I can’t get any internet connection from my accommodation in Bratislava – so I thought rather than writing my Bratislava experience mixed with my first day in Vienna, I’d write it offline and then post it later.
My day started by getting up earlier in my accommodation in Budapest, and then walked my way down to the passenger port at Belgrad Rakpart. The boarding process was painless – all of the passengers just had to wait about forty minutes or so before we boarded the hydrofoil. I chose to sit on the ‘Buda’ side of the hydrofoil, because I wanted to see Esztergom when we passed the town. It would’ve been nice if I had the time to visit Esztergom, knowing that the town is highly revered by Hungarians. Esztergom was the capital of Hungary from the 10th until the mid-13th century and it was the Royal Seat until King Béla IV of Hungary moved to Visegrád and later on to Buda. Esztergom is still the seat of the prímás of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. Esztergom Basilica is the largest church in Hungary. Esztergom is also mentioned in James Jeffrey’s book so I knew about it before I came over here.
I took a couple of pictures along the way, including some snaps of the basilica at Esztergom, but the actual hydrofoil journey from Budapest to Bratislava was pretty boring actually. The sceneries didn’t change much from forests and industrial buildings. The only exciting bit was when we passed the Gabčikovo – Nagymaros Water Works, because we had to wait for 30 minutes to enter the lock and to get out of it, as the water on the eastern part is much lower than the western part! Because of the whole process, I arrived in Bratislava 30 minutes late.
I had booked an apartment close to the port area called Apartment Kupelna, on Kupelna Ulica 3. I called the apartment owner, to assure her that I was coming. A gentleman by the name of Mihaly greeted me and showed me in and told me about the facilities in the apartment – it has a washing machine! Hallelujah! Now I can wash all of my dirty clothes! He was very kind as well in making restaurant recommendation and giving me a map to start my Bratislava exploration. The apartment is recommended if you want to stay in Bratislava that won’t break your budget – the bed is basic and feels like a sofa bed but it does its job. 🙂 The apartment is a stone’s throw away from the Old Town and has TV, fridge, dishwasher, microwave and internet connection – it’s just too bad that the MODEM doesn’t work with Mac, I suspect.
Bratislava gave me a warm feeling when I entered the city. I couldn’t help smiling as I walked around the alleys and streets of Bratislava. It’s like Prague without the throngs of tourists, and the people seem to be friendlier as well! I get a couple of looks and stares as I walked around but none of them was done out of malice, just out of sheer curiosity. I got that in Budapest and other cities as well – I guess lone Asian travellers are still a rarity.
The first stop that I made was to the Bratislava Castle (Bratislavský hrad) – it was quite a climb up, especially since I didn’t have lunch. The view from the top was great – you can see the contrast between the development that has taken place ever since the fall of communism as well as the separation of Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia, with historic buildings. The bridge spanning over the Danube (Dunaj in Slovak) is also impressive (The Novy Most Bridge – which coincidentally means “New Bridge” in Slovak). I asked the assistance of who I thought was a fellow tourist from overseas. He was actually a local tourist from the town of Nitra – to the east of Bratislava. He was with his mum, who kept on looking at me smiling. She asked me whether I was Japanese. They went “Aaaah” when I explained that I was originally from Indonesia but I lived in Australia. They were both very charming and friendly – something that I didn’t experience in Prague or any other cities that I have been to so far. Unfortunately I couldn’t get into the castle because it is being renovated at the moment. A walk up to the castle will be worth it once the restoration is finished.
From the Bratislava Castle, I made my way down via the St Martin’s Dome, a historic church near the old part of Bratislava. I also walked down to the crypt to see some ancient tombs – nice and cool down there! There is even a section on the church floor that’s hollowed out down to the ancient cemetery, so you can see the skeleton down there! The cover is only a sheet of glass that doesn’t look strong enough to sustain a person standing on top of it! Shudder!
From St Martin’s Dome, I walked around the Old Town, snapping many photos of old buildings, cobble-stoned alleyways – still with half a smile on my face. Bratislava is truly charming – it’s a welcome oasis after the traffic and the hustle and bustle in Budapest. I even experienced another kindness from the local, when one of them gave the Tesco checkout-lady the correct coin to bail me out, because she wanted to round the change. I still had Hungarian Forints in my pocket too, so I was getting frazzled because I couldn’t pick the correct coins.
I initially wanted to try a local restaurant for dinner but I didn’t feel like walking all the way to the restaurant/pub that was advised by Mihaly, because it’s located outside the tourist area. The ones in the Old Town seem very touristy as well, so what did I have at the end? Yeap, that’s right folks – Beef Wong Menu from McDonald’s. Why they call it Beef Wong and Chicken Ming Menu, I really don’t know. It’s as if a local chinese restaurant in Adelaide call their dish Stir Fry Vegetable Jenny and Sweet and Sour Chicken Jonno. 😛
After my “delicious” McDonald’s meal – I walked back to the Town Square. There was a performance today because of the annual Viva Musica! festival. The full orchestra along with the three tenors (Pavol Bršlík, Otokar Klein and Michal Lehotský) provided great entertainment for the crowd. It was another enriching experience for me, which made me love Bratislava even more. It was a great moment to be in the middle of an old town, being with tourists and locals alike, listening to some great music. The tenors took turn to sing, and at the end of the performance, they sang three songs together Funiculì Funiculà, O Sole Mio, and of course, Nessun Dorma. It’s great to be at the right place at the right time! I walked home afterwards when they were doing an encore of Funiculì, Funiculà, because I still had my laundry to hang – where else but in the middle of the room, complete with a fan nearby to expedite the drying process. Haha.
So that’s it, my experience of Bratislava so far – charming streets, friendly locals, a great town that is so easy to fall in love with. Slovakia will change its currency next year, joining the rest of EU countries by converting to Euro.
I sincerely hope that Slovakia won’t lose its charm and friendliness when it’s fully integrated into EU. It’s another gem for travellers to Europe – one of the best-kept secrets. Come and see it before it’s discovered by the mass!!!