The Travel Year

Skip Navigation LinksTheTravelYear > Travelogue > Slovakia

Stories from Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

timChanging trains at the Austrian - Slovakian border turned out to be very symbolic. Out with Austria's sleek ultra-modern carriage and in with Slovakia's slow dated replacement. I rolled on to Bratislava along the same hazy rolling hills, but everything else pass the border appeared more rustic and less shiny. A crop of ugly high rise buildings lifted up out of surrounding corn fields and fleets of state of the art 1950s wheat threshers worked the fields. Nearby, an old Czech Skoda car rusted by the side of the tracks. My train entered the main rail station through a tunnel on the opposite track, since a graffiti covered locomotive that probably hadn't moved since Glasnost blocked our side.

I began to question my plan to stay a few days when I passed rows of block apartments so ugly that even the occasional well intentioned-flower boxes seemed to call attention to how bad the surrounding buildings looked rather than to beautify them.

But after all of this, my opinion of Bratislava turned around after just five minutes in the pedestrian area of its historic center.

It was Tuesday after work and a bewildering selection of outdoor cafes served espressos and big half liters of beer to what looked like the whole city out having fun. Ah! A city that knows how to live! Cafe tables ran down the length of each street, which was surrounded in restored pre-Communist buildings that were not exactly colorful, but pleasantly warm. A few eight sided onion domes lent a distinctive flair to the skyline.

I chose a restaurant for dinner by peeking at what was being served, then ordered a salmon dish for myself. Though it was the most expensive thing on the menu, my entree plus a tasty local beer didn't even set me back $5.

Strangely enough, my salmon was served with a baseball-sized dollop of butter so large I thought it must have been a side dish. I was so sure, in fact, that I heaped a large spoonful in my mouth to see what it was. I retched with the urge to spit out immediately, but noticed a man nearby who saw the whole thing and seemed to await my reaction. Not wanting to look more foolish than I already felt, I swallowed the butter and pretended as though I meant to do that.

At least I could wash the taste out of my mouth with my choice of ice cream in the lively square after dinner. top

An ugly apartment block from Slovakia's Communist past. The old town hall (1421) in central Bratislava stands next to the pedestrian-only square Hlavné Nám. The Michael Tower surveys a lively area in central Bratislava. This pedestrian-only section of old town features so many umbrella-covered tables that it won my hands-down award for most cafés per person of any city in Europe. An ugly apartment block from Slovakia's Communist past.