Rachael and Pete are joining us in Bratislava for the weekend - they arrived late last night at the same hostel we're staying in. Also arrivng at the hostel, at 6am, not very quietly, was our next door neighbour. (the rooms are arranged in pairs and each pair shares a bathroom). Which kept me awake until about 9 before they finally settled down or went out or something, and I could fall asleep again.
The four of us headed into town around midday, had some sandwiches and coffee and then headed up to the castle, where we found the da Vinci exhibition we had been looking for - with copies of his notes, wooden mockups of some of them and their modern-day equivalents - including a wooden model of the bicycle design, displayed next to a very nice carbon racing bike, mmmm. Except that the bicycle design was most likely not drawn by Leonardo - comparing the scruffy sketchy style of that drawing to the clean precision of his others, it's quite clear to see.
The castle has some nice views over the city surrounding regions - we were able to wave at both Hungary and Austria, and saw the huge panelak complex (lots and lots of blocks of flats) to the south of the city.
It was a bit cooler by then so we decided to cross over the river and have a go on the playground. Pete, being a vertigo sufferer, decided to stay on the ground. The three of us got practising on the lower level which, like the other levels, consists of a circuit of 8 or so stretches of different rope-based activities, each a few metres long - e.g. walking along a cable while holding onto two lengths of rope, or stepping between several loops of rope. (will post pictures when we get back next week). The difference between the lower level and the other two is that you can use the lower level for free, it's about a foot off the ground and you don't need safety gear. After mastering (well, sort of) the ground level, we hired our safety kit, were taught how to clip/unclip the karabiners, always have at least one of them attached to something, don't accidentally unclip somebody else, etc. and taken up to the second level.
At which point I discovered the vertigo I never knew I had (I'm absolutely fine on the rope bridges at soft play), was unable to get onto the ropes, waited a minute, tried to pull myself together and just go for it but realised my legs were shaking like hell and I'd completely lost my cool. Went back down to try and get more of a feel for things on the lower level by doing them with my eyes closed, but before I got half way around, I was sweating and still quite shaky. The upper levels hadn't looked scary before I went up there - but now, the more I looked at them, the worse I felt about them. So I went to sit with Pete and watch Rachael and Dgym, who were both doing really well - they both got all the way around the middle level and across the first leg of the top one before turning back and aerial-sliding back down. We were also watching a little Japanese boy on the middle level who had been really scared at first but the instructor lady was helping him around and he was doing really well. He made it all the way round eventually (well, you have to - once you've started, you have to either complete the circuit or go back the way you came).
Vertigo aside, this puts Slovakia waaay ahead in our "country with the best playgrounds" stakes. We had been impressed by the quality and variety of playground equipment in Spain and Poland (and there are even a few good ones in England), but this one blows them all away. It's fantastic that a facility like this is available, that you can stick your kids 20ft up in the air on a harness and watch them wobble along ropes and beams - and not at a huge cost (in fact, it's free if you get vertigo and chicken out at the last minute). Amazing playgrounds, free wifi, Italian ice cream, virtually car-free streets in the centre... Bratislava's definitely our kind of city. Tomorrow we're off to Vienna for the day.
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