Bratislava, Slovakia is located only a 15-minute drive from the Austrian border, making it both a great day trip from Vienna, but also a city worth a further look. 🙂
New places, new discoveries. 🙂
Bratislava is compact in comparison to Budapest and Prague, which means, if you don’t like walking, but want to enjoy the beauty and charm of Eastern Europe, then Bratislava is for you. ❤As well, it is less touristy and crowded, meaning you’ll get a more authentic European experience.As an added bonus, they use the Euro for currency, meaning you won’t have to exchange your money again when entering. 👍
Now one of the first things I did in Bratislava was take a free walking tour courtesy of Be Free Tours. My guide, Anna, was super friendly, and she had also spent a year living in Appleton, Wisconsin, so we had a lot to talk about. Since she knew a lot about cheese curds, she recommended I try Vyprážaný syr, a staple in Slovakia, which is basically a gigantic hunk of smoked Gouda that has been breaded and fried until crispy brown, then served with fries and tartar sauce! Wisconsin, why have we not thought of this yet?!? ❤Anyway, we started our tour in Hviezdoslavovo Námestie, a square named for Hviezdoslav, a Slovak writer and poet who translated the works of Shakespeare into Slovakian. This square was also famous as the site of the Velvet Revolution. If you’ll remember from my Prague post, this is when Czechoslovakia stood up against Communism, gathering in crowds and shaking keys in their hands, asking for the doors of democracy to be opened. From there we headed to St. Michael’s Cathedral, a coronation church in the city center.
I especially enjoyed how the vacant windows nearby had been covered in colorful Van Gogh style artwork. ❤Next we went to Michael’s Gate, which was used as access to the city during medieval times when Bratislava was surrounded by high defensive walls. Speaking of medieval times, this is Hrad Castle, a 9th century fortress that was once used to protect the city from invaders.
It was renovated only five years ago, so the whole building is sparkling white, with a beautifully manicured garden.Next up we have the “man at work” sculpture, one of the city’s most obscure attractions. This funny guy is named Cumil, which means “the watcher.” Apparently he’s somewhat of a peeping Tom as well. 😮
Anyway, I think quirks really add character to a city, like this other statue for example. It’s of a kind homeless man named Schone Naci, who used to walk the city streets of Bratislava not too long ago. He would always dress in nice clothing, make friends with the locals, and even give out roses to the ones he truly admired. He was so beloved, that when he passed, they decided to erect this statue in his honor. Other quirky things in Slovakia include their most popular soda, Kofola, which was created during the Communist Era as a way to fight against Capitalist brands, like Coca-Cola. It is surprisingly healthier than Cola, using natural herbs, beet sugar and no added chemicals. I tried a small can, which I thought tasted like a fizzy fruit drink with honey. After Communism ended, both brands became household names, and now these arch-enemies must share shelves. 😛As well, Anna told us about two quirky holiday traditions during Christmas and Easter. First, on Christmas Slovaks eat fresh carp; however, they don’t believe the fish are kept in clean water in the stores, so they buy it about a week before and keep it in their bathtub to purify the fish. I find it funny how they arrange exchanges with their neighbors, so they can still shower. (i.e. I’ll keep your fish in my bath tub, if we can use your tub for showers.) What’s even funnier is that most kids don’t end up wanting to eat the fish, since in the week leading up to Christmas they end up getting attached to the fish, giving them names, like they’re a pet. Hah! Then the second tradition is on Easter Monday, when the men in Slovakia dump buckets of cold water on girls and tap them with small willow whips. Apparently the cold water brings wisdom to the women, and the whips bestow beauty upon them, so the men receive praise for their “service” by getting things like money, chocolate, and even alcohol. This doesn’t seem like a win-win situation. 😕
Anyway, after the tour I just enjoyed wandering the city streets and sitting in the squares, admiring their many stunning churches. My personal favorite was the Blue Church, a Catholic church built in Hungarian Art Nouveau style. Very funky and unique!On my second day in Bratislava I took a free Communism tour offered by Be Free Tours. One of the first spots we visited was a UFO bridge and restaurant. During communist times, the city was expanding, so they built this bridge to connect the old town to a new housing development. The apartments there were originally all gray, but after Communism ended they added color to perk them up a bit. On the right side of the bridge is an elevator. It costs 7 Euro to ride up to the top where there’s a very expensive restaurant, as well as, a viewing platform where you can see a panorama of Slovakia, plus bordering Austria and Hungary as well.Now during Communist times it was forbidden for Slovaks to go to Austria, and in fact, there was an Iron Curtain, or a barbed wire barrier, separating the two countries. What’s funny is that during Communism, the government didn’t even want people looking at Austria, since it might give them the idea to escape there. To prevent this, they ordered that all the chairs in the restaurant face in one direction, towards Slovakia. This bridge is also controversial, since the city’s Jewish synagogue and Jewish Quarter were destroyed in order to create it. There is now a memorial statue in its place.
One of the last stops we visited was the Museum of Communism, which was essentially informational billboards attached to a quaint cafe.
From there I met up with a Slovakian friend that I had met while traveling in China this past year. We met at a hipster cafe for a latte and an unconventional avocado toast. We talked about her life for a while, since she’s currently pursuing a Master of Tourism degree in China.
It was so nice to reconnect with someone I had met through travel, and she loved showing me around her hometown as well. Although I enjoy sightseeing, what really inspires me to continue traveling is connecting with locals, and getting insight into their daily life. I saw this quote, which seemed to fit this situation well. 🙂
“The most beautiful thing you can see in a city is not a sight built of stones, but of a person.”
Anyway, that wraps up my time here in Slovakia. Tonight I’ll be re-watching the classic “Sound of Music” in preparation for my upcoming trip to Salzburg. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂
Getting there: To travel from Bratislava from Vienna, I took a bus operated by Slovak Lines. I bought the ticket online with Flixbus, which cost 8 USD, and took a little over an hour.
Accommodation: While in Bratislava I stayed at Patio Hostel. Although their kitchen table resembled a small ironing board, their facilites were very clean and their dorm beds were comfy and warm. You also get a free welcome drink from their downstairs bar. 🙂
Cost: 9 USD/night