Slovakia - Bratislava

Trip Start May 30, 2013
Trip End Dec 09, 2014

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Where I stayed
A1 Hostel Bratislava

Flag of Slovakia  , Bratislava,
Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 1: July 17, 2013

It took us almost 8 hours to get from Krakow to Vienna (PLN 135 per student). Then we had to wait for 1 hour for the connecting bus from Vienna to Bratislava. We both have already been to Vienna. Even if Gonzalo considers Vienna to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (together with Barcelona and Prague) so he would be happy to visit it again, we decided to skip Vienna and go directly to Bratislava. Well, there was actually another reason...I have never been to Slovakia...quite surprising and I'm not proud of it at all but this kind of things just sometimes happens :) Since I felt so ashamed about not being familiar with our neighboring country, especially if we were part of one state Czechoslovakia for almost 70 years (1918 - 1939, 1945 - 1993), we obviously had to spend at least one day in the capital of the Slovak Republic. So we left for Bratislava at 6.00 and arrived at the bus station near Novy Most at about 7.00.

First of all, we went to the hostel where we wanted to leave our bags. We were told by a Slovakian girl working at the reception of the hostel to come back between 11.00 and 12.00 when our beds should be ready. Since it was 8.00 we decided to have breakfast, walk around the city on our own until 11.00 and then take a free walking tour which was supposed to last 2 hours and 15 minutes.

What concerns the breakfast we were given a map recommending a place located in the same street as our hostel. It was called "U Pioniera" and it should have looked like a museum of communism since it used to be full of stuff that was typical when we were growing up - Rubic's cubes, old radios, phones or walkmans. Unfortunately a local guy confirmed us the place we were looking for had been cancelled and replaced by another bar called "The peach" :( What a bad luck! We kept walking till we hit a bakery where we enjoyed a great breakfast...not so cheap (EUR 6,3 for two cups of tea and two pieces of sweet bread) but very tasty.

After having breakfast we started walking to something described in our map as "back to childhood". When we got there or first reaction was: "So this is IT?". The place was quite disappointing...just a few toys for kids teaching them how to keep balance but all of them sort of primitive. Ok, not everything can provoke the "wow" effect, right?

Then we went to see the Michael's Gate which nowadays hosts the weapon and pharmacy museum, however, it used to be one of 4 towers defending the medieval city. It's said that when a single woman walks through the gate she should be quiet, otherwise she'll never get married. Also there is a point of the zero kilometer showing distances from different cities. We also had a quick look at the narrowest house in Bratislava which is situated next to the Michael's Gate, bears number 15 and is only 1,30 m wide.

After that we left the old city and moved to the new city to see the Presidential Palace...

Note: At least local people point out this division between both parts of the city quite strictly. Honestly there's not so many historical constructions to see in the center (comparing to other places - Barcelona, Prague or Krakow) and out of the center it's just full of ugly buildings inspired by the communist architecture, so typical for those times (even in the Czech Republic there are plenty of buildings bearing such a stamp...unfortunately).

...where did I stop...oh, the Presidential Palace was built for count Anton Grassalkovich in 1760 and it's currently a place where the Slovakian president, Ivan Gasparovic, lives. The palace is situated in Hodzovo namestie that is supposed to be another traffic hub and meeting point. There is the Fountain of Peace in front of the palace and the palace itself is surrounded by a beatiful garden. Nevertheless, we visited a public garden located behind the palace which is called Grasalkovicova Zahrada....very peaceful and public toilets are for free ;)

Our next point of interest was Namestie Slobody which is a square also known as "Gotko" after the first communist laborers' president Klement Gottwald. It's the biggest square in Bratislava with a surface of 400m2. The square's dominant feature is the biggest fountain of the city called "Friendship" in the shape of a linden flower, the symbol of Slavs. Unfortunately the fountain has been dry since 2007. The square is supposed to provoke a feeling of freedom inside of each visitor. We felt depressed rather than proud. The square was completely abandoned, full of dry grass and benches designed in the communist style.

From Namestie Slobody we were heading to the building of Slovak Radio Broadcast. It has a form of the upside down pyramid. The building itself doesn't look good at all and we've heard that once it was listed as the 12th ugliest building in the world.

At 10.30 we started walking towards Hviezdoslavovo namestie from where the free walking tour was initiated. The girls divided us into two groups so that we could depart easily. We were provided a lot of information about the history of the city as well as the country and we were also told some interesting facts about the most interesting monuments of the city. I personally found the tour to be very interesting since our guide also spoke about mutual relationship between Czech and Slovak people. It was funny to listen about our rivalness in ice hockey or about stuff like: "Everybody says this happened/started in Prague but it actually happened/started in Bratislava." :) or "This is one of the most typical Slovak traditions / meals etc." (even if it's actually Czechoslovak...haha).

During the walking tour we went from Hviezdoslavovo namestie, passing by the National Theater and several statues placed in the streets of Bratislava, to the main square (Hlavne namestie) where the Municipal museum is situated. It has a collection of the whole city history from Paleolithic age through Medieval days until the communist times. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to visit the museum. Basically the walking tour had two more highlights - Namestie SNP (together with its statue of the Red Army) and Blue Church. Namesti SNP is dedicated to the Slovak National Uprising. It was built as a symbol of the Red Army against the Nazis. Ironically, the biggest protests during the Velvet Revolution of 1989 took place here so today it's actually more a symbol of the failure of communism. Nowadays it's a popular meeting place for all Bratislavans where they come to celebrate. On the contrary the Blue Church is actually called the Church of St. Elizabeth It was built in 1907 in Hungarian Art Nouvea style.

After finishing the tour we went back to our hostel room which was finally ready (unfortunately not clean at all since we were sharing the room with three British piggies), had a shower and then we went for lunch to try some typical Slovak dishes (garlic soup in bread and dumplings with sheep cheese). The entire lunch (including one jar of fresh juice) cost us EUR 11.

After having a late lunch we started heading to the local Castle where we also took pics with our favorite flags. The history of Bratislava Castle starts in the year 907 when it was mentioned for the first time. As a key economic and administrative frontier city, Bratislava (and its Castle) was seized multiple times during the history. The Castle burned down twice and had to be reconstructed five times. Nowadays the upside-down table shape is the most important part of the city's skyline.

While walking to the Castle we didn't forget to have a look at the St. Martin's Cathedral, especially because it's the greatest church in Bratislava. It was the main coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary. After WW I some of its eight bells were recast to cannons. In 2000 all five neighbor countries gave the cathedral a bell as a gift.

There was a fantastic panoramic view of the whole city of Bratislava from the Castle so we managed to take many photos of the "UFO Bridge" (as itīs called by the local people). Itīs supposed to be another symbol of Bratislava. The top floor offers an incredible view of the old city center. This 85 meter tall communist masterpiece is nowadays one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. Well, we didnīt find it so impressive to pay for the entrance EUR 6,50 per person.   

Our last must-see point was Slavin which is a memorial and a military cemetery on the hill situated approx. 30 minutes from the city center (meant as a walking time). There are buried almost 7000 Russian Rec Army soldiers who died conquering the city in April 1945. Nowadays the place offers one of the best views of the city.

At the end of the day we went to the supermarket, bought all ingredients to be able to make a tasty vegetable salad later in the hostel. After travelling all night and sightseeing all day we were completely exhausted, so even if we wanted to go out at least for one beer we didn't make it and fell asleep at 21.45. Unluckily it wasn't a good night since our roomies decided to have a party directly in our room without being worried that the other people would want to have a rest :( In general the hostel was bad (messy and disorganized). Well, it was the cheapest one we managed to find even though we paid EUR 16 per person and per night (6-bed dorm, 12 beds in the apartment, 1 shared bathroom). Quite expensive, right?

Day 2: July 18, 2013 

We woke up at 9.00, had a quick breakfast and get our things ready due to the early check-out at 10.00. We left our bags in the luggage room of the hostel and decided to go for tge last short walk around Bratislava. This time our goal was to see three points of interest - Medicka zahrada (park), Ondrejsky Cintorin and (cemetery) and the building of Slovak National Gallery.

Medicka zahrada is a small breathtaking park, located right next to the Faculty of Medicine. There were a lot of people doing joga exercises, taking out their doggies or kids or just chilling on the grass. The Ondrejsky Cintorin cemetery was founded in 1784 and lies on the border of the old and new city part. It's full of wonderful neo-gothic, neo-rennaisance and classical gravestones. The most legendary neo-gothic grave belongs to the Slovak Robinson Crusoe, Karol Jetting, who shipwrecked during a voyage to Senegal in 1760 and survived 9 months on a deserted island. Slovak National Gallery is one of the most controversial buildings in Slovakia. It's also one of the ugliest galleries in the world. The original building exists since 1948 but in 1979 the architect V. Dedecek started to work on it. The international architect community thinks it's a masterwork but most Slovaks think it's just a huge metallic monster that destroyed their nice gallery.

At 11.30 we picked up our bags and started heading towards the main bus station where we took our bus back to Prague at 12.15. The journey took 4 hours 45 minutes and we paid CZK 290 for one ticket and CZK 10 for one bag (company: Student Agency). The journey was extremely comfortable, maybe not so much space for legs (as it's meant to be in any Czech bus), however, touch screens hanging on the seat in front of each passenger made us believe we were in an airplane.

Although according to our long story it looks Bratislava is amazing place to visit since itīs full of impressive monuments and has a very rich history, on the contrary there is almost nothing to see. Actually itīs quite a sad city that doesnīt have much to offer except of very hot girls (at least they say so :)).
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