Bratislava in bloom

Bratislava, Slovakia If you had to pick the one day that you were going to spend here, you would pick today. The sun is bright, the skies are blue and the temperature is mild. It makes everything in this capital city sparkle, which is helpful in relieving the grimness of any remaining Soviet architecture.

This country has a long, storied and sometimes glorious history, starting about 5,000 BCE. But its post-WWII life under Communism was the typical Eastern Bloc story. Slovakians resisted more than most. Bratislava’s dissidents anticipated the fall of Communism with a candle demonstration in 1988, and the city became one of the foremost centers of the anti-Communist “Velvet Revolution” in 1989.

Today it seems a relaxed and confident capital city, benefiting from the success that Slovakia has enjoyed since the formation of the Slovak Republic in 1993. It it not quite as Westernized as Krakow, though Starbucks, McDonald’s and Burger King do have a presence. But while most people speak some English, their own culture dominates in the many buildings from past eras that brighten the city center. It’s fun to pick out the remaining cannonballs from a visit by Napoleon.

Also in a nod to Napoleon, a puckish statue hangs over a convenient bench. Similar whimsical bronzes are found around the city.

Name your favorite architectural style and you can probably find it here. From the Baroque to Bauhaus, there is something for everyone.

We found it necessary to stop for elevenses at Konditorei Kormuth, a re-creation of a 17th century café . Maybe it’s a bit kitchy, but the pastries, hot chocolate and elegant tea service are definitely good preparation for Vienna.

Since it’s Monday, the day when museums are closed, our stroll through the city was uninterrupted. We saw the 16th century St. Martin’s Cathedral, where nineteen Hungarian kings and queens were crowned, the Holocaust memorial on the site of the former city synagogue, the Soviet SNP bridge (hated by locals but whose observation deck has been made into a restaurant), and the 1972 freeway that messed up the city, and which will be replaced by a tunnel soon. This little section says a lot about the ancient, recent, and current life of the city.

A pretty day, a pretty city. Its history is long and often dark, but you wouldn’t know that seeing Bratislava today.

Don’s Food Corner

Today is a little catch-up on meals of the last two days.

Perhaps the most interesting was a meal we had in the dining car on the train from Krakow to Bratislava. Although the train originated in Warsaw, when it ventured into the Czech Republic, an Hungarian train service took over and an old-timey dining car — complete with table cloths and a uniformed waiter was added. I think the car looked Deco or maybe a ’50s interpretation of Deco.

We were presented with an elaborate menu with dozens of choices. However, whenever we wanted to order something, we were told “No, not today” – in the Soviet style, Finally, we landed on some choices that were available.

Jo ordered a “caesar” salad and a beef stew with “dumplings.” The dumplings were actually a huge portion of spaetzel. The beef was a little fatty and the spaetzel was bland. Jo refused to eat it. So, I took care of it. The beef sauce was rich and wonderful; the spaetzel did its job of soaking up the beef sauce.

I ordered chicken paprika — also served with spaetzel. The paprika sauce was clearly sour cream-based. (Yum.) The chicken, like all the chicken I’ve had in Poland and now here, has been unusually white. How do they get that meat so white? I don’t think these are free-range chickens. And they are certainly not fed on marigolds. Jo was put off by the paprika-colored sauce. I liked it and I think we will be seeing plenty of variations when we get to Hungary.

This morning we went to a small café for breakfast. There were some language issues. We both ordered scrambled eggs. They failed to mention — or rather to translate in the English section of the menu — that they were scrambled eggs with onions. That was unacceptable to Jo, although I ate my portion. When we pointed this problem out to waiter the answer was, “But it’s sweet onion.”

Also, when ordering, we asked for toast, which was listed separately as an addition to the onion-laced scrambled eggs. What appeared, however, was toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. Again, a little problem with the translation. We couldn’t eat all this. There wasn’t any attempt to appease us with a new dish of eggs minus the onions or a discount off of the check. OK, fine. They knew we wouldn’t be returning anyway.

The mid-morning stop at the coffee/pastry café put us into sugar shock. Jo’s hot chocolate was so thick that it was simply melted chocolate that needed to be cut with the thickest whipped cream I have ever seen. It was served with a little glass of water, an indication that they knew the richness of the chocolate/whipped cream needed to be washed down with some neutral water.

To add to that richness, Jo ordered a slice of coconut cake that was covered in marzipan. I ordered one of those poppy seed/cherry strudels that you used to be able to find in Eastern European bakeries in New York. There were so many poppy seeds in this slice of strudel that I think there were actual traces of opium that made me sluggish the rest of the day.

I had the good sense, at least, to order white tea. I find that there is white tea on all the menus. White tea has been impossible to find in NYC ever since trade restrictions with China were started. There is apparently no China/Slovakia trade problem.

By the time we got to the restaurant that we had planned to visit for a late lunch, we had little appetite to spare. But we forced ourselves . . .

WARNING: What follows might offend animal activists, vegetarians, and certainly vegans.

We found our way to one of those old-timey restaurants that we search out to try to sample traditional local dishes prepared in an traditional manner, all of which are disappearing rapidly in favor of multiple types of fusion or variations on hipster food, like kale and avocado toast.

The menu featured all sorts of meat-based dishes. We quickly omitted selections naming body parts we had no interest in encountering. (I know that I will live my whole life without voluntarily tasting tripe.)

We started with a duck liver pate. Fantastic. It wasn’t as fine as actual foie gras that you get in France, but it was close. We rated it a B+. It was served with a few slices of toasted brioche and a very nice sampling of salad.

We should have stopped right there. We were already stuffed.

But on we went. There was veal schnitzel on the menu. Actual veal, not pork or chicken. So, of course, Jo ordered that. It came with cold potato salad. Jo, the schnitzel maven, rated it as B. The veal was pounded thinly; the breading was light and crispy. It must have been fried very quickly over a very high heat to get the breading so crispy without overcooking the veal.

I had a local specialty that featured meat balls of beef, pork, veal, and fois gras. The meat balls were nestled in a gigantic plate of creamed potatoes and carrots. Both the meatballs and potatoes were flavorful — nicely spiced. But I just couldn’t do the dish justice by cleaning my plate.

We’re going to have to pace ourselves when we get to Hungary (and Vienna). No more of those heavy pastries at eleven if there is to be room for lunch at about two.

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