This morning we left fairly early on the buses to go across the border into Slovakia and visit Bratislava. The weather was as cool as yesterday, with a light mist of rain falling; many of us found it a welcome relief after melting in Italy! We drove through farmlands that were laid out differently from what we see in most of the U.S., as somebody pointed out to me: the farms' fields were almost uninterrupted by farmhouses or other structures, all of which were concentrated in villages that were small but densely packed with buildings. No "little house on the prarie" here! I guess they decided centuries ago that this was a more efficient use of land, or that it was easier to defend, or something.
We were delayed some at the border crossing; when we flew from Germany to Italy, or took the train from Italy to Austria, there were no hindrances, but Slovakia is not part of the European Union, and both Austria and Slovakia wanted to look at passports. Thus we only had a few hours to look the city over before going to the church for our concert in the evening; we started with a walking tour of less than an hour, and then after lunch were free to look about on our own.
After the Turks moved in on Budapest in the early 16th century, Bratislava became the capitol of the Hungarian Empire for 250 years. This is the church of St. Martin, which was the coronation cathedral for the emperors; also in this town was the seat of the archbishop. The facade of the church, to the left in the photo, is rather plain; this is because it was originally part of the old city wall! Some remnants of the city wall and of the old Jewish section of town were demolished not long ago to make room for the bridge we used to cross the Danube. The wall at the lower left of the photo shows a picture of an old synagogue that was torn down; the piece of modern art to the right of the photo is the Holocaust memorial, erected in 1996.
There were originally three towers and gates in the city wall; this is the only one surviving, the tower and gate of St. Michael. To the left of where I was standing as I took the photo was the University building, which originally was the Parliament when Bratislava was capitol of the Empire.
After our walking tour, we went to the Klastorna Vinaren, a winery on the site of what used to be an abbey, for lunch. We were entertained by a violinist and accordionist whose repertoire I thought was actually more Viennese than Slavic; they were both pretty good, though, as was the meal! Here the violinist shows off his virtuoso pyrotechnics for Sharon Cascadden and Nina Smith.
After spending the afternoon shopping, visiting museums, or just looking around, we went to the Clarist church to put on our formal duds and rehearse before our 7 p.m. concert. Here you can see our listing on a billboard advertising "Cultural Summer '99", a series of concerts held in town. Somebody who looked through the listings said that we and the Canadian girls' choir that performs tomorrow were the only groups on the bill from outside Europe.
This excellent photo of our concert in the Clarist church was shot from the balcony by Jim Belt using my camera--thanks! The audience was smaller than our choir, but more than made up for it by their enthusiasm. Because of the language barrier, I hope that they understood that I Bought Me A Cat with its animal noises and Medley from "Oklahoma!" with its occasional "yeow!" and "a-yip-i-yo-ee-ay!" were secular pieces thrown in for variety, not some peculiar American form of worship!
All in all, this was a nice introduction to a country that few if any of us had visited before, and our concert was pretty successful. Of course, the biggest adventures of the day were had by some of the folks who didn't go to Bratislava; more on that tomorrow...
new 8 July 1999, updated 13 July 1999