We took a train to Bratislava, just over an hour from Vienna. The journey crosses the flat lands of eastern Austria, where ploughed fields stretch into the distance and piles of sugar beet wait to be collected and processed into sugar. In the freezing central European winter, a sprinkling of snow covered the fields, and a layer of ice covered any standing water.
It’s clear that Bratislava was part of the same empire as Vienna, and also clear that its status was somewhere below that of Vienna. The central Old Town area shares some of the same architectural heritage, but is much smaller, less ostentatious, and has narrow streets on an irregular layout.
Standing on a hill above the town, and in a dominant position overlooking the river Danube, is the castle. The current building dates from the 1950s but a castle has stood on the site for centuries. Now it looks down on the modern Novy Bridge.
There was a Christmas market in the central square, just like the ones in Vienna – lots of stalls selling Punsch, food, souvenirs and Christmas fare. A local choir sang robustly, and without understanding a word they sang, there was no way I would mistake the language, Slovakian, for German.