ALONG THE DANUBE
On a cold winter evening, a friend and I decided to explore Europe further east. The idea was to take a plane to Vienna, and then, using the local train to move to Bratislava and Budapest, following the Danube. Like a lot of our journeys, we just decided to visit these cities without planing anything other than booking the place we’ll sleep, and the plane we’ll fly in. It feels good not to commit too much once in a while. And just like that, two months later, we flew off from Basel for a new urban adventure.
Vienna was the first city we got to visit. It is a very classic city with a huge cultural heritage. If you are looking for thrilling stories about the city, one of the many “free walking tours” will do the trick. The tour guides usually go from classical architecture, opera and city history, to heavier stuff like the occupation. That’s often what happens in centuries old European cities. Now, if you want more new – age/wave/alternative- stuff, you’ll need to travel further east, and this is exactly where we’re going.
From Vienna to Bratislava it’s a one hour train ride. You’ll be crossing countryside for a while, before entering Slovakia. The first thing you’ll notice in Bratislava, is that scale has shifted. Although being a capital, Bratislava is way smaller than the average capital city in Europe. But fear not, a small city also means that it has a better human scale. Bratislava is just that, a city in which you can walk by, practically from end to end. No matter how much we walked, we went back several times to that amazing place, called urban house (probably because we were turning in circles). But to get in, you have to be patient or book a table, because it is a very popular place to eat/drink and chill.
Or Buda-Pest. The city used to be split in two. Buda was on the mountainous part of the river, Pest on the flat lands on the other side. The two districts, now connected by multiple bridges, form one big city. Very much like Vienna, with large avenues and classical composed buildings. You can tell architects were inspired by other Austro-Hungarian cities.
If you come by train from Bratislava, you’ll be lucky to see the Budapest-Nyugati train station. A beautiful building with a huge hall, and luminous facade made of steel, conceived by the notorious ateliers Eiffel. The fine design is definitely something you feel, as soon as you walk off the wagon. Even though, you’ll clearly see that it hasn’t been restored for several decades.
This “state of decay” is actually preponderant throughout the city. Sounds a bit spooky, I know, but it is a real signature for Budapest. After world war two, a lot of buildings were left empty, primarily in the Jewish districts. These abandoned places were slowly falling into ruins. When in the beginning of the twenty first century, a group of young people were looking for a place, to set a creative space. This is how the first ruin pub was born. Nowadays, you can find plenty of them, over two decades, it became a real trademark.