We arrived on a rainy morning, having travelled many miles from Krakow on an overnight train. It was our first time in a couchette, and we did not expect it to be that cramped up. In fact, we got the wrong kind of compartment. We wanted a sleeper - which would have more privacy - but the lady at the counter either heard misheard our request, did not understand our request, or there just simply isn't any sleeper cars so we had to take the couchette, a 6 person couchette, which was just so squeezy. Every move anyone made was just amplified because of the small room.
The city centre was only about 4 bus stops away from train station. Bus tickets were bought in a small boxy looking ticket machine, and it is a must to validate the ticket once on board the bus. Basically, stick the ticket into a smaller machine where it will stamp the time and date.
When we got to city, it hadn't stopped raining. And you know, if it rains in what was already a very cold winter, it meant we were in for a 'treat'. Thankfully for good gear, we managed to still go through a free walking tour which lasted about 2.5 hours, in the rain. Looking back, I don't know how we did it. Perhaps it is the beauty in which the city eludes which made us want to see more.
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, yet they only have a population of 500,000. The city seemed to have many more old people than youngsters, probably because of their troubled past, and in current situations the younger generations may have chose to move to other bigger cities for better opportunities. It is also understandable how the state of the city is in after getting to know more about it's history, how it became Czechoslovakia, went through all the world wars and finally gained independence in 1993. It is quite hard to believe that a country with so much history is actually younger than Singapore (50 this year).
Here's a little on what we did for a short 3 day stay in Bratislava:
Seeing & Doing
Visit Devin Castle as it is a stone's throw away from Bratislava old town, yet it is located in a relatively secluded place away from the big shopping malls and hustle and bustle. Situated at the confluence of the Danube River and Morava River, the view is stunning all year round, even when we visited in winter. The mist and the gloomy weather does add to the mysterious look of the place.
How to get there: Take bus 29 from Nowy Most bridge all the way inside to the foot of the castle. It is a loop service. Timings for the bus service is probably twice an hour, so be sure to check (at the bus stop there is a board with the timings) before heading up the castle so as not to miss it as you plan to leave the premises.
Entrance fee to the castle: 1.50 euro
Get the best view of the city of Bratislava at Slavin war memorial. We initially wanted to take a bus up there. But since the frequency is not high, we took a walk instead. Really, its not that far from the city. But be warned, there will be a bit of stair climbing which all becomes worthwhile as you will be able to have a look at their residential area as well as getting rewarded with a panoramic view of the city.
If you are in Bratislava in Winter, do not miss their Christmas Market located in market square (Hlavne Namestie). I personally like this particular christmas market a lot because of the variety of food and drinks and other little sweets, surrounded by a tight layout of buildings which now mostly houses embassies. This cozy and compact feeling, accompanied by the christmas decorations and lights and the crowd which gathers in this little center, adds up to the christmas feeling. This was one of our first few christmas markets and we made a silly mistake by ordering too much punch. Punch isn't fruit punch like what we thought... it's actually mulled wine. I have to admit that it did warm up our frozen faces though! The mulled wine stalls here actually have many interesting flavours. We tried Lavender and Ginger. Tasted interesting................
Take a look at the Church of Saint Elizabeth, better known as the Blue Church *cues blue dabedee song*, and be in awe of its fairytale colour and art nouveau style architecture. It is really one of a kind and is exceptionally funky looking.
If you have the time to spare, do a free walking tour. It is always good to do one of these as you have the freedom of how much tips to give, or to give any at all, as well as the freedom of walking away if you think it sucks. Our tour guide, Sonia, is the most passionate guide I have seen in all of europe. She speaks with so much zest and love for her city and country, and that is just amazing to experience and understand the history of this country. I don't know how she keeps a smile and keeps talking even though it rained quite heavily throughout the whole 2.5 hours.
Also, check out the statue of a man in a manhole (pictured below), one of those fun statues the government built around the city, just for fun. Legend says if you touch his head you will get good luck!
Take a walk up to Bratislava Castle, the icon of Bratislava. It requires a short hike up the medieval lanes to get there. Is the view of the city from the castle as good as from Slavin, you may ask. You decide. Though I like Devin Castle more because of its surroundings, Bratislava Castle should not be missed either. I felt that it should be seen from a distance to truly appreciate its architecture and how it stands above the city, seemingly guarding the city just like old times.
For a safe traditional meal, head over to Flagship Restaurant, which supposedly sells pretty good and authentic Slovak cuisine. The must-trys are Bryndzone Halusky (basically it is like carbonara, and carbonara is not really my thing so I wasn't too excited about it. The dumplings are like gnocchi but way smaller, together with creamy sheep cheese topped with bacon bits. One or two mouthfuls is fine. We recommend you to share a plate to try, unless you are a cream or carb lover) and Bratislavske Rozky (A slovak croissant pastry dessert that contains poppy seeds and some other seed and nut mashed together into something like a paste).
When you get bored of the traditional slovak dishes and is aching to have something more contemporary, pop by this fairly new burger joint, Regal Burger situated just a street across from the market square. They offer mainly beef burgers but there is a vegetarian option which I went for - eggplant and mushrooms with burger buns topped with sesame seeds toasted to perfection. Just. So. Good.
A good breakfast place we'd recommend is Cafe TUTO. They have a variety of breakfast items. Head over for probably the best butter croissant - soft fluffy and buttery, hot pumpkin soup (we dig soups!), savoury quiches or a healthy granola with yogurt and fruits.
I enjoyed this city so much as it has such a wonderful small town feeling - everywhere is walkable, which is great as we were able to save on public transport. Throughout our stay in Bratislava, the weather was actually miserable. It rained. Every. Single. Day. But, I am so glad we managed to do what we did, see what we saw and got a nice goodbye display of clouds by the sky as we left for Vienna.
Were there other things in Bratislava that made you fall in love with it?