Some of our friends may visit us but most won’t. It’s not that they don’t want to, they just can’t find us. And those who are more geographically astute are thinking “why Bratislava”. Maybe we’ll visit if they move to Paris or Rome or London. I don’t take it personally. We’re the Rodney Dangerfield of European capitals – we get little respect.
Frankly, that’s fine by me. Tourists get on my nerves. I like having the cobblestone streets of Old Town to myself. Others loss is my gain.For decades, Bratislava as a city – and Slovakia as a country – suffered under an oppressive communist regime. The scars are deep and still apparent; the densely populated concrete apartment neighborhood across the river in Petrazalka; the ruins in old town created after ownership was relegated to a state ill prepared for 500-year-old building maintenance. But that’s in the past.
This city is focused on the future.
The new complex on the Danube, Eurovea, is a modern mix of theater, mall, housing and restaurants which can go toe to toe with any in Europe. The sloping hills between this complex and the water is a place for lying on the grass, playing with dog, communing with friends and family, and watching the boats cruise past.
The nearby Old Town has been restored to its pre-communist state. After scrubbing off the grey, revealed is a lovely Baroque city, a rainbow of colors; yellow, green, red, orange. It’s a
community meeting place, the home of Christmas markets and summer concerts, a town with two theaters for the opera and a recently renovated (and spectacular) symphony hall. After four months, I still walk thru town and whisper to my husband or myself “look at this, can you believe it, this is our home”.
I struggle to compare Bratislava to other European cities. Most cities with the pedestrianized charm of Bratislava are tourist traps. Bratislava gets relatively few tourists. The restaurants and cafes are frequented by a mix of locals connecting after work; Austrians looking for a cheap meal; and day trippers rushing back to their cruise ship before evening departure. Here, two people can eat dinner and see an opera with change back from their 50. Nightly, tour buses roll into town filled with opera goers from our more famous Austrian neighbor. They know a good thing when they see it. From November thru March there is an opera virtually every night.
Hugging the shore of the Danube, Bratislava has all the prerequisites for a European tourist destination; a castle on the hill, a major cathedral, a world-class river, and a jumbled mess of winding alleys and streets.
My favorite thing to do is wander, look up, look out, listen, absorb. I’ve been to some museums. They are nice, interesting, but not the reason to come here. Wandering home after dinner, we hear a choir practicing. They are very good. We sit quietly below their window, eaves-dropping. Someone in the chorus sneezes and the rehearsal erupts in laughter. We are completely alone in the square, we are dazzled.
I won’t try to convince you that Bratislava is a destination. For most, it is not. But it is certainly worth a day or two. Come to explore the history, to wander the traffic free streets, to listen to music, to see an opera, to meet wonderful people, to enjoy a cheap meal. Come to learn and to witness a country pushed to the brink of devastation who is back with a vengeance. Come to give it the respect it deserves. It’s earned it.
Categories: Insiders Bratislava