“Check out that sunset!”
Sitting in our lovely little apartment just outside the centre of Bratislava, I’d happened to glance out the window to see if the evening storm had passed. Apparently it had, leaving only a glorious sunset in its wake.
Not a bad introduction to the Slovakian capital, I guess. Gazing out at the pink skies and glowing rays, it felt more like a beach in Thailand than a central European city.
Walking into town the following morning, I realised that, as usual, I had done little to no research on this new destination. I expected to discover the usual alliterative trifecta of cities in this part of the world – cathedrals, castles and cobblestones – and indeed I did.
What I hadn’t expected to discover was quite so many sculptures.
They started even before we got particularly close to the supposed attractions. Glancing left while crossing the street, a bright blue church couldn’t help but grab my attention. Perched primly on the street corner beside it was this metal snake, cast with a permanently malicious look on its face. Slightly less permanent (hopefully) was the offering of a chocolate bar sitting behind it.
Aiming for the castle that looms over the old town, we stumbled across the second-most-well-known town square in Bratislava on our way there. Now typically that wouldn’t be much of a claim to fame, but perhaps in an attempt to change that, the powers-that-be have kept things interesting in Hviezdoslav Square with a vast array of unusual statues and sculptures.
For example, there is one of a gigantic head. Not to be outdone, a little further along sits some sort of tree-like thing with a huge set of eyes. Yes, it’s a little odd.
Continuing further along the square (more a pedestrianised promenade, really), one of the last sculptures to make an appearance was this deformed praying man. I stood there for a minute or two, trying to work out exactly what the story was behind it, but didn’t get very far. If you happen to know (or have a particularly silly guess), feel free to leave it in the comments!
Finally leaving the square, we figured it was probably time to make some progress towards the castle. Walking under the highway that had been bulldozed right past the medieval walls in the seventies, some unusually artistic street art made a nice change from the tags and scrawls that otherwise seemed to have taken over the graffiti scene in the city.
Dominating Bratislava both physically and from a tourist point of view, parts of the castle date back to the 13th century. While I’d personally put the site into the ‘somewhat interesting’ rather than ‘amazing’ category, our extended wander up to the top did yield yet another impressive statue along the way. And yes, we were slightly lost, and no, stopping for a photo was not at all an excuse to catch some breath after the steep climb. Much.
After a lunch break lengthened by the need to enjoy several of local brewers’ quality products, we pushed through the tour groups to explore the heart of the Old Town. Reminiscent of a slightly grittier Ljubljana, this was definitely most interesting part of Bratislava. After an hour of wandering down narrow alleyways and eating ice-cream, we finished up our sightseeing in the main square. I’d like to say that was a deliberate choice, but I’d be lying.
Still, at least I made a new friend while I was there.
And that was it, a day’s sightseeing in Bratislava. While I don’t think it’s going to end up being one of my most favourite cities in Europe, this often-overlooked little capital had more to offer than I expected. Plenty of great little bars and cafes, an attractively compact old town and prices noticeably lower than in countries further west.
Best of all, it’s only four hours from Prague on the train, and is a logical stopping point en route to Budapest.
Have a Topvar for me when you’re there.
This trip through Central and Eastern Europe is made possible by the good folks at Eurail.com.