Saturday, 4 June 2016

Sat 4 Jun 2016. Marchegg to Vienna (Austria) to Bratislavia (Slovakia)

Sat 4 Jun 2016. Marchegg to Vienna (Austria) to Bratislavia (Slovakia)
Woke to the alarm at 6am on a bright sunny morning. Storks still standing sentinel on their high wooden nests - they must be so sleep-deprived! Don't know how they'll ever build the stamina to fly their brood to Africa once the flying lessons have been learned. Had a warm wash, cuppa and departed our not-too-hidden campsite to catch 8am train to Vienna for the Spanish Riding School show today. Following paper maps and Pocket Earth, we had plotted to leave Ozzie in the carpark and catch train to Simmerling and change to U3 for Herrengasse station, however we almost came undone at the ticket machine which proved more complex than first glance. Our “single trip” turned out to be to the next stop only, and we needed 8 of these for two people, needing each of them to be stamped/ validated at each entrance and exit. Going back to start each time ate up our time on the wrong side of the tracks, fortunately an anxious lady saying  "schnell  schnell" helped GirlRob get the right paperwork just in time to race up the stairs, run across the bridge and down the other side in time to jump aboard the now moving train. Took a while for the heart rate to slow back to normal, but the comfort of the carriage and the views of asparagus fields and pickers helped. It was fascinating to see how the harvesting was done in offset rows.

Fortunately in St Michael’s Square we had the passing people parade and horse carriages to watch in front of the Hofburg Palace (which houses the Hofreitschule and the Imperial Stables) whilst waiting for the grumpy cafe staff to take our order, let alone serve us our breakfast. They were even more unfriendly when we stalked off in disgust without leaving a tip. Wandered the museum quarter mixing with tourist alligators (walk-bus) who were following their balloon or  umbrella-carrying guides. Passed the National Library, the Grand Hall, Statue of ArchDuke Charles; spotted the gothic spires of St Stephen’s Cathedral in the distance.  

Remains of Roman walls uncovered in front of Hofburg

Finally it was time to pick up our pre-ordered tickets for the show, a birthday present for GirlRob. Excitement as we took our €100 seats, and the purple chandeliers rose to expose the sand arena and Royal Box. The white Lipizzaner Stallions at the Spanish Riding School were as magnificent as expected: young horses (from dark to dappled grey) being schooled to respond to circle rein, dance/skip; then a highly skilled master and horse in a perfect performance. Riders (including one female) were resplendent in their empire style uniform: brown tailcoats with gold buttons, white breeches and doeskin gloves, and polished black boots. The bicorne hats reminded us of the French tricolour. Horses had distinguishing saddlecloths: green for floor/ ground craft, or red with gold coat-of-arms for the “airs above the ground” - standing on back legs, jumping on back legs, and full leaps off the ground. All but one of the horses did these above ground moves with rider standing controlling reins, but one accomplished horse did moves with rider mounted on his back. Everyone clapped the man who came in to collect poo before next performance. Finale was 8 horses in School Quadrille, precision work walking and weaving closely, dancing/ skipping to classical music in beautiful synchronisation. T’was a brilliant show - all we could hope for, even though GirlRob had to suffer that photos were not allowed throughout.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Found all right train connections back, but until the conductor came along we were worried that the Bratislava train we'd hopped on in a rush wouldn't stop at Marchegg! Fortunately Ozzie had stayed safe, if hot, in the carpark, so we jumped in and went on towards our next country, Slovakia. 

Cute bus stop...

The approach to Bratislava caused us misgivings, the buildings were in poor shape, ill-maintained and almost every one of them covered in ugly graffiti. It was truly depressing passing block after block of dull concrete box apartments. The only campground we could find was north in Zlate Piesky, obviously a once-popular resort on a steel-grey coloured lake north of town, badly run to seed, failing infrastructure, and people who didn't know how to smile with warmth. Everything was lined up like a dormitory in separate rooms (toilets, showers, hand basins, kitchen, laundry) and all behind locked bars. In spite of walking back to reception four times, GirlRob was not given key to washing machine cos "other woman not bring back" (shrug, shrug), so gave up ideas of further chores and went to nearby Gazdovsky dvor canteen for beer and "vin" with home made crisps. Back home in humidity after thunderous downpour, BoyRob noted: "they're so poor here they don't even have mosquitoes".

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