Tuesday 26th July
Today was all about exploring Bratislava, a city we’d heard mixed reviews of. An American family we met in Lithuania described Bratislava as the only place they hadn’t liked, in their entire year long camper-van trip. I also distinctly remembered passing through Bratislava on the train 8 years ago when I was inter-railing with my friend Ellie, who described Bratislava as “a boring city… all the buildings are the same shade of Soviet grey.”
So I didn’t visit Bratislava with high expectations; I suspected Slovakia’s appeal may lie in its stunning mountain senary, rather than its Soviet cities. But despite, or maybe because of all the people who lowered my expectations, I actually really liked Bratislava!
This was the first notable thing we saw as we walked into the city:
And then there was a dog carrying its own umbrella:
So those put us in a good mood for the rest of Bratislava.
The city centre is overlooked by a castle on a hill, and we spent the morning exploring the castle grounds. Like in Krakow, the castle grounds are not dog-friendly, so once more I found myself sitting on the pavement with Lex, waiting for my turn inside. Not even inside the actual castle; just the grounds!
The view over the city from the castle was awesome. On one side there was the beautiful red-roofed old town, with its prominent turquoise and gold church steeple.
On the other side, a cacophony of Soviet architecture! We hadn’t seen that many Soviet apartment blocks since Moscow! Although, like Tallinn, they at least made an effort with a little colour here; Moscow’s suburbs are all resolutely stone-grey. Unfortunately, on Morgan’s solo adventure to the castle, he didn’t take a photo of that view. Less pretty I suppose.
Bratislava’s old town is built in much the same vein as the other European old towns we’ve visited this year. Quaint, pedestrianised cobbled streets filled with pretty colourful buildings, ice cream shops and street cafes. There were also some pretty well-preserved cities walls around part of the old town, which set the city apart from others we’ve visited.
It was a very hot day, so there were a few cooling mist-spraying hoops around the city, and we introduced Lex to them. He didn’t enjoy it as much as we hoped.
We popped into a cool hippy clothing shop in the old town, which had a display of elephant-patterned bags out front, clearly labelled “Elephant bags.” Whilst browsing, we overheard a loud and very ridiculous conversation just outside the shop. And no, there aren’t any typos here, this is exactly what they said:
American man: “Look! Elephant bags!
American woman: “What’s an elephant bag? Oh, it’s a bag with elephants on. They look kinda of India…”
Man: “Yeah… have you been in India?”
Man: “Why not just go to India?”
Neither of them came into the shop, presumably, because they were busy flying off to India instead.
Bratislava old town is pretty small, and after 15 minutes or so of wandering, we did feel like we’d seen it all. We kept walking past tourists with big backpacks or even wheely suitcases in the old town, suggesting that a significant percentage of Bratislava’s visitors were just killing time until they caught the next train outta there.
We had one more place to visit before we followed the crowds and left; the Flagship restaurant. We’d heard this place was exactly what you’d expect from an East European beer hall; traditional food and beer, served in a huge sprawling room centred around a bar. As we approached we saw that the restaurant advertises itself as “one of Europe’s biggest restaurants.” Not one of the Europe’s best restaurants; just one of the biggest.
If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that we’ve been rubbish at eating local food on this trip. Like, really rubbish. We’ve mostly cooked our own meals on our trusty camping stove, and when we’ve been in towns we’ve instantly gravitated towards our old favourites; burgers and pizzas. Today we decided to break the trend, and ordered the following strange mix of Slovakian food:
One of those soups that’s served inside a bread roll – This was actually amazing. The soup was garlic cream, served with loads of cheese melted at the bottom. It was more like eating cheesy garlic bread than soup. Like I said, amazing.
Baked Camembert – Came smothered with a lot of pickled things. Unfortunately far too many pickled things for comfort.
Dumplings – Were not actually dumplings at all, as the menu suggested, but the closest thing we could compare it to is a sort of incredibly unhealthy potato salad. It comprised of small lumps of potato swimming in a rich cheesy sauce, with grated cheese and bacon on top. I couldn’t handle more than a few bites.
Chicken schnitzel – Normal. Normal breaded chicken. Came with a tiny amount of salad which we gratefully ate as a “palate cleanser” after all that cheese.
It was an incredibly rich and heavy meal, but at least we’d finally done it. We’d eaten local food in a dog-friendly restaurant. And it did have a pretty cool beer hall vibe to it.
It’s only an hour’s drive from Bratislava to Vienna, but the feeling of travelling from east to west is palpable. The two cities look so different. Vienna is spotlessly clean, grand imperial buildings rise over every park and river, and even the trams look distinctly less Soviet. We’ve definitely crossed to the other side of the iron curtain.
We were staying with Morgan’s friend Laura and her husband Sebastian tonight, who’d very kindly agreed to put us up in their awesome Vienna apartment, despite clearly being cat people…
Laura and Sebi have two house-cats, which we all knew Lex would be unlikely to get along with, so they were kept hidden in the bedroom for the majority of our visit. The secret was broken instantly however, since Lex could very obviously still smell them. He spent a good hour frantically circling their flat and sniffing everything, before finally settling down. Poor Lex is so old though, that while he was eating his dinner, Spock the cat snuck out and watched him curiously from the kitchen doorway, and Lex didn’t even notice.
Unfortunately, he did notice the brave kitty on her second bid for freedom. Morgan quickly grabbed Lex’s legs to stop him darting at her, and the two of them looked prepared to enter a wheelbarrow race.
As Morgan kept hold of his legs, Lex scrabbled so eagerly towards the cat that he pulled the whole rug across the floor towards him, causing the coffee table on it to collide with his own face. Lex was fine, if slightly confused as to how this inanimate object had attacked him. Perhaps this cat had mind powers…!
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