I spent the last week travelling with my fellow Fulbrighter, Vicky. We devoted most of our vacation to Budapest (a blog post is on the way!), but we stopped over in Bratislava for a few days. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, feels very small. Our tour guide told us that during the Soviet era, they essentially chose between Prague and Bratislava: one would be thoroughly modernised, while the other would be historically preserved. Bratislava got the short end of the stick (at least in terms of post-Soviet tourist revenue), so most of the old town was destroyed. Everything important in the city proper—the castle, the major museums, the prettiest buildings—can easily be seen in a day.
To start, the castle. We made the mistake of going inside. Don’t do it! There’s very little of interest there. But the outside is pretty, thanks to a recent rennovation project. And the views from the hill are fabulous. Also, there’s a playground!
Next, everything else. (Yes, the city is really that small.) My favorite surprise of the trip was the Blue Church—a gorgeous Art Nouveau church right in the middle of an ugly part of town. (In fact, it’s right across from a hideous, abandoned Soviet building that the city cannot yet afford to tear down.) It’s easy for visitors to miss, but it’s definitely worth seeing. Not easy for us to miss (because it was practically next to our apartment) was the Primate’s Palace, a pink palace that houses a collection of tapestries showing the myth of Hero and Leander. We had fun trying to piece the story together, but we eventually had to look it up. (There seem to be more characters than the story needs. Apparently Hero changes hair color? Or has another friend vying for Leander’s affections? Anyone who has seen the tapestries in question, please advise!) Finally, there are lots of silly statues scattered all around town. Our free walking tour took us past quite a few. It also took us to what I consider every city’s most important attraction: the opera house.
But my favorite thing we did was outside of Bratislava proper. (In fact, Slovakia has lots of pretty things outside its capital city. Some of them were too far outside the city for us, and if I ever come back to Slovakia I plan to budget time and travel funds to get to Bojnice Castle and to the High Tatra Mountains.) On a gloriously sunny day, we bought food for a picnic, then hiked about two-and-a-half hours through the woods to Devin Castle, the ruins of a 9th-century royal residence. We ate a picnic right in the middle of the ruins overlooking the river. Then we descended to the town of Devin, where we tried a local specialty: currant wine, made from currants grown on the Devin slopes. I found it too sweet—I thought red currant wine tasted like juice and black currant wine tasted like port.
One thing that disappointed me about Bratislava was the food. Despite soliciting and following recommendations, we didn’t really have any fabulous meals. We enjoyed the kitschy Three Musketeers restaurant (everything was named after characters from the book), but the food itself was ordinary. Of the Slovakian specialties we tried (at the surprisingly not-only-full-of-tourists Bratislava Flag Ship Restaurant), halušky (potato dumplings with a special sheep cheese) were definitely the tastiest.
We had lots of fun in Bratislava, but we weren’t too sad to leave. After all, Budapest awaited us!