Bratislava (Part 2)

Next to the Old Town Hall was the Primate’s Palace, built between 1778 and 1781, which has a Hall of Mirrors and some beautiful 17th century English tapestries, as well as period furnishings. The Hall of Mirrors was underwhelming, but the rest was beautiful enough for me to take a photo despite it’s being verboten. After the palace, we dashed up to a photography exhibition which was more pretentious than it was anything else, but it gave me the idea for a photo series of my own, “The secret lives of bridal gown mannequins”, the first of which is reproduced below.

Even with all of this touring, it still was only 3.30 in the afternoon, so I went to the Bratislava City Gallery, which Abby had seen the day before, while she went window-shopping. The Bratislava City Gallery was, in a minor way, spectacular. The Slovak modernists, such as Peter Palffy, did some amazing work. There was also a painting of Orpheus and Eurydice that was truly brilliant and haunting. (I’m kicking myself because I did not write down the name of the artist – it was no one I’d ever heard of, but I had to go back and look at it three times. Truly outstanding.) There was also an installation of books in which you walked through a narrow passage with books stacked to the sides, and mirrors were positioned on the ceilings, the floors, and the walls in front of and behind the books (from your direction) to reflect them so that it looked as though you were walking through an endless hallway of books. Here is a photo of it from the gallery.

From there, I went to have a beer in a comfortable pub across the street from the U.S. Embassy while I waited for Abby, and I realized that the nice thing about the bars and cafes in Bratislava is that they have women in them and aren’t just full of 20-to-60-year-old unemployed men who are drinking coffee all day long.

Dinner that night was a strange experience – we couldn’t get into the restaurant we wanted, and we couldn’t find anything else that looked appealing, so we finally chose one near the main square. We thought there were other people in the restaurant, but it turned out just to be a hen party in the back room, and the only other couple in the main dining room were eating from a McDonald’s bag and chatting (loudly) with the waitstaff. For some reason, we ordered anyway, trying to make the best of the situation, but the restaurant had almost none of the bottles on its wine list. At this point we were resigned to a disappointing experience, when the male of the couple unfolded himself from table, sat down at the piano in the front of the room, and began to play lovely dinner music. The food, when it came, wasn’t bad; and more diners entered the restaurant about halfway through our meal, so the place livened up some.

On Sunday, we met our guide, Roman, and piled into his car for a trip out to the Small Carpathians. He was an interesting enough guy, happy to talk about Slovakia and the effects of the Communist regime, so the conversation was lively. Červený Kameň castle was worth seeing, although the tour was conducted in Slovakian with Roman doing some translation (but he’d also given us an English-language flyer describing the castle rooms). The castle cellars are the deepest in Europe, for those of you who are impressed by such things. We then stopped in at a pottery shop, saw how traditional pottery is made (just the same way it is made everywhere else), and bought a plate.

Then it was on to the wine tasting. Basically, we were let loose for 45 minutes in a room full of about 70 open bottles for however much we wanted to taste.* We had a great time and tasted some pretty wonderful wines (and also some pretty awful ones). The wine is fairly inexpensive, so we bought five bottles before heading back to town, ate an early dinner, and took the bus back to Vienna.

Here are some other photos from the trip:

A view of the castle from an alley; me being grumpy a gargoyle; Abby atop St. Michael’s Gate; Communist-era Bratislava across the river.

And my first bridal series photo:

*Abby noted that this was not unlike the dinner we had at Cafe Bouley in New York City, where I met Abby’s parents for the first time over a paired tasting dinner at which the waiter left the bottles on the table, until he saw how much I was enjoying the wine in various bottles. I asked him why he had left the bottles on the table during the earlier courses if he hadn’t wanted us to drink our fill from them and he said, “Because some of the customers like to read the label” – as if they were cereal boxes or something. This time, I only sipped.

Fine times in the Hague

Blogger won’t let me upload my photos for part 2 of the Bratislava trip, so I’ll interrupt the blog to say that while we were in the Netherlands last weekend, we had what may have been the best meal I’ve had in years: we were in the Hague, at a restaurant called It Rains Fishes, and we had a paired five course menu. We started with two pieces of tekkamaki encrusted with sesame seeds and a lobster and seaweed salad, followed by prawns, then lightly braised scallops, then an incredible halibut with bok choy and black-and-white noodles in a truffle sauce – each paired with variously white wines – and we ended with a trio of chocolate desserts that was paired with a Pedro Jimenez sherry that was out of this world. Truly fabulous.

The rest of the trip was great as well. Apart from dinner, the highlight was a visit to the Mauritshaus, which is a small but excellent collection of Dutch painting also in the Hague. Anyway, as soon as Blogger gets back to normal, I’ll finish the Bratislava story, and then it’s on to a story about goats.