Bratislava – where in the world are we? Go on take a couple of guesses! In fact let’s turn question on its head. What is the capital of Slovakia? Until three weeks ago when we first entered this little known to us country, I think if either of these questions had come up in a Quiz I would probably have failed dismally. When it comes to Geography getting an A’ Level doesn’t really guarantee you knowledge about this sort of detail and, given when I was at school Slovakia didn’t even exist at the time, then perhaps I could be forgiven.
Having arrived in this lovely capital after an all too brief encounter with Slovakia, we wondered whether it would be the icing on the cake to our trip or a damp squib. In fairness it was neither, thanks to a bout of gastric flu which had both of us bed-bound over the course of 48hrs. So if we’re honest the enthusiasm to do anything more than just a perfunctory tour was firmly tucked up under the duvet. Still I felt compelled to go visit – I think this is one of the few downsides to travel writing; when you’re blessed with being in a new place, it feels important and necessary to comment on your experiences. No bad thing, yet it is this passion that drove me to leave my beloved in bed and go experience Bratislava, for my very own Brief Encounter. And I’m glad I did as it was very pleasant.
Let’s start with an atmospheric build up to get you in the mood. Picture the grey-blue waters of the mighty Danube river, which crosses through four country capitals en route to its Romanian Delta and Black Sea homecoming. A river that buzzes with long, square hotel boats that cruise its fast flowing waters with the odd jet-ski braving its engine powers against its forceful flow. Riverbanks that equally vibrate with a throng of people as they sit on make-shift, artificial beaches, play volleyball and promenade with their kids along Europe’s second longest river after the Volga.
Add to that, the vision of a fusion of ancient and modern culture as you are welcomed into the city’s beating heart by a UFO bridge that looks like something out of a Star Trek movie, with the backdrop of a castle placed atop of a hill as if put there by a child making a LEGO model. That really messes with your mind.
Then finally throw in for good measure that this 18th century city stands at the cusp of two other countries; Hungary and Austria – the only national capital to border two sovereign states. This creates a multi-cultural feel to this compact and bijou-style capital that has charm, architecture and a myriad of alleyways that set to intrigue the visitor as we look to master the secrets of this place. Click on the Gallery below for some more images.
Tour around Bratislava
First things first. I love photography and so you will often find me guided around a city, or any place we visit come to think of it, for its photogenic quality perhaps rather than its factual and historical characteristics. And so this is what I present to you today – photographer’s insight into Bratislava.
Taking myself from our parking spot for the night, which was right on the Danube river edge, it was just a short walk across the Stary most bridge towards the hub of the city. My first image of modern Bratislava caught my eye at that moment. Looking down the Danube with the view of Apollo bridge in the distance, the magnificent body of water edged by office blocks and the life that buzzed in, through and around it. Whilst not necessarily pretty as a picture, they do represent modern city life. Whilst the old town sector always capture my imagination more powerfully, I do love these abstract images of city life.
My next port of call, was to seek out Bratislava’s answer to the latest global trend of Umbrella Art. Streets all around the world started to follow Portugal’s lead three years ago when each July they celebrate the Ágitagueda art festival with a display of coloured umbrellas. We saw our first display at Rupea Castle in Romania and so when I caught a glimpse of Bratislava’s very own offering, it was very much on my radar.
Inspired by the beautiful cross-stitch embroidery from Vajnor’s surroundings and the paintings of Ľudovít Fulla, Bratislava makes its first 2018 appearance onto the Umbrella Art stage and can be seen at Nedbalka Street from 30 June until 30 September. Now I’ll be honest that it didn’t wow me as some of the images I’ve seen around the world of similar exhibits and in truth I don’t think the museum who sponsored it did it any favours with having scaffolding up, although this small exhibition sort of summed up Bratislava for me. Small, discrete, understated and, just cute.
I’m not a great historian nor do I have a great fancy for museums, although my photographer’s eye does seriously appreciate architecture and this is something that Bratislava has in bucketloads. In fact between its medieval, baroque and gothic designs, you will have neck-ache with the constant gazing to the skies as you, like me search out the real truth of a city landscape. Bratislava has a good range of buildings that give a historical backbone to the city; Michael’s Gate is the only building preserved from the medieval fortifications and stands as a strong iconic symbol to this city, palaces appear on almost every street and churches take their lofty position as they guard the city’s spiritual well-being.
And aside of the Old Town square which is full of life and vibrance from its café bars and fountains to its robust and ancient buildings, there are a multitude of alleyways that just call you to wander. And the beauty is that you never get lost. Click on the Gallery below for some more images.
It’s always great to see how a city interprets art – we obviously see so much of it etched into the fabric of its buildings, although the type of art I’m talking about are the statue, monument and paintings type of art. I didn’t find a huge amount in fairness, although Bratislava has huge competition with Poland’s Wrocław – now they seriously know how to do art. Although there were a couple of elements to reveal to the curious tourist and Instagramer.
- I found a bronze statue of Napoleon soldier in the Old Town square. Legend has it when Napoleon’s army was in the city in 1805 that Hubert decided to stay after he fell in love with a local and became a wine producer.
- Second is Cumil – which is translated as ‘Communist era worker who is simply not bothered’, created by Viktor Hulík in 1997. Touch the man’s head and make a wish – it is said to come true.
- This wall art was hard to miss on the outer edges of the Old Town.
- And what city would be complete if it wasn’t for its musicians. These guys were something else – their passion written into the lines on their faces.
Bratislava’s Old Town
I’m not, if I’m really honest, a city girl. As an introvert traveller the frenetic energy of the crowds, the tourist traps and the traffic are just too much for me to bear – well for too long anyway. So you’ll only ever find us in a city, or even a town come to think of it, for half a day. That’s normally enough for us to soak up the feel of a place. Then we retreat back into the heart of the countryside to recharge our batteries.
That said I am a bit partial to an Old Town. They capture the essence of history, the locals who lived there in a bygone era and, I think they stand as a testimony to the scars, battles and victories. I also love the photogenic quality they offer me to see the people interacting around the city’s heart.
Bratislava’s Old Town is based around its main square – Hlavné Námestie and where you find its Japanese Embassy, City museum, Old Town Hall and of course an obligatory fountain with pigeons. This has a lovely feel to it and from here the town has arterial veins that spur off in all directions, enticing you to follow. Alleyways that intrigue, streets that implore your gaze and archways that just have to be walked through. Of course you could just follow one of the many walking tours although that’s not so fun. Here’s some of the images I found that I think sum up the soul of Bratislava. Click on the Gallery below for some more images.
Bratislava’s Bold and Old
I just love contrasts that the world presents to the willing viewer – for me they defy logic and structure. And in a world that often demands conformity I love that contrasts stick a right royal two fingers up to that notion. Bratislava I thought had plenty of contrast weaving throughout its streets. In particular I loved how its magnificent castle holds its rightful place overlooking its kingdom, proud and strong. And right opposite it in direct contrast you have the most boldly designed bridge I have ever seen. The UFO Bridge seriously competes for centre stage on the Bratislava vista.
Now the castle is a thing of beauty although at this point in my tour, my energy had run out to visit inside, so I admired from below like so many of its past subjects. Heading back across the bridge of many names was my final goal. This is a pretty unique bridge; it is the 7th largest hanging bridge in the world and its top is shaped like a space ship, hence its UFO label – you can even eat up there, which must be a terrific experience. With a 45 second lift ride up to the Observation Deck where, after parting with €7.40, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city and beyond – on a clear day. The bridge is also significant as a memorial to the Slovakian Uprising of 1944, hence its secondary name the most SNP bridge or New Bridge if that is too much of a mouthful. It is a serious work of art and definitely worth putting on your Bratislava itinerary.
On a return trip to the city four days later with a friend, we had the chance to look around the castle grounds and it is seriously beautiful and the views spectacular.
It’s easy to stay enslaved to a city’s beauty and be captured within its walls never seeing outside its confines. And yet there is so much more to see within such easy striking distance. For one, stretching north you have the Small Carpathian mountains for hiking pleasure. You have the many vineyards that gently cling to the rolling hills to the east, west Austria’s Vienna calls, no more than an hour drive and a little bit further on you can reach the charismatic Budapest in Hungary. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a city that has such a great central hub for visiting other places.
Although my final sharing for today is not quite that far afield – just a mere 12km away up the Danube towards the Austrian border. Devín and its castle are definitely worth a detour. At the confluence of the Morava and Danube river, a stronghold settlement has been here for over two centuries and from 13th century the castle began its evolution. Although destroyed by Napoleon, its remains have become a National Cultural Monument and for €5 you are able to enter the castle grounds to learn about its yesteryear tale.
Walking around the area is beautiful although it has a cloak of darkness veiled around it. You will see memorial stones and monuments that have been erected to commemorate those who died during the Cold War. The Iron Curtain was drawn right on the edge of the Danube riverbank in-front of the castle and it is said that over 400 people died trying to cross it in a bid for freedom on Austria’s western shores. These tributes serve as a cold reminder of times when persecution and dominance still had not been healed from the horrors of WW2. Click on the Gallery below for some more images.
Top Tips for Bratislava
Based on our two trips, whilst my first impression was I am sure jaded by my virus, my return journey nailed my adoration of Bratislava. So based on our experiences, here are our top tips for making the most of the city.
- If you can visit on a Sunday, the crowds will be significantly reduced and you will have more space to explore.
- Visit the Castle grounds, which are free of charge – so if you’re on a budget then this is a fabulous way to not only see the whole cityscape, you also get a peak into the grandeur of the grounds.
- Do allow at least half-a-day, as by the time you have wondered, visited the castle, had a coffee/beer and visited a museum or two, you will need that time to really feel the city’s heart-beat.
- Parking in the city is tricky, so head over to the opposite side of the river and park in the free parking area by the Stary Most Bridge.
- Walk over the Stary Most bridge through the town and then back across the UFO bridge for a really good all round view of the city.
- Stop at one of the many cafés and bars; first it’s incredibly cheap and secondly it’s great to just watch the world go by and feel the city’s pulse.
- Do buy one a Gelato ice-cream – they are something else.
- Take your phone-charger cables as they have just installed charging benches along the Promenade by the old town. So if you have been spending too much time on Social Media and run out of juice, why not take a load off and take a charge.
- Why not take a hydrofoil to Vienna, for €40-70 and just 80 minutes of your time, you get to see the Danube in all its beauty and get to see two cities for the price of one. How’s that for a super travel experience? Check out up to date prices here.
And so there is your photographic journey through Bratislava, seen through my eyes and my lens. It may not be a weekend break type of place, although it certainly deserves a visit en route to Budapest or Vienna. I enjoyed what I saw and thought that a half-day excursion was well worth its value. I hope you enjoyed the ride too.