by Shamala Kandiah Thompson
After a couple of days in Budapest we decided to head back to Austria via Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. It was the first time visiting Slovakia for both of us. We got in late afternoon and checked into the Mercure Hotel where a room upgrade and lounge access gave us just the boost we needed.
We decided feeding took precedence over running so we set off on the short walk to the heart of the old city. Along the way we checked out the Presidential Palace Park, a peaceful French-style garden the gardens of the Palace. Amongst the leafy trees and summer roses were a statue of the Empress Maria Theresa on horseback, the Fountain of Youth by prominent Slovak sculptor Tibor Bártfay and avant-garde statues by contemporary artists. It’s only drawback – it’s not big enough for running.
The Palace is now the residence of the President of Slovakia but it was built in the 1760s by Count Anton Grassalkovich, the President of the Royal Hungarian Chamber and advisor to the Empress Maria Theresia and was a favorite meeting place for members of the Austro-Hungarian and Habsburg aristocracy, including the Empress who visited often.
Eschewing the hard core tourist restaurants and bars which were populated by large groups of young men enjoying cheap beer on a Saturday night, we headed to the edge of the old city. Facing a narrow park we found 17’s Bar, a pub-like place with an Italian-American menu i.e., burgers and pizza. We both decided on risotto dishes and local beer which proved excellent choices.
We only had one night here so knew that any sight seeing would have to be done on our run on Sunday morning. With temperatures expected to hit 90F later in the day we knew the earlier we got out the better. Our aim was to get up to Bratislava Castle which sits on a hill high above the town. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to what I knew would inevitably be a hilly run but it was the only way I was going to get up there before we left the city.
Setting out from the hotel, Paul somehow got us on the right route towards the castle. As predicted we began climbing early on but fortunately most of the way it was a gentle enough incline that I was able to maintain a steady pace. The houses got grander as we ascended culminating in ambassador residences near the top. We were impressed to see people out tending to their gardens so early in the day.
We eventually came to a memorial park dominated by the Slavin Monument which was built around 1960 to commemorate the city’s liberation from the Nazis by the Red Army in April 1945. It is also a cemetery for the 6845 soldiers who died in the battles to free the city. Besides the obelisk there are a number of statues built in the ‘heroic realism’ style associated with 1950s Soviet design style. We did a quick circuit of the pocket sized park and as we left noticed that the Russians were still present – the Russian ambassador’s residence sits directly across from the entrance to the park overlooking the city.
Back on the road we had a couple of slight detours as we tried to find the right route to get us to the castle. We knew we were on track when we came upon tour buses and large groups from various countries. We worked our way past the crowd huddled at the entrance and headed to the main entrance. While the Castle is worth visiting for its exhibits of Slovakia’s ancient history, just the view of the city was enough reward for us.
We had a great aerial view of the Danube as the old and newer parts of the city as well as the New Bridge. We did a quick trot around the perimeter of the castle and then made our our way out a different exit. The journey down was on a steep, cobble-stoned path. That in fact was the hardest bit of the run for me as my IT band complained about the uneven, steep surface. Fortunately it was a short descent and soon we were headed back to the hotel through the old city.