Let’s do the Communist Time Warp Again: Travel Bratislava

James and I are back from our little trip to Stockholm and therefore, as promised in my last blog post, I am here to get back on the blogging train ASAP. My post has been somewhat delayed due to work disruptions (I suddenly and unexpectedly changed employers mid-week), catching up on sleep, watching The Avengers movie (or as it entitled for its UK release, Avengers Assemble, just in case anyone in the UK lived in a cave for the last 35 years, decided to jump out of the cave this very week, and chose to spend their first day back in civilisation by going to the cinema and somehow got confused and thought that The Avengers was a remake of the 1960s British TV show and then sued Walt Disney Pictures for misleading and deceptive conduct, which could totally happen), and generally procrastinating (as per usual).

I can totally understand how The Avengers could be mistaken for The Avengers. Totally.

Well, wasn’t that a ridiculously long, grammatically inferior and topically irrelevant introduction! I am the master of digression.

Anyway. As I said, I am back from Stockholm and I am ready to post my first travel piece about our little trip in Stockholm Bratislava (I’m a little behind in my postings) over the Easter bank holiday weekend.

We actually went to Bratislava and Budapest in the same trip, however given I have already wasted a lot time on what we have agreed to be a pointless introduction (which is increasing by the minute) and I want to pad this post out with photographs, I have decided to split my trip into two posts and devote and ENTIRE post to the wonderfully backward city of Bratislava, Slovakia.

As far as I can recall, the only reason we chose to visit Bratislava was because it was close to Budapest. We had four days free over the Easter Weekend, James wanted to see Budapest (which I was happy to oblige as its one of my favourite European cities), and James figured that we should use the long weekend to visit another place nearby. Neither of us had been to Bratislava and it was a short train ride away, so we thought we’d give it a go.

Neither of us really knew much about Bratislava. We both knew it has a castle, with some relevance to the history of the Hungarian Empire, and otherwise it was meant to be “pretty”. We had very little preconceptions. And yet, our preconceptions were shattered. Kind of.

For those who have never been, Bratislava is a weird city. It’s certainly like no other European city I had visited before. You must remember, Bratislava is heading into Eastern European territory, so one might not expect the charm and beauty of its Western European neighbours. However, James and I figured it was still a European capital with reasonably well known landmarks, with some kind of importance in history and therefore was likely to be like any other tourist destination.

Wrong.

Driving into the city centre from the airport felt like what I imagine it was like for West Germans to traverse the Berlin Wall to the East for the first time after it fell in 1990. The streets were dirty and abandoned. The buildings were built in the style of Soviet brutalism. The tram was functional, square and ugly.

We figured this we were just driving through one of “those” areas of a major city that were built with purpose and not flair (just think of the train ride from Heathrow to Central). So we traveled through the streets in awe toward our hotel in the centre of Bratislava, awaiting for the grace and majesty of the old town and the busy street markets for the Easter weekend.

When we arrived, the weirdness continued. We at least expected that there would be some kind of stag night crowd coming over for cheap beer and cheap prostitutes. However, morning, noon and night: the streets remained deserted.

The atmosphere of the town can only be described as post-apocalyptic, communist waste land. On many occasions, James and I were walking through the town – even through seemingly major monuments – and we would be completely alone. Ten, twenty, even thirty minutes could go by without seeing a hint of the living.

Abandoned streets. Empty fountains. Grit. Grime. Graffiti!

However, there were some amazing sites. Like many other European cities, there were remnant the former majesty of the Hungarian Empire.

Of course there were some people. We even heard an American and a British accent.

The cuisine was deliciously stodgy so wonderfully typical of Eastern Europe, with thick stews, hearty potatoes and beans, and chunky meats. However, I couldn’t help but feel they hadn’t quite succeeded with their acceptance of fast food.

And there was this weird tourist buggy that seemed to follow us everywhere.

After a few hours of trekking the ghostly streets, we came upon a haunted house!

Bratislava seemed to have a distinct dichotomy of architecture. The Old Town was filled with beautiful piazzas and brightly coloured buildings.

However, other than Bratislava Castle, all the other areas were heavily influenced by its later communist invasion.

And no matter where you turned, you were forever being watched by the eerie UFO over the Novy Most.

Overall, the experience was quite fascinating and James and I were glad that we visited. Some parts of it were truly beautiful and others were astonishingly decrepit. I would highly recommend visitors of Eastern Europe to make a stop in Bratislava, however one full day was certainly enough and James and I high-tailed it for the earliest train to Budapest the next day.

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