What you’re probably thinking….
What the heck is a Bratislava? Where even is that? Why are you telling me to go there?
All in good time, sweet cheeks. These questions will be answered.
On a whim, my new Scottish friend Megan and I decided we needed an escape from living in Prague. On a new teachers budget, that means cheap travel and accommodations.
ENTER STAGE RIGHT- Bratislava.
We got the idea from a backpacker was spending the amount of time she wished in each country and would leave whenever she felt ready to. She said she loved Slovakia more than she ever thought she would and ended up spending two weeks there. TWO WEEKS. That’s huge in backpacker world.
Hence why we went to Bratislava.
The four and a half hour bus ride was cheap and roomy with barely anyone aboard. The views along the way were dreamy and filled with pine trees and rolling hills.
When we finally got to Bratislava around noon, we got off of the bus in a grungy looking area that didn’t sparkle at all. I mean, at all. I gazed around the graffiti covered abandoned buildings and heard the constant drill of construction sites surrounding me. Alright, I thought, Welcome to Bratislava.
I had zero expectations coming into this city. My research was pointless as everyone who wrote about Bratislava pretty much said the same thing: “See the castle, wander around, it’s kind of weird, I dunno..”
So we Googled restaurants and started marching towards the nearest Cafe to grab coffee and a bite to eat.
We entered an adorable small cafe, dropping all of our luggage when a slovak man came over with a smile and took our desperate plea of caffeine orders. We studied the interior design of the cafe, giggling about the naked pictures hanging on the walls, in particular, one of a woman licking beach sand in a the most sexual way beach sand can be licked. In between giggles and us dramatically whining about our hunger, the waiter came over and laughed at our comments and suggested we have cake for lunch. Megan and I side glanced at each other and nodded.
“What’s your favorite?” I asked him.
Two slices of carrot cake later, we were both wide eyed and satisfied. It was freaking delicious. We paid the man who gave us our first taste of kindness in Slovakia and left for a real lunch.
We talked travel and home countries all through our salads and beers. Once again, the food and service was amazing. We spoke English easily and the kindness of the staff was such a warm welcome in our first few hours.
As we left the bistro and started our way to the Hostel, we began to enter the actual city. We started ooing and ahing at the greenery, architecture and cleanliness of the streets swallowing us. We found our hostel easily in a nice area of town and were greeted by a man who we heard speak three different languages in a matter of four minutes. After handing us our keys, the receptionist slid two slips of paper to us. “You can retrieve this at the bar.” I glanced down to read Welcome to Bratislava, one shot of Borovicka”.
“Bratislava’s home drink is Borovicka. Enjoy”.
We took the slips out to a small, beach themed backyard bar and passed our slips to the bartender who poured clear liquid into shot glasses. Megan and I tipped our heads back and downed the liquid. The tasted of muted pine hit my taste buds, causing my face to scrunch in distaste.
“Oh! It tastes like Gin! I quite like that,” Megan stated as I coughed. I’ve never been a gin girl. I don’t think I ever will be.
We turned to leave and saw a cat sprawled before us. Megan, against her claims of not liking felines, bent down to scratch the cat’s chin. We both petted the smiley creature before committing to explore the city center.
As soon as we hit the door, I heard a groan from Megan. “It’s on my SHOE!”
The scent hit me before my eyes saw squished cat poop on her shoe. I let out a loud laugh as I watched her try to scrape it off on the ground and hobble to the bathroom to clean it up.
“THIS is what I get for petting a cat,” she said as she closed the bathroom door.
A few minutes later, we were ready to explore Bratislava on clean, cat poop free sneakers.
“Left and left,” the receptionist of the hostel told us. “That’s how you get to the city center.”
We walked and talked about how it was not obvious at all that we were approaching an old European town center. It looked much more modernized yet completely adorable. (Is adorable a word you can use to describe a city? Eh, whatever).
“DUNGEON PUB,” Megan squealed from the sidewalk. “What is a Dungeon Pub?!”
“There’s only one way to find out,” I said, veering left and finding a somewhat sketchy back door to the Dungeon Pub.
We went down the stairs into the basement to twenty pairs of eyes staring at us. We were the only females in the bar. Board games and hookah were splayed in between mugs of beer and coasters. The faint sound of video games was coming from the next room where two pairs of customers were battling each other in a gun fight.
“Oh, it’s a geeky place,” Megan whispered to me.
“We’ve already committed,” I whispered back.
We approached the bar for two small beers and went to find a place to sit. We found a small room with a balcony and climbed the small set of stairs to see two empty foosball tables. Sticking in a few coins, we decided to relive our childhood and verse each other.
“Don’t play this table” a boy said with a Slovak accent. He pointed to the ten Euro sitting on the side of the table, “We’re still playing.”
Megan and I nodded and confirmed that the money was safe where it was, claiming the other table as our own.
Four balls and a tied score later, we drained what was left of our beers and stepped back into the Bratislava daylight.
Not even twenty steps down the road, we walked past an open gate with a beautiful courtyard.
“Let’s go!” I shouted before walking into a summery green area filled with an abundance of colorful flowers and the Grassalkovich Palace. We ran in just in time to meander around and witness the changing of the guards. They marched rigidly and with all the seriousness of a toy soldier. Their movements were robotic and perfectly in sync with the other guards.
We strolled once again towards the city center when Megan excitedly pointed at a place called Pan Cakes. “I know this place!” She shouted, “It’s in a video I’ve seen done on Bratislava! We have to go!”
So here we were, our third meal in three hours, eating a crepe filled with nutella and raspberries. We asked our waitress for the wifi password and scoured the menu for the word that we thought we understood. To us, it sounded like “roo-kuh-luh”. We found the word rukola and entered it in every which way possible before giving up and asking the waitress (with sincere apologies) to type it out for us. She gave us such a weird look, saying the word a few more times and then shaking her head, she typed it in.
When Megan got her phone back she started laughing. “OHHHH,” she tilted her screen towards me and I read nutella. “OHHHHH,” I slammed my palm into my forehead as we heard the waitress laugh behind us.
Accents… I tell ya…
After crepes we finally made it to the main street. For about three seconds. A side street was far too cozy and cute to pass up so we once again veered off the beaten path and wandered down the pastel colored houses until we saw a tiny cafe with a sign outside that read “English/German books for sale!”
Megan and I, both being huge readers, got extremely excited and went into this cafe where we were greeted with friendly hellos and lemon water (FREE WATER, with LEMON, WHAT?!)
This cafe was absolutely precious. Used books lined shelves that were on every single wall of the cozy cafe. Regulars were working on their laptops and a family was in the corner by the crime and thriller section eating pastries. We thumbed through each section carefully before deciding on buying a book each that cost us 4 Euro.
I could feel myself starting to love this city in that moment. Book in hand with the smell of coffee around me, the cashier rang me up with a smile and invited us to a reading that weekend if we had time. If Bratislava was filled with people and places like this, it was going to make it hard to leave.
Spoiler alert: It was.
We trekked over cobblestones and passed more and more shops, stopping in them to gawk over hand made toys and souvenirs. When evening swept over the city we went down into a local pub that used to be a bomb shelter and sipped beer we weren’t very fond of and ate chips and a cheese sandwich. A local man came to our table and slurred, “Guys, come in this room,” and without waiting to hear if we would accept his invitation, waddled downstairs and disappeared from view.
We choked on our beer laughing at the random invitation before the day of traveling hit us hard. We left half our meal and half our beer to go back to the hostel for a nap.
After feeling refreshed, we recognized a dire need for ice cream. It was approaching 9:30 p.m. so we found the nearest place and got there with 15 minutes to spare where we ate deliciously small scoops of strawberry and chocolate ice cream served in a glass funnel.
We stepped into the brisk night air to stare up at the Bratislava Castle and figured it was pretty close to where we were standing. So, naturally, we decided to find it.
We followed signs and ended up at the gates with protective statues perched above them. We walked through the arch to see the glitter of lights in the distance.
Megan looked at me as our jaws dropped.
Slowly, we swayed towards the edge of the castle with intermittent looks at each other, jaws still hitting the stone floor. My hands spread on the ledge as my breath was stolen from my body.
There are certain moments in travel that take your breath away. For me, it doesn’t happen often. I don’t know why because there is beauty everywhere but certain views or experiences truly impact you. This was the first I’ve had in Europe.
From left to right, a city of light sparkled and twinkled in the darkness. The Danube river reflected movement and life, windmills blinked red lights in sync over the horizon and skyscrapers lit up proudly across the river. Bridges aided in the silhouette of Bratislava and the famous UFO towered over a bridge, filled with nightlife.
All I could hear was the whooshing of the wind and the faint soundtrack of a city entering it’s nightlife. The wind whipped my hair around me and I glanced around to find the castle grounds completely empty. It was just us.
We sat staring at this view for so long, soaking it in. The glittering lights created a movement of life in Bratislava. When we turned around, the castle was lit up bright and strong. I wondered what it would look like from the other side of the river.
We walked through the paths to see different views and awed over how in love we were with this city.
That night, on the walk home, we couldn’t shut up about how Bratislava has completely awed us in one day. The people, the cafes and the weird quirks had us falling in love with the warm vibes of the city. Falling asleep that night was easy, as we were both tuckered from a full day of adventure.
Little did we know, the next day the grim reaper would nod at us and we would stumble into the 1600s.
Day Two of Bratislava, coming soon. 🙂
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