ONE FINE DAY in BRATISLAVA: Part II

I’d rather sleep in Budapest (or in Vienna)—particularly because good-value options in central Bratislava are slim, and service tends to be surly.—Rick Steves

Bratislava architecture--windows

WHAT’S UP WITH BRATISLAVA?

Coke lite, Miller Lite, Hungry Jack Syrup Lite—Bratislava is a lot like that. Compared to your average European-bucket-list cities, Bratislava is an unassuming wallflower at the party. Many tourists overlook it completely. Some stop off for a few hours before boarding a riverboat cruise and put it on their list, because it wasn’t there before, just so they can tick it off.

Bratislava is a bashful Prague Lite, and perhaps, another one of those places where expectations might lure you toward disappointment. If you arrive here expecting the party in Prague or Vienna or Paris, you may leave believing you’ve been punked. However, if you approach the town in sloth mode, saunter slowly into the sophisticated café scene, rub shoulders with its history, smell the flowers, unwrap its clandestine sense of humor, sip a snifter of pear-flavored slivovica (slee-wo-weetza), rummage through its quirky eccentricities, you just might find yourself extending your hand and asking the wall flower to dance.

Attila on T-shirt

The Russians weren’t the first to roll in, bully the locals, and rule this part of the world, you know. Attila the Hun and his brother led their marauding horde here in the mid-400’s; they controlled the vast area from the Black Sea to Germany. Word on the street is that Attila killed his own brother, so he could rule the empire alone. It was not a benevolent dictatorship, nor a good time to become a slave.

Ludovit Stur Square sculpture

SLOTHING THROUGH HISTORY

As you leave the surprisingly wide, but ishly-disappointing Danube and wander along Mostova Street, you happen upon a communist-era bronze sculpture in Ludovit Stur Square. Ludovit Stur was a Slovak hero and, encouraged by his religious beliefs—he was a staunch Lutheran Protestant—led the movement to install the Slovak dialect as the official Slovak language standard, instead of the one then used by Catholics and older generation Slovaks—sort of the way Hard Rock is now being eased out by Pop. Apparently through much of history, perhaps even more so than geography or gold or lust, religion is the reason for many of those—pesky and unwanted-by-some—changes we sometimes face in life. Right up there with megalomaniac dictators, scary presidents, and Destiny’s Child.

 

Bratislava flowers

Throughout Bratislava’s Old Town streets, you’ll happen upon atavistic lamp poles flaunting bouquets of flowers just begging you to take their photograph. Bratislava actually does this better, and on a larger scale, than Prague, or Paris, or Amsterdam. And if you love photographing buildings, or doors, keep your camera ready on its strap around your neck.

Bratislava bronze door

 

Humans started making stoneware drinking bowls here in 5000 BCE. The first Celts arrived in 200 BCE and brought their metal goblets. Then around 400 CE, the Romans were growing grapes for wine and introduced their stemmed drinking glass. Crystal has deep roots in this part of the world; the art and method of glass blowing here is over 700 years old, and fairly unchanged in all that time.

Crystal glasses

As soon as you start walking, you’ll wander past several crystal shops. I didn’t even wander inside one of them. No, I take that back. I did wander into one, but there was so much cut glass, some clear, some in bright colors —boldly tacky to my eye and palate— and arranged in such seeming disarray, crammed on shelves from floor to ceiling with narrow aisles and crowded with tourists to the point of claustrophobia, that I turned around and walked right back out.

I may be weird: I’m not a shopper, and I dislike being surrounded by a crowd of people, and glass—or sharks. I would like a crystal candle holder, a modest design of fine quality, from this part of the world—well, they don’t make Buddha statues or malas or neti pots—but I’m traveling for months. How safe is a glass candle stick in your bag anyway?

But if you’re ever in Bratislava and find yourself inside one of these stores—or maybe, a second-hand shop in Boise, Idaho—you might want to know how to tell the difference between crystal and plain glass: if you hold it up to the light and see a rainbow, you’re holding crystal; if you spit on your finger and rub the rim of a glass and it begins to chime, you’re holding crystal.

Reduta Building, Bratislava

On the corner of Mostova and Palackeho, you see one of Bratislava’s most marvelous pieces of architecture, the brash and lucid, Baroque Reduta Building, now the home of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. Odd, how a vase of royal blue cut-glass crystal seems gaudy, and a gaudy building like this seems majestically impressive, to some.

Victory Statue, Bratislava

Cross the street, and you’ll wander into an inviting, green park at Námestie Eugena Suchoňa, one of many public green spaces in town. Center stage here is the Victory Monument. We’re in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, and if you cruise just outside town, you’ll find thickets of poplar, Douglas fir and black locust. One park, Forest Park, is actually a forest where they have discovered remnants from a Paleolithic hunter-gatherer culture that lived here over 200,000 years ago. You might run across a bear, a lynx, a wild boar herding piglets.

Lamp with flowers, Bratislava

Hike through the grass and trees and exit Suchona square on the other side, and you’ll notice more bouquets clarifying the air.

National Theatre, Bratislava

Wander across Hviezdoslavovo namestie, the main pedestrian thoroughfare, and you’ll be standing in front of another iconic building, the old Slovak National Theatre. When opened in 1886, the rather extravagant Neo-Renaissance structure contained more than 700 gas lamps for lighting and a thousand seats.

Bratislava architecture, windows

From here, take Rybarska brana, and if you turn your head to the left while walking, you won’t have to look at the McDonald’s “McCafe” on the corner. Thankfully, they have not erected floor-to-roof golden arches here; their sign is maybe a foot or two tall. And they’ve installed wooden sidewalk tables with umbrellas outdoors, no plastic chairs. I’ve been traveling and working outside the States for 16 years, so I can only imagine this café concept is something new for them? Still, no matter how you dress it up, it’s the home of the original slider. And heart disease. What would you think if you were told someone injects their beef with polydiethystilbe-something, a female hormone, to make cows plumper? Please, don’t anyone tell me what they put in Starbucks coffee.

 

SOUL OF A CITY

Cumil, Bratislava, Watcher

Shuffle along Rybarska until you hit Panksa. Look down, and you discover the now highly-copied (yes, in some of those grander party towns) sculpture of Cumil: the man at work, the gaper, or the peeper, depending on who’s translating for you—your city-tour guide, a travel article, or Rick Steves.

Bratislava pedestrian street

Stroll on down one more narrow block, and imagine horse-drawn carriages while passing some quaint local cafes: Le Papillon, Antik Café, Schokocafe. You’ll feel comfortable stopping in at any of these joints if you’re feeling in need of refreshment, and remember, Starbucks lies all the way across the UFO bridge on the other side of the Danube. I ran across four Starbucks while meandering through Prague; makes you wonder why there is merely one, and only recently opened this year, in Bratislava. Prague Lite, indeed?

Schone Naci statue, Bratislava

Just before you reach the Hlavne Namestie, or Main Square, you’ll spot a silver-ish sculpture of a renowned Bratislava resident named Schone Naci. Apparently, he was quite the ladies man. Legend states that he would wander the town as we are now, in top hat and tails, a scarf at his neck, and he’d tip his hat to all the ladies, sometimes offering a gift or a song. But get this, I checked Wikipedia for the spelling of his name, and the site translates its information into English like this: “Some people say Missing resource ] that his wife left him at the altar, so going mad, going out with a nicely wrapped package and the health of all women.” This is one reason why we tell our students they cannot use Wikipedia as a source to write their essays. But then, an old geezer can only hope to go out with a nicely-wrapped package.

Bench with dolls, Bratislava art

I’m not sure when Rick Steves visited Bratislava, but I can’t agree less with his assessment of the place. I find the town remarkably friendly, the townspeople remarkably un-surly, and there are some truly marvelous beds in various classes of hotels and apartments these days at extremely reasonable rates. You can rent a room for $19, or a very nicely appointed apartment overlooking the Danube for $55 (Tiny, maybe, but still). Most everything is cheaper than the Big 10 European party towns—from goulash to symphony tickets.

And for a town that shies away from the dance floor in the shadows, Bratislava harbors a whole shedload of personality, good vibes, and humor—way more than, say, Prague where surly service seems de rigueur; but then, perhaps you’d act surly, too, if thousands of pesky tourists ravaged your city daily, forcing prices up, congesting traffic, smothering your bridges, Segwaying your sidewalks, photographing your brides, photobombing your selfies.

Still, for me, when it comes to the “unsurly-ness” of its people, roles reverse here: Prague becomes Bratislava Lite. It seems if you relax your pace and swallow your expectations, the character of Bratislava radiates into your day, slow and unassuming, the way morning sun filters into the depths of the ocean — cool, calm, consoling.

Water fountain with child, Bratislava

More smiles in Bratislava coming up next week in Part III.

VIEW OTHER POSTS ON BRATASLAVA & PRAGUE:

ONE LONG ROAD TO BRATASLAVA: Part I

DANCING WITH THE GREEN FAIRLY AT MIDNIGHT

STROLLING THROUGH PRAGUE: ONE FINE DAY—PART II

STROLLING THROUGH PRAGUE: ONE FINE DAY–PART I

See more of Jo’s:  Monday Walks

See more of Lucile’s: Photo Rehab

76 comments

  1. Space! That’s what I crave. And no, not the type I have to be launched into. Though I can remember making the acquaintance of a floor after my first (and being faint-hearted, I think only!) glass of slivovitz. See I can’t even spell it since that time- happy days 🙂 🙂 Smitten with the selfie in crystal, and honoured to be mentioned here, Mr Nice Guy Fish. Thank you so much. Abu Dhabi, did you promise next?

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    • Well, since most of my posts are not “walks,” I can’t usually link to your walks. But this one is a walk! And I forgot to mention…there’s a part III coming up next. I am thinking of doing some posts on Abu Dhabi…is that what you meant? There’s some pretty cool things here that most people don’t know about.

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  2. Ahhhh I like what you are doing with your photographs ~ from the extremely overexposed, to the deeply saturated with color. Very artistic indeed!
    My favorite is the one of the sculpture which looks as if she is leaping into the garden of green. Any city that has a lot of parks is worth visiting. For me anyway, getting the benefit of urban pleasures such as architecture and cool doors yet juxtaposed with trees and green.

    Peta

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  3. I’m afraid I spurned the wallflower, but in all fairness, I also skipped the pretty big sisters Prague and Vienna on my Eastern Europe and Balkans jaunt a few summers ago. Bratislava WAS on the list, but fell off when we ran out of time. Clearly I need to give her a second chance. This was a great post; I loved everything about it – the photos, the descriptions, the mood. As a silly side note, that Wikipedia entry sounds like it was written by some of my students this semester … 😦 For some reason, I have more than usual who love running their native language through a translator and coming up with some seriously unintelligible stuff!

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    • Lex…well, it sounds like you must have been having yourself a party elsewhere if you ran out of time. Are you saying you had no “plan” or you forgot about it while downing local brew? You may not have missed much. It’s an OK place, if you’re there. Nothing to rush off to, like Cuba for Xmas!!
      And hey, that’s not such a silly sidenote: my students try to do the same thing, and what they come up with is like…bonkers. Are your students Spanish speakers, or what?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Good to hear all that. I was there a long time ago, just after the independence set in, and yep, it was surly, grey, downcast eyes, new neon-Plečnik-disco architecture, plastic bars, old old old atmosphere. It sounds like everything has changed. Slovenians get mistaken with Slovaks a lot – similar name, language, coat-of-arms, flag. But it’s understandable, I don’t blame anybody. Both even call themselves ‘Slovenci’ in our respective languages. How you got pear-tasting slivovica is a mystery though – since ‘sliva’ is a plum. 😉

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    • Cool. When were you there, during Russian rule? The buildings now are all fairly colorful and interesting. People have smiles. Still…it’s not Amsterdam by a long shot. But I’m sure things have changed for the better. I’m pretty sure that stuff said “pear”…but now I’m gonna have to go check my notes, eh? And right…I kept getting Slovenia and Slovakia mixed in my own mind, and I’ve been to Slovenia, I should know better.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bratislava sounds like a low-key city compared to the others like Vienna and Prague. I think I would like to visit it given its slower pace. Those crystal shops sound blinding. One tiny wrong turn and you could send glass crashing to the floor and the next thing you know you’d be handing your wallet over 😀

    $19 for a nice room in the town? Now that is really unsurly at all 😀

    “the way morning sun filters into the depths of the ocean — cool, calm, consoling.” Love the alliteration at the end there. Brilliant writing, Badfish.

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    • Mabel…low-key is the right word, all right, especially just coming from Prague and its hoards of visitors, where on some streets you couldn’t even turn around, you just had to go in the direction of the crowd on the narrow streets! Not fun. And yeah, the glass shop was scary, like shark waters. Alliteration…I always wanted to be a poet!

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    • Sally…I always wonder what people think about the mix of history, whether it’s as interesting to them as it is to me. I just love discovering what happened in the past (even if humans are learning nothing from our past mistakes). I also wonder if my humor actually comes across, or if it’s offending someone, so thanks for mentioning that!!

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  6. You make this place sound really appealing, and I have to say I love the Attila: the European tour photo! I also like the guy coming out of the manhole. The place seems to have some very nice public art and beautiful buildings. It does remind me a bit of Vienna, maybe without the horses…

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    • Yes, Bratislava is fairly appealing…once you get past the brown Danube!! You know, I was in Vienna…hmmm, 1969 was it, and I can’t remember exactly what it looks like. But I imagine many of those cities built by the Habsburgs, or during those years, might all look similar, or at least have cool buildings?? I was surprised at all the art in some of these places, it’s all over Bratislava

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  7. I like the thought of travelling “sloth mode” and I reckon we already tend to do that. I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms. I just can’t see the point of paying a small fortune for flights to the other side of the world, then doing one of the 50 countries in 15 days tours that seem to abound and returning home exhausted feeling like I’ve seen nothing. Being a travel sloth is the only way to go.
    I’d like to think the man in the manhole is a working man. It’s much nicer than the alternatives. Great post, Badfish. Thanks for giving me another place to add to my list!

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    • Sloth mode is the badfish mode, for sure! And right…those tours of all those countries I think are good for “one-time” travelers, who will only travel out of their country this one time, and so for them, it’s a good thing to at least “see” some of everything: if it’s Tuesday, it must be Paris. But I’d rather spend a month in a place and get to know the girl who makes fish tacos. And last thing I want is to need a vacation when I get home from my vacation!! And me too, the “worker” seems so much better than some peeping tom, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Your photos have imparted a dream-like quality to this post. This sounds like the perfect kind of understated visit without the crushing crowds. What’s not to love about that?!
    I loved the giant clock. It sums up the feeling of stepping back into history.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ah…the writing this time…somehow better than ever, although I am still catching up on earliest posts. Reading this today was a very calming experience. The photography seemed perfect to match the ways you describe it all with words…quiet beauty indeed.
    And I’m with Restlessjo, smitten for sure.

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    • smitten with the selfie, eh…and with my phone! I should have been wearing my thongs. The photos were probably just lucky shots, it was bright sun most of the time, not good usually for photos. was it you who wanted emoticons?

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      • Yes, I want emoticons, as corny (and lazy) as they can sometimes be, they are expressive and convenient when there are no other options for a quick way to say, for example, the word “like” is simply not enough when responding to someone’s brilliant post.

        There. From the Queen of the run-on sentence…

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  10. I like to save your posts for a lazy weekend morning with a cup of coffee and take my time reading. Always enjoyable escape from the stress or humdrum of everyday life. Fun to see a little peek-a-boo reflection of you in the crystal shop window (like the Badfish bull outside a china shop that you are!)

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  11. I’m sure you’ve run across this already. Here’s a picture of the real Schone (Schoner) (or Ignac Lamar) before they bronzed him. Even more dapper than the statue. Not a bad way to make a living.

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  12. I’m convinced. The Brat goes on the list. Fave photos: Door #5 and you in the crystal! From all you’ve said I think I’d love the Brat. There are always interesting things to find/see/do. Love the two stuffed people on the bench.
    Alison

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  13. I definitely like the dreamlike quality of your photos. As for Crystal. Crystal candlesticks would travel perfectly well rolled up inside shirts and undies. I love crystal. I liken it to how I see people or imagine they could be. Crystal is clear (true – how people should be) with occasional bubbles (varied in character), appearing fragile and yet stronger than you imagine. It is also recyclable. I have several pieces from Czechoslovakia and Austria. No complete sets, just a little this and that. They really serve no function but for me to admire. However a full shop would be intimidating. I’d be afraid to break something.
    I like the way you travel, and I love the way you tell the story. Thanks!

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    • Jo, yeah, I actually like crystal myself. I like the clarity and visual beauty of it. But not the colored bright blue stuff. And not in a store with too much of it. And not the cut-glass stuff…it’s too busy for me. And a candle stick would be just the thing if I ever return. It’s recyclable???

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Bratislava seems like my kind of place. When I went to Prague many years ago it was just starting to be over run by tourists, and I can’t imagine it now. Good to hear that the people were friendly and receptive and not jaded by tourists! Having worked in the tourist industry for many years, I understand how you can get sick of the people 😦

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  15. Just not the city is beautiful the name baristtalava sounds so mysterious so fun…m an Asian more so an Indian…we don’t have such names so may be I find it beautiful…thnks for introducing me to such a new city

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  16. OK, so now I have familiarized myself with Brat and would say that a trip to the entire region, for me, would require at least one month so I could rent transportation of some sort and just wander around. My motivation to do that is not high, as I have other places that I would likely want to see first. But, I can’t be sure. It is intriguing and your descriptions are very attractive.

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    • Beth…OK, I’m going to let you in on a secret: there really is no town named Bratislava. I made it up. And the photos are mostly from Italy. So, don’t rent that car! Go to Madagascar instead. Or Cinque Terre.

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