On the Ropes

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Slovakia  ,
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

This morning, the weather was clearing-up, so my friend and I went back out to Devín Castle to give it another try. There were a few patchy clouds, but no rain and enough sun for some decent pictures. The castle was worth the return trip. It was probably my favorite castle of the trip so far (with Klis Fortress a close second and the wall at Ston not counting in the castle category). Unlike Hungary, Slovakia was a country that took its castles seriously, without cluttering them with costumed performers, silly wax sculptures or tacky souvenir stands. On top of that, Devín Castle was at an absolutely beautiful location, next to the Danube (or the Morava, I wasn't sure which one I was actually seeing, but Danube sounds better) on a small hill surrounded by mountains, and it had a great layout. In fact, the only negative for me was that the Upper Castle was under renovation so we couldn't get into it.

We did visit a small exhibit on parlor games throughout the years in one of the other castle buildings. There were displays with a handful of board games and card decks, mainly from the first half of the 20th century. They also had some tables setup with simple games. My friend and I played two. One was basically tic-tac-toe, but with a large board and requiring four in a row. The other was like a combination of go and checkers where you moved your pieces around the board and captured enemy pieces by surrounding them.

I won a couple of the tic-tac-toe games, but I was horrible at the second game. In general, I've found when playing guys, if they don't win, I have to keep playing until they do (or be rude). I once bowled eight games against a guy who had never bowled before but insisted we keep playing until he was finally able to knock over enough pins for me to let him win without being obvious about it. Anyway, we played tic-tac-toe a lot, but thankfully I was legitimately bad at the second game, so we only had to do that one once.

After the castle, we headed back to Bratislava to check out the castle there. The earliest parts of Bratislava Castle were built in the 14th century. The height of the castle's status was in the 16th century after the Battle of Mohács when the Hungarian court temporarily relocated to the building while the Ottomans conquered most of Hungary, including the area of modern Budapest. Maria Theresa lived in the palace off-and-on in order to fullfill a vow to live part-time in Hungary (although, since Bratislava was just barely over the border from Vienna, I don't think she really tried that hard). At that time it was given a Baroque make-over, and when the 20th century restoration of the castle began, they decided to recreate that version of the building.

The modern form was a white-washed rectangle with a tower at each corner. It was large, but not very interesting compared to the irregular shapes of Devin Castle. It was also apparent many of the architectural details had been removed during the Baroque transformation. There was still a Gothic arch or two left visible by the modern renovation, so you could begin to imagine what it might have looked like in the Middle Ages, but the current version wasn't my style. It did have some great views of the city and the river, though.

Most of the castle was closed for the on-going renovation, but there was a small museum with a temporary exhibit near the entrance. It had a collection of liturgical items on loan from churches around the country. There was a range of ages for the items, but the basic forms seemed to have remained the same over the centuries.

From the castle, we went downhill to Bratislava's historic area. It had a smattering of Historicist architecture and many churches. It may have been the least interesting capital I've been to, and my guidebook said the Communists had spent a lot of effort pulling down historic buildings to create "modern" housing and roads. The one building that caught my attention was a building I thought was church that looked like it had a bit of every architectural style I've seen on this trip. It turned out to be the Old Town Hall. I guess it was so eclectic because they just kept adding new sections over the years.

The only building we went into was the Primate's Palace. Compared to Esterhazy, or even Festetics, Palace it was unremarkable. The rooms were dominated by a series large Renaissance portraits, and the interior architectural details were not very creative. The famous room was apparently the "Mirror Hall", which probably hosted an impressive list of performers (I couldn't tell because the explanation of the list was in Slovakian), and where Bratislava's City Council still meets. The room itself was just a big room with a lot of large mirrors on the wall. There was also a chapel which was probably the best room of the tour, but not any different than the one in either Esterhazy or Festetics.

We finished with the whirl-wind tour in the mid-afternoon and decided to head over to a hill on the other side of town. I had noticed it because of a large radio tower on the top. When I asked my friend about the tower, he remembered there was a park area with an alpine slide and a ropes course. I did the alpine slide because it went through the woods, while the other slides I've seen have all been down open hillside. My friend got a snack, and then we tackled the ropes course.

It was the first ropes course I've done and unfortunately, a ropes course is one of those activities that punishes you for being deficient. If you happen to be just an inch shy of the height required to grab the next hold, instead of letting you go back the way you came, which is now suddenly an inch out of reach as well because you've lost your momentum, you have to sit back so the harness digs into your thighs and torso, then use every last ounce of the little upper body strength you have to drag yourself to the next platform. Or at least, that was my experience.

After all that effort, I still had several more "intermediate difficulty" obstacles to tackle in my weakened state before I could get to the exit. I did manage to acquire a friendly cheerleading section at some point to support me in my attempt to reach finish. I hope they found my perseverance inspiring... It was fun anyway, but next time when my friend tells me he barely made it, I'll know he meant there were structural reasons I should find another route and not take it as a challenge.

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