At Sea & Bratislava, Slovakia

As the sun rose to the east, the River Cloud was heading west by northwest along the lower Danube River. In the first light of the day, the mists began to lift from the river, and a variety of birds were spotted finishing their morning foraging along the banks of the river. An abundance of Grey herons, Common cormorants and two Golden eagles were among some of the birds seen as we headed towards our midday destination of Bratislava, Slovakia.

The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe, approximately 2,860 kilometers long, flowing from the Black forest to the Black sea. Interestingly, this river simultaneously separates and connects. In the 1800’s and 1900’s the Danube River separated the ancient world from the Barbarians. Today it joins the inland countries with each other and with the sea. The Danube flows through eight countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldavia. For thousands of years this river has shaped the form of this part of Central Europe, and because of its rich soils has been settled since 4000 BC.

Our first day was shaping up to be lovely! Blue skies, increasingly warm temperatures and the relaxed pace of moving by river towards our first of the fourteen locks that would be transited during of our journey. At 8:15am the River Cloud was on approach to the Gabcikovo Locks of Hungary. Rising 66 feet we entered the calm waters created by Gabcikovo dam. During the remainder of the morning we enjoyed a late breakfast, an opportunity to get more acquainted with the River Cloud and her many services and in the late morning our historian David Barnes gave his first talk, presenting an overview of Central European History. With a view from the windows of the River Cloud as a backdrop, we entered the country of Slovakia, and listened to the ever-changing history of this area of the world. Just before lunch, the first signs of the community we would be spending the remainder of our day in came into view. In the distance the Soviet era Novy Most bridge (the new bridge) could be seen, with a backdrop of the Bratislava Castle on a hill just behind it. This characterizes the entrance to the city of Bratislava. The first written mention of Bratislava was in 907AD under the name Presalauspurch during the formation of the first nation state of the Slavs in the Great Moravian period of history. After this period, the area came under the rule of several different nations, most notably Hungary. In the 18th and 19th centuries Bratislava became the centre of the Slovak National Movement and after disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918 Bratislava became the administrative, economic, political and cultural center of Slovakia in the newly established Czechoslovak Republic. In 1969 Bratislava became the capital city of Slovakia within the Czecho-Slovak Federation and since January of 1993, when the sovereign Slovak Republic appeared on the map of Europe, Bratislava remained its capitol.

Once all docking procedures and customs were cleared for the River Cloud, we were able to begin our exploration of this vibrant town. We were greeted by a group of enthusiastic local guides who were the first community members of this vital and thriving community to show us the spirit of future hope that is a strong undercurrent of Bratislava. Great stories, much humor, and a light tone were the themes we experienced as we made a short walking tour of the old town of the city. Old architecture mixed with modern, and fabulous street sculptures on many corners added to our appreciation of our warm Sunday stroll through Bratislava.

After some free time to stroll around town, we returned to the River Cloud for our Welcome Cocktail Party hosted by Captain Harry Ripson. After an introduction to the officers of the River Cloud, a special musical performance by Aphrodite 5 was held and these five women once again expressed the spirit and talent of the area with a broad range of dynamic arrangements, expressing the same lively and engaging warmth so characteristic of the people of Bratislava.