Countries Europe Uncategorized

The little big city!

By on June 25, 2016

To be honest, Slovakia wasn’t on our map, this time, around, we were going to Budapest to meet Vatsal’s brother and since we could get the Schengen Visa appointment in London only at the Slovakia Embassy for our dates, we had to fly into Bratislava. We spent a day there and as cliche, as it may sound, we were so glad we did that. I know it’s hard to believe when I say we loved Bratislava more than Budapest. Take it, that’s our truth. We cannot stop recommending this gem of a place. Go now, before you begin to bump into people at the city square 🙂

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A memorial to commemorate the Holocaust victims from Slovakia. The black granite wall was the site of the Great Synagogue which was destroyed to make space for the New Bridge

A calm and quiet capital city is rare but if you have Vienna,Budapest and Prague as your neighbours then this ‘little big city’ is sure to be the understated one. The neighbours pull in all the tourist which makes this city pleasant to just wander around with no one photo bombing our pictures, hordes of group tours popping out from the corners, or queue waiting to take pictures of the statues. We were staying in the old part of the city, two blocks away from the St Elizabeth Church, a fairytale church, almost gingerbread like architecture with its beautiful shade of blue and white. This church totally stands out from any other we had seen, a facade which would uplift your mood right away.

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Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and for a capital city, it’s very small in size and feels like a town with most of the old town walkable. The city is divided by the Danube River with the old town on one side and the residential block on the other. The UFO tower and the Bratislava Castle offer an amazing view of the city and it amazed me to see the contrast of the two sides, which today has become an integral part of Bratislava. The old part of the town is filled with baroque style architecture, pastel shade buildings, red roof houses, squares lined with quaint cafes, cobblestone streets and impressive statues which have become an attraction in themselves while the other side of the city has graceless apartment blocks  which give a dreary and gloomy feel to the city. This is apparently the largest communist-era concrete block housing complex in Central Europe. It’s hard to imagine what the city must have looked like before the communist era. Another reminder of communist power is the New bridge which was built exactly on the site where the Jewish quarter was in 1967. Today what remains of the Jewish quarter is a memorial on the black granite wall.  The city’s contrast overhwhelmed me making me melancholic at its history of the holocaust and the communists era and surprised me with its quirks and simplicity. It is wonderful, though, cosmopolitan as a capital city should be with hip cafes, wine bars, and microbreweries but has a balmy and serene atmosphere of a small town. It lacks all lusture and pretense which would pull in the tourist, so it isn’t the usual glamourous city in that sense. The town square is dominated by small cafes and restaurants run by the locals skipping the big chains and supermarkets. The city felt so comfortable in its own skin. Which other capital city can boast of such raw appeal?

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An abandoned communist era building which use to be a hospital.

As you walk around the city, it’s almost as if walking down their own history. Though Bratislava is the youngest European capital city but it has a long and interesting history going almost 4000 years back. The city has been inhabited by the Romans, Slavs, Hungarians, Turks and was once also the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary and eventually becoming part of the new Czechoslovakia after the WW1.In the 1940’s the new state fell under the influence of the Nazi rule and the government participated in deporting more than 15,000 jews to the concentration camps. Then the Soviets took over and were responsible for building modern graceless huge residential apartment blocks. Bratislava was in the centre of the anti-communist Velvet Revolution in 1989. In 1993,Bratislava became the capital city of the Independent Slovak Republic  and joined the EU in 2004.

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These apartment blocks called Panelak remain a reminder of the communist era.

If you are interested in the communist history of the city then there are tours which take you to those spots. We didn’t have the time for it so we just explored the city on our own, just walking around everywhere.  But if you’d like to tick off the top ten things to do in Bratislava then keep reading. A fun alternative is to take a small red train called presporacik which takes you to all the attractions.

Bratislava’s Top 10

The Blue Church

St Elizabeth’s church called the blue Church locally is a beautiful building which looks like a gingerbread. It is situated in the old town and was originally part of the neighbouring school.This fairy tale church is unlike anything we’d seen before, the blue mosaic remind you of Gaudi in Barcelona.  The contrast between the church and the abandoned communist era building in the street is striking.

Opening hours and entrance: It is open during a regular mass or from Monday to Saturday from 6:30am -8:00 am in the morning and 5:30pm-7:30 pm in the evenings. The opening hours are longer on Sundays.

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The Hlavné námestie

The main square is the centre of the city and the Old town hall and the Roland fountain can be found in this square. The square is lines with cafes and restaurants, a small outdoor market selling souvenirs. This is as active in the inwters with the ice skating rink and the christmas market being the main attractions.

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Pose with the quirky statues

The city has many funny quirky statues and it’s fun to hop around looking for them and posing with them. Cumil is the statute of a man halfway out from a manhole. It is said that he loved peeping up into the skirts of the women passing by 🙂 The poor Cumil has been knocked off by the cars more than once, hence a board with the signage ‘Man at Work’ has been installed.

Naci is a local who always dressed well and walk around the streets of the city. When he came across a beautiful young woman, he took his hat from his head as a gesture of admiration. His silver statue is at the Hviezdoslav’s Square. The same square also has a statue of one of Napolean’s soldier leaning on the bench. Another statue called the Paparazzi of a man standing in the corner with a camera in hand trying to get a picture is just round the corner from the main square.  Another quirky statue is of two women leaning against a post office taking a break from their skateboarding. The post office is a real one and is still in use.

These statues were installed in an attempt to make the city livelier and I must they do their work fairly well. It’s fun just walking around and discovering these statues.

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Hike up to the Bratislava Castle

The Castle is the most popular attraction in the city. The facade might not be as impressive as some of the other castle in Europe but it’s different, to me resembling an upside four-legged dining table. The site of the Castle offers panoramic views of the UFO bridge and the Appolo bridge  over the Danube river and the communist era housing blocs on one side and the red roofs of the houses in the old town with St Micheal’s Gate standing out. The Castle is surrounded by a lot of greenery and is a pleasant hike.  Since the Castle sits on a hill, it is visible from many places in the old town, peeping out from between the buildings. The Castle was destroyed many times and the reconstruction was completed only as recent as 1968, parts of which are open to public today and houses exhibition of the Slovak National Museum.

Opening hours and entrance: It is open from 1st April – 16th November from 10 am -6pm and  in winters the opening hours are pulled up by an hour. The entry fee is 6€

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Go to the UFO tower for the amazing view

It is the seventh largest hanging bridge in the world completed in1972 across the Danube River in Bratislava, the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising or SNP. The Jewish quarter of the old town was demolished to make way for the construction of the New bridge. There is a memorial under the bridge close to St. Martin’s church.

You can walk along the bridge and take the elevator situated at one of the legs up to the observation deck. The views are amazing of the entire city and the contrast between the old town and the communist era construction can be seen.

Opening hours and entrance: The Ufo observation deck is open every day from 10:00-23:00, the restaurant  from 12:00-23:00, bar from 10:00-23:00. The entry fee for the UFO  deck is 7 € . If you are only visiting the restaurant or the bar then you don’t need to pay the entry fee but a reservation is required for the restaurant.

 

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Slavin war Memorial

This is a National monument situated above the Castle on a hill. All the Soviet soldiers who died in 1945 fighting for the liberation of Bratislava are buried here and a celebration on the 4th April is held every year to pay a tribute to them. Since this is even higher than the Castle, it offers panoramic view of the city. It is possible to walk up to the monument or take the bus from the city centre.

We couldn’t make it to the memorial so we have no pictures for you :/

Walk along the promenade

On a warm day walking along the river is very pleasant. This is also where you can board a boat for short cruises or travel to Vienna or Budapest. Or just sit there and watch the river traffic, boats coming in and out or people canoeing.

St Martin’s Church

This is one of the largest and oldest church in Bratislava. It is one of the most popular attraction in the city mainly as this was the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary. The blue dome of the church dominates the skyline of the old town. Right next to the church is the memorial of the Jews, under the New bridge.

Opening times and entrance fee: The church is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am -11:30 ma and 1 pm- 6pm and on Sundays from 1:30pm to6pm. The entrance fee is 2 €

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The Old town hall

The oldest town halls in the country which houses the Museum of City History. It also has an exhibit of terror devices. The tower of the town hall offers the view of the city centre and the Primate’s square where the Primate’s Palace stands. The roof of the town hall is magnificent resembling the Mathias Church in Budapest. The town hall is lit up at night and look magnificent along with the Roland fountain which is also lit up.

Opening times and entrance fee: It is open everyday from Tuesday to Friday 10 am -5pm and 11 am to 6 pm over the weekends. The entry to the Old Town Hall is 1 €  and 5 €  if you’d like to entry the Museum of City History.

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Sit in a quaint cafe

Unlike its neighbours, there is comparatively little to do, by early afternoon you pretty much would have seen most of the old town. So sit in one of the quiet cafes and enjoy their delicious coffee with poppy seed croissant. Another local delicacy that was suggested to us with bread with a generous spread of sheep cheese.

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I wish we had more time in the city, but our bus to Hungary was already booked and off we were. On the way to Budapest, I sat in the luxury of Orangeway bus thinking about how fortunate I was to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful city. I remember reading about the Warsaw Pact,Eastern Bloc and Czechoslovakia in my school history books, how little I understood then what all that meant and how they change the lives of people and their lands. Today, standing in one of those lands I was overwhelmed with having had this opportunity to be able to look back at their history from their own land. Travel allows you to experience incredible things and I will always cherish these experiences that continue to enrich our lives. With these thoughts and Floyd plugged into my ear (the bus had amazing music collection), I  watched the beautiful lavender fields in the countryside of Slovakia. A journey as perfect as our short visit to Bratislava.

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Practical Information

Transport: The transport system is very easy and inexpensive to use with ticket machines at most stops and can also be bought on the journey. One single ticket costs 0.90€ and can be used for 60 minutes even if you change the bus/tram. Don’t forget to stamp your ticket when you get on. They also have a website dedicated to the transport within the city and you can plan your journey here.

Taxi’s are extremely cheap and we called one over the phone whenever we needed. But if you flag a taxi down on the street then its best to decide on a fare before you get on.

From Airport: A taxi from the airport can cost up to 20€ but our Airbnb host gave us a number for a radio taxi(Easy Taxi) and that only cost us 8€ . Bus no 61 can take you to the main train station from where you can take the tram. A night bus N61  from 11pm – 4 am is available too. There is a counter at the airport from where you can buy the tickets, if you plan to use the public transport a lot then you can also purchase a pack of 10.

Currency: The currency used is Euros. Bratislava is not as cheap as the other Eastern European cities like Budapest but due to low influx of tourist the prices are set for the locals.

Language: The language spoken in Bratislava is Slovak but a lot of people can speak in English, especially the younger generation. The people are very friendly and warm and are happy to chat up with you.

 

                  Which is your favourite Eastern European City?

Heading to Budapest next? Read all about it here. 

 

                       Would you give this ‘little big city’ a chance to charm you?

 

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1 Comment
  1. Reply

    Neha Berlia

    July 10, 2016

    Makes me wanna go places…

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Vatsal is a techie and a coffee junkie. Most often he’s caught watching a film with Guinness for company. Preeti loves everything about the mountains. She always has her head buried in a book sipping tea.
We both love traveling and watching films so we decided to document some of it. Hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed traveling and writing about them 🙂

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