take a trip tuesday: bratislava, slovakia

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following a weekend in vienna, we decided to take a day trip to bratislava.

bratislava is an intriguing city. it’s had several pasts and is trying to carve out it’s future. to the outsider, bratislava is cheap beer and a punchline thanks to movies like hostel and eurotrip. our tour guide was understandably sore about the latter.

let’s first sort out that bratislava is in slovakia, NOT SLOVENIA (a point our tour guide spent a good ten minutes clarifying). it is the country’s capital and a windy two hour catamaran ride from vienna. as usual, some trip advisor reviewers had less than stellar reports about the twin city liner from vienna to bratislava but we had nothing but a good experience. we bought our tickets ahead of time, which proved smart because soon after we arrived a large tourist group followed. so if you can, book ahead!

since we only had a less than a full day in bratislava, we figured the best way to see and learn about the city was to do a tour. easy research found us be easy tours, a free walking tour in english that runs 2.5 hours, twice a day. our guide, martina, was excellent. her passion about her city and country was evident and it really made for an exciting tour about a city and a country i really knew nothing about.

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following the signs from the catamaran to the city

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UPPER LEFT: hviezdoslav squre, the national theatre UPPER RIGHT: a statue of the square’s namesake. LOWER LEFT: cumil, the man in the hole, found in the old town LOWER RIGHT: communist era buildings

slovakia has only been its own independent free state since 1993. it often loses out to its former conjoined twin, the czech republic, as a place to visit for a glimpse into slavic past and present (and, let’s face it, cheaper for tourists than a lot of europe). as we learned, during the time of czechoslovakia, prague was chosen to be the city to represent the history of the region and bratislava the modern, future city. that means prague holds all the old, medieval buildings and bratislava is covered with the often cold, grey, block buildings that we associate with soviet communism.

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ABOVE: the old town, a concentraion of historical buildings. BELOW: a defunct communist era hospital

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LEFT: the old town, including michael’s gate (the tower), an example of medieval fortification RIGHT: repairs and construction can be seen throughout the city

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a view of bratislava castle, built in the 8th century. foreground, capuchin church.

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LEFT: the baroque trinitarian church built by the hungarians in the 18th century. RIGHT: the church of saint elisabeth, or the blue church, built in 1907

a main goal of mine in every place i visit is to try the local cuisine because food is delicious. martina suggested a restaurant that serves traditional dishes and drink and after the tour we went to find it. despite the rain and hangry feelings that could have led to us giving up, we eventually found the popular slovak pub.

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slovak pub

holy is-this-ever-dense-this-is-how-people-can-drink-tons-of-beer-but-oh-so-conforting kind of food. the bryndza, or sheep cheese, was saltier than goat cheese and had a real nice zing to it. ordering the platter allowed us to try it three ways. the dumplings were different than i expect but when beyond expectation in taste. i could eat that every day until i exploded. the garlic soup tasted how i hoped it would and it was just what we needed after getting lost in the rain. plus, the bowl is edible, as all dishes should be. i want to see that be a top chef challenge: make everything you need to serve your dish, edible! for drink, we ordered kofola. being under soviet rule, not allowed access to western brands, kofola was developed as the coca-cola alternative. martina recommend we try this typical slovakian drink and obviously we had to order it. it’s less sweet and more herbaceous than its american rival.

we didn’t have enough time to imbibe and so i cannot report on that and that is one thing i regret. then again, despite what they might say, beer is beer, and there are worse things we could have missed experiencing. heresy, i know. I KNOW.

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LEFT: slovak platter for 2 (L to R): dumplings with ‘bryndza’ sheep cheese, pirogi with bryndza, dumplings with cabbage RIGHT: garlic soup in bread bowl with cheese, kofola beverage BELOW: menu

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LEFT: here comes our bus! RIGHT: the confusing ticket machine

we also got to experience public bratislava transit! it was fairly uneventful, with the hardest part figuring out where the bus stop to the airport was and navigating the ticket machine. we luckily had help from a nearby hotel, who gave us excellent instructions. the bus had an airplane icon along side the written destination, which obviously made it easier to confirm we were on the right bus. after this, it was the standard get to the airport, check-in, security stuff. then it was a farewell to bratislava and a hope that we meet again!

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take a trip tuesday: kenwood house

i recently saw the film ‘belle’, which is about the story of dido elizabeth belle, a woman born into slavery and later brought up as an aristocrat. i had also been wanting to visit kenwood house because i love me some 18th century living museums.

Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle once attributed to Johann Zoffany, 1779. Photograph: Courtesy of the Earl of Mansfield/Scone Palace Courtesy of the Earl of Mansfield/Scone Palace/PR

Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Belle once attributed to Johann Zoffany, 1779. Photograph: Courtesy of the Earl of Mansfield/Scone Palace Courtesy of the Earl of Mansfield/Scone Palace/PR

this film actually had nothing to do with my wanting to visit kenwood house but i was so glad to have watched it before my visit. the house hass been recently restored to reflect how it would have looked when it was bought and re-modelled by william murray, 1st earl of mansfield, the man who would become the guardian of dido belle.

kenwood house is located in the hamstead heath/highgate area of north west london. living in east london, going west is like being in a totally other city. it’s very apparent that london was earlier just a bunch of villages that eventually formed one big city. it’s probably also worth noting that north london is hillier than the south so you can get some nice views in this area.

]after a disastrous trek trying to find the always-closed-on-a-tuesday fenton house, i decided it was best to take the bus that dropped me off directly in front of the heritage site, rather than walk from highgate or archway station. and yes, i had used google maps and it failed me. plus, the bus takes a scenic route and i get to rest my feet. i’m done justifying myself now.

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on the day i went, kenwood house was drenched in fog, hiding the farscapes of london so you really felt as if you were out in the country somewhere. there are people in their hunter boots walking their dogs, a lovely pond with ducks, and no modern buildings in sight. it was a welcome break from the jam packed hectic swarm that london can be.

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more outside views of kenwood house. see the dog and the hunters?!

kenwood house is free and was absolutely worth the journey. although a modest size house when compared to palaces and other larger residencies, it boasts housing several turners, gainsboroughs, vermeers, and rembrandts. each room is staffed with a volunteer who is well-versed in the history of the house and the paintings it holds. however, if you’re not feeling particularly social, each room also contains small books about what you’re seeing.

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just some guy’s office. whatevs. (some guy being the earl)

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weirdly enough, one can imagine living here because it feels so warm and cozy.

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the library. i love the light in here and am supremely jealous of all the books it can hold. that’s the earl of mansfield there on the upper right, painted in 1777 by david martin

on the first sunday of every month they also open up the dairy houses that are also located not far from the house. there are no cows, however, but you can see how dairy products were stored and supplied to kenwood house. next door to the house is the brewhouse cafe, formerly the kitchen for the house. i didn’t indulge in any of the treats but looking at their prices, they’re quite reasonable and the beverages are cheaper than you’ll find at a pret or costa. i’m going to bet that it tastes better, too.

outside of brewhouse cafe.

outside of brewhouse cafe.

 

for more information and to see what events are held, visit their website:

www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/kenwood

 

 

learning german: reading my first real german book

ugh. reading in german is harrrrrrrd.

i think i find it especially frustrating because i’m otherwise a voracious and speedy reader. reading has become much more work because i’m constantly having to look up words. it takes me 20 minutes to read just a few pages of text, only to have to go back and re-read it again once i’ve looked up the words. i’ve also upped the challenge from reading ‘german for beginners’ books to actual books in german. i…i…i just thought i was ready! 

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