Dateline: Bratislava, Slovakia
We left Vienna about breakfast time this morning and started the forty mile trip to Bratislava. For the first time in two weeks, the weather was left than perfect with rain showers all morning. It was a rather nice change watching the rain squalls drop their fat little drops into the Danube. It made me feel rather sleepy: gray and rainy days often do. So, I kept nodding off in the lounge while I was trying to do scene study on Choir Boy. I don’t have the lines yet, but I am starting to find the shapes of scenes and character moments.
We arrived in Bratislava around lunch time. It was my first time in a former Soviet bloc nation and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had some vague expectations of drab architecture and women in babushkas but Bratislava is a dynamic modern city. Even if the country is somewhat behind on the development curve, the city is doing very well due to its proximity to Vienna and its much lower labor costs. All sorts of multinational firms have moved in and the city is busy upgrading itself and trying to restore its prewar appearance. It has the feel of a gentrifying US industrial city that is being reborn. It’s the closest feeling place to Birmingham so far.
The old town is a mix of Renaissance era gothic and baroque and full of winding little cobblestone streets. The historic buildings are all either refurbished or in the process of being redone and there are significant government programs to return property to private ownership and to restore property rights confiscated under Soviet rule. The one thing they haven’t been able to fix yet is the motorway running across the front porch of the cathedral (a particularly petty punishment in response to the failed revolution of 1968). The Soviets put in a new bridge across the Danube and demolished the Jewish quarter and nearly took out the cathedral for the access road.
The usual walking tour, including the bishop’s palace (with a superb collection of 16th century English tapestries that were apparently found rolled up behind a wall when a recent renovation was done. The rain ceased about ten minutes after we started and it was very nice the rest of the day. Then some cafe time, a little shopping, and a nice dinner. I skipped the castle as I didn’t feel like the 700 steps up the hill. There’s one thing about Europe – like my old house, no stair master necessary. The castle is a modern restoration. The original burned in 1811 and was a ruin until a few decades ago.
I’ve bought a couple of teddy bears from various destinations. Those who have been to one of my holiday open houses will know why. It’s not quite the same without the two of us, but the bear tradition will live on. Most of my other purchases have been postcards. I’ve also bought some little prints and watercolors of some of the towns I’ve passed through and I’ll have those framed and added to the walls at home after I get back. The last thing I’ve been collecting has been copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in various languages. Tommy was a huge Potter fan and was working on some of his European languages using translations so I’ve decided to add to the collection. I can make out some general sense in Slovak but I can’t figure out how to pronounce any of it.
We’re now steaming down the Danube. I can hear thunder outside but I’m nice and warm; Casablanca is on the television and all is right for the moment. Buadpest tomorrow, disembarkation the next day, then a couple of free days to explore before returning to the usual workaday.