Tag Archives: Bratislava

Places You Should Visit

Champa and I have taken several interesting trips to neighboring countries while serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova. Now that we’re nearly finished, which places would we recommend the most?

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I’ve written previously about our impressions of Transylvania; Armenia and Georgia; Bulgaria and Bucharest; Odessa; Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava; and the Romanian city of Iași. In Moldova, our visits included Soroca, Comrat and several famous monasteries. 

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We enjoyed all of these places. But if you have limited time and resources, here’s our Top Three for your consideration:

  • The Transylvania region of Romania
  • Tbilisi, Georgia
  • Bratislava, Slovakia

We also recommend a visit to Moldova!

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Transylvania was our favorite spot. Many Americans associate it mainly with Dracula, the  fictional vampire inspired by the real-life Vlad Țepeș. But Transylvania is one of Europe’s most beautiful and undiscovered tourist spots. It offers majestic castles (including one named for Dracula), beautiful churches and picturesque cities such as Brașov, Sibiu and Sighișoara. It has nice hotels and restaurants, with architecture reminiscent of Germany and Hungary, whose people settled here. You’re also near Romania’s capital, Bucharest, which is worth a visit, too. Prices are lower than in most other parts of Europe, people are friendly, the weather is mild and the wine is delicious. What’s not to like?

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Tbilisi was called “one of the hottest tourist destinations” last year by The Independent, and for good reason. The Georgian capital, located on the eastern side of the Black Sea, offers distinctive cuisine, interesting sites and rich opportunities for nearby hiking and other outdoor activities. Vogue included it among its “10 Hottest Travel Destinations” and Anthony Bourdain devoted a program to its emerging food scene, including “hangover soup” to recover from a night in the city’s clubs. Don’t miss a visit to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the gorgeous church overlooking the city, or the nearby monastery in Mtskheta.

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Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, surprised us with its beauty and charm. Like many tourists, we visited it mainly because it was near Vienna and Budapest, which are better known. We loved those cities, too, but Bratislava was where we’d live if we had to choose among them. It has a friendly vibe, lovely places to visit, fun places to eat, a castle atop the city, even a bridge with a restaurant shaped like a UFO. Bratislava is cozier than its better-known neighbor, Prague, but you can happily spend hours or days enjoying its restaurants and shops, or strolling along the Danube. If you prefer a day trip, it’s just one hour by train from Vienna.

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We’ve come to love Moldova the most of all. Its travel infrastructure is far behind these other places, but you can spend several enjoyable days or more exploring its wineries, monasteries, countryside and attractions. Moldova offers a variety of adventure sports and outdoor activities, great meals, music and cultural festivals and nightlife that ranges from dance clubs to opera, all for a fraction of what you’d pay in most other European cities. This website provides a nice overview of Moldova’s travel possibilities.

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If you prefer to explore the fascinating culture of Armenia, the glorious Rila Monastery of Bulgaria or the famous steps of Odessa instead of our Top Three, well, those are great choices, too, and you can’t go wrong visiting Vienna or Budapest. My main suggestion is simply to give this part of the world a try. As I’ve written previously, too many Americans are missing out on great places here because they never even consider them. We found all of them to be interesting, safe, inexpensive and fun. Maybe you will, too.

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Riding the Rails

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Champa and I have become fans of Europe’s rail system. We used trains recently to travel from Vienna to Budapest to Bratislava and we found them to be reliable and fun to ride. They were also easy to navigate even though we didn’t speak the local languages.

All of the ticket vendors spoke English. The automated ticket machines were available in English. So were the signs. The schedules were online. Our Visa cards were accepted everywhere. The seats were comfortable. The toilets were clean. There was even free wifi on some of the trains.

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Vienna’s central train terminal, Wien Hauptbahnhof, and the Austrian trains we rode were the most modern. Like some of our own train stations back in the United States, the ones we used in Budapest, Keleti and Nyugati, felt much older, as did the main Hlavná station in Bratislava. However, we felt safe and comfortable in all of them and were impressed by the architecture and design, as with the mural in the Bratislava station shown above and the exterior of Budapest’s Keleti station shown below.

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We’d heard good things about Europe’s trains but were uncertain since we’d never ridden them before. Now we plan to use them often if we visit Europe again after we finish our Peace Corps service in Moldova. We expect many of them to be even nicer than what we saw, especially in western Europe. All aboard.

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Ten Surprising Sights

We saw lots of beautiful sights in Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava when we visited this past week. We also saw things that surprised or amused us, like the ten shown here:

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1. Narrow streetcarsimg_2011-e1523885067610.jpg

2. A Rabbit Outside the Opera House

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3. Lots of Windmills

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4. More Openness About the Holocaust

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5. Reagan Beside a Soviet Memorial

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6. Delicious Matzo Ball Soup

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Bratislava

7. An Unexpected Book Enthusiast

8. A (Tarheel) Blue Church 

9. A Street Memorial for a Slain Journalist

10. A ‘UFO Tower’ and Bridge

 

Three Favorite Spots

If you could visit just one place in a great city, where would you go? The Eiffel Tower or the Louvre in Paris? The Statue of Liberty or Central Park in New York? Tiananmen Square or the Forbidden City in Beijing?

I have answers for three cities we just visited along the Danube River: Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. My picks aren’t necessarily the most famous spots in these cities but they’re the ones Champa and I will remember the most. 

In Vienna, it was the opera house. Not inside the opera, where two tickets can cost more than our monthly Peace Corps budget, but the sidewalk outside. You can sit in chairs there and watch a performance live on a giant screen for free. We discovered this after we arrived in Vienna and saw the ballet Raymonda starting as we strolled by. We sat and enjoyed it for nearly an hour, returning the next day to catch part of Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walküre.

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It was magical to sit outside on a beautiful evening and watch world-class performances in the Austrian city reknown for its music and culture.

In Budapest, we’ll most remember the Chain Bridge and adjacent funicular, which provide stunning views of a picturesque city. We’d already taken a boat ride down the Danube, sailing under the bridge and past the Parliament building and other sites. As in Vienna, we’d also toured the city with Big Bus.

However, nothing topped the view from the historic bridge that spans the river between Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Hungary’s capital. Well, nothing except the historic cable car that climbs to an even better view from Buda Castle. 

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Our biggest Bratislava memory will be St. Martin’s Cathedral, and not only because it’s a landmark of the Slovakian capital. For us, it was also the view in the window of the Airbnb we rented across the square. We could admire the three-nave Gothic church while sipping our morning coffee and then walk a few steps to tour the interior.

A sidewalk, a bridge and a cathedral weren’t the only places we enjoyed during our eight-day trip, the last vacation of our Peace Corps service. We saw lots of other things, too. Some were surprising, as I’ll explain in my next post. For now, you can see for yourself that many of them were amazing.

Vienna, Austria:

Budapest, Hungary:

Bratislava, Slovakia: