Helen in Europe travel blog

patron at the antique shop across the road

the most visited tourist attraction in Bratislava

medieval figures at the Slovak National Gallery

St martin's cathedral

Before the storm on the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising

typical Bratislava menu

Tuesday was always going to be an ideal day to explore Bratislava indoors. The weather forecast promised 'A thunderstorm at times' with little clarity about when this would occur; then there was the inevitable zatvorené v pondelok (closed on Mondays, which can often affect a misplanned traveller); Monday had been used as a marathon effort to tick off as many of the outdoor Bratislava sites as I could, and it was time to maximise that ICOM (International Council of Museums) pass again. Other advantages included the close proximity of most visits, less than 10 minutes' walking, according to Google Maps.

Bratislava is actually well supported by tourists, most of them parading through the old district, trying out the typical Slovakian food (although ice cream and gelati stores seem to be doing a boom business at this time of year), taking selfies in front of the historic buildings, doing sedgeway tours and lying on the ground next to Cumil, a novel contemporary sculpture of a sewer worker emerging from the ground.

Surely I'll just follow the hoards of tourists attending the museums too? Not so easy. Museums in Bratislava are inexcusably badly signposted, with entrances so vague that it's easy to walk past a museum and not think it is of any significance. This was such the case with my quest to find the Slovak National Gallery that I resorted to asking cafe staff where it was; - 'It's here!' I was told, with gestures towards a modest glass door with SNG monogrammed on it. Most of these museums are in old palaces which means they are multi storeyed, but the doors are often small and insignificant. At each of the museums I visited I seemed to be the only visitor, which mean that the attendant, positioned on every floor would jump to attention, switch on the lights and then keep a watchful eye on me (not hard being the only guest) as I meandered from room to room.

The Slovak National Gallery seemed tiny compared to the colossal museums in Vienna such as the Kunsthistoriches Museum but it has obviously developed its own style for displaying its Medieval through to Baroque paintings and sculptures, using a numbering system and darkly painted walls, which enabled the spotlighting to do its trick. Unlike most traditional European galleries, SNG positioned the Medieval wooden figures alongside each other in an open display on a large plinth; it almost trod the line between integrity and humour as some of the figures appeared to be dancing with each other. One of their so called highlights is surprising in that it appears contemporary, through both content and display technique. František Xaver Messerschmidt's Character Heads appear contemporary but they were executed in 1777–1783; the heads appear cartoon like as if the figures are pulling faces. Apparently during this time he was experiencing paranoid thoughts and illusions; it made me consider how much great art has been produced out of perceived madness, or as we now term it - mental illness.

A stone's throw away (well literally 100os of stones as the ground in Bratislava is covered in quite uneven stones and you have to watch your step!), I found the Nedbalka Gallery which promised 'modern' art, and modern it was but I'm not sure that its comparison with New York's Guggenheim is completely justified; about the only thing they have in common is a round rotunda. I have noticed that Slovakia is very proud of its artists so many of these galleries and museums focus on art from the country rather than attempting a who's who of artists from around the world. This is good as it forces the viewer to see the uniqueness of Slovak art.

As no trip to Bratislava is complete without a trip to the city's historical architectural icon, I joined the hoards to do the quintessential climb up the hill to see the Castle. As I've written much about other castles during my trip this time I'll just say - the views were terrific, especially as the second of those promised thunderstorms were about to occur. See photo of UFO bridge and clouds for evidence! From opposite ends of Bratislava's history, the other tourist icon of course is that steel sculpture, affectionately known as Cumil. Apparently, the statue was installed in 1997 'as part of an effort to spice up the look and feel of the area which was traditionally marked with drab Communist-era architecture and decoration.' -https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/cumil-the-sewer-worker

Whenever I have walked by there have been queues of tourists getting their photos taken with Cumil in all manner of poses. Well, it makes them smile.

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