Well, we’re back from our whirlwind European tour! When I say whirlwind, I mean whirlwind – three cities in five days. While that might have been a little ambitious, to say the least, we had to make the most of our time because AJ gets so little vacation time. Luckily, his company closes between Christmas and New Year’s, so we decided to take a short hop across the Atlantic and head to Bratislava, Budapest, and Vienna!
If you’ve never heard of Bratislava or don’t know where it is, you aren’t alone. Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia, which has been separated from the Czech Republic since 1993 (they used to be called Czechoslovakia). We flew into Vienna and then hopped on a direct bus that drove us the short distance (about 50 minutes) to Bratislava. Fun fact: Vienna and Bratislava are the closest capital cities in the world! They’re located about 50 miles apart.
When you think of Bratislava and Eastern Europe in general, you probably think of communism, right? Maybe you picture grey, nondescript, ugly buildings and a generally depressed vibe? To be honest, that’s kind of what I pictured. However, I knew that this was probably our best opportunity to visit, and with it being so close to Vienna, I wanted to make the most of our chance. When we got off the bus at Bratislava’s main station and headed in what we thought was the direction of our Airbnb apartment, we were…well, slightly underwhelmed. There were definitely plenty of ugly Soviet-era buildings and it was definitely cold and grey, with a side of graffiti. Still, it was something different, and we were determined to make the most of it.
As it turns out, we walked the wrong way for quite a while and were nowhere near the part of Bratislava we had intended to visit – the Old City Center. Once we found our way to our apartment, we were stunned by the historic architecture and charm that awaited us. I absolutely fell in love with our apartment – it was perfect!
We arrived a little before lunch and took a quick nap, then headed out to start sightseeing. We joined a free walking tour that was leaving at 3:30, and this ended up being a fantastic way to see the Old Town. The Christmas markets had just ended, so they were being put away, but the lights were still up throughout the city, as were numerous Christmas trees. The buildings in this portion of town are brightly colored and have detailed doors, window, and architecture, and many of the streets are cobblestone. The contrast between what we had seen on our walk from the bus stop and what we were seeing in the Old Town was remarkable, and I quickly fell hard for the city.
Our guide, Nicoleta, was very helpful in telling us all about the city and acquainting us with its history – the good, the bad, and the communist. Bratislava didn’t suffer much damage in World War II, so unlike other cities, most of the original buildings are still intact. However, the city’s oldest synagogue was destroyed through the construction of a highway back in the 1980s, and the construction also rendered a historic church unusable (fun fact – it’s my job to prevent stuff like this from happening in the U.S.). However, there will still plenty of beautiful things to see.
The hunt for gluten-free food was on, and I was presently surprised at how many options I found. Unfortunately, the local Slovakian restaurant that advertised gluten free options I had wanted to try was closed for the holidays, so we ended up grabbing gluten-free pizza at Pizza Mizza instead. I was thrilled to have so many choices – you never know when you travel. We also sampled plenty of Slovakian wine and ducked into a few pubs as well!
The following day, we finished up walking around the Old Town and then hiked our way up to Bratislava Castle for a view of the city. Portions of the castle date back to the 900s, although most of it was destroyed in a fire and reconstructed. There are many things America is lacking, but castles are definitely a big one. We need to get some castles immediately.
There were several things that struck me about Bratislava. First, the local people were extremely friendly and kind, and they were happy to have tourists around. Second, nearly everyone we talked to spoke excellent English, which is great since we didn’t happen to brush up on our Slovak before we left. Third, everything was insanely cheap! Beer was 1.50 euro for a big glass, wine was 1.5-2 euro. We had two pizzas and four drinks at dinner for less than 20 euro! If you’re traveling on a budget through Europe, definitely put Bratislava on your list.
Unfortunately, our time in Bratislava was pretty short and we definitely could have spent more time there visiting historic sites and walking around the Old Town. However, we had a train to catch – it was on to Budapest!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever heard of Bratislava? If so, what were your impressions of it before reading this post? Do you have any interest in visiting Eastern Europe?