And so to Slovakia, the other half of the former Czechoslovakia. I arrive late in the evening and have to navigate my way to my hotel. Bratislava is one of those cities that’s covered with public transport but in such a way that it’s impossible to work out where the hell you’re going. The centre is small enough to be a walkable, but you’ll need at less a couple of tram rides to get to and from the train station.
I’m wasn’t 100% sure where I was staying, but I knew it’s a boat (the Botel Marina in fact), meaning all I need to do is find the Danube and walk down in the right direction — amazingly I manage this with no problem. It’s a nice enough place but it’s around fifteen minutes walk from the centre and there’s nothing else around it — even the nearest tram or bus stop is a fair distance away. You do get a nice view of the Nový Most or ‘New Bridge’ with it’s UFO supported by struts leaning at an alarming angle.
I head out to the centre for a drink, there’s a few places open but generally they’re either packed out the door or almost empty. It’s here I’m accosted by my first Slovakian pickpocket, who employ the blatant approach of coming right up to you (on the pretence of asking for some change) and just going for your pockets. Suddenly I realize I’ve got more pockets to protect than I have hands. Fortunately it’s pretty difficult to get stuff out of my pockets so there was nothing she could really grab and run. It was a weird experience, pretty disturbing given that it’s happening in plain sight, in a quiet but not deserted square, obviously it works because it’s done by woman and men are reluctant to just physically push them off. The same girl tried it again later on (this time I did push her off and headed into a bar) and — more bizarrely — a different but identically dressed girl tried it the next night. Weird. That’s three times in two nights, in the off season.
The most interesting part of Bratislava is the old town, it’s small and full of cobbled streets and squares, with people milling around, taking pictures and dipping in and out of restaurants and bars. It feels like a typical European style town centre which would mean nothing but the rest of the city is, frankly, a bit grotty and plain looking so the old town really stands out. They’ve also dotted a whole bunch of quirky statues
around the place, it’s a nice to chance across some bloke peering out a man-hole when you turn a corner. There’s pictures of a couple more in the Flickr set
Aside from that there’s Bratislava castle, which is essentially just big square box, it’s not nearly as nice looking up close and it was almost entirely closed when I was there. If you do go to the castle it’s worth checking out Chez David, a Jewish restaurant, on the way back down the hill. The food there was excellent and very reasonably priced.
There’s plenty of bars and restaurants in the old town and there are a few places further out (although watch the trams, they don’t always go in the direction you expect). Like on the first night most places where either packed or deathly quiet, I think getting to somewhere at the right time is the key. There were a few stag parties going around and I suspect that that’s a sign of the future of the city. On the upside the food was good, Bryndzove Halusky is a traditional dish made of small dumplings topped with sheep’s cheese and bacon. It tastes exactly as you expect it to, at this point I imagine you’re either disgusted or think, like me, that you quite fancy having one of them.
Bratislava is the first place I’ve been this year that I have no real wish to go back to, there’s not much to see and I can only assume that there’ll be many more drunken tourists and more pickpockets during the high season. I think you’d be able to get a feel for the place by taking on a day trip, which you can do by boat or train from Vienna amongst other places.
I may not want to go back, but I’ve been there, so that’s another one marked off.