I started work on August 12, only to learn that the following Monday and Tuesday were holidays. Sweet! August 20 is a national holiday (more on that in the next post), and when a national holiday falls on a Tuesday, we also get Monday off. If the holiday falls on a Thursday, we get Friday off. I like that system.
Many of my colleagues were on holiday the week I started. Toward the end of my first week, those who were working started talking about their long weekend plans. I wanted to be in Budapest on Tuesday because of all the special celebratory activities planned, but that left three other days open.
I think it was my friend Paul who had mentioned that Bratislava, Slovakia was a day trip from Budapest. I investigated and, sure enough, it was not quite a three hour train ride from Budapest. A plan was forming.
I mentioned my idea of going to Bratislava to my colleague Kriszta, and she was interested. Then later she said that a friend of hers would also be interested. A plan was formed.
Kriszta (who is Hungarian) is fluent in English, but her friend (also Hungarian) didn’t really speak it. Well, she understood it pretty well, and I’m guessing she knows English a whole lot more than she gives herself credit, but she didn’t want to practice it. And at that point, I knew only three Hungarian words. We still had a great time.
The round trip train fare was cheap—the equivalent of about US$23. We caught the mid morning train and arrived around lunchtime.
We headed straight for the Old Town section of the city. Along the way, we stopped at Grassalkovich Palace, the Slovak President’s residence—aka Slovakia’s “white house.” We couldn’t have timed our arrival better. Just as we were taking pictures of the front, we heard a horn. We had arrived in time to watch the changing of the guard.
At the edge of the Old Town section, we found a plaque in the ground that marked the spot where the first witch was burned in the city. Creepy. But, of course, the States shares that history, so no judgment.
We ventured through St. Michael’s Gate, the only preserved gate from the medieval city, and walked along St. Michael’s Street, which is lined with shops and restaurants. We ate lunch, of all places, at an Irish pub. The main reason? Air conditioning. It was around 90 degrees (Fahrenheit), and we wanted a cool place to eat. The Slovakian food restaurants didn’t have air conditioning. I had a Slovakian wine with lunch, so that made it authentic, right?
After we ate, we climbed the hill to Bratislava Castle, also known as the upside down table. There were great views of the city. From here, we saw Novy Most (New Bridge). The funky structure houses an observation deck and a restaurant called UFO.
Then we went in search of what became my favorite thing in the city: St. Elizabeth’s Church or Blue Church. Go figure. This Art Nouveau treasure was built in the early 20th century and offers daily Catholic services.
On our way back to the train station, we saw a wine store with an English language sign outside that advertised wine tasting. I was like a moth to a flame. I tried Slovakian wine and bought a bottle of Devín, a local grape variety. I haven’t tried it yet.
We boarded the train and arrived in Budapest around 8:30 pm. Nothing like a day trip to a different country!
Coming up: St. Stephen’s Day