While it can be accused of being rather bland and boring, the Central European city of Bratislava does have a few interesting surprises up its sleeve, says Raul Dias who spent a solitary spring day about the rather uninspiring Slovakian capital
I must confess, I had been warned about Bratislava. Warned that I’d be unimpressed with its bleak, unimaginative urban architecture. Warned that I’d find the food uninspiring. And yes, warned that I’d find it very hard to like the compact little city, try as hard as I may! But on that sunny spring Friday morning in May last year, nothing could prepare me for the day I was about to have in Slovakia’s capital city that’s truly one of the most boring places I’ve ever been to.
Then why write a travel article on such a place? You may very rightly ask. Well, you see, that all boils down to a simple belief I’ve held close to my heart. I’ve always felt that just like every single person on earth, every single place has its own unique story to tell—however bland and boring it might seem to others. And as a travel writer it is my job to write about such places and chronicle such stories. Real travel for me isn’t just about the triple alliteration of gloss, glamour and glory.
Back story time
Located very close to the Austrian border and only 60 kilometres from the super fun and exciting Austrian capital of Vienna, Bratislava straddles the River Danube in southwestern Slovakia. Declared the capital of Slovakia when the Central European country became an independent state on January 1, 1993 after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia that’s sometimes known as the “Velvet Divorce”, Bratislava couldn’t be more different from its Czechia counterpart of Prague.
And I could most certainly see that! Having just taken the bus from Prague to Bratislava en route Budapest in Hungary, the difference couldn’t have been more obvious.
For one, the grey, concrete buildings of the newer part of town that the bus drove past looked like surly remnants of the communist era. Secondly, I had to use up my stash of one Euro coins to secure a five-hour spot for my suitcase at the left luggage room at the bus station, while both Czechia and Hungary use their own currencies.
A tad peckish after the bus journey, the attached station cafeteria was my only option for immediate sustenance—never mind that it looked straight out of some dystopian film noire. Visions of grumpy lunch ladies ladling gloopy looking boiled potatoes and greyish meatloaf onto a plastic tray were beginning to resemble a scene in some Dickensian novel. Shoveling the tasteless lunch washed down by a glass of weak, concentrated orange juice, I made my way on foot towards the city centre to see what more surprises Bratislava had in store for me.
Of statues and graduates!
One of the first things that caught my eye as soon as I got the main town square was the sight of a group of Korean tourists all huddled together staring down at something on the pavement on the junction of Laurinská and Panská Streets. On closer inspection, the object of their (and now, my!) curiosity turned out to be a rather odd looking bronze statue of a workman peering out of a manhole.
Known as Čumil or “the watcher”, this is supposed to be the most photographed statue in all of Bratislava. As I was to later learn, there are two possible explanations for its name. The first rumour says that he is a typical communist era worker who is not bothered about the work he’s supposed to be doing. According to the second rather kooky rumour, he’s a pervert looking up the skirts of women who pass by. I rest my case, folks.
Still a bit winded from that encounter with Bratislava’s greatest tourist attraction, I was almost runover by a group of rambunctious young people riding bicycles festooned with balloons and banners and generally creating a mighty rumpus asking passers-by for money. As it so happens, Thursdays and Fridays throughout May mark a special time in Slovak culture. For it is then that a sort of coming of age parade takes place where soon-to-graduate high school students go into the town with every member of their class and beg for money to be spent on drinking. The entire class will be there at this final party and most likely it will be the very last time the entire class will be together.
Eager to fit in something worthier of talking about on my five hours in Bratislava, I sauntered down towards the Bratislava Castle. Situated on a hill along the Danube, this castle is made up of a huge rectangular building with four corner towers. It was constructed in the 9th century and underwent massive renovation after World War II. Its front yard, called the “Yard of Honour”, has triumphal gates and guard houses. And it was from here that I took in my single, remembrance-worthy sight of the panoramic view of the city below. A city that tried its best to bore me…to remarkable success!
Raul Dias a Mumbai-based food and travel writer and restaurant reviewer. Follow Raul on Instagram @rauldias123