a friend suggested to go to Bratislava. That sounded good as it was only 1 hour away and I didn’t need to plan anything in advance. I could decide after being in Vienna and seeing how it went there.

It is really convenient to take a train from Vienna to Bratislava – it goes every hour or so. There is a collaboration between Vienna and Bratislava that allows you to take a return ticket from Vienna, which allows you to use the public transport also in Bratislava on the day of arrival. And you can return to Vienna two days later from Bratislava with the same ticket! Wonderful – isn’t it? It takes about an hour one way. More details here. Also possible is to go via boat on Danube or a bus or even a plane (that’s actually a joke – 10 minute flight time!).

Enough background story. In two words – I went.

When I came out of the train at Bratislava, somehow it reminded me of a station in India.

Bratislava Main Station (Hlavana Stanica)

I couldn’t figure out from the app for the public transport how to reach my hotel using the tram. So I walked as it didn’t seem too far on google maps. On the way I came across some interesting buildings – from the communist era of Slovakian history. Of course I took a picture immediately although at that time I didn’t know that it was the buidling of Slovak radio. Again this also reminded me of some office buildings in India – may be because of the color.

Building of the Slovak Radio

 

Thus stopping every few meters to click pictures because it was all so interesting, it took me more than 30 minutes to cover a distance of approximately 1.5 kms.

Finally I reached the hotel and thankfully they had the room ready for me. I was sweating profusely as it was a humid day with the sun shining (opposite of the cold and rainy day with hailstones in Vienna just 20 hours earlier). It was a lovely hotel with a lovely room and a luxurious bathroom – at less than half the price of what I paid in Vienna for a small room in a pension without a private bathroom! So I was glad to see a fan in the room which helped me relax before I got up for getting some lunch and sightseeing (in that order :)).

Bratislava Castle

So here I will end the first post. Stay tuned for the next one where I will take you further inside this lovely city.