A Stop in Bratislava on the way to Prague

The Random Events in a Random City in Slovakia
December 11, 2012
Milan monumental cemetery
A walk around Milan Monumental Cemetery
December 22, 2012

A Stop in Bratislava on the way to Prague

Welcome to Slovakia

When it was time to leave Olomouc, an under-appreciated city in eastern Czech Republic, I had an idea. Instead of going directly to Prague, why not take advantage of our Eurail passes and detour to another city before reaching Prague?

I was a little disappointed having not been able to visit Bratislava during our three-day stop in central Slovakia the previous week. With our Eurail Global pass, the cost would be no different to zip south into the capital of Slovakia. Decision made: I would be going to Bratislava.

Juno, on the other hand, had decided to make Vienna her stop. (You can read about her Vienna adventure here) Just 65 kilometers west of Bratislava, the capital of Austria was roughly the same distance from Olomouc. After all, the city is famous for its music, architecture, and coffee culture. We would compare notes at the end of the day when we reached Prague.

Let the Adventure begin

After validating our Eurail passes we each boarded separate trains. It was an early Sunday morning and many of the passengers getting on my train were decked out in spandex, hoisting their mountain bikes onto the train before a day of riding. I changed trains in Břeclav, the last station in the Czech Republic. The next train I boarded to Bratislava was sleeker, a EuroCity (EC) bound for Budapest. Part of me entertained the thought of riding all the way to Budapest, but the extra 2 ½ hours in transit would have allowed me almost no time to explore that city.

Bratislava Slovakia courtyard (2)

Arrival in Bratislava

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. I regard Slovakia as the underdog of Europe. Few people travel there, focusing instead on the more well-known Czech Republic, and others simply forget it exists. Slovakia gained independence in 1993 when Czechoslovakia peacefully split in what became known as the “Velvet Revolution”. Bratislava is the world’s only capital that borders two independent nations: Austria and Hungary.

Juno and I decided to compare our day in Bratislava and Vienna with a number of predetermined criteria. I was slightly envious about her seeing Vienna, a place I’ve never been. But I was happy to be visiting the capital of the country from where my paternal grandmother’s family originated.

the Slovak National Theatre

the Slovak National Theatre

Walk into the city

It was little more than a kilometer into the city center from the train station. I had no map, I just followed my instincts. Soon enough I saw a useful sign and arrow pointing me to the centrum. Up until this point I didn’t think I was going to like Bratislava; the streets seemed dead and lacked character. But you should never judge a city by the walk into town from the train station. (I’m also not going to judge the city after a three-hour visit at the end of the day. Any city deserves more than that.)

a sign i spotted on the walk into Bratislava from the train station

a sign i spotted on the walk into Bratislava from the train station

Have a coffee

I failed my first mission: have a coffee. I found a nice café but was eager to explore the city by foot. I entered through St. Michael’s Gate and continued down Michalska and Venturska, two halves of one street lined with stately Baroque palaces, the university library, and lots of restaurants and cafes. After 30 minutes I was ready for lunch.

Eat local food

Halushki Slovakia

eating halushki in Bratislava

Skip to number two. As per our requirement to eat local food, I was really predictable. I ate the national dish: halushki. I know I’d only be in Slovakia a couple more hours, and I couldn’t resist the chewy gnocchi-like potato dumplings smothered in creamy sheep’s-milk cheese topped with fried pieces of bacon fat.

Photo of a famous landmark

St Michael's Tower in Bratislava, Slovakia

St Michael’s Tower in Bratislava, Slovakia

For the famous landmark, I chose Michalska brana a veza, or St. Michael’s Gate and Tower. It dates from the medieval times. You can climb it, but I didn’t have time. Michael’s Gate is the only city gate that has been preserved of the medieval fortifications and is considered among the oldest buildings in town. Built in approximately 1300, its present shape is the result of baroque reconstructions in 1758, when the statue of St. Michael and the Dragon was placed on its top.

Defines the character of Bratislava

where is bratislava

A Slovak Design Kiosk on the park in front of the National theatre had a number of clever tee-shirts for sale. I’m going to relay how they’ve defined their city, as a place of obscurity. Although I’d never wear it, the shirt was kind of funny. It just read: Where the f*ck is Bratislava?

Something funny/quirky

Novy most bridge over the Danube River in Bratislava

Novy most bridge over the Danube River in Bratislava

And by funny, I mean totally, hilariously, disgusting. Never has a bridge made me so uneasy, so upset. I pity the Bratislavans for having to live with this hideous monument to repulsiveness. What I’m talking about Nový most, the bridge across the Danube.Because Nový most has left such a horrific visual aftertaste, I going to give you some dessert in the form of another good tee-shirt that I saw for sale: Slovak Drinking Team.

Slovak Drinking team

Slovak drinking team tee-shirt

Post card from Bratislava

postcard from Bratislava

my postcard to Juno from Bratislava

I thought I’d run into some difficulties finding stamps on a Sunday afternoon, but I was wrong. The newspaper shops and tobacconist sell stamps. I got this one off to Juno before my train rolled out to Prague.

Photo from the Train

train eurail bratislava

train at the station in Bratislava

Lastly, I bring you the photo from the train. I shot this at Bratislava main station. Train stations in Slovakia and the Czech Republic can be very dated, so dated you’ll feel like you’ve been time-warped back to Communist times. I was a bit shocked at some of the provincial station I passed through in and around Cadca. Bratislava’s, however, was up-to-date .

 

Would you rather have gone to Vienna with Juno, or with me to Bratislava?

 

Disclosure:  Eurail.com provided me with a complimentary rail pass. As always, the opinions expressed here are my own.

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

11 Comments

  1. Stephen Bugno says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Kami. I changed the dates. I didn’t realize the Velvet Revolution took place from 1989-1992.

  2. kami says:

    Bratislava isn’t my fave city (whereas Vienna is among my top favourite places) but it might be a nice city to spend few hours in, especially when the weather is nice. Did you spot the funny statues around the old town? Napoleon, man at work, guy taking picture from around the corner? They are really nice 🙂
    btw, Czech Republic and Slovakia parted on 1st January 1993, the Velvet Revolution was only about the collapse of Communism System in Czechoslovakia

  3. Stephen Bugno says:

    Yeah Ross, I feel really unfulfilled after a day spent with loads of tourists doing touristy things.

  4. kami says:

    I seem not to be able to answer to your comment hence the new one 🙂 Actually the velvet revolution took place over a couple of days in November 1989 in Prague, the communism system collapsed in Czechoslovakia but the Czech and Slovak grown apart over the next few years and eventually they divided the country into Czech Republic and Slovakia. That was main argument against Vaclav Havel when he was a president but I think they made a right thing. As an outsider I can see these are two different countries with different (even if really similar) languages, mentality, history. But no worries, even here I bet most of the people would say they divied in 1989 and we are a neighbour country of both! 🙂

  5. Ross says:

    I’ve never been to Bratislava nor Vienna. Based on your posts I would rather have gone to Bratislava with you. But only because lately I’ve had a few two many days like Juno had in Vienna.

  6. Martha says:

    I’ve been in Vienna many times, but the Vienna pictured by Juno is not the one I know. Her experience of Vienna was not very interesting to me.

    Have only been in Bratislava once, many years ago but that & your photos are enough to make me want to go back. There is some wonderful hiking and an extraordinary cave system nearby that I would like to see again.

  7. Greg Prohl says:

    Very nice article, Stephen. I like your casually courageous approach of deciding to just head into another country and town for the day with no real plan or agenda, and simply experiencing whatever comes at you. A fun way to travel sometimes, but maybe not doable all the time. And I like your photos and lists to strike off when done.

  8. Mubin says:

    Of course with you to Bratislava! After a month of traveling in Europe, it’s Bratislava that remains closest to my heart.

  9. Wustpisk says:

    Martha – I believe you are thinking about Brno which has a lot more going for it than Bratislava.
    But whatever you do, don’t travel this part of Europe (or indeed any part of Europe) using a Eurail pass! Even the longest possible journey from one end of the Czech Republic to the other only costs about €23, and even less in Slovakia/Hungary and other central European countries. Compare this with about €63 for one pass day. With that you could buy a fully flexible ticket from Prague to Berlin or Ljubljana or Warsaw and you could use any train along the route and stop as many times as you want within the space of a month. A pass makes zero financial sense whatsoever.

  10. ROY says:

    Is there any left luggage storein Bratislava rail station?

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