The train finally drew to a halt and I stepped out with a crowd of other departing passengers. I joined the press of people in the overstuffed doorway, and saw a big blue sign that announced, “Welcome to Slovakia,” in great, capital letters. In smaller print, it declared Slovakia to be a “Little Big Country.”
Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia, and both are indeed small, with populations of 450,000 and 5 million, respectively. As such I probably wouldn’t ever make a dedicated trip here, but it was a great diversion to add onto my trip to Budapest, so that’s why I’m here today.
I didn’t really do any research regarding how to spend my time here. I found one guide online that covered two days in Bratislava, and it seemed reasonable enough. I don’t know anything about the person who wrote it, but his English is better than my Slovak. Seriously, I failed do do additional preparation besides finding a hotel room, which I realized when I was on the train and began frantically looking up public transport on my phone. I was happy to find that I could take a tram directly to my hotel.
In the train station I bought the 24 hour transportation pass for €3.50. I probably wouldn’t be able to justify the cost compared to individual tickets, but it was cheap enough (scarcely more than a New York subway fare) and I didn’t know how difficult it would be to buy tickets later if I needed them.
I checked into my hotel, a nice, modern hotel that sits on the edge of the historic center, along a funky street lined with bars and tattoo shops.
There’s the KGB Pub!
My free Bratislava walking guide suggesting starting my walk at 9 am, and it was already 3 pm, but I noticed that it had a lot of sitting and people watching, so I just ignored that. I started where it suggested, at Michael’s Gate, one of the medieval gates into the old city, and the only one that still exists.
I couldn’t have missed this if I tried. It stands right in my most direct path from my hotel to the center of town.
Underneath the gate is a large medallion detailing the distance to other major world cities. The guide declared that they were distances to capitols, and most of the cities truly are capitals, but New York is not a capitol. Not technically, anyway.
The guide suggested looking at some statues and sitting down for some coffee. I certainly used the opportunity to wander the old city a bit, but took a pass on the sitting. I’d been sitting too long already. Bratislava is a lovely old town. It doesn’t strike me as being a world capitol, but it is a wonderful place.
Next stop was the UFO tower. Constructed in 1972, it it stands 95 meters high at the top of a cable-stay bridge. To get there, I had to cross the river using the pedestrian passageway, that hangs below the roof deck.
The tower definitely looks like a UFO. Inside there is a restaurant. The observation deck is on top.
I wasn’t able to take stairs up, so I settled for the elevator to the restaurant, and stairs the rest of the way. It’s probably for the best, as the multiple inclines made even the brief climb to the top rather disorienting.
From the observation deck, I could see the Bratislava castle, where it sits overlooking the Danube.
And the Old Town of Bratislava. The highway approaching this bridge was built right through the old Jewish neighborhoods, and almost up to the door of St. Martin’s.
On the opposite side of the river is the Petržalka neighborhood, which used to be a separate town, but now is part of Bratislava. Toward the horizon in that direction lie Hungary and Austria.
In looking at this side of the river I was struck by the many communist-era apartment buildings. Buildings constructed in that style are known as paneláks. They are not painted in the expected drab grey shades, however, but now are done up in many vibrant colors. Still, their history is unmistakable.
I descended back to the roadway and crossed back to the old town. Next stop was the Bratislava Castle.
The baroque gardens behind the castle were gorgeous.
And the castle itself was really impressive. I could have entered for a display on Bratislava history, but frankly wasn’t feeling it.
Mostly, it affords spectacular views of the river.
By now I was ready for dinner. Since breakfast, I had only eaten a chocolate bar on the train (trust me – this was a good decision) and a small gelato in town. So I headed back to my hotel, passing under Michael’s Gate on the way, and eventually found myself an excessive dinner of pork and dumplings.