I arrived in Vienna and immediately headed over to Bratislava. There are regular buses straight from the airport to the main bus station in Bratislava, which are both very convenient and cheap (at least for an hourish international ride.) The view from the bus is quite pretty. We passed a lot of farmland, some of which had some interesting windmills on it. We passed some pretty mountains. And, we passed through some very classically Bavarian villages. Upon arrival in Bratislava, I wanted to get a better map than my printout and get settled at the hotel. Unfortunately, there is no useful tourist information at the bus station. The wifi at the bus station requires a password from one of the businesses there. Also, the station is kind of far from all of the touristy stuff. Instead, I headed out in a random direction for food, hoping somebody could direct me where I needed to be when my map failed, at least for the time being. Completely by coincidence, I stumbled across a vegan restaurant Lucy's vegan food. I decided that I was hungry, and since they had wifi, I ate there. I have to say, the menu there is very regular. It's all normal foods that non-vegans might get on a regular restaurant menu, not even realizing they happen to be vegan. There wasn't any sort of fake meat or anything, which was a bit unusual, and not quite what I was looking for in terms of uniqueness. I can say that the coconut noodles tasted just like what you'd get in a normal Thai restaurant. After that lunch, I went off to find the hostel I was staying at. I passed it twice before giving up and asking. The word "Pension" in the title implies a smaller place in my mind. Pension Bernolak is actually an unused portion of the student dorms at the university. There is no sign with the name, you just go to the regular front desk lady at the dorm hall and check in. The rooms are clean (no signs of mold at all) and spacious. The hot water was instant and the water pressure was great. After getting settled, I headed out to explore the town. Right up the street from the hostel is a tram stop, so I headed there to catch a tram wherever it went. First, I had to buy a tram ticket though. The machine doesn't take bills, only coins, but I didn't have enough coins, so I asked one of the people waiting there to make change. She said that she didn't have enough change, but that I could just have 2 Euros. What? I tried trading her the 5 for that, and then all the change I had other than what I needed for the ticket, but she kept insisting that I just take the Euro I needed. Thanks! How nice! I took the tram near old town and then wandered around old town with no particular destination in mind. I started hearing sounds of some sort of band, so I followed my ears, hoping to catch a glimpse of the parade, or whatever was causing the music. Right in the main square, there was a military or police marching band putting on a show for the tourists. When I arrived, they were playing "Slovakian classics" like the theme song from "Rocky". They played a few other songs that I didn't recognize and which might actually have been Slovakian, and then I kept on my way. I didn't have any particular place in mind, but just wandered around old town, seeing the very "Hapsburg" architecture. I also had a great time with the statues. In most cities, statues are on pedestals and just there to be looked at. While there are lots like that in Bratislava, there were also plenty of "interactive statues." For example, the statue of a guy leaning on a bench just invites you to sit on the bench and chill with him, at least for a picture. I don't usually count statues as "activities" but here, they become one. At some point, I found myself at the base of the Bratislava Castle. After climbing 100 stairs, I finally got to the castle part, where I could climb ramps and short staircases to get around the castle. It has a great view of the city. It's actually quite interesting to see the contrast between the stark soviet-style block buildings (that have been painted bright colors to spice them up a bit) right next to fancy old Hapsburg-style buildings, right next to the futurtistic-modern UFO bridge. (It is called this because the tower at the top of it looks like a flying saucer.) It is not the most interesting or exciting castle, but it was nice to walk around a bit. I took a tram from near the castle back down to the city. One of the nice things about having a 24-hour pass was that I could just use the trams to take a tour of the city and not worry about tickets. I just kept getting on and off trams wherever it looked interesting. One such place was a stop called "market hall." I like markets, so I checked it out. The market building itself is large, but a bit run down. Inside, there were all sorts of stalls- from meat and vegetable vendors to a barber salon and purse store. I stopped at one of the cheese stands to buy "the most Slovakian cheese" that the lady had. It turns out to be long strings of very salty smoked cheese called Korbaciky. The strings are thin and braided a bit, but very much have the texture of a stringy mozzarella. I noticed that local honey seemed to be a big thing as well, but am always concerned about regulations regarding bringing honey across international borders. I did however, get to taste some of the Slovakian local alcohol, which seemed to be made from honey. I also grabbed a couple of pastries on my way out. One was basically some sort of pbj-heath cookie coated in chocolate (yum) and the other was some sort of hard/tough puff-pastry-like cannoli filled with marshmallow fluff (yum to the inside only). It was interesting to try to communicate with the shopkeepers as most of them didn't know any English and we needed to communicate using only hand signals, but I had a lot of fun seeing what they had at their shops.
Next, I found myself at the presidential palace a little before the turn of the hour. I had read somewhere that there is a changing of the guard ceremony on the hour, with a big one at 1pm, so I waited around a bit, despite not seeing nay guards to change. There were at least a couple other tourists who were similarly misinformed, and a few minutes after the hour, I headed out to see more things, including the blue church. This church is painted so differently than any other church I've seen. It's totally my style- just take a look at the picture. Despite having snacked relatively recently, I decided that it was time for dinner. I ate at a touristy- hole in the wall, Minerva. I had to go down some stairs into a basement in order to get to the dining place, but it was worth it. The food was not something I'd eaten before. I had a "paprika with cheese" which translates to a roasted yellow bell pepper in a sauce that reminds me of a thick sour-cream, but tasted like cheese. I also got, at the recommendation of the waitress, some noodles with cabbage. The noodles were somewhere between a spaetzel and gnocchi and the "with cabbage" meant "in sauerkraut." It is absolutely not a combination that sounds particularly good, but it was actually not bad. I probably wouldn't order it again, but it was good to try. After dinner, I was pretty tired from not having slept much other than on the short plane ride and having walked around the city a lot, so I headed to bed early.