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krisek Bratislava - A travel report by Krys
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Bratislava,  Slovakia - flag Slovakia
5099 readers

krisek's travel reports

Compact, pretty, relaxed with vibrant nightlife.

  7 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Bratislava, small capital city, with a relaxed atmosphere and an uncountable bars, cafes and restaurants is perfect for a weekend trip. Its historical centre, dominated by the whitewashed castle and suspension bridge topped with UFO-like saucer are great.


Bratislava at dusk. New Bridge on the left and the old town, with the castle on the right.
Bratislava at dusk. New Bridge on the left and the old town, with the castle on the right.
Last time I was in Blava, as Bratislava is affectionately called by its residents, I was a boy scout. It was 1986. Czechoslovakia was still on the map, and Modern Talking was reigning in many radio stations. It was time of tight trousers, colarless shirts and discoteque. On that trip then, I met my double - Sławek from southern Poland. I could not see it, but many fellow scouts just could not figure out which one of us was which. Even our vacation girlfriends got it wrong a few times. It was a great summer!

When Bratislava came up on Ryanair's map with £10 all inclusive return fare, I decided to visit the city again. I have been hearing that they had done great things to it. Particularly to the old town. I guess my expectations increased over time. But what I really wanted was a weekend away, some sightseeing and wandering in a familiar style of Central European historic town. I packed my black shoulder bag, took my camera, jumped on the Stansted Express train, and switched on the 'on-the-road mode'. Weather in London was fantastically better than the forecasted one for Bratislava. I was hopeful however, that they got it wrong and I was going to see some sunshine in Slovakia, too.

In the inflight magazine, saw a picture of the following sign: Do not stand, sit, climb or lean on zoo fences. If you fall, animals could eat you and that might make them sick. Thank you. I cried for half an hour!

Bratislava is not a huge city. It is world's only capital city sitting on borders with two other independent nations (Austria and Hungary). Also, Vienna and Bratislava are Europe's closest capital neighbours, as there is only 60 kilometres of roads between them.

Under the name of Pozsony (in Hungarian) or Pressburg (in German), Bratislava was the capital of Habsburg's Kingdom of Hungary for over 200 years until late 18th century. It was the seat of the crown, bishops and the coronation place. These were the golden years of the city.

Favourite spots:
The Bratislava Castle at night.
The Bratislava Castle at night.
I guess my favourite spot was the Old Bridge. Astonishingly, intil 1972 it was the only bridge linking southern and northen banks of the Danube in Bratislava. It must be now ageing rapidly, and looked like it had not received much maintenance for many decades. It shook considerably whenever a vehicle was passing, or even someone was running! I liked to stand on the bridge and watch one of Europe's most fascinating rivers flow slowly, barges moving cargo up and down, and to view the Bratislava Castle standing on the hill dominating the skyline. It was a great spot to take pictures. Although at night, when the bridge shook, it was tricky with the long exposures.

The New Bridge with its pylon at a very alarming angle looked spectacular at night from there, too. It was an extremely controversial project as hundreds of historical building were demolished to make room for the roads. And yet it was voted Slovakia's structure of the century.

What's really great:
A street in the old town, next to the Frantiskanske Nameste
A street in the old town, next to the Frantiskanske Nameste
I came just in time for the wine festival, oversought by Bratislava patron, Saint Martin. This meant that on one of the streets, at the St Martin Cathedral, wooden booths sold new wine. I never cared much for new wine, but I was very happy that they also offered mulled wine, red and white! For a 0.2l cup they charged €0.60, which was a jolly good way to get merry on those chilly evenings. In addition, local bands sang traditional songs attracting local folk hopping to the rhythm ever so slightly. I definitely prefer hot destinations, in terms of climate obviously, and having mulled wine to go in my hand whilst exploring this atmospheric old town was warming my heart. I was also contented with my sensibility, not about the amount of hot wine I should not consume, but about me digging out some warm clothes and taking them on this trip.

Sights:
Hlavne Nameste, the main square of the Old Town, at night.
Hlavne Nameste, the main square of the Old Town, at night.
A single obvious sight of Bratislava was its castle. It was majestically perched on a hill standing 200 metres so dramatically above the rest of the city. Since it had been whitewashed, it started contrasting spectacularly with the thick brown wall that surrounded it. And at night, illuminated with bright white spotlights, it created incredible sight, visible from miles and miles away.

The St Martin Cathedral, close to the castle, was Bratislava's tallest church. It was the very place where kings of the Kingdom of Hungary were crowned while Pressburg was their capital. It was being renovated when I visited but it looked great at night, too. Complementing the skyline so handsomely.

The Michael's Gate with its curvy and bulging spire was Old Town's another prominent feature. Underneath, a bronze direction rose indicated distances between that very spot and a number of places around the world.

The city boasted also a number of other churches, gates, grand villas and palaces.

Accommodations:
Hotel Kyjev, room number 1216.
Hotel Kyjev, room number 1216.
I checked in at the spectacularly drab Hotel Kyjev, full of 1970s nostalgia. They even put a full size Trabant, the iconic plastic car from DDR (my parents had one for ages), inside their large lobby. I was given room no. 1216, on the 12th floor, with a view towards the new town (old town with the castle was visible from rooms located diagonnaly on the other side of the floor). The very basic twin room was small, but it seemed clean. It had a small coffee table, one low chair, and a very small 15 tv set. There were no duvets, but I had a pillow. I had to use the sheet from the other bed not to shiver too much at night.

The en-suite bathroom appeared well scrubbed. Towels and toilet rolls were provided, but no shampoo or shower gel. Fortunately, I had brought my own. Nevertheless, I think €27 for two nights including excellent breakfast buffet was a pretty good deal. The hotel was located 2 minutes walk from the old town, and the Novy Most with the UFO Restaurant.

Nightlife:
The fireplace at the Dubliner.
The fireplace at the Dubliner.
Places for nightlife in Bratislava were plentiful! Without local knowledge is was really hard to decide which pub or bar or club to choose. And there were many themed places, too - Cuban (La Bodeguita del Medio), Irish (Dubliner), English (Greenwich Bar), Brazilian (Rio)... Many were tucked inside narrow lanes of the Old Town, and many lined Hviezdoslavovo alley. The Dubliner with its superb fireplace was exceptionally popular. It was packed with both locals and travellers. The service was professional, and both bartendereeses and waiting staff spoke immaculate English. At the other side of the spectrum was, very sadly, the Jazz Cafe (Venturska Street). It was completely empty! The decor was eclectic, very suitable for jazzy nights full of saxophone, trumpet, piano and soft drums sounds. Most places, both the Dubliner and Jazz Cafe served food. Other good places for dancing were Corrida and Remix, also in the old town.

Hangouts:
The Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace
The New Bridge's UFO observation spot (saucer) was superb to see the capital from above. The ride to the top of the bridge was €6.50 and the observation deck on the top of the saucer was open-air, which was great for photography. One could not see as far as the advertised 100km due to rather poor visibility, but it was a great and windy (and cold!!) spot to view the city. The restaurant and bar inside the saucer was interesting and wobbly. It was shakkking all the time, and whenever a large vehicle passed through the bridge 95 meters below, the plastic glasses on the plastic shelves rang. The tables and chairs were also made from tranluscent, clear plastic for appropriate weight distribution. Anyway, it was a great feeling. I had a great caffe latte and a magnificent coconut mojito (all €10.60).

Restaurants:
The view from the UFO's observation spot.
The view from the UFO's observation spot.
Sladovńa, House of Beer, offered great Slovak menu with many traditional, the usual and not so usual, dishes, including pork neck, pork belly, baked sausage, potato dumplinks, and veal chops. Yet, obviously, its main quality was centred around the other part of the name - beer! Paulaner hefe-weizen, Zlaty Bažant (Slovak flagship beer), and a few were served in litres from chilled glass tubes measuring one meter and more. They were placed on a small wooden dispenser, from which folk could pour into regular glasses.

I ordered baked potato dumplings (€5.80) and a pint of Paulaner (€2.50), and pork lard with bacon bits, which I scoffed with rustic bread (€1.80). Many say that eating pork lard as a spread is the same as sticking a gun to the forehead. But isn't it jolly to die with pleasure, eh?

The old town boasted a good number of eateries ranging from national and regional to Italian, Mexican, Cuban, Spanish, Argentinian, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, English, French, Brazilian, Fusion...

Other recommendations:
St Michael's Gate at the Old Town's main avenue.
St Michael's Gate at the Old Town's main avenue.
The event celebrating Bratislava's patron, Saint Martin, happening at the beginning of November (5-8 Nov) that and complimented by the Festival of Young Wine taking place in the Old Town is an annual thing.

Fast boats (€36 rtn) linking the capitals of Slovakia and Austria leave from the passenger river terminal, near the National Philharmonic. The terminal is terribly designed and poorly signposted. The boats take c.1.5 hours, and in the summer, there are typically 10 departures a day.

Although Ryanair advertises Bratislava (BTS) as an airport also for Vienna, the Austrian capital has its own airport (VIE). Ryanair makes the BTS link to central Vienna by coach (€10 single) serviced by Terravision, which takes 90 minutes. Since Slovakia joined the Schengen Area, the border with Austria (Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland) disappeared. From BTS a city bus #61 runs regularly to the main train station (25min), tickets for which must be bought from machines on the bus stop.

Published on Monday November 9th, 2009


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Tue, Nov 10 2009 - 01:16 AM rating by gloriajames

hi krys
another brilliant report...loved the part about the inflight mag material made u cry for half an hour :)
5*
gloria

Mon, Nov 09 2009 - 10:52 PM rating by eirekay

Krys, thanks for a warm, inviting and humorous read! As always, this is full of great detail and wry observation! Beautifully done!!!

Mon, Nov 09 2009 - 07:48 PM rating by pesu

Krys, I really admire the constant high level of your reports. This one is very informative again and a pleasure to read because of its narrative elements. Fine pictures as always, too. Thanks for sharing!

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