Food Places

Crossing the former iron curtain by bike. Bratislava. Slovakia

my slow Trip Bratislava Bicycle tour selfie (5 von 1)

I grew up on the easternmost rim of Western Europe during the Cold War. Up until 1989, the so called “iron curtain” that separated Western Europe from the East Bloc was just 50km to the east of my home town Vienna. How lucky I was to have been born on the “right” side of the fence.

Nowadays, I enjoy travelling to our eastern neighbouring countries. We share so many traditions, and a culture, that has evolved over many centuries of common history, most notably the Habsburg Empire. Join me in crossing the iron curtain by bike.

The bike trail to the east leads through an amazing national park (Donau-Auen), that is one of the largest remaining floodplains of the Danube in Central Europe. It is habitat to more than 30 mammals, 100 species of breeding birds, 8 reptiles, 13 amphibian species, and around 50 species of fish.

Long stretches of forests change with open areas of wetlands. What strikes me is that there is no man-made noise, pure tranquility, just the mumbling of wildlife. This feels like paradise to me.

My favorite tree is the birch, mainly because of its white, papyrus like bark. Here, giant white poplars remind me very much of my beloved birches.

This “lost place” – the abandoned old border station – is witness to a time when there were strict controls (even after the iron curtain but before Slovakia joined Schengen).

Today, there are basically no border controls whatsoever anymore. You only realize that You have crossed the border through the sign indicating the speed limits on Slovak streets. And an ad billboard in Slovak language.

After 80km and more than 4 hours on my bicycle, I finally reach Bratislava. The Castle – where Austrian Empress Maria Therese was crowned as Queen of Hungary in 1741 – is set majestically on a hill on the banks of the river Danube.

The Slovak National Theatre on the main Square was built in the 1880s. Today it hosts performances of drama, opera as well as ballet.

The building of the Hotel Radisson Blu Carlton dominates the main square. It has the look of an old Grand Hotel, which in fact it never was. The main structure dates from the 1920s.

On the right bank of the Danube there is a district called Petrzalka. Its skyline is dominateed by typical prefab buildings from the communist era.

In stark contrast, on the left bank there is the new Bratislava. In some respect more modern than many places in “Western Europe”.

Slovakia is definitely heartland of beer culture.  Bratislavsky Mestiansky Pivovar was founded in 1752 and is a traditional beer drinking place, with a nice, modern touch.

I find the communist architecure in its profanity to some degree even fascinating.

One thing this architecture was for sure: highly structured, symmetrical and above all functional.

The “brand name” of this intercom made me laugh. I wonder if Elon Musk has checked if this “Tesla” is a registered trademark?

On the way back home to Vienna I passed a few baroque castle gems. Such as this one (Eckartsau), where Austria’s last Emperor Charles fled in 1918 after signing the capitulation at the end of the World War I. This marked the end of more than 700 years of Habsburg regency.

On a culinary note, there are legendary fish eateries along the Danube. This one – the “Uferhaus” in Orth an der Donau has gained its reputation over several decades.

The garden of the Uferhaus has a picturesque setting right at the bank of the Danube. What better place to make a well deserved brake from my physically exhausting tour?

The signature dish is a “Carp – Serbian Style”. Very tasty – “Serbian Style” means a lot of garlic butter – but very heavy. A good refill of my depleted energy depots for the final stage of my bicycle tour to Eastern Europe.