A couple of months before I found myself taking a detour through Bratislava on my way home from the Balkans, I watched EuroTrip for the first time.
If you haven’t seen this totally ridiculous, slapstick stupid American comedy, what were you even doing in the 00’s? Me? I was listening to Scotty Doesn’t Know, but this year was the first time I actually watched the movie, despite it being entirely directed at my demographic when it came out and it was even about backpacking Europe.
Anyway if you haven’t seen it, there’s a scene where they are dropped off in the middle of what looks like a post-apocalyptic Eastern bloc city (or… Pripyat) where a dog’s eating a hand and the dodgy lorry driver that took them there runs off saying “ha haaaaa! They’ll never find me in Bratislava!” They ask a man if they can catch a train to Berlin, and he goes, “yes! Very soon! They are building it now!”
…Bratislava is nothing like EuroTrip.
Bratislava is, in fact, an incredibly pretty city that I did not expect at all.
It didn’t feel like that when I arrived late at night and in my defiance against taking taxis, I walked from the train station (which had been built and was very much in service) to my hostel, just outside the old town. It was dark, deathly quiet, and the streets that engulfed my hostel were even darker and quieter. Even worse, I had chosen it for being near the main road from the train station, which you can’t walk along; I had to navigate dark, winding side streets instead. In hindsight, it was probably a stupid idea, but importantly, I made it. And only just – the bar, where you collect your key after hours, was just closing up when I got there.
In the morning, I needed desperately to do laundry, and when the hostel charged a fortune, I expected the facilities to actually work. I found out after washing my clothes that the dryer did not, which left me with an entire bag of wet clothes to haul off to my next hostel (long story: didn’t have much internet in the Balkans, booked a good hostel last minute which was sold out the night I arrived, so I decided to book somewhere closer to the train station for one night, plus you’re allowed to book yourself an overpriced boutique hostel once in a while, right?).
Bratislava was making me cranky after 10 days of early mornings, and all I wanted to do was go and find a cute cafe and eat waffles or something.
This café probably marked the beginning of my love affair with Bratislava. As I took in my beautiful surroundings, watched tours of people gawping at the buildings as they arrived from their river cruises, and kept re-adjusting my carrier bag of heavy clothes that was constantly trying to slop over and send my knickers flying out onto the path, I realised I’d made a good decision stopping here.
I took a short route through the old town to get to the hostel out on the other side – as much as I was enjoying how pretty the town was, I needed to offload my stuff. I’d chosen the hostel deliberately because it had fantastic reviews, it was reasonably priced and best of all, it was MUSIC THEMED! Sadly I was missing out on their live shows, which would have been a really fun addition.
Before I headed back into town, I had one stop to check off: THE BLUE CHURCH!
I happened across a photo of this church shortly before I visited and immediately put it at the top of my list. (Yep, above the castle and the weird UFO building!)
I think it’s easy to see why – it’s one of the best churches I’ve ever seen!
It does have an official name – the Church Of St Elizabeth – but it really is just known as the Blue Church, to the point that even its Wikipedia page is called “Blue Church” (capitalised).
From the church, I decided to do a loop along the river and back into the old town to explore it properly. What really struck me was just how small Bratislava’s old town is. I always found it a shame that Bratislava is seen as a “day stop” between Prague and Budapest, or from Vienna, or on a river cruise. I was glad to have more than a day there, but quite honestly, I could have seen it all in a day (and, in fact, virtually did).
Once I’d taken approximately 1,985,402 photos, I took a detour up to the Presidential Palace and promptly saw a car crash into a bus right outside it. It happened right in front of me as I waited to cross the road! Incredibly, the car driver, who had pulled out of the inside lane INTO THE BUS, hurled abuse at the bus driver and drove off in a cloud of dust!!! There was then mayhem as the bus had to stop in the middle of the road and let all the passengers off. I wasn’t sure whether to stay around as a witness!
After that drama, I headed uphill for Bratislava’s main landmark.
Of course, no visit to Bratislava is complete without a trip up to the castle overlooking the city. I didn’t go inside, and it’s not really the prettiest castle in the world, but it was worth it for the views from the top.
Naturally, I had found a crazy restaurant online and made a beeline for it as soon as the evening hit, along with another girl from the hostel.
It’s an underground KGB-themed bar!!
Unfortunately we asked for food and they said that they didn’t serve any, and we would have to go upstairs to eat at a restaurant. It confused me because I’ve seen photos and reviews of the food. The place is literally listed as a restaurant on Google.
Luckily we had passed another place that I’d read good reviews for, the simply named Slovak Pub, and we ended up going there instead. It was better than I could have hoped for!
I indulged in a traditional plate of potato dumplings and sheep’s cheese (bryndzové halušky) and ended up washing it down afterwards with alcoholic tea. Not just alcoholic tea, but 62% alcoholic tea. What the hell is this and why hasn’t the UK come up with this bizarre concoction?! It turns out it’s a pretty popular spirit in Slovakia!
Bratislava’s weirdness didn’t end there – the following night, after a long day in Vienna, I bumped into a dancing polar bear and thought I was delirious, and on my final day, I was lured into an underground tea bar in a bomb shelter only to find myself accidentally becoming a hippie for a couple of hours.
(No, seriously – what would you expect of a tea place with that sign? Awesome, unique British-themed experience, right? Not… feeling like you’re in a Nepalese tea house.)
Oh, and in case you thought I was joking about the polar bear:
But of course, all these quirky additions to the town just made me love the place more.
On my last day, I went for breakfast with the girl I’d befriended in the hostel, and we made the most of taking silly photos with some of the statues around town!
After she left for her bus, I crossed the river, thinking that I might go up into the bizarre UFO building, but instead just took photos from the riverside – this is one of the best views in town of the castle!
Back in town, I wandered down an alleyway that I somehow hadn’t found before, and stumbled across a Scottish pub.
I ended up having more potato dumplings for lunch (not in the Scottish pub). Honest verdict? They are freaking delicious, but the sheep’s cheese and bacon makes it really rich, and I struggled to finish it to the point I’m still not sure if I could have another plate even now!! It’s too much!
I think I walked every street of the old town – and most more than once – just to take in all the pretty buildings, find all the strange statues and generally fall in love with the place.
For me, Bratislava was the perfect mix of beautiful, quirky, eastern, western, and touristy but not overly so. It was unexpected, yet felt comfortably familiar.
But most of all, I think it finds it tough being shouldered in with Prague, Vienna and Budapest an hour or two away on every side. Bratislava should be recognised in its own right and deserves to hit the limelight by itself for once.
Or maybe it should just stay where it is, and the people who know, know.
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