Whenever I watch a movie, with the action set in a special place, I get an instant need to make a visit. Movies tempt me as much as colorful brochures. Many cities are willing to pay for a “role” in a movie. It is a good advertising. But sometimes movies black advertising. Poor, little Bratislava took a heavy hit from the makers of “Eurotrip”. The movie depicted it as a ghostly, deserted town and a post-socialist nightmare where 1$ is a fortune. From the main characters we can hear: “Dear sweet mother of God… we’re in Eastern Europe!”, as if being in Eastern Europe was something scary and best avoided. But what does the “Eurotrip’s” picture of Bratislava have to do with the actual city? Not very much.
Slovakia is a perfect place for those loving to walk off the beaten paths. It is not a popular travel destination. My own countrymen usually visit it while holidaying in the Polish High Tatras. It is worth an extra effort to wander south, as next to the Polish border lies the most beautiful part of this small Slavic country. Slovakia is separated from Poland by the Dunajec River, and the Dunajec River Gorge is considered to be of one the most beautiful borders in Europe. The Ice Caves, Slovak Paradise or Lomnicky peak make nice, one day trips as well. The view of Spis Castle isn’t bad either. The beauty of Slovakia is enchanting due to its mountainous terrain, but the inquisitive eye can find enchantment in its towns as well.
Slovakia used to be a part of Czechoslovakia. While medieval buildings of Prague were beautifully restored and preserved, Bratislava’s buildings were demolished and replaced by cheap, creepy, block buildings that were suppose to be new and modern, and I guess in some way they were, back in the eyes of Stalin. After the divorce of the Czech Rep and Slovakia most of the country’s wealth went to the Czech Republic, that also kept the capital city.
Bratislava is usually visited from Vienna as a one day tour destination. I bought a train ticket from Wien Hauptbahnhof to Bratislava’s Hlavna Stanica. My first impressions of Bratislava were not the nicest. The first minutes were spent at the train station, which should have been renovated twenty years ago. I left it quickly and headed to Slavin. I thought Slovakia would feel a bit like home, due to its close location and same cultural roots, but it did not.
Many of you know I’m not the biggest fan of climbing, but I climb surprisingly often (and usually complain). Slavin is a World War 2 monument and final resting place for thousands of Soviet soldiers, on the top of a hill. To get there you need to climb! The hill isn’t that high, but to get to the top you need to cover endless stairs and walk on steep roads.
Slavin is one of many military cemeteries of the Red Army soldiers across Europe. It is quite special nevertheless. One can find here mass and individual graves, statues, a cross, an obelisk, all in Stalinist architectural style. However, what makes it special is its location, and the views it provides. Located in one of the highest points of the area, it offers a unique view of the entire city and beyond. Although the morning on which I arrived to Bratislava was cloudy, and the city disappeared somewhere behind the foggy air, the view turned out to be great.
After visiting Slavin, I visited the Presidential Palace. The Grassalkovich Palace is one of the nicest looking buildings in the town, hidden behind an ornamented gate. In front there is the Globe Fountain which looks quite interesting. But what was the most interesting to me, was the graffiti written on the marble piles that surrender the fountain’s pond. “We dreamt of Utopia and woke up screaming”. Everyone can interpret this sentence their own way but it is definitely something that stays in a mind longer.
Unfortunately for Bratislava, most of its old buildings are gone. The old town of Bratislava is small, very small in fact, but quite pretty. It is overshadowed by its larger neighbours, Prague and Vienna, but has a few sights of its own to offer. There is the Old Town Hall, Michael’s Gate, Main Square, St. Martin’s Cathedral. And then, there is the castle.
The Castle aka Bratislavsky Hrad, that watches over the city, can be seen from practically anywhere in Bratislava. It looks very simple and is so white, that in full sun it blinds the eyes. However, as all towering castles, it also provides an excellent view from its walls.
If the view of the mighty Danube from the castle hill would not be enough, there is the landmark of the Slovak capital – UFO Bridge. It was designed to provide nice views, especially of the “other” side of the river – Petržalka. For such a small city Bratislava has a lot of view points. The district of Petržalka is the essence of Soviet architecture. Nothing could be more Soviet than this part of the city. Of course the new authorities of Slovakia tried to make it less Soviet by painting the gray molochs in many cheerful colours, but still, in Petržalka, Stalin and his architectural style are still alive and doing fine.
The last landmark on my list, and the most beautiful one, was the Blue Church. The Church of St Elizabeth was created for a Hungarian princess, Elisabeth. Her parents thought they were going to have a babyboy, hence the colour blue. The church is something out of a fairytale or Disney movie! Basically, it was built for a princess so it could be sort of a castle! But then, it has a cross on the top, so it is a church. The interior of it is painted with pastel colours and looks like a candy shop. Its “sweet” atmosphere makes it a popular place to get married , and the current waiting list is so long and booked for few upcoming years! So if any of you are in love, want to settle down and want to get married in the Blue Church and nowhere else, I really suggest to hurry up and put your name on the list right now!
Bratislava is a very small town and can easily be fully experienced within a few hours or a day. It’s definitely one of those hidden gems that people don’t bother visiting. Those who do, hope to see something truly Eastern European, like portrayed in the movie „Eurotrip”. But Bratislava isn’t exactly what the movie shows. Those, coming to drink Green Fairy Absinthe might be disappointed. It was banned. Those who are hoping for a super cheap holiday might be either, as Slovakia is already in the euro zone, and the prices are definitely european! Bratislava isn’t dark and gray as well. The colours almost attack you from everywhere. And for sure Bratislava isn’t deserted, ghostly city. It is full of people. Rollerskating teenagers, biking people that want to keep in shape, elders walking by hand, yuppies having a chat with friends in one of cafes after work, can be seen everywhere. Bratislava is a place that proves that motto: small is beautiful, is true.