This is terrible to admit, but before I visited Slovakia the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of “Bratislava” was that funny movie Eurotrip from 2004. Essentially, the lead characters end up in Bratislava by accident after a hitchhiking adventure gone wrong. Stepping out of the lorry they rode in on, they are confronted with a desolate, Soviet-esque block of litter-strewn, grey apartment buildings complete with an old man bathing from a bucket and a dog holding a severed human hand. Awful, eh? Putting that out of your minds for a moment, Bratislava isn’t at all the depressing, desolate capital that Eurotrip pokes fun of. It’s vibrant, fun, and was the perfect weekend-getaway for us while we were living in Vienna.
Just a short bus ride from Vienna, the two cities are the closest capitals in the world, only 60 km apart! In fact, Bratislava is the only capital in the world bordering two countries (Hungary and Austria), while also being just 62 km from Czech as well, and reflects this proximity in its blend of cultures and religions. Despite being the largest city in Slovakia, the population is a relaxed number of just over 400 000 people, making it one of the more laid-back capitals we’ve visited so far.
Since I’m sure everyone (including us) is pretty sick of hearing about Christmas stuff at this point, I won’t go into too much detail about the markets except to say I was pretty pumped to grab some hot mead at just a euro! Back in Vienna they were going for about four euros a cup, ugh.
We spent our first day working our way through the heart of the downtown. We began our tour at the quirkily-named Primate’s Palace. I never really found an answer as to why it was called the “Primate’s” Palace, as far as I can tell that’s just how it translates. Anyway, it’s a lovely, neoclassical palace sitting next to the 14th century complex of the Old Town Hall, now holding the Bratislava City Museum. Walking through the town hall’s little, renaissance courtyard we came out into the main square behind. Surrounded by the pastel-hued buildings, Roland Fountain, and the red-white checkered windows of the town hall, I felt like this was one of the most romantic-looking main squares I had seen yet.
If you find yourself heading to Bratislava, don’t forget to check out the more, shall we say, permanent residents. An easy one to spot is Cumil or Rubberneck, the sewer worker taking a break, poking outside his manhole cover. There are some pervy stories out there about how he is actually looking up girl’s skirts, but people seem to love him anyway and it was hard to get of a shot of him on his own! An even stranger resident is the Taunter, a tricky one to spot. He’s hiding in a cubbyhole at roughly the level of first story windows, and looks like a weird combination of a monkey and maybe an alien? It is said that the carving was inspired by a nosy neighbour who was always peeking out of windows at passers-by.
If you’re really into finding all the cheesy, off-the-wall stuff in a city, don’t forget the Narrowest House after you’re done taking pictures with all the goofy statues. I’m not sure how it compares with the Smallest House in Great Britain, but the Bratislava website claims it’s the narrowest house in Slovakia, and possibly even all of Europe! When urban fortifications became redundant by the 18th century, Bratislava knocked down their town wall and were left with available space to work with. The house was built, and later extended, to fill the gap between the older buildings and Michael’s Gate. Needless to say, I think living there would be a pretty tight squeeze.
I can’t write an entry about Bratislava without mentioning the castle. This gleaming white, box-shaped fort on top of the hill, Bratislava Castle has an extensive history reaching all the way back to a Celtic oppidum which once occupied the strategic perch. The castle has been renovated extensively over the centuries, obtaining more or less the shape it is today during the 1400s. Unfortunately, the castle is currently under heavy restoration, so we couldn’t explore it to its full potential. We did have a great time walking along the meandering paths leading to the castle gates though, and I think it will be something spectacular once the work is finished.
So my lesson learned was don’t let old ideas get the better of you when it comes to somewhere new. Bratislava is a bright and vibrant city, low-key and inviting. Don’t miss out on this interesting capital, especially once that castle is finally finished and open to the public!
When people think of Slovakia, many have a tendency to think “Czechoslovakia”, even though the two countries have been independent of one another for more than 20 years. Slovakia is an self-reliant country with its own culture, traditions, and attractions. Stay tuned to hear more about our adventures in this country as we travel eastbound over the Tatra mountains, stopping to nose around whenever we have a chance.