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Phespirit goes to Slovakia
Bratislava     November 2001

If Phespirit had visited Vienna in summer he could have taken a boat trip along the Danube to Bratislava. In November, however, the only viable option was to go by train. The rail journey was relatively short and, at 222ATS, inexpensive. Departing Wien Südbahnhof at 08:15, the train stopped at Bruck an der Leitha (08:39) in Austria and again, at Kittsee (08:55), just before the Slovak border. Immediately over the other side, at Bratislava-Petržalka (09:02), all the rigmarole of passport checks begin. After twenty minutes of this performance art the train is allowed to complete its final leg to Bratislava Hlavná Stanka (09:35).

An "Amorpha with the oldest depiction of a two-wheel yoke chariot in Central Europe - Bronze Age, 14th Century BC" - this is one of a number of peculiarly specific artefacts on display in the museum that now occupies Bratislava Castle (Bratislavský Hrad). Like many museums in Bratislava, the Castle leaves the impression that the best of Slovakia has long since been plundered by foreign powers, but it is charming and interesting and the curators are rightly proud of what they have. The castle itself is frequently written about in disparaging terms but taken at face value it is compact and resilient, aspiring without imposing, and is, therefore, - in Phespirit's opinion - an entirely suitable totem for the city.

Its nextdoor neighbour is the new bridge across the Danube, Nový Most. This grey steel leviathan is the most controversial communist legacy in Bratislava; it is not the prettiest construction in the whole world. Balancing precariously on the two pylons supporting the bridge is the flying saucer-esque Café Bystrica from whence fine views across the city may be obtained. Phespirit also obtained a very reasonable fried trout and chips with a glass or two of the house white wine. Once inside the saucer the only distraction is the regular structural shaking every time a lorry crosses the bridge. Is it supposed to do that?

The Slovak National Gallery resides on the Danube embankment not far from the bridge. Like the Castle museum it has a fairly low-key collection and, as a result, is not overwhelmed by visitors. Phespirit was outnumbered 15:1 by attendants who more than once had to switch the lights on in each room to allow the paintings to be viewed. There is something delightfully singular about that kind of thing.

As twilight came so the beautiful people emerged bringing with them a fresh city nightlife. Unfortunately Phespirit had to hasten back to the station for the last train to Vienna while the was night still young. It will be no hardship to return to Bratislava one day. It has character.

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