22 February 2015
Short but sweet Slovenská
Destination : Slovakia
In true traveller style, my visit to Slovenská (Slovakia) happened on a whim. I was in the Czech Republic, had two days to spare, and without much thought I hopped on a bus and crossed the border. I’d never really entertained the idea of exploring Slovakia, mostly because I’d not heard much about it. From my last minute research though I knew it would be castle abundant. So with that guaranteed at least, but the rest uncertain, I adventurously made the move next door.
The commute was via bus, specifically the Student Agency network for around €10 (add an extra couple for stowed baggage). On board I was treated to free wifi, a complimentary coffee, and an in built entertainment hub on the seat in front of me (like the kind you get on an airplane) – basically a budget traveller’s dream! Equally entertaining was the Slovakian lady sitting next to me who I somehow managed chit chat with, despite me speaking English and her Slovak. I’ve found that to be a common occurrence actually and I’m sure many other solo travellers can completely identify. The journey was approximately 3.5 hours between Prague and Slovakia’s capital Bratislava where for convenience sake I decided to stay.
First impressions of Bratislava weren’t overly high (i.e. the bus depot) but I have to admit the city’s charm grew, especially after entering the staré mesto – old town. To me this was the heart of Bratislava. Winding alleyways, cobbled streets, and upward views of the local castle Bratisalvský hrad all giving it that step back in the time feeling. Wandering around this area to discover new haunts and unexpected sights was especially part of the fun. The old town while compact boasts a good balance of everything a traveller desires (sightseeing, cafes/bars, eateries, and shopping).
Of course as with other European cities there’s always the new town
at your feet too. There was less charm here, but it was still
interesting to wander around the shopping malls food complexes and main
streets to observe the modern day Slovakian lifestyle. Unsurprisingly,
it’s also in the new areas that you’ll find cheap eats.
Slovakia’s currency is the euro, but don’t expect prices to be on par with other countries of Europe’s west. Everything costs a lot less, from fridge magnets to fruit. Transport around the city is less than €1 per journey and tickets can last for up to 60 minutes. While there’s a consistent supply of street style food, even finer dining isn’t a particularly huge expense with many main courses starting at €10.
I began my adventures in the Staré mesto, haven for that historic experience. Take a stroll and see where the winding alleys lead you. St. Michael’s Gate and Street (lined with restaurants and bars) are top on the tourist trail as is Primatial Palace – especially if you love pink. There’s also the Old Town Hall. During summer you’ll find musicians and pop up stalls of local artisans here and there.
In the more modern haunts of Bratislava, I sought out The Little Blue Church (aka St. Elizabeth’s). As the name suggests, there’s no mistaking this structure with its blue facade. It’s reputed to be one of the most beautiful examples of Art Nouveau in the world. You’ll find it in the new town on Bezrucova street. I suggest pinpointing it on the map prior to visiting as I had a slightly difficult time without one, and trying to get directions from locals isn’t easy if you don’t speak a word of the language. Unless you want to take the gestures approach of course. (Which is what I did).
Overlooking both the old and new parts Bratislava is Bratisalvský hrad. It’s a very uphill trek from the Old Town to Bratislava castle but don’t worry, there are plenty of opportunities to stop and catch your breath along the way. At the top expect panoramic views of the city and lush grassy areas perfect for picnicking! Enter for a glimpse of Slovakia’s past.
About 30 minutes from Bratislava is one of the oldest structures in Slovakia, Devin Castle. Spend an afternoon wandering around the fortress ruins and taking in magnificent scenery of the Devin township, countryside, as well as the converging Danube and Morava rivers below. At the time of my visit, the castle’s caves were closed to visitors due to upkeep of the site. A small museum however showcasing Slovak history and culture was open. Below at the site’s entrance, you can taste and purchase locally made produce (especially vino) from a variety of stallholders. Getting here from Bratislava is easy via bus 29 from beneath the New Bridge. It’s a direct service and will cost less than €2 each way (buy your ticket from the machine at the bus stop – you’ll need coins). FYI you can also get to Devin castle by boat twice a day. More info here.
Whatever you do, don’t leave Bratislava without trying a good sample
of the local cuisine! It’s a hub for flavours and you can find good food
and drinks at affordable prices. My favourite picks were:
- Bryndzové Halušky was my favourite Slovak dish. It consists of sheep cheese and potato dumplings with a topping of bacon. It can be found just about everywhere.
- Beer/cider/and wine tasting at Pivnice U Kozla (translates to the Goat pub). The food is traditional and very delicious here and the cave like ambience is just superb!
- Luculus – for those with a sweet tooth. They serve some tasty home made ice cream here with lavender tipped to be the favourite.
I’d recommend Bratislava to people craving an escape from the endless mobs of tourists dominating bigger western European cities. It’s perfect for a relaxed weekend getaway, particularly on a limited budget as an independent traveller, or with friends. Two days is surprisingly plenty of time to see the sights (but not necessarily savour them). There is of course much more to experience outside of the capital and no doubt it would make for a much more authentic trip.
I visited: Bratislava Staré mesto, The Little Blue Church, Bratislava Castle, Devin Castle.
If you want the most genuine cultural experience, I can’t stress
enough to have a go at learning some of the Slovak language. This will
help you greatly when eating out at restaurants off the tourist trail,
travelling on public transport, and getting directions if you’re lost or
need help. And on that note I’ll say Dovidenia – that’s goodbye in Slovak.