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Around Bratislava – Petržalka & the South: On Getting to Danubiana Art Museum & Why It’s Cool

A trip out to the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum is possibly the best thing to do in the whole of Bratislava: yes, even amongst the twenty-five or so other singular activities lined up for you in Slovakia’s fair capital on this very site. But this article deals more with how to get there, and how fun getting there can be.

For those of you not in the picture, the Danubiana Museum is a modern art gallery that’s been created on a promontory of land jutting into the Danube near the town of Čunovo some 15km downriver from central Bratislava. Everything about it from its design to its exhibitions is first-class, and has helped put Bratislava on the map as a sort of boutiquey arts destination. It has a good art shop and cafe too, where there’s a decent range of books on Slovak artists, and postcards. Its knock-on effect on the art scene across the city was huge: in the years following its opening in 2000, many more high-end art galleries opened in the Old Town. Yet surprisingly few foreigners make it out to the gallery itself. (it’s interesting to note that Danubiana only seems to get Slovak and German wikipedia entries, and it’s not overly promoted in Bratislava, either, which perhaps partly accounts for it).

From inside the museum space, looking out at the Danube

From inside the museum space, looking out at the Danube – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

But with spring well on the way (at least, Bratislava is bathed in glorious sun as I write this) it’s not just the art that constitutes a reason to go here. It’s the journey itself. Particularly if you’re in the city for just a few days, having a green getaway on one of them is nice; some would argue essential since Bratislava’s dramatic countryside surroundings surpass even what the city centre can offer). Most visitors choose Devín Castle for that getaway, and rightly so, because that’s wonderful too. But heading in the opposite direction to Devín, i.e. downriver to the museum, is just as tempting. There are three ways you can do it:

1: Hiking, Cycling or Roller-blading along the trails on the Dunaj (Danube)

Cross over either of Bratislava’s two central bridges across the river onto the southern Petržalka side and you’ll see the start of a cycle trail that takes you all the way out of the city, close to the course the Danube takes as it wends south to Čunovo and then almost immediately on into Hungary. It’s possible to hike, of course, but cycling or roller-blading are the main ways people do it.

The great thing is that along here there are bars you can rock up to on your skates/bike, stop at one of the picnic tables for a good mix of Slovak fried meat and a frothy beer, then continue on your way. As I’ve said, it’s probably 15km to Čunovo but it’s really quite beautiful: small lakes to stop at for a picnic just “inland” and, at one point, an old chateau. Patches of old forests and the lakes provide cooling off opportunities, as it gets very hot here in summer.

One possibility for bike hire is Bike Bratislava, located near the Downtown Backpacker’s Hostel. Hire will cost in the region of 15 Euros per day for adult mountain bikes. Or, try Bratislava Bike Point, a new-in-2014 service based under Most SNP (on the Petržalka side) of the Danube.

2: A Boat Trip Down the Danube (Dunaj) From Central Bratislava

These trips don’t run all the time: just Saturdays and Sundays from May through to September. Take the boat trip, and you get free entry to the museum at the other end. It’s also an amazing experience to see Bratislava from the water, and as you wind out of the city you’ll see lots of the river that it’s impossible to glimpse from the cycle paths. Departure times are 2pm from central Bratislava (get there half an hour or so before). It’s a 45 minute trip to Danubiana. The return voyage is at 4:30pm and it takes 90 minutes as it’s against the current. This gives you a good 1.5 hours to look round the museum, have a coffee in the cafe or peruse the wonderful selection of art books in the shop.

Ticket sales are through Lod (10/6 Euros per adult/child for the boat trip that includes museum entry) but because their website is not abundantly clear I’ll tell you where the departure dock is. Head towards Most SNP (yeah with the spaceship up top) then walk left along the path besides the river.  You’ll see some of the boats they use moored ahead on the near bank. You will have to go to the ticket office first, however, on Fajnorovo 2 (basically, when you can’t go along the river any more bear left around the building impeding you and you’ll see the entrance). This is also where the boats to Devín and the Bratislava-Vienna boats depart, incidentally.

 

Weird & Wonderful Sculpture by Danubiana Museum

Weird & Wonderful Sculpture by Danubiana Museum – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

3: Bus From Most SNP to Čunovo 

I want to say a few words about this bus, because the museum website and indeed every other source in English says nothing about the logistics of this. On paper it sounds easy enough. Bus number 91 from the station right under Most SNP goes to Čunovo and takes 30-40 minutes to do so. You can also take bus number 91 from Most SNP and change in Rusovce. But these buses stop in the town of Čunovo. And Danubiana, despite having its address listed as Čunovo, is someway outside the town.

So here’s what you do. From where the bus drops you, continue on down the main street until it bends. Directly ahead lies a metalled track which goes passed a few houses on the left into woodland. Keep going. After five to ten minutes this comes out on a road which runs below the raised bank ahead which is the cycle path you could have taken from Bratislava. You won’t be able to get up immediately onto the cycle path as there is a stream in the way, so turn right and follow the road along until it comes out on a larger road. Then bear left, keep the snack stand you’ll see on your left and follow the signs, keeping on the cycle path you’ve now been able to join, which take you out onto the spit of land jutting into the river where the museum is. As a point of interest, you’ll first pass on the right Bratislava’s white water rafting centre, where Slovakia’s multi-medal winning rafting twins, Peter and Pavel Hochschorner, often train. There’s a hotel here too – the Hotel Divoká Voda, but I’m not going to vouch for its quality.

And at the end of all this, it should be noted that now Danubiana has been UTTERLY REFURBISHED AND EXPANDED! You can read all about the new-look Danubiana museum very, very soon.

MAP LINK:

OPENING: 10am-6pm October 1st-April 30th, 11am-7pm May 1st-September 30th

ADMISSION: Adults 8 Euros, Children 4 Euros

Ayako Rokkaku’s Bizarre Animations

IMG_0237A grey Sunday in Bratislava… quite possibly the greyest day of the winter yet, and what better time to inject some colour into your life? Having use of a car for the day (given that getting there by public transport there is a challenge to say the least) we took the trip out to Danubiana (Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum) to see Ayako Rokkaku’s exhibition “Where the Smell Comes From” which impressed me for totally different reasons to those I imagined.

Rokkaku paints not with brushes but directly, and without much preliminary planning, onto the canvas using nothing but her hands as the tools. Her works, clearly inspired by Japanese animation, are gaudy, ostensibly child-like depictions of young girls with baleful eyes and billowing skirts wandering, often lost, in fantasy-scapes full of the colour and disorder of a fairy tale.

In “Where the Smell Comes From”, we are experiencing the world through the eyes of a child. The paintings mostly have these girl protagonists, wearing expressions of sadness, or perhaps stroppiness or frustrated-ness, moving through worlds that shimmer with butterflies, childishly oversized flowers or toys. Rather (for example) than showing how a dragonfly looks to us, the observers looking in on the picture, we see the dragonfly through the eyes of the girl it flies around: larger-than-life, hanging in the brightly-coloured air seemingly forever, as children often see things: in an incredibly different (and invariably more interesting) way. In the downstairs video installation, another girl drifts through a vast, featureless world of sea and sky and, upon colliding with a huge structure, proceeds to aimlessly slide down it, climb it again and then, after dancing on the top with a similarly brightly-dressed character, launches a pencil into the sky. Once again the main subjects of the painting are reacting in a somewhat irrational (or unfathomably child-like) way to their environment, and this is typical of all the works of art here.

The alternative explanation, of course, is not these girl protagonists are reacting irrationally, but that their environment is a kind of disotopia – as childish as it may at first glance seem, the backgrounds of these pictures are complex, often frightening gardens of vibrant chaos, where rationality is totally removed. This last explanation is very plausible, given Rakkuku admits to taking inspiration, or rather motivation, from the 2011 Tsunami.

IMG_0242It’s these backgrounds of Rokkaku’s that I found myself captivated by far more than her technique. For in many of the pictures, the backgrounds take control and it is no longer the somewhat petulant girls dominating anymore. If they do appear, they are utterly lost into these chaotic scenes of giant mushrooms, monstrous ducks (and what are those things inside them?!), houses floating in the sky, trees made of fire and witches familiars – scenes in which Rokkaku enlisted the help of various groups of school children to create. On one occasion, in the Tsunami-hit Japanese city of Ofunato, she worked with 200 children on an 8-metre canvas. And these scenes are childishly innocent, on one level, but on another, far darker. Some pictures feature helicopters exploding in flame and planes dropping bombs (OK, admittedly heart-shaped ones) on lop-sided towns.

Of course, what with every painting being called “untitled” (a deliberate move away from trying to dictate what we are seeing) those helicopters could be birds and those ducks alien spacecraft. There is no right or wrong answer. But dark or comic, it is the children that painted these pictures that are the real stars of the show. Each picture seems themed around their initial drawings. And, quite clearly, what this exhibition is more than anything is an insight into the immense and at times prophetic talents young children possess: more so than any art I have previously seen. The major thing it lacks is giving any credit to the children that created these masterpieces: is there an age under which giving official credit for work ceases to apply? But “Where the Smell Comes From” will certainly do one thing. It will make you think, and have you hotly debating each vibrant, intriguing image you see. Perhaps it takes children to make you really think about art.

Where?

“Where the Smell Comes” from runs until December 9th at the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum in Čunovo. If you lack your own vehicle, bus 91 runs from the bus station under Most SNP until Čunovo – then, you will have to walk the final 2.5km.

Thanks! in part to Prešporák for this post – the builders scuppered my Internet connection this morning so this post is written from there!