Bratislava Charming? Absolutely! [Trip Report]
**Note: this was taken from my travel journal from July 2010. Some of the details may be different at the time this has been posted.**
18 July 2010
Yesterday afternoon Dad and I arrived in Bratislava from Prague. The bus station is well, a bit to be desired. No services open, even on a Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, the only thing I was armed with a teeny-tiny internet printout map of the city that I could not even find the bus station on and could barely find the street where our hotel was located . After finally finding an ATM, we hailed a cab to our hotel. Cost about 10 Euro in a rinky dink clunker—pretty sure the guy ripped us off, too! But oh well, we were just glad to get to the hotel.
I have to say, my (our) first impression of Bratislava was not good. The area around the bus station is extremely run down. Most of the buildings are falling apart. Not sure if it’s just from decay, built poorly (most looked to be Soviet-era) or if there were some war activity from years ago or not. At any rate, it was pretty dismal to look at. When we arrived at our hotel, Dad asked me how much longer we were going to be in town. I told him, “about 22 more hours.” He looked at me and said, “that’s too long!” Uh-oh. Bratislava so far is not looking to be a high point of our journey.
Our hotel was just at the base of the castle, Ibis Bratislava Centrum. Chain hotel, small room but it is clean and served our needs. The breakfast was good as well. My only complaint was that a bunch of young teenaged-early twenty guys decided to scream on top of their lungs while drunk for about three hours this morning. Dad slept through most of it. I’m dying to know how he did that! Anyway, that really is hardly the hotel’s fault and the tv seemed to drown them out.
The wonderful thing about the hotel is that it is about a 3 minute walk to Old Town and only about a 15 minute walk up the hill to the castle. GREAT location!
So, onto the high points: This town probably has the most charming Old Town “tourist” area I have ever seen. I adore it. And the most wonderful thing about it: there is hardly anywhere here. Pretty “dead” compared to Prague. Despite Dad’s first impression, I told him, “let’s go and see anyway. After all, we’re here!”
First yesterday we just simply walked around Old Town. I can’t say there is a lot to see, but the square is large and open with a pretty fountain in the middle. Some tourist kiosks too, of course. There’s also a few bronze statutes placed strategically—just for the purposes of tourist photo ops. They don’t appear to have any real value other than that. Up on a slight hill, technically the entrance to Old Town is St. Michael’s Tower—a white tower that once looked like it may have been part of the city’s fortification. After we had our obligatory rest at a nice little pub near the tower for some pivo (beer), we continued on by St. Martin’s church to take in some views. We didn’t go in. I sort of presumed is that Dad didn’t feel safe simply from how the scaffolding was attached to the building. It looks like they’re renovating the steeple and instead of the scaffolding being attached from the ground—it was attached to the roof. Yikes. Nearby the church appeared to be a memorial for those that were lost in the Holocaust.
This morning, Dad and I went up to the castle. It looked to be closed but we walked around the complex anyway. It was a very windy day today, expecially considering the height of the hill. There is a lot of renovation work going on. What is rather interesting is that the workers are using chisels, hammers, pickaxes and wheelbarrows. Dad commented on the contrast as in the US, we would use machinery as much as possible. The castle complex area is somewhat plain—mostly white, but nevertheless is quiet with some great views—especially of the new bridge, which seems rather out of place in contrast to the architecture around us.
After the castle we walked down to the President’s residence. Not too spectacular, but some pretty gardens and fountains nearby. Finally, we ended our 23 hours in Bratislava by visiting the Primates Palace, where the mayor resides. Now, I can’t tell since there is no admission to the president’s residence, but it looks like the mayor of this city has it made! Beautiful building. They did not allow any photography and we were watched like hawks, but otherwise were allowed to roam in most areas. The mirror chamber was pretty—but no Versailles, but the collection of tapestries was interesting as well. I really liked the courtyard just outside the entrance—very calm and inviting. Dad and I were the only ones on the tour, too.
I really hope to return to Bratislava in a few years—I can’t wait to see the improvements on the renovated buildings! All in all, while this could have been a day trip from Vienna and only needed to be a few hours, I really am glad we stayed. So charming and relaxing. It was a nice break between the tourist crowds in Prague and what I am sure we’re going to experience in Budapest.
So here's the irony: at our hotel we ordered a car to take us to the bus station. We got picked up in a Mercedes by a well-dressed gentleman and it cost 6 Euro. So, our rinky dink clunker is a lesson and a good story!