By Rajeev Aloysius
Bratislava is just 60km from Vienna, and was for many centuries its twin city in the Austrian Empire. The composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel was probably its most famous resident, and there is a Hummel house open to visitors. The city is known by various names, such as Pressburg in German, Prešporok in Slovak and Pozsony in Hungarian, and it is a picturesque medieval city with some surprisingly ultra modern architecture in some parts.
Bratislava’s “Twin City” status is exploited to the hilt, with a number of great transport connections to its more celebrated “twin”. Getting in is very easy from Vienna, and there are frequent trains from its Südbahnhof. The day return ticket costs EUR14/person (2012), and includes the public transport in Bratislava - a very good deal. So a day trip is very practical, and is very common for tourists who have a little extra time to spend in Vienna before departure. Bratislava airport is served by Ryanair from Stansted, and is often sold as Vienna. There is a “Twin City Liner” high speed catamaran which departs Vienna’s Marienbrücke jetty to Bratislava’s New Bridge in 75 minutes.
Slovakia adopted the Euro very late in January 2009, so prices remain at its old Slovak Koruna conversion levels, so shopping is attractive for Sri Lankans, among the best in Europe. The big brand names are just coming into the market, and with relatively low overheads, there are many bargains to be found. So, even when compared to Budapest, Prague and Warsaw, food and accommodation is relatively inexpensive, with good five-star hotels in the old town for around €120 per double room with breakfast (in 2012).
The public transport consists of trams and buses. You will require a bus from the train station to the old town, as well as the trip to Devin castle. If you stay in the old town, you will only require four transfer tickets per person at EUR0.90 each, or the convenient day pass for EUR4.50 (2012).
The old town, a very small concentrated area which can be walked through in three hours is particularly pretty, with many baroque style buildings, cobblestoned pedestrian paths, all quite well preserved or restored according to UNESCO guidelines after the fall of communism. The communist era was a disastrous one for the architecture of the city, with many faceless blocks of concrete dotting the cityscape. The post-2000 buildings have glass facades and are reminiscent ofMunich’s modernism. The two prettiest squares in the centre are also the largest. “Hlavné námestie” (Main Square) has theOldTown Hall and the Roland Fountain. The imposing Hviezdoslavovo námestie (Hviezdoslav Square) named after a local poet, has both the concert house and the Slovak National opera house. This square will be of particular interest to architecture students, because many houses of nobility still stand, along with many monuments and the Notre Dame Cloister.
Apart from the iconic UFO Café (pronounced oo-fore) “flying saucer” restaurant on top of the cable-stayed Nový Most (NewBridge), the main picture postcard of the city is the panoramicRoyalCastle over theDanube. So with a short walk from the foot of the castle to the end of the bridge, it is possible to take both, with or without yourself in the photo, within a few minutes.
The old town has plenty of quaint old churches such as St. Martin’s Cathedral (where Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was first performed and where several Hungarian kings were crowned), the Franciscan Church and cloister, the Church of the Annunciation and “the Blue Church” (St. Elizabeth’s). More recently humorous statues have been placed all around the city by Bratislava Tourism. The most famous are the “manhole guy” and the “paparazzo”, the latter strategically placed in front of the Paparazzi café.
Devin Castle is the big attraction. A short bus ride away from the city (on a transfer ticket), it lies at the confluence of the Danube and Moravia rivers. Written references date from the year 864, and the castle been held by the Dukes of Austria, the Kings of Hungary and the Habsburgs and finally the Pálffy family. It was destroyed by Napolean after the Siege of Pressburg in 1809, leaving the ruins (partially reconstructed) which can be viewed today. The Maiden Tower is its main lookout point, which has spawned legends of lovelorn young women throwing themselves to the rocks below.
The main museums are the Clock Museum (in the House of the Good Shepherd), the Slovak National Museum and the Bratislava City Museum. The Historical Museum in the Royal Castle may not live up to expectations given its setting. If you like palaces, Pálffy Palace and Mirbach Palace both merit a short visit.
A number of different kinds of food can be found in Bratislava, and whether you are looking for a gourmet meal or quick bite, everything is less than half the price of “developed” Western Europe. If you are looking for something very local, the splurge choice (relatively speaking) is probably the “Slovak Pub”, Bratislava’s self-proclaimed “flagship restaurant”. The dominant meat ingredient is pork at most of the local restaurants, but there are vegetarian alternatives.
Very few guided tours includeBratislava, so it is advisable to visit by yourself. A day trip making use of the many budget methods introduced by the enthusiastic local Tourism office, is a worthwhile investment. If you are based inBratislava,BojniceCastle and thevillage ofVlkolínec come recommended.