December 21 - Christmas Trams

We woke up a bit before our 07:45 alarm.  It wasn’t really a “hard” alarm, as there were hourly departures to Bratislava, but since we were spending only one night in Bratislava, we wanted to arrive earlier rather than later.  We ate our leftovers from dinner the night before (not as good, but still very good), got packed and ready, took out the trash, and cleaned dishes.  [Again, the requirements at European Airbnbs seem way more than in the US.]  We filled the train wine container with the bottle of Cab Franc that we’d purchased a couple nights prior and was still mostly full.  We left the Airbnb just before 09:00.

We had a brisk (both speed and temperature) walk north to the Nyugati station, which we’d never been to before.  It’s much closer to where we usually stay than the Keleti station, but all the trains to Vienna leave from the Keleti ("east") station, whilst the trains to Bratislava and Prague use the Nyugati ("west") station.  Crystal got us tickets in Hungarian again (her last opportunity this trip to use it), once we found the ticket office.  Like everything else in town, the train station was under construction, but at least there were a lot of signs pointing to the interim ticket office.  We were on the train by 09:30, with ten minutes to spare.  The train was really empty, with no one within several rows of us.  

On the way out of town we went past the park with the Szechenyi baths, and once past that it was housing for a bit, but just 10 minutes into the ride we were surrounded by empty fields.  There was bright blue sky again today, but that didn't do us much good when we were leaving town.  The route had us roughly following the northeast bank of Danube.  As we got closer to Slovakia, we started to see little bits of snow on the ground.  Crystal was reading again; Justin asked for the breakdown of fiction to non-fiction, and Crystal indicated she reads 90 percent fiction.  The landscape was really pretty at the bend near Juliánus Kilátó, shortly before the border.  At Szob, the only people that had been near us got off; they had apparently missed their stop.

Just into Slovakia, we saw some wineries on the hills that were overlooking the river.  We couldn’t tell for certain, but the Danube seemed bigger than the Rhine.  [For what it’s worth, the width of the Danube at the Chain Bridge in Budapest is 1200 feet, whilst the width of the Rhine at the bridge right by Cologne Cathedral is 1250 feet, so apparently about the same.]  Shortly after crossing into Slovakia, the train tracks diverged from the river’s edge.  We saw a decent amount of snow remnants here and there until we arrived in Bratislava.

We got to Bratislava just after noon.  Unlike 2018, when it was gray and raining on the day we made a day trip, today was a nice sunny day.  Our Airbnb wasn’t ready for us yet, and the train station was just a short tram ride (or 20 minute walk) away, so we decided to just put our stuff in a locker and come back to get it in a bit.  So we put our backpacks, and Crystal’s new Louboutin purse, in the locker.  Justin wondered how many Louboutin bags had ever been put into any of the storage lockers at the Bratislava train station before.  Perhaps some, but probably not many.  We saw there was a 24 hour ticket for unlimited mass transit, so we nabbed two of those, since we’d be in town for probably 24 hours max.

When we got on the tram, we immediately noticed it was one of the “Christmas Trams.”  Janka had mentioned to us in Budapest that some of the Budapest trams were decorated for Christmas, but we didn’t see (let alone ride) any of them.  This one had Christmas lights and garlands on the ceiling, some hanging ornaments, and was playing Christmas tunes over the speakers.  Neither one of us are huge Christmas people (despite our obvious enjoyment of the Christmas Markets), but this was pretty cool and put us in a festive mood.  Perhaps it was partially due to Christmas now not being too far away any longer.  On the way into the Old Town we heard Feliz Navidad and Jingle Bell Rock.

We got off the tram at the Jesenského station near the Slovak National Theatre.  Our first stop, before we forgot, was the Starbucks.  The stop there was not only to get Crystal a coffee mug, but also to check out our building, which was just across the street.  The Starbucks was new since we had visited in 2018, and fortunately had mugs for sale.  Our second stop was St. Martin’s Cathedral.  It was closed because of a noon service, but it reopened at 13:00, so we just walked around for 10 minutes waiting for that to happen.  Once inside we checked it out a little bit and then headed out.

Since it was a clear day, Justin suggested we try for the UFO Bar, which is on the Most SNP Bridge that connects Old Town with the newer part of town, Petržalka, to the south.  The Bridge has an interesting shape, to say the least, and the UFO Bar is at the top of the UFO-looking tower on the top of the bridge.  It took us a minute or two to find the pedestrian path across the bridge.  We were able to find the path on the east side of the bridge, and it was a nice walk across the bridge since the pedestrian portion is separated from the automobile portion.

Once we got across and found the elevator up to the UFO Bar, however, we saw it was closed due to current Covid restrictions.  We weren’t shocked, because we knew the main Christmas Market in Old Town was closed due to current regulations, but it was still disappointing.  We had something else to check out on this side of the bridge, a theoretically open Christmas Market.  We’d seen in Budapest that the main Christmas Market was closed, but we’d found another one that was open with reduced capacity.  We’d found a couple tweets from this month showing pictures of it, proof of life, one could say.  All we knew was the name, Tyršák.  

There was a Tyršák on the map, just to the east of the UFO Bar, so we walked east along the Danube, looking back across the river towards Old Town and Bratislava Castle.  We found something resembling a Christmas Market at Tyršák, but it looked very closed, so we weren’t sure.  But we didn’t see anything else in the area.  When we went up an embankment to walk across the Old Bridge, we had the exact view that we’d seen in the recent tweets, so we knew we were (sadly) in the right place, and the Market wasn’t open.  This is when we remembered that we went to Bratislava the day we did in 2018 because the Saturday before Christmas was the last day the markets were open.  Well, the Saturday before Christmas was on the 18th this year, so if the same schedule was in place, that explained the market looking very, very, closed.

Slightly dejected, we walked back into Old Town, going across the Old Bridge (above right photo), which is a pedestrian and rail bridge only, so whenever there weren’t any trams, the bridge didn’t move at all, much different than bridges with cars on them.  Now on the north side of the river again, we walked west along the opposite bank, heading back towards where we’d gotten on the Most SNP Bridge.  We wanted to see if the river cruise ships were doing transfers from Bratislava to Vienna, because if so, we might take it tomorrow.  We’d taken the boat in 2018, but it was at night, and we couldn’t really see anything, so we figured we might as well try it out during the day.  We found the ship, probably the same one we took three years ago, but there was a sign indicating that it wasn’t doing any transfers until March.

So basically the whole town seemed closed.  We couldn’t really complain, as we’d had great luck so far in the trip, we knew Vienna would be open for business tomorrow, and we were spending only 24 hours here.  But there was one ray of hope, which the Airbnb host had told us about when we asked about the Old Town Christmas Market being closed.  He had told us that many of the restaurants in Old Town had turned their storefronts into makeshift Christmas Market chalets, serving some food, mulled wines, punches, etc.  We figured we could just do a tour of as many of these as we could stand.  Because these “chalets” were storefronts, they were way more dispersed, way less packed full of people, and that was kind of nice, especially after how densely populated Budapest had been.  Perhaps everyone who otherwise would’ve been in Bratislava had just gone to Budapest, who knows.

Our first stop was to get some gluhwein, and a pork sandwich, at Pod Kamennym Stromom.  It was staffed by a middle-aged man and his college-aged son, and we could see them cooking all the food.  We got the impression they had just opened for the afternoon/evening.  When we finished up, it was just past 15:00, and we checked in at our Airbnb.  The place was huge, and there were beds everywhere - not just in the bedrooms, but also in some of the common areas, and even some auxiliary beds in the larger bedrooms.  It looked like it was set up to host large groups on a bachelor(ette) party.  As we put some of our stuff down, Justin realized he’d lost one of his gloves somewhere since we’d arrived in town.  This wasn’t great since it was very cold outside, but perhaps he could tough it out for a few days, or alternatively buy some in Vienna.

We went back out and got some punch at La Papillon, just down the street, on the opposite side of Old Town Square from our place.  Aside from the Apple Gin punch in Cologne, this was our first “punch” so far this trip.  Once we had finished our punches, we went to the train station to grab our luggage.  The tram we got was another Christmas tram.  We grabbed the bags and were back in less than 5 minutes.  We think we caught the same tram we’d just come in on, so “another” Christmas tram.  We could get used to this.

Once we dropped our bags inside the Airbnb, we went out wandering again.  It was now dusk, and many more people were out, but it was still a fraction of what we’d seen in 2018.  Some of the places we hit up over the next couple hours were Brixton House, twice, for punch with extra shots of rum; Cafe Societe, for sausages; Papillon, a second time, for more punch; and Orbis, for Belgian fries.  Since all these places were all within a 5 minute walk of each other, we would stop in the Airbnb every so often to warm up and drink some water.  We tried to go to Sky Bar, which was an excellent bar we went to in 2018, but it too was closed.  

We’d walked around enough now to realize/confirm that the current restrictions must ban any sort of indoor dining, hence the storefronts turned into makeshift market stalls.  Oh well, we’ll probably be back sometime soon, as Bratislava is so close to both Budapest and Vienna.  It ended up being an early night for us, as when we came in around 19:30 to get some water and warm up, we didn’t feel like going out again.  Perhaps we were just worn out from three straight weeks of partying every night (and day)?  Perhaps we had hit up our requisite number of places, only we’d done it quicker since everything was so close together?  Whatever the reason, we thought it best to save up our energy for our last stop, Vienna.  Crystal crashed at 20:30, and Justin around 21:45.

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