‘Twas a holiday in Austria last week one day so we paid a visit to the neighbors.

Establishing snap: the courtyard of Bratislava’s City Hall complex. I inspired Anna Grace to make a pause on her college application prep and join me in feeding our minds a little Czecho-Slovak culture. Perhaps it was the promise of lunch at a favorite place that tipped the balance, though.

In one of the palace wings an exhibit, Wire Zoo, we learned about the tradition of Tinkering, a craft dating to the 15th century wherein a Tinker would roam from village to village, applying intricate covers to pottery to protect the pieces from breaking. By the by these designs, and their designers became part of Slovak culture.

The Zoo itself was a surprising collection of whimsy and practical…in the whimsy (and our favorite), The Hug.

…and the practical, like this platter.

We delighted in Boženka the Goat, Igor in Love and all of the Zoo creatures.

And a potato beetle. We know this because of the potato peeler in its pincer. 

Across the Old Town we waded, past the tourists to the Slovak National Gallery. But not before stopping at one stand in a small market. From their website I learned:

“As revealed by old account­ing books, bak­ery prod­ucts filled with poppy-​seed or wal­nuts were sold in Press­burg as early as 1590. How­ever, this par­tic­u­lar type of rolls became pop­u­lar at the end of the 18th cen­tury. Accord­ing to the munic­i­pal records, baker Scheuer­mann placed in his shop win­dow, for St Nicholas’ Day in 1785, a new kind of filled bak­ery prod­uct which went down in his­tory as “preš­porský bajgel”. Poppy-​seed and wal­nut rolls were sold out imme­di­ately and, due to their dis­tinc­tive taste and aroma, became pop­u­lar in Vienna and Budapest.”

The recipe has since been granted an EU Trademark as of 2012. Applying for the specialty certification stirred up some old imperial hard feelings, I learned; because Bratislava was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time of Baker Scheuermann’s creation, both the Austrians and the Hungarians wanted in on the speciality. In the end the Pressburgers won. The delicious things you learn about your neighbors.

At the Gallery, an exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Czechoslovak Republic featured two leaders of the avant-garde, Emil Filla of Czech heritage; and Ľudovít Fulla, of Slovak.  Though not entirely contemporaries, their art helped to establish modernism in Czechoslovakia. This is the second exhibit I have viewed at the national gallery, and the second time I have been impressed.

Our last stop, a peek along Nedbula Street to the recently opened installation of the popular “umbrella streets” around the world. The pattern is a traditional Slovak embroidery style.

Lunch at the favorite place and a quick drop into the open grocery store to pick up dinner provisions wrapped up our day of tinkering. Naturally, for every 3 Slovak plates in the grocery parking lot there was 1 with Austrian tags; and of course every other Austrian-tagged vehicle was from Vienna.

Perhaps this snap might shed some light on the curious phenomena of a people who seem to cherish their holidays (and store closures) so much yet leave the country on said holiday. The grocery had just displayed several trays of this warm loaf, fragrant with toasted onions.  We scooped one into a paper bag and built supper around it. Only later did I glance at the store receipt: €0,29!  Might the Austrians have come for the bread?