Bratislava was unexpectedly beautiful— for a capitol city I had not heard of before, I was charmed. Perhaps because it’s in the shadow of the more well known Prague and Budapest, finding Bratislava seemed like finding something unexpected and hidden.
My first night there, I wandered into Old Town, and found a stage set up for performances— including this aerial silks act.
My first full day was May 1, May Day— and most museums and things were closed. So, I decided to just hang out in cafes and pubs and write. After spending the week trying to get paperwork sorted out for my graduate degree, the rest was just wonderful.
I did wind up at a touristy restaurant, but had pretty decent luck with food: roasted veggies and cheese. However, my potatoes came out with bacon, so I had to send ‘em back.
Also, I need to give a half-hearted review of Pizza Mizza. I really wanted to like this place, as they serve both gluten-free pizza and pasta. But, the pizza was a letdown: while the vegetarian toppings were great (broccoli, artichoke hearts and fresh tomatoes) the crust wasn’t cooked enough, it was super gummy. Also, I admit I had been seduced by the pizza I had in Vienna and charmed by the Czech style pizza in Hradec Králové.
However, their gluten-free pasta was pretty good— though they use corn pasta, which tends not to reheat very well. I kept getting takeout, and eating my food in a nearby park I found.
My second day in Bratislava, I got to explore more of the museums and churches. The view was the hill Bratislava castle is on is so interesting: a sweeping view of the Danube, with rows of Communist-style apartments framed by the UFO Bridge.
Two of the better vegetarian places are just outside of the more touristy Old Town area. Vegan Bar is tiny, but serves simple, delicious food. Similar to lunch places in the Czech Republic, they cook only a few dishes, and you order from what they have. The lentil soup was quite filling, with carrots, leeks, and tomato. I wasn’t surprised by the line out the door. The rice pudding, served with strawberries, was just the right amount of sweet.
Also, I happened to visit St. Martin’s Cathedral while live music was playing— and although I’m not religious, the ambiance was quite lovely.
Veggie’s was another great find. They do have lots of wheat wraps (sigh), but they also had a delicious spinach quiche with a flaxseed crust. Also, the salad was wonderful: delicious pesto dressing, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and both pine nuts and pumpkin seeds. The water was free, with mint leaves and cucumber slices floating in it. Also, the seating had a skylight, giving it a light, airy feel.
(Also: both Vegan Bar and Veggie’s had the friendliest waitresses I’ve encountered in central Europe.)
Bratislava feels like a real city, with rows of communist-era apartments and that funky UFO bridge set against the picturesque Baroque architecture and the city’s castle. It’s not as picture-perfect as the carefully tended spires of Prague but here, I got much more a sense of it’s history, of it’s past and how it’s transforming.
On Saturday, I made the trek to Bojnice castle. (This is also when I lost my camera.) Honestly, while it was nice to get out of the city and see the Slovakian countryside, the castle was some serious Disney-fied history. And after waiting in an epic line, I wound up not getting to just wander around the castle: it was some type of faux-medieval performance. Delivered in Slovak, of course, so I could only guess at what the plot was. Think Medieval Times. Also, the photos I took in the rain can’t possibly compare to these fabulous ones, taking on a sunny day with a tripod. So when I accidentally left my camera in the back of a taxi after a pub crawl, I honestly wasn’t terribly upset about the loss of the photos.
I suppose part of the reason I liked Bratislava was that I felt as though I put several things behind me: my final grade for my final class was turned in, and now there’s just loose ends to tie up. Also, I had had a disappointing experience with someone from Slovakia. I wanted to find something beautiful here, so I could let go of the bitterness I’ve held on to.
Best part: on the train back, I had a car with a window seat and a plug, so I’m writing this as the Slovak countryside rolls by.
In the end, I had fun in Bratislava— and while it wasn’t a perfect weekend, it was interesting, and memorable. I suppose, that’s part of the same reason I love Detroit: while not a perfect city, some of the most interesting and self-reflective things happen when you let down your guard.