Bratislava, Slovakia Report # 1
I have found that countries for which I have low expectations before visiting have always wildly exceeded my expectations and have proved remarkably enjoyable, while countries that are supposed to be enjoyed and that I am supposed to like, invariably disappoint me. Slovakia, and Bratislava in particular, fall into the first category. Bratislava was almost an afterthought for me before we arrived, given that my Italian interpreter and I had a break of only 18 hours between returning from a significant trip to the United States and leaving for Slovakia. But now, I must rank Bratislava as one of my favorite European cities.
The transportation network in Slovakia is first-rate and so one can get around easily. And given Bratislava’s proximity to Vienna, one can be in downtown Vienna in less than an hour from departing Bratislava via train. The cost of a round-trip journey is 9 euros and the ride is comfortable and the views good. If I were able to secure gainful employment in Vienna, I would work there and live in Bratislava as one could earn Western wages in Vienna and then live like a Saudi prince in Bratislava. A quality flat can be found in Bratislava for 30,000 euros and dinner for two at a nice restaurant will only set you back 15 euros. A ride on the public transit system in the city is 70 cents.
The city is not completely free of tourists, but it is about as good as you will find in any European capital in the travel season. The majority of the people you encounter will be locals rather than tourists and the tourists are easy to avoid as for a smaller city, there is a lot to do. For example: If you go to any of the numerous museums, you are unlikely to run into tourists despite the fact that the exhibits are top notch. Tour groups are led passively around and do not do activities that require much effort or initiative. Do something that requires some work or initiative (such as hiking up to Kamzik TV and radio tower or visiting a museum such as Palffy Palace) and you’ll find yourself in a tourist-free zone.
As with all Eastern European capitals, the number of attractive women around is significantly higher than in the West and the men, as always, look unhealthy and poorly dressed. Any Westerner with decent looks and game would do quite well as passable English is widely spoken and language is, therefore, not an issue as one will find in a place like Brazil or Belarus.
A view toward old town Bratislava across the Danube River with Bratislava Castle in the background:
One cool area along the Danube (and a nice place to unwind after the hassles of traveling) features a spot with truckloads of sand brought in to create an artificial beach. You can lounge in chairs next to the river and enjoy the wares offered by the nearby bar or get in on a game of sandy soccer or volleyball.
Continue past the artificial beach and you’ll get to the UFO Bridge with its distinctive UFO top – a top that (get ready for it) houses the UFO Bar which supposedly offers solid views, but has gotten bad reviews.
…And politically charged art.
Here are some scenes from downtown Bratislava:
Random (and usually humorous) bronze statues dot the Bratislava city landscape. Here are just two – “Rubberneck” and “Paparazzi” respectively.
This is St. Martin’s Cathedral – site of the coronations of ten Hungarian kings, one queen and eight royal consorts over the period from 1563 to 1830 (if you’re into that sort of thing). Bratislava took on the position of the political and cultural center of that part of the Hungarian kingdom which was not occupied by the Turks.
Grassalkovich Palace – built in 1760 as a summer palace for Count Anton Grassalkovich it is now the residence of the president of the Slovak Republic.
Slovakia is a curious mix of German/Austrian culture and Italian culture. Here is an element of the German/Austrian culture at work. These cars were illegally parked on a sidewalk next to a university. No questions were asked. No citations were issued. Instead a team of tow trucks pulled up with the police accompanying them and simply picked the vehicles up with these cranes and drove them to impound yards.
The Fountain of Friendship on Namestie Slobody Square – allegedly the site of the first flight by helicopter in 1897 by Jan Bahyl
For a small country and a small capital, there is a great selection of quality museums to choose from – museums that all feature signs in English. Some I would recommend are the Museum of Clocks located in the House At the Good Shepherd, the Museum of Arms in St. Michael’s Tower which also features great views from the top if you go outside on the balcony (although the woman from whom we purchased our tickets here was a real poisonous old bitch to the degree that I had to tell her to go and fuck herself – and I am normally very polite and respectful when I travel). With a ticket to the Museum of Arms, you can also visit the Museum of Pharmacy located inside the Red Crayfish Pharmacy free of charge. There are many other museums as well including the Slovak Police Museum which looked interesting, but we did not have time to visit.
Two museums I would very strongly recommend in Bratislava are the Natural History Museum located along the river on Vajanskeho Nabrezie 2 and Palffy Palace located along Panska 19. Despite its name, Palffy Palace features mostly modern art. Count Janos Ferenc Palffy (d. 2 June 1908) was a significant art collector and concentrated the most precious works in the family palace. However, against the background of historical events – WW I and the break-up of the monarchy – the fate of perhaps the greatest collection of art in Central Europe was decided at the auction house as the Count’s descendants cashed in his collection (against the wishes outlined in his will). Below is some of the art in Palffy Palace today:
The picture below does not do this display justice at all. You walk along a platform in the middle of the piece and are surrounded by a sense of infinity created by the clever use of mirrors. It truly is remarkable and a camera operating in two dimensions cannot possibly capture the three dimensional experience of having infinity spreading away from you in all directions. Don’t miss this one.
There are several areas from which to get good views of the city, such as the Slavin military cemetery dominated by the Statue of Victory by Alexander Trizuljak. This site is the burial place of 6,845 soldiers of the Soviet Red Army who died “liberating” Bratislava in World War II.
The view of Bratislava from up there…
It’s also an area of consulates and nice homes, such as this trendy, modern one that I liked:
For the best views though, hike up the mountain (Koliba) to Kamzik TV and radio tower.
And look cool up on top of the tower…
…While enjoying the great views…
…And appreciating how forested Slovakia really is.
And like I said, Austria is only a short train ride away…
With decent scenery along the way:
Vienna, aside from offering a vibrant employment market, also has attractions such as Schönbrunn Palace (used as the summer residence of the Hapsburgs from the 18th century onwards), Prater (a permanent carnival), Belvedere Palace, the Spanish Riding School, the Museum Quarter, the Albertina Art Gallery, the Hofburg Palace, or Imperial Palace (home of the Austrian Hapsburgs for 600 years) and much more.