Bratislava then and now


Bratislava 030 

Stag parties have been an important vessel in my travels over the years, with dozens of lads’ weekends to the great cities of Europe. One of the best I’ve been on was a 2007 trip to the capital of Slovakia. I enjoyed it so much, I vowed to go back one day – and with return flights for £23, that day came in January 2016. But at the back of my mind I was wary that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations if I was sober and didn’t have a stag dressed in a Borat mankini to parade around the streets. Here’s my verdict of how things had changed, in words and pictures.

Sightseeing v paintballing

On the stag do, we spent our free afternoon dressed in army fatigues, running around a forest outside Bratislava shooting each other.

Reporting for paintballing duty: March 2007

Reporting for paintballing duty: March 2007

Older, wiser and with my wife in tow I spent the daylight hours in 2016 making the most of this beautiful little city by the Danube. Bratislava was made for short breaks and as it’s such a tiny place, everything can be seen on foot and in a few hours if you’re in a rush. We did the Old Town to death, and enjoyed a few of the sights just outside of the centre that a stag party wouldn’t dream of seeing like the Hansel and gretelesque Church of St. Elisabeth, a.k.a the Blue Church.

The Blue or Smurf Church: January 2016

The Blue or Smurf Church: January 2016

We also made it to the Slávin Monument, a war memorial and military cemetery commemorating the 6,845 Soviet soldiers who died liberating Bratislava from the Nazis after WWII. The city views are amazing from up here and the peace and quiet make it well worth the effort to get to.

Slávin: January 2016

Slávin: January 2016

White castle v dirty castle

White castle: January 2016

White castle: January 2016

Like lots of Central and Eastern European cities, Bratislava is dominated by a huge hill-top castle. Unlike those in Prague and Kraków, this one actually looks like a castle should, with its four corner towers. The building was left in ruins after being destroyed by a fire in 1811, and I was surprised to hear it was only restored in the 1950s.

As these photos show, it was a dirty brown colour when I visited in 2007, but has since been given a makeover and is now gleaming white.

Dirty castle: March 2007

Dirty castle: March 2007

Getting to the UFO

The highlight of Bratislava for me on both trips was the UFO – the flying saucer-like bar at the top of the single support column of the SNP suspension bridge. First time I went, I only had an hour or so to sightsee before our paintballing appointment and to be honest I was not too sober from the night before. I wandered hungover through the streets of the Old Town thinking “this looks a bit nice – I’ll have to come back one day”, before I reached the River Danube.

The moment I saw that bridge, it was love and I knew I just had to get across to the other side and up to the bar. The trouble was in my sozzled state, I couldn’t find a way for pedestrians to get across, so I ran into the central reservation of the busy main road and made my way towards the Petržalka side.

The wrong way: March 2007

The wrong way: March 2007

I was getting beeps from drivers and was waving back at them, thinking they were being friendly, but they were warning me what I was doing was illegal and dangerous. Oh well, I lived to tell the tale and got this photo looking up at the UFO that I wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise.

Under the UFO: March 2007

Under the UFO: March 2007

This time I took the sensible route, and found the heavily graffitied pedestrian footbridge which is below the road.

The right way: January 2016

The right way: January 2016

Koruna v Euro

Slovakia replaced the Koruna with the Euro in 2009, and is one of only five former “Eastern-bloc” nations in the Eurozone – a result of the country’s historically sound economic policies.

I remember Bratislava being one of the cheapest places I’d been to back in 2007, and it’s still a pretty cheap destination for those from North and Western Europe.

Wine v beer

Slovakia is not all about beer. I had enough of that last time, but was surprised to see local wine sold everywhere we went. We popped into a few intimate wine bars in the Old Town, and settled down in comfy seats with candles on tables. I had no idea places like this existed in 2007, although I’m sure a group of unruly lads would not have been allowed in.

We enjoyed sampling local reds and whites at Grand Cru Winery (Zámočnícka 404/8), where the persuasive owner does not let you leave before you try some of every grape type to grow in Slovakia.

In contrast, our 2007 alcohol intake consisted of vast quantities of the delicious local beer Zlaty Bazant with the occasional jagerbomb thrown in.

Ballet v clubbing

Only joking. I noticed Swan Lake was on at the Slovak National Theatre the week before we went, with tickets at €15, but nothing was on when we were in town. Back in 2007, our entertainment consisted of pub-crawls, starting at Bratislava’s Irish bar, The Dubliner, followed by evenings at Charlie Brown’s nightclub.

Football

Outside the stadium: March 2007

Outside the stadium: March 2007

From the UFO in 2007, I could see a football stadium so had a quick look around it. It turned out to be the home of Artmedia Bratislava, Slovakia’s top team at the time who had beaten Celtic and FC Porto in the Champions League. Unbelievably, the groundsman had forgotten to lock the gates so I waltzed right in, sat in the dugout and ran out on the hallowed turf of the Petržalka Stadion.

Pitchside: March 2007

Pitchside: March 2007

This year, I couldn’t spot the stadium, and assumed I was looking in the wrong place. But when I got home, I googled Artmedia Bratislava and was saddened to read that the club now play in the bottom tier of Slovakian football after hitting financial difficulties, and the Petržalka Stadion was demolished in 2012.

Slovakia qualified for their first tournament at the 2010 World Cup. They’ll be in England’s group at Euro 2016 in France, where Napoli’s Marek Hamšík will be the one to watch.

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Categories: Czech Republic and SlovakiaTags: , ,

20 comments

  1. I’ve got a pair of pyjamas like that.
    I rate Bratislava higher than Prague and would gladly go back!

  2. That was a fun way to compare and contrast your two trips! You are so much more sensible now! haha

  3. That blue church looks just like a huge cake! (oh and you don’t look a day older) 😉

  4. I can tell that you like this place 🙂 🙂 Bet they have great cake too!

  5. We lived in Bratislava for one and a half year from 2012 to 2014. Can tell you that the stadium in Petrzalka looked really abandoned when I was passing by the stadium on my way to work in the beginning of my stay and then one day it was just gone.

    Bratislava really got a lot to offer, the wine is probably something a lot of people don’t know about, but Slovakia together with the Czech Republic actually got a lot of it. But most foreigners probably mostly go there for the cheap beer, which is a bit sad.

    There is a lot of nice sights as well, nice to see that you found your way to the Petrzalka side as most tourists end up to only have seen the old town. A bit further in towards the Austrian border in Petrzalka (around 3 kilometers from the UFO bridge) there are some interesting sights. There are still signs standing from the cold war when the Iron Curtain went between the countries and then there is the Bunker BS-8, a WWII bunker open for the public.

    Only 20 minutes from the old town there is also another castle, the Devin caste, which I can also really recommend to see if you visit Bratislava a third time.

    Last it is nice to hear that you have enjoyed your visit. 🙂

    Regards
    Jesper, The Biveros Effect

  6. Hey, what a cool blog you have here, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment so that I could discover yours! 🙂 I love your photo of the UFO from the middle of the bridge, I never ventured there (never occured to me, surprisingly!), I might try sometime, but rather in the night haha. Anyway, it is not likely you would get fined or stopped by police even if you walk where you´re not supposed to, Bratislava is not like San Francisco, haha 😀 I am glad to hear that you actually had a good time on your stag party and even came back, I remember seeing some Englishmen with Borat swimwear some years ago, who knows, maybe you were one of them 😀 Also cool that you write about slovak wine, I think the local wine is actually far better than the local beer, although now there are some more better quality breweries. About the football – Artmedia had their game well started, but the corruption unfortunately ruined it, so typical here. Also cool that you share the before-after shots of the castle, it´s nice to see the difference 🙂 I hope you enjoyed Slovakia and perhaps you´ll be back someday – there is another beautiful town on the other side of the republic called Košice which is a real beauty with a great romantic atmosphere. Thank you for writing this!

    • Btw., I shared this on my FB page, I hope you don´t mind 🙂

    • Thanks! Hope you can see I liked your country a lot, and would like to see more of it. I met someone from kosice once who hated Bratislava – said it was expensive and unfriendly, but I loved it!

      • Bratislava as a capital of course is more expensive than the rest of Slovakia. There are many people who come from towns and villages and somehow never manage to feel happy and make Bratislava their home, yet keep living there, complaining and being bitter, I don´t exactly know why. Nevertheless, there are others who grow fond of the town; Bratislava has some kind of strange beauty you have to discover and those who are not willing to find her exceptional places which are scattered and hidden many times, oftentimes feel like it is not worth the visit, saying that if you´ve been to Vienna, there´s no point in coming to Bratislava. However, Bratislava has a completely different “ambiente” than Vienna, but whatever, each to their own. I would like to introduce you to this website though – http://mpba.sk/en – it is kind of a “secret” map that locals fill with their favourite places. Worth having a look, I myself always discover new stuff 🙂 Aaaah, and as for Košice, even though some easterners in Bratislava are bitchy (not all of them!), I had a great experience visiting the town, it was beautiful, cheap, lovely and the people were amazingly kind inspite me being a westerner so clearly, the whole “conflict” between the west and the east is just bullshiting of people who haven´t travelled properly. I recommend Košice 100% ! It´s different than Bratislava and I´d say perhaps even more charming and special. Oh oh, sorry for making this a long ass rant 😀

        • The same could be said of London – expensive and full of miseryguts! Thanks for the link – I will use it if I ever get back to find some off-the-beaten-track bars and restaurants. The ones I went to I liked a lot, but they were in just about every guidebook and blog going, so it’s always nice to get some tips from locals.

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