Our morning was supposed to start early, but not this early.  Justin was up before 2, and only maybe got back to sleep for a tiny bit before 4:30.  Packing didn't take too long, as A) we had only a backpack each and B) we had done most of the packing the night before.  Even though it was only a few blocks to the train station, we nevertheless had the front desk get us a taxi, as we weren’t sure where the entrance to the station was, and it was raining in any event, so that gave us a convenient excuse.  The cab ride was probably less than 2 minutes.

Inside the train station, there almost no one there.  Then again, it was 5am the Saturday before Christmas.  We walked over to the WestBahn office to change our tickets from 10:22 to 6:22.  When we bought our train tickets, we were expecting to go to Vienna today, maybe do a couple things near the hotel in the afternoon, and head to Bratislava tomorrow for a day trip.  But then, as we were doing some last minute planning, we saw that Bratislava’s Christmas Markets did not close on December 23 – as we’d previously seen – but on December 22.  We wanted to make sure to see them before they closed, so we decided to go to Bratislava today.

Our plan was to take the train to Vienna on the 6:22 train, arrive around 8:45, put our stuff in one of the lockers at the train station, and then take the 9:16 train from Vienna to Bratislava.  Then we’d spend the day in Bratislava and come back in the evening to Vienna and walk to our hotel there.  To start the plan, however, we needed to figure out where we needed to go for the 6:22 train and where needed to sit.  We found the WestBahn office, but when we looked at the sign on the door, it stated they’d be there at 7.  Opening your office after the first train leaves is a little odd in our opinion.

So we looked around for anyone who appeared like he or she might have some useful information.  We saw someone wearing a train station uniform (sorry, can’t remember what ID’d it as a “train station uniform”), and all he said was that WestBahn was a "bad company", and suggested we go to one of the earlier trains and just ask them.  So we went up the stairs to the platform where the Vienna train theoretically was, and there was already a train there.  But it wasn’t the 6:22 train, it was a 5:52 train.  It was still well before 5:52, and we couldn't find anyone at first.  The whole train was seemingly empty.  But then Crystal saw some employees getting on board, and they said it was fine to board, showed us which car we should be in, and said we could sit wherever. 

We figured it was all good, and we'd arrive even 30 minutes earlier, giving us more time to put our stuff in the lockers and to transfer to the Bratislava train.  We had the entire front car to ourselves.  After the train left, Justin had an epiphany that we were going to wrong Vienna station.  There are a couple big Vienna stations, Hauptbanhof and Westbanhof among them.  These sound similar enough, particularly at 5 in the morning.  Justin looked at the screen for a bit, and realized that our train was going to end at Westbahnhof, not Hauptbanhof.  So we discussed, and tried to figure out what we could do.  We saw we could stop somewhere (e.g. Linz), then wait 30 minutes for the train going to correct station - i.e., the 6:22 train from Salzburg.  But since they’d already scanned our ticket, we weren’t sure whether we could do that, or whether if/when we boarded the other train we’d catch grief for that.

So then we came up with an alternate plan, trying to make lemonade out of lemons, by taking a cab/uber to our hotel, dropping our stuff there, and then taking cab to the other train station for our connection to Bratislava.  We had free wi-fi on the train, so Justin checked about Uber, and saw on Google News that it had been enjoined earlier in 2018, but was now available again in Vienna.  Interestingly, he also saw on Google News that there'd been a shooting the night before at a place we planned to go for Schnitzel.  It was “personal” and not “terroristic” but that probably didn’t make much of a difference to the people who were there when the shooting happened.

The train trip was easy, but neither of us could fall asleep.  We were hoping to make the 9:16 to Bratislava, and hoped that our 8:17 arrival in Vienna would be early enough for two cabs and dropping our bags with the doorperson.  When we arrived, it was substantially warmer than Salzburg (i.e., 40 Fahrenheit instead of 30), but it was raining outside.  We’d read about dishonest taxi drivers in Vienna, so our first option was Uber.  And Uber worked, sort of.  After putting in the request, Justin's battery died at a historic pace (about 1% every 5 seconds), drivers kept cancelling, and we were standing in the rain - it was pretty awful.  Before Justin’s battery completely died, he shut his phone completely off, and we got a taxi instead.

We got to our hotel (the Hotel Imperial) around 8:45, and dropped our bags.  The doorman wasn’t originally sure we were in the right spot, as were two people wearing backpacks and less than fancy clothes at one of the ritziest hotels in Vienna, but we convinced him we were staying here for 5 nights and just needed to hurry to get on the train to Bratislava.  He suggested that on the way back we take the boat from Bratislava, as we would have already seen what there was to see (not much) on the train, and that the boat was nice.  We told him we’d consider it, but that in our reading the last boat was earlier than we thought we’d be there. 

He got us a taxi to the main station, and even though it was a shorter drive (just a mile or so), it was a higher price – we probably got jobbed.  This put Justin in an altogether stellar mood.  But, at the very least, we arrived at the station around 9, and were slated to make it on the 9:16 train and have everything work out.  Inside the station we looked for the board to see which platform we needed to go to, and it showed the 9:16 to Bratislava was cancelled.  FFS.  So we had to get new tickets, this time for the 10:16.  There was a 9:46 to Bratislava as well, but we knew from our diligence that half of the trains went to the station in Bratislava’s suburbs; if only we’d known that about Vienna.

We couldn't find the ticket office at first, so Crystal purchased tickets on an app she’d downloaded for Trainline EU.  That worked just fine, sort of.  Even though it was theoretically an "e-Ticket", it said it had to be printed.  In our minds, that is not an e-Ticket.  So we went to the place where vouchers could theoretically be printed, but the machine wouldn't accept our ticket number.  Our next attempt was to go to the information office, but they directed us to another office, the OBB office.  There, we took a number – only to find out that 30 people were in front of us in the queue.  At this point Justin wasn’t sure we were ever going to get to Bratislava, but thankfully Crystal found someone who wasn't helping anyone, and he told her the problem.

Apparently there had been an accident or something that was blocking the tracks, and we had to take a different route.  This person told Crystal that we had to take train up to the Vienna Stadlau station, then connect there.  So we went upstairs, with plenty of other people, and boarded at 9:56.  Stadlau was 3-4 stops away.  We got off there, again with lots of other people.  Supposedly we were supposed to get on the 10:28 train from Stadlau to Bratislava.  The 10:28 from Stadlau arrived at 10:18, so we weren’t sure that it was our train, but it had big printed signs saying Bratislava Hl st, and tons of people got on, so we figured that was where we needed to go.  We sat down and watched as people hurriedly came up the escalator and rushed to the train (invariably with heavier luggage they could barely carry).  Some people just missed the train as we departed.

The sun had actually come out whilst this was all going on, and it looked like a pretty nice day in Vienna – but we were leaving.  As the train stated to head east, the clouds started to come back, as we were traveling right back into the storm that had just passed us by.  On the trip there was not much scenery, just lots of windmills and fields.  The most notable thing we saw on the trip was a parked cargo train that had hundreds if not thousands of VWs or Audis going somewhere. It was dreary and raining when we got to Bratislava.  The station was dark and dreary in its own right.  It actually seemed kind of fitting.  Justin had looked where to go, and we headed south from then train station, towards Bratislava Castle.  The roads were a little straighter than Prague and Salzburg, and we didn't get lost at all - at first.  We passed by the Presidential Palace (which we didn’t know was the palace at the time), made a right turn, and started walking up a sloping road where multiple buses passed us, confirming that we were likely going to the correct spot.

At the castle, we walked up this kind of icy area that was along a wall, but there was no entrance into the grounds, so we had to go back down, then go up a different way.  Thankfully neither of us slipped.  Once finally in the grounds, we could see that we were on a giant hill right at the river (the Danube) – a good spot for a castle.  The views were nice, but there was not much to see in terms of the inside, which was expected based on our diligence.  So we headed down on the east side of castle (we’d come in on the west side), and ate at this place we'd seen on YouTube, Modra Hviezda.  Our hope was that it wouldn't be raining when we were done, that the storm would’ve passed us by and we’d be enjoying the sunshine we’d (briefly) seen in Vienna.

The restaurant was sort of in a cave or dungeon or something.  It was built partly into the side of the hill that the castle was on.  Where we were sitting you could see the underground walls that had been built.  We were ecstatic to be out of the cold and rain, and – finally – relaxing a bit after the early wake-up in Salzburg, the confusion on the train, the Uber disaster at the first train station in Vienna, the taxi rip-off going to the second train station in Vienna, the cancelled train, and the tortuous route we’d taken on the train from Vienna to Bratislava.  We both ordered the same thing, some hot chicken soup, and then the national dish of Slovakia, Bryndzove Halusky, which is small potato dumplings smothered in sheep’s cheese and bacon.  Crystal also got some wine, and Justin got the Slovak beer, Zlaty Bazant.  Everything was very good, but we probably could’ve shared the Bryndzove Halusky.

When we left, it was in fact nicer outside, but not yet sunny.  We walked further down the hill and into Old Town, just across a highway the Soviets had put in that bisected Old Town.  We went into St Martin’s Cathedral, the church where numerous Hungarian Kings had been coronated during the time when the Turks occupied Budapest and much of “lower” Hungary several centuries ago.  In fact, more Hungarian kings were coronated in Bratislava than ever were in Budapest.  The church was really nice, but Crystal was getting churched out like how we got mosqued out last year in Iran and Uzbekistan.

After leaving St Martin’s, we walked around the rest of Old Town, which was very small, maybe 4-5 blocks up and down and side to side.  We saw some of the famous statues, “Schoner Naci” (who was a resident in the mid 20th century that everyone knew and liked) and “Man at Work” (a statue of a person seemingly coming out of a manhole in the street).  Then we walked around the Christmas Market for a bit and got our first introduction to “Turbo Punch”, which was similar to some of the punches we’d had in Prague and Salzburg, but with a shot or two of rum added on top.  The Old Town seemed much more chill (not that the others weren’t) and the people a little cheerier.  Whether that was because it Bratislava, whether that was because it was the last day of the market, and/or whether it was because it was a Saturday, we don’t know.  But we really enjoyed it.  There were a number of street performers around Old Town.  We saw some people break dancing, a person dressed up as Batman, and another person playing guitar and singing Beatles songs, amongst others. 

Once our stomachs were sufficiently ready for food again, we headed into a pastry shop, Konditorei Kormuth, which we’d seen on a Rick Steves video.  We had seen the decorations on the interior, and they looked amazing – we figured the dessert itself would be a bonus.  Crystal got the Dobos Torte (which her relatives make all the time around the holidays), whilst Justin got a blueberry chocolate cake.  When we walked in, the proprietor handed us the menu and told us to pick one dessert and one drink, or two desserts and one alcoholic drink.  Justin wanted one of the spiked drinks, but didn’t need or want a second dessert, so he told the guy to just charge us for it but that he didn’t need anything extra.  He wouldn’t take no for an answer and brought us something in a to-go box.  We decided we’d bring it back to the doorman at the hotel for being so helpful this morning.  The interior was in fact amazing, definitely the best decorated pastry shop we’ve ever been to.

It was now almost sunset, and Justin went up into the tower of the church on the east side of the Old Town Square to get some sunset and twilight photos.  Crystal decided to just check out the markets some more – she’s not a fan of the claustrophobic spots on those tower railings, particularly after how packed Galata Tower was last year.  That being said, Justin had seen some great photos of the market and Bratislava Castle on the web somewhere during his searching, and wanted to see for himself and get his own photos.  It was definitely worth it.

After he came back down, we tried to figure out how to spend the rest of the evening.  We knew there was a 6:37, and 8:37 and a 10:37 train back to Vienna.  If there had been a 7:37 that would’ve been perfect, but there wasn’t.  We thought about going to the UFO bar, in a tower on top of the highway bridge built by the Soviets.  We could see it from almost everywhere we’d been all day, so we assumed it would have an equally good view back across the river.  But it was a farther walk, and our goal was to make the 6:37 train.  So instead we planned to head to the Skybar, as it was closer to where we were and also to the train station.

We walked over there and saw it didn't open until 5, so we had to wait about 10 minutes.  Whilst waiting, on a lark, Justin checked out what the boat schedule was.  As it turns out, the dock was about 2 blocks away, and theoretically left at 6pm.  So we decided to get just one drink, then try for the boat, and if it didn’t work, we’d still theoretically have enough time to make the 6:37 train.  The menu had a bunch of stuff that looked tasty, and it was a bummer we had time only for one.  Crystal's drink (Charles & Duck) came in a tiny bathtub.  Justin got a Hula Hula, a tiki drink.  Whilst waiting for the drinks to come out, Justin went up one floor to the open rooftop terrace to take a couple of photos with no glass in the way.  Like Prague and Salzburg, everything was lit up extremely well.

It would’ve been nice to stay a bit longer, but there’s always next time.  We paid our bill, headed downstairs and went to the boat dock, crossing the main street along the river with some locals since no crosswalk was around.  We got there around 5:50, and they were surprised we were showing up to buy tickets for tonight, on the spot, with no bags or anything.  We got window seats on the right side.  It was really hot inside the boat, so Justin went outside to take photos from the "sun deck" upstairs.  The UFO bridge was right there, and it’s somewhat interesting – like the highway cutting through Old Town, the bridge was hated originally as well, but now most of the people seem to have come around and its treated reverently.

There wasn’t much to see after leaving Bratislava, and since it was dark outside and light inside, it was like giant mirrors.  The boat hadn’t cooled off at all, and Justin eventually dozed off.  We started to see some stuff again as we got close to Vienna, only they wouldn't let us go outside to see things – it kind of defeated the purpose.  But at least we didn’t have to take any more trains today.  The dock was right in the city center, inside the Ringstrasse (the ring road that encircles a large percentage of the famous sites in Vienna).  Not having come this direction, we had to rely on Google Maps to get us back to the hotel, as we recognized literally nothing.  We meandered back to the hotel at a leisurely pace. 

It was totally different than when we arrived in the morning – way more people, no rain, lots of lights, etc.  We walked past St Stephens, the unofficial (or maybe its official) center of the city along the walk.  There were people everywhere, but there were nice wide pedestrian only streets, however, so it was easy to handle all the people.  Back at the hotel (Hotel Imperial) we checked in and were shown to our room by one of the front desk agents. She showed us some of the room amenities, including automatic blackout window shades. The bathroom was full of marble, with really tall ceilings. The desk agent told us that our floor had been completely renovated last year.  We just wanted to crash; even by our normally packed standards, this had been an especially long day, with 3 cities, 2 countries, 5 train stations, and a boat trip along the Danube.

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