Viking’s Danube Waltz (2): Bratislava

Viking’s Danube Waltz (2): Bratislava


con­tin­ued from Part 1….  

June 2: Bratisla­va, Slo­va­kia 

Wikimedia Commons
Wiki­me­dia Commons

2e-MonumentBratislavaIf the Viking Leg­end is any exam­ple, you don’t need to wor­ry about table ser­vice. The wait staff, most­ly Fil­ipino, could not have been more atten­tive, but at the same time nev­er struck us as fawn­ing or gra­tu­itous. Our favorite waiter’s name tag read “Neri.” It turned out that he’d opt­ed for that because his real name wouldn’t fit: Alde­fon­so Ner­ia. He and his col­leagues were gems, always look­ing out for us, and soon began to save a nice place for four by throw­ing nap­kins over chair backs at a well-sit­u­at­ed table. They told us they enjoy work­ing for Viking, cit­ing the rel­a­tive­ly easy Danube Waltz sched­ule com­pared to a 24/7 cruise ship. With the pas­sen­gers most­ly away dur­ing the day, they have time to catch up on inven­to­ries and take a break.

Bratislava Castle
Bratisla­va Castle

Velvet revolution: “Nobody asked us”

Bratisla­va is the only nation­al cap­i­tal bor­der­ing two oth­er coun­tries, Aus­tria and Hun­gary. Built in the 10th cen­tu­ry as a fortress, the Cas­tle was con­vert­ed to a roy­al res­i­dence by Empress Maria There­sa in the mid-18th cen­tu­ry. On a tall hill, it tow­ers over the city and sur­round­ing coun­try­side. You wind your way to it through up-mar­ket res­i­dences and embassies.

USEmbIn the dis­tance the Stars and Stripes flew from the U.S. Embassy’s gar­den, which our per­son­able guide described as pala­tial. (The Embassy itself is a minia­ture of the White House.)

She was frank about the peace­ful sep­a­ra­tion of Slo­va­kia and the Czech Repub­lic in Jan­u­ary 1993, which not all Slo­vaks are pleased about: “Nobody asked us. It was all about mon­ey and pow­er.” (The two coun­tries remain on good terms.) “We can under­stand them, they can under­stand us”—it also seems in these parts that most every­body speaks Eng­lish. She added that they’ve been restor­ing the Cas­tle for at least 150 years, and if we came back in the next cen­tu­ry they might have it finished.

The only road sign in Eng­lish in Bratisla­va, “Men at Work,” refers to this bronze fel­low peer­ing out of a man­hole at his pre­ferred angle for women’s skirts.

Up from Comm;unism

Like Hun­gary, Slo­va­kia has made enor­mous strides since the fall of the Iron Cur­tain. The more dis­tant sub­urbs of Bratisla­va remind­ed me of Latvia, where I bicy­cled the coun­try four years after inde­pen­dence. A lot of ugly grey Sovi­et con­crete is still stand­ing, but Bratisla­va prop­er is pros­per­ous and ener­getic. There was no sign of the ubiq­ui­tous Russ­ian Ladas that prowled Esto­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia when I vis­it­ed in 1992 and 1995. Lots of up-mar­ket Sko­das, BMWs and Mercs make the point that this is a high-income coun­try with one of the fastest growth rates in Europe. Some of the hous­es on Cas­tle Hill were spec­tac­u­lar, made yet more impres­sive by the mar­velous view. The city itself is well brushed and clean, the locals friend­ly. There was lit­tle to sug­gest this was once part of the War­saw Pact.

2d-GovtBldgBratislavaIt was here that we became aware of the tor­rid heat that was to accom­pa­ny us for most of the jour­ney. Bratisla­va was 88F/31C and steam­ing. With a lot of walk­ing to do, the crew hand­ed every­one water bot­tles on the way to the tour coach­es. As pleas­ant the view­ing of the city, it was won­der­ful to get back to the ship for a leisure­ly air con­di­tioned lunch and a glass of local wine or beer. A good tip if you plan a Viking cruise is to buy an insu­lat­ed water bot­tle car­ri­er with a shoul­der strap. Take two bot­tles, and leave a spare on your coach seat.

Part 3: Vien­na, Austria

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