My sister and I fancied a winter break and saw an advert in the London Metro newspaper for a two centre holiday in Vienna and Bratislava. We had been to Austria before but not Vienna and neither of us had ever been to Slovakia so we were keen to cross that one off our bucket list!
The holiday was organised by a company called Travel Interaction (which we later realised was associated with Broadway Travel). We had used Broadway Travel before and found them efficient and pleasant to deal with and Travel Interaction were much the same.
Our flight out to Vienna was with Eurowings from Stansted and they are one of the no-frills airlines where you have to buy food and drink but they were on time and had friendly staff. We arrived late in Vienna and got a cab to our hotel. We were staying at The Novum Hotel Prinz Eugen near the railway station and it was a small hotel but our room was nice enough. The next day we set off to see the sights. We didn’t have great weather, it was very grey and quite cold, so foggy in fact that a visit to the Danube Tower was not an option as we couldn’t even see the top of it in the mist so the views of the city from the top would not have been worth seeing. We bought a 2 day Vienna Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus ticket and spent the day seeing all the main sights. There are three bus routes you can do on the Bus. Today we did the “yellow” route which took us past the State Opera House (we got off there for a drink and strudel in their very impressive cafe), a Christmas Market in the Museum Quarter, the very impressive Museum of Military History and the spectacular Schonbrunn Palace. During the afternoon we switched to the “red” route and visited The National Theatre, City Hall, The University and drove along the river.
I was a little disappointed in Vienna. I had expected grand buildings and although there are some beautiful buildings these are interspersed with ugly blocks of flats. A tour guide told us this was because it was badly bombed during the war and afterwards they needed to put up buildings quickly to house all the people. I can understand this but surely the same could be said about London? London has managed to rebuild without ruining the feel of the City. Vienna is also covered in graffiti – some of it is obviously artistic but most of it is just unsightly. I think the grey weather did not let us see the City at it’s finest but I could not help but be disappointed.
That night we found a lovely Italian Restaurant near the Hotel called L’Osteria which was very popular and the food was excellent. (Yes, I know I should not be eating Italian food in Austria but being vegetarian the Austrian menu was very meat orientated!)
The next day we took the Hop On Hop Off bus up to the Danube Canal where our ticket offered us a free boat ride. (Those bus tickets are such good value and we always find them the best and cheapest way to see a new City). The boat ride wasn’t hugely exciting, the most interesting thing you see from the Danube Canal is the incineration plant which is quite a unique design, but we sat inside with a drink and a snack and it was very cosy.
When we docked we jumped back on the bus and went to the Prater area where there is a fairground with a huge Ferris Wheel. The capsules that you sit in are old railway carriages which is quite unique and we had a good view of the City. Later when we headed back to our Hotel, the Hop On bus had stopped running and so we had to negotiate the local trams. We had no idea where to buy tickets and the very pleasant tram driver let us ride back to our Hotel for free! (I have to say all the Austrians we met were so friendly and helpful). We got off near our Hotel, by The Belvedere Museum (this is the museum that houses the famous picture ” Kiss” by Gustav Klimt.) There was another Christmas Market outside it which was so lovely and festive. Nearby we found a lovely restaurant called The Art Cafe and that was our dinner venue that night.
The next day we were off to Bratislava. We had a rail ticket from Vienna station and the journey takes about 50 minutes. It wasn’t the Orient Express but it was nice enough but when we arrived at Bratislava Railway Station we were a little shocked. We had hoped for an information desk where we could get a map and find out where our hotel was but when we went to information a lady shouted very loudly that it was information for “train only”! Outside the station there were a lot of men just hanging around (one of them was actually lying on the floor and trying to drink at the same time!) and it wasn’t a very welcoming sight! However we finally found out what bus to get and headed off to our hotel. The Apollo hotel in Bratislava is a huge hotel that hosts a lot of conferences and weddings etc. Strangely it is in what looks like the middle of a council estate. They have a huge cavernous restaurant with lots of animal heads and pelts hanging on the walls! (Not greatly appreciated by two vegetarians!) However the food in the Restaurant was excellent. We ate there the first night after spending the afternoon exploring the area and the food was very very cheap but very very delicious. In fact everything is very cheap in Bratislava. Prosecco was available everywhere for about £2 a glass! (It would have been a sin not to take advantage of it!)
Bratislava is a strange place. Most of it looks very poor, very few people speak English (but they were all very friendly whether they understood us or not) but when you visit the Old Town it is so lovely it is a shock! They obviously spend all their money maintaining the Old Town. The buildings are beautifully kept and, again, there were Christmas Markets everywhere so it looked very bright and sparkly. There are food stands everywhere and I had a delicious potato crepe with strawberry and chocolate which was delicious! They have an abundance of unusual statues. We had a book detailing these but were disappointed that a few had been removed because of the Christmas Markets. However we saw the wonderful “Man at Work” which is a statue of a worker popping up from a man hole! (Supposedly you should rub his head and make a wish)! We also hunted out the “naked man” statue in Panska Street which is hidden about a chemist shop. Whilst there we walked to the UFO Bridge and went up to the Observation Deck. This gave lovely views of the City and Bratislava Castle. We then climbed the hill and visited the Castle which was impressive. St Michaels Gate is the area where most of the shops and restaurants are and we wandered around here and it wasn’t hard to find somewhere for lunch. Back in the Main Square we wandered around the Slovak National Theatre and found a Sky Bar where we went up to the 7th floor, looked out over the square with it’s temporary ice rink and had some (cheap) Prosecco and a (very expensive) bowl of nuts!! Walking back to the Hotel we passed the Blue Church which is. indeed, VERY blue!
The thing about Bratislava is that the tourist area is VERY small. Every road led back to the Main Square and after one and a half days walking round it, there really was nothing we hadn’t seen! On our last day we got a local bus to The Slavin Memorial. It is the largest war memorial in Central Europe and is the burial ground of 6,845 Russian soldiers who liberated Slovakia from the Nazi’s in 1945. It was totally deserted but well worth the journey (once we got off the bus there was a large hill to climb). The centrepiece is a tomb like building which is topped with a statue of a Russian soldier holding a flag and stamping on a swastika. Very impressive. Most of the soldiers are buried in mass graves but there were also quite a few granite headstones with pictures of the soldier occupant. It was quite a moving experience.
So we decided that we liked Bratislava very much. However, you really don’t need more than 2 days there (especially in the winter). A lot of people do a day trip from Vienna but I am glad we stayed a few days there and actually preferred it to Vienna. (And that was not just because of the cheap Prosecco!!)