The River Beatrice got underway for the first time around 9 pm, Monday night after a delightful dinner. All assembled in the lounge to hear Tamas, the cruise director talk briefly about the next day’s activities. At the same time, we got to see the Hungarian Parliament Buildings brilliantly alight in the dark city. I wanted to get the perfect photo but conditions were against me, so if you want to see what the building really looks like, there are many good photos on the web. LOL
Not only was it raining, but there were lots of reflective surfaces in the lounge, not to mention the windows, and at the same time, the Beatrice was gliding down the Danube. It was a beautiful sight and I eventually stopped trying to take the perfect photograph and just enjoyed the scene. The camera I used to take nearly all the photos in the blog is a Fuji 100x with a fixed lens. It was brand new to me last December. I know, it is not best practice to take a new camera on a long awaited trip, but the Fuji had much to recommend it. It is small, easy to use, a mirror less digital camera with a viewfinder. This Rambler has never warmed up to point and shoot camera with a viewing screen. I will have to work on my night shots from a moving ship with the Fuji!
We woke up Tuesday morning to gray skies as we approached Bratislava. The distance on the Danube between these cities is actually shorter than by road or rail but it takes longer as the Beatrice averaged a stately 8 knots (A knot is slightly longer than a mile) per hour. Also, it was necessary to pass through a series of locks as well. More about locking through later. When we reached our dock, we could see in the distance, an odd space-ship-like structure high above a bridge pylon.
We later learned that most Slovaks did refer to it as the UFO. It had been built during the Soviet occupation and houses an observation platform and restaurant reached by elevator.
After breakfast, we assembled in the lounge as Tamas explained the day’s activities. Because of the weather, cold and rainy again, the gentle walkers would do their touring in a small bus with a local guide. Our guide was an outgoing young man who had grown up after the fall of the iron curtain. Therefore, as he said, he learned his excellent English in school while his parents had learned Russian.
Crammed into the tiny bus, instead of the imposing motor coaches that we had come to expect, we soon appreciated the more intimate setting of our tour. On the way up Castle Hill, to see, what else, the famous Castle, we stopped at a bas-relief stone sculpture of soldiers carved in the heroic style.
We didn’t stay long because I don’t think it was a scheduled stop, but our guide pointed out the monument and mentioned it had been built by the Russians. I learned later that it was built in 1960 to honor to the 6,845 soldiers who were killed in the liberation of Bratislava from the Wehrmacht and a few Slovak soldiers who fought with the Germans. The stairway on the right leads to a huge cemetery which showcases an obelisk and statuary as well as the graves of the soldiers. As far as I can tell, most Slovaks are OK with it although it was built by the Russians to honor Russians in the years of Soviet occupation. Maybe because it is a beautiful spot on a nice day and has the best view in Bratislava. I didn’t think anymore of it until I started writing my blog entries during the Confederate flag controversy. The fate of Communist memorials in a post-communist era piqued my curiosity. I wasn’t surprised to learn that there had been literally hundreds scattered from Berlin to Estonia, and even one in Vienna. Many had been destroyed or moved, others like the Slavin memorial were still in place, and there was an on-going discussion about what to do with the rest. Vladimir Putin seems to have made a point to visit those that still, like Slavin, exist as both a thank-you and reinforcement of their retention. We Americans tend to think what happens in the US is unique but it is obvious that the war memorial issue in Europe could easily become toxic, especially since many have both positive and negative memories of living under Communist rule.
On to the Castle! Despite the dreary weather we enjoyed our drive up the hill as our guide pointed out some of the most sought after and expensive residential real estate in Bratislava.
The Castle is truly a beautiful building that has been lovingly restored in the 1950’s although it was a ruin in the 1880’s
We didn’t go inside. but the exterior is still worth the trip and the view from the cliff edge was spectacular. The castle houses a museum along with offices. Evidently there has been a fortress here since the early middle ages, but not the current one. Unfortunately the bad weather made it difficult to see as much of Bratislava as we would have liked. On the way back we passed through one of the intriguing squares in old town and I also spotted several of the cities’ famous old churches
I wished we could have stopped but unfortunately it was time to get back to the Beatrice if we were to walk back to the Christmas Market. However, my partner refused to venture out into the cold drizzle in the growing darkness, so I never got to the market, at least I missed the Gluhwein.
Instead I met my Slovak cousins who I had never seen in person met us at the Beatrice. My mother had come to the United States in the 1920’s “for a visit,” but she never went back although she kept in touch. My older cousins learned Russian in school, so their English is limited, though certainly better than my Slovak, but their children all speak and write excellent English so communication was no problem.
The Beatrice staff welcomed them on board when I asked if they could visit us which was wonderful. They served us tea and coffee while we had a very enjoyable visit. It was the highlight of the day for me.