Our Day in Bratislava

After the previous day’s difficulty finding somewhere for breakfast, we decided to eat at the hotel and enjoy a big buffet that had tons of options.

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We headed to the train station, bought our day tickets to and from Bratislava (just an hour away from Vienna), and we got on the train early. We looked at photos from our trip so far and laughed a lot thinking about all the memories we had made already. Across the aisle sat two clearly rich and very snobby girls who spent the entire ride bragging to each other about the trips they’ve been on and their designer brand clothing and suitcases – they were trying to one up each other and show off. It was obvious without speaking the same language, but my cousin confirmed after realizing we both were eavesdropping.

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So Bratislava is a city many people have actually never heard of. It’s the capital of Slovakia and has a population of around 500,000 people. It sits on the River Danube and the River Morava and is bordered by Austria and Hungary. It still has a relatively low tourism rate, so it is a different experience than some of the major cities of Europe.

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Once we arrived, we felt a lot of confusion about how to get to the main part of the city. We got on the right bus, but missed the stop we wanted. The bus driver did not speak English very well, but one of the passengers told us where we needed to go. A French couple who also didn’t speak the greatest English got off the bus with us and we crossed the street to the other bus stop and headed the direction we had come from. It’s important to know if you make a mistake or wrong turn when you’re in another country, there is always a way back and this time it was very easy to figure out.

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When we arrived in the main part of the city, we were happily surprised. It felt like a much more authentic European city with few tourists, less English spoken, and stunning architecture. The people in the town were incredibly friendly and really helpful because I think they were glad to have people from other parts of the world visit their city and they were proud of their home. So we walked around and saw small streets and old churches.

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We entered one church and were able to sit and watch a baptism take place, which felt pretty special to witness.

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The city is full of interesting art and very cool, humorous statues:

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We had fun walking around and looking at everything the city has to offer and we had a more personal experience because of how quiet the city was compared to some of the huge cities we had just visited.

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We had lunch in a small Slovakian restaurant where I enjoyed gnocchis with chicken and Katharina had a traditional soup. The food was really great, but the service was slow because it was really busy and understaffed and the servers were clearly overwhelmed and stressed out. We had fun though because a cute family sat next to us and the little kids played with us. I like children a lot and it’s easy to play with them in any part of the world because you don’t need a language in common to communicate.

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After lunch we found a yummy gelato stand (have to try ice cream in every city of course) and sat by a fountain as we enjoyed the deliciousness.

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After ice cream, we we walked around and stumbled upon this amazing courtyard and a man playing piano. He was a wonderful pianist so we paused for a moment to really listen and take it all in.

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We found a nice vintage clothing store and popped in and I bought a cute sundress for $6. And then we walked up to the castle. It was hot outside so the uphill walk up became harder than expected, but it was completely worth it. The first written records of the castle date all the way back to 907AD!

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From the castle, you can see amazing views of the Danube River.

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We met some guys from America at the castle who offered to take some photos of us, which we appreciated. It felt good to talk to Americans again, we didn’t run into too many during our travels so I missed it.

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After looking at the castle for a while, we slowly headed back down to the bus stop, found the right bus and caught it just as it arrived. We happened to see the same French couple who we had met on the bus ride  into the center of the city earlier in the day. They were not as impressed with the city as we were. I think it’s important to have an open mind when you travel and take things for what they are, not what you hope and expect them to be. The city is beautiful and has a lot to offer and we had an amazing day there together. We made it to the train station and found our train. It felt so good to sit and relax and have that hour off our feet to just hang out. A really nice man sat down and talked to us the entire ride back. He ended up giving us all kinds of advice for the remainder of our trip and even let us try some traditional cake he had with him. He had travelled extensively throughout Europe and spoke several languages. I love meeting people along my journeys, sometimes you get the best advice and ideas that way.

Once we made it back to Vienna, we headed to our hotel and cleaned up so we could go out again. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant that was extremely crowded and took some time, but it gave us more of a chance to talk. It was a beautiful night, so we walked around the city one last time because the next day we headed to Budapest!

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I still can’t get over the lovely architecture!

Exploring Vienna

We got up early to get ready for what turned out to be a big day. We took a tram to a more central part of the city and walked around for a while in search of breakfast. We picked a cafe where we could sit outside, but it was so windy! Things kept blowing away and it turned into a pretty bad hair day quickly, but we still enjoyed our rolls with jam and hot chocolate with whipped cream.

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Then we took the train and went to see the famous Schönbrunn Palace, which was the home of members of the Hapsburg monarchy for hundreds of years. The impressive 1,441-room palace was built to its present form in the mid 1700s and was given to the Empress Maria Theresa as a wedding gift. Together, Maria Theresa and her husband Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children. The Empress faced a lot of pressure to produce a male heir and had to send many of her children away because of marriage negotiations with other political powers – an example is her daughter Maria Antonia, more well known as Marie Antoinette, who was married to Louis, the Dauphin of France, and later executed by guillotine.

Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth also lived in the palace. The couple suffered many tragedies throughout their marriage, which began when Elisabeth was only 16 years old. Elisabeth struggled throughout the marriage with adjusting to court life and often refused to eat, fell ill, and disappeared traveling – especially after the death of their first daughter. The Emperor’s brother was executed in 1867, the couple’s son committed suicide in 1889, and in 1898, Elisabeth was assassinated. It is said that after his wife’s death, Franz Joseph told relatives that they could never know how much he loved her.

Needless to say, the Schönbrunn Palace is full of history and complicated truths of a very powerful family.

This photo is only of the side of their home:

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By the time we arrived at the palace, it was very crowded with tourists. It was confusing where we needed to go and what kind of tickets to buy, but in the end we figured it out. We had an hour and a half to wait before our tour inside the palace started. So we decided to look around the outside, which was so beautiful with elaborate gardens, fountains, and statues. The attention to detail was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

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This fountain alone is the size of a small house:P1010745

It’s hard to imagine people actually lived and walked around here calling it home.

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We also were able to see the garden maze that was designed and built as a form of entertainment for the Hapsburg family.

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But the maze was a little too complicated for us to figure out! It was over 90 degrees outside with the sun beaming on us and we wandered around the maze with no luck finding the right way to go. We finally gave up to go see the inside of the palace.

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When we finally were able to tour the inside of the palace, I was extremely impressed. We weren’t allowed to take photos, unfortunately, so I can’t show you what it looked like, but just imagine huge rooms with giant windows and attention to detail on every centimeter. The furniture was hand carved and elegant looking with only the best materials. Some rooms even had gold built into the walls’ designs. Table settings with expensive and beautiful china was put on display. The paintings hanging on the walls were also stunning and decorative, each with their own story. We were able to listen to an audio tour all about each room, who stayed there, stories of the family, and who built what within the palace. Mozart even performed here as a child. The views from the windows of outside were breathtaking.

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After touring what seemed like a small section of the palace in regards to how large the entire building is, we decided to head over to the Vienna Zoo (Tiergarten Schönbrunn)! 

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This is the oldest zoo in the world and was built in 1752! It was designed by Adrian van Stekhoven after being ordered by the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I, to serve as an imperial menagerie. The zoo was then centered around a pavilion meant for imperial breakfasts with the then thirteen animal enclosures. The zoo was first opened to the public in 1779 and even had no entrance fees. Today the zoo is a center for species conservation and provides plenty of educational opportunities. Some buildings within the zoo have been preserved from the Baroque era and complement the modern architecture.

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The zoo has a huge variety of animals and is one of the biggest zoos I’ve ever been to. I was surprised by the size of the location considering how old it is and that it exists within a major city.

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We loved looking at all the different animals!

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The zoo is even one of the few zoos in the world to house giant pandas!

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The zoo has games for children and many educational exhibits.

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And, of course, they have ice cream! Definitely mandatory on a hot day!

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So we had a blast checking everything out, but we were exhausted by the end of it. Both of us struggled to walk to the train and find our way back to the hotel.

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I went straight to bed when we got back and napped because my whole body hurt after the day’s adventures. After resting for a short bit, we decided we had both recovered enough to get dressed up and try to find something for dinner.

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We searched on tripadvisor and found a Mexican restaurant that ended up being delicious!

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The restaurant, Taqueria Los Mexikas, is a small place, but the people running it are so nice and the food is amazing!

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We enjoyed our meal, then headed into the main part of the city again. In the station, a couple was fighting horribly on the escalator. The man stormed off after screaming at his wife. Their children looked mortified and uncomfortable. When we headed back to the hotel at the end of the night, we saw this same family again all smiling as though they were having the best vacation of all time – except you could see in the wife’s eyes how sad she was.

We found a good frozen yogurt place and enjoyed our treats outside as we talked about the day. You can never have enough desserts!

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We were both so tired by the time it got dark out, we decided to head back to the hotel. On the train, this really gross looking old man leaned over and asked us if we wanted to get a beer with him. Katharina was quick to say no in a pretty harsh way, which I was grateful for because the guy looked like a total creep. We both felt really uncomfortable and quickly got off the train and ran all the way to our hotel laughing. Katharina said maybe next time we shouldn’t dress up, which made me feel kind of bad because she is right in some way, but at the same time women should be able to dress nicely without worrying about the threat of men.

When we finally made it back to the hotel, we both quickly collapsed in bed and talked a lot about other creepy stories about men, like this stalker I once had at my physical therapy place. We talked about our plans for the next day and were excited because we were going to see the city Bratislava!

Next Stop – Vienna!

Prague was incredible – we saw so much, had a lot of fun, and also had truly touching experiences. We were both really looking forward to heading to Vienna to see another new city.

I couldn’t sleep our last night in Prague and woke up early before the alarm went off. I was happy to be able to catch up with some friends (benefits of having friends around the world in different time zones). We packed up and got ready before having breakfast at the hotel. We checked out early and were relieved the main station was only about a 10 minute walk because our backpacks felt extra heavy that morning. When we got to the station, unfortunately, they didn’t post the platforms trains would be on until 15 minutes before their scheduled departures. We were close to an hour early so we walked around the station with all our things and found a grocery store and bought some snacks and water for the four hour train ride.

When we found the train we were excited to see it was a little more modern and actually had air conditioning! We found our seats easily and were relieved to have reservations again because it was another crowded train! We had an Israeli family of seven around us who were really nice and so excited about their trip to Vienna. I slept on and off throughout the ride and enjoyed all the beautiful scenery as we passed many small towns. This train ride went by quicker than most others on our trip.

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So my first impressions of Vienna – stunning architecture, so easy to figure out the train system (everywhere felt easier than Berlin), and our hotel was really nice. We were happy to find our room super clean and comfortable. Of course our beds were made before we got there, but we couldn’t help move in quickly!

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We took a train into the main part of the city and walked around checking everything out. We went to a nice Italian restaurant that’s all over big cities in Europe called Vapiano. We ordered delicious pasta and enjoyed it outside! It was wonderful to sit by the street, talk about everything, and people watch. There were street performers nearby playing beautiful classical music on their violins so it felt like a perfect European dining experience.

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While we walked around the city, we saw so much and had a blast! What blew me away over Vienna was just how much existed – that around every corner was another incredible building or statue.

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The detail of the statues was overwhelming:

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The Hofburg Imperial Palace has been an important part of the Austrian government since it was built in the 13th century. Some members of the Hapsburgs family and even rulers of the Holy Roman and Austro-Hungarian empires have lived here. It is now the home to the President of Austria and is a museum.

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The Maria- Theresien-Platz and Memorial is a monument for Empress Maria Theresa that was commissioned by Franz Joseph I and unveiled in 1887.

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And we passed by a few art museums:

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We found a delicious frozen yogurt stand and enjoyed a treat while watching everything going on around us:

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And the walk back managed to be even more beautiful as the sun started to set:P1010696 P1010695

As we headed back and walked through the busy city streets, a man approached us asking for the time. We quickly said we didn’t know and kept walking. This is one of those moments where you’re not sure if it’s a sincere question or a guy trying to pickpocket. You never know who could be a thief. Once when I was traveling in Italy with my dad, he suddenly pulled someone’s hand out of his pocket on a crowded tram – the hand belonged to a young mother with two babies (not who you typically expect to be stealing).

We also had men whistling at us and calling out as we walked back to the hotel, which is always an uncomfortable experience, but even more so in a different country when you’re two women alone. We were so happy to make it back to our room and I think we both were able to sleep so well after the long day!