Bratislava, Slovakia – Old City, New Capital
Posted on July 6, 2017
Long ago, Bratislava was on the edge of the Roman Empire, having been settled thousands of years before, beautifully situated on the shores of the Danube River. A good thousand years ago the city was known as Pressburg (German) or something close to that in all the many surrounding countries. Although really settled and developed by Germans, for a while it was the capital of Hungary. After the end of WWI the name was changed to Bratislava once the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved in defeat. The Germans and Austrians were pushed out and the city was populated with Czechs and Slovaks. In 1993 it became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic and is today almost completely ethnically cleansed of all who are not Slovak. It’s located a mere hour’s drive from Vienna and just 15 minutes from the Hungarian border. We took a comfortable bus there from Vienna for about one Dollar.
Were we ever surprised to find such a lovely city, one that we had hardly heard of. The old town is easily walked and explored in a couple of days but I would have stayed longer just to enjoy the place. For a different kind of experience, Eva and I took a room on board a tightly moored river boat, while Suzi stayed in a hostel some distance away.
Bratislava holds 25% of the country’s population and a large amount of the country’s wealth, but by more Western standards has quite a way to go to repair the damage of being subjugated by the Soviet Union for two generations. At this time, unlike Vienna and Prague, it isn’t overrun by tourists. We seemed to be about the only foreigners around. Prices were low and quality was good. What could be better than that?
Many old cobblestone streets and alleyways are well preserved in the old parts of town, making wandering around adventurous and a lot of fun.
One drizzly morning we set out on foot to explore the town, starting by crossing the Navy Most, or New Bridge, to the newer part of town on the right side of the Danube. Built under Communism in 1972 it was originally (and presently) named Most SNP, or Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising. It leads from the Old Town to newer suburbs, mostly sterile, soulless concrete high rise apartments, seen all over the world that Russia has touched. Interestingly, vehicular traffic flows across the top of the bridge and pedestrian and bicycle traffic goes outside underneath, where it’s safe, quiet and views are unobstructed. When we got to the far side we switched to the other side and came right back. A good portion of the Old Town and essentially all the Jewish quarter were demolished to create the roadway beyond the bridge.
Like in most European cities we visit, we enjoy wandering around rather aimlessly, excited by the architecture and surprising elements of design and art that’s so lacking in our everyday world.
Along Hviezdoslav Square we found lots to be charmed by, including a bronze sculpture of Hans Christian Anderson, who visited here in 1841.
Nearby is a favorite bronze work from 1997 that we stumbled across, so to say.
On Main Square we came across Napoleon, resting against a park bench, satisfied I suppose to having laid waste to the city in 1809.
Bratislava is still recovering from decades of neglect under Communism, so not everything is as pristine as one finds in the West, but life seems vibrant and cheerful, as best we could tell.
After a while we work up an appetite and decide to have lunch at the city’s oldest brewery, which is on one of the old squares. Other places look a bit touristy.
After lunch we wander into the formerly fashionable neighborhoods at the base of the castle and find there some really fine homes, if a bit in need of care.
After a lot of climbing, we reach the castle, which until a few years ago was a roofless wreck, now splendidly reconstructed.
Finally late afternoon comes and we are ready for tea. Afterwards we step outside to charming evening light so we stroll around another hour or so enjoying the atmosphere.
Finally it’s dinnertime and we find ourselves at the Zylinder Restaurant. In German, cylinder means a formal top hat.
Inside, the decor is a bit spartan, not unlike Soviet interiors, but the service and food were splendid. Eva had the huge Hapsburg era Tafelspitz, a multi course dinner featuring boiled beef. We rolled ourselves home afterwards.