When the alarm went off at 4.20 for the final day of the year I seriously considered rolling over and not bothering with Bratislava at all, it was so early. However, I quickly came to my senses, got dressed and ready to catch the first tram of the day back to the train station for our disgustingly early 05.27 train to Bratislava. All went smoothly and we were on the train munching on our breakfast items watching the gorgeous sunrise fully awake regardless of the time. I had bought a sweet cheese pastry for breakfast – which was not exactly to my liking, you live and learn and so I settled for some of the local sausages we had had the day before. After a quick change in Vienna we arrived in Slovakia – my 43rd country (I use List Challenges Countries of the World for anyone who is interested in finding out their number!).
When planning our trip we were keen to focus mostly on Austria due mainly to fact that we only had nine days to see as much as possible. However, with Bratislava – the capital of Slovakia being only a 45 min journey from Vienna it seemed silly not to go when we were so close. The fact that it is quite a new country with a weaker economy than Austria, and therefore things are significantly cheaper also had a positive waiver on our decision making. On arrival at the train station we took a taxi to the edge of the main town at Main Square in front of the Slovakian National Theatre with directions on how to reach our hotel. We were staying at Hotel Perugia which was inside the old town. The old town is completely pedestrianised which is great for wandering around but means you obviously can’t be dropped off directly at your accommodation. This wasn’t a problem and we found our hotel after 5 minutes, dropped our bags and headed for coffee.
The location of our hotel was perfect for wandering around and within a few minutes we had stumbled across Mondieu a chocolaterie where I ordered an amazing caramel cheesecake and a liquid hot chocolate with cream and strawberries (basically melted chocolate you drink). It was phenomenal and so cheap! We hung out here until just before 11 when we made our way back down to the main square to join the free walking tour which departs from in front of the statue of Pavol Orszagh Hviezdoslav. The group was really large and so was split into 2 and so we went with Martina. She was really knowledgeable and extremely passionate about Slovakia and Bratislava which is lovely to see. She explained how the statue was of a famous Slovak poet who was involved in Slovakia becoming an independent country from Czechoslovakia by impressing the need for independence on the parliament in Prague. Apparently he is a bit of a hero in Slovakia today, a bit like how Britain views Shakespeare.
Our next stop was the Slovak National Uprising Bridge – which was erected by bulldozing a huge section of the old town of Bratislava including the Synagogue and most of the Jewish area of the town by the communist government. While the bridge is quite an interesting piece of communist architecture and world famous for the architectural techniques used in the construction it is sad to think of the heinous bulldozing that took place to create it. We wandered past some pretty churches and through the old town area next to our hotel before crossing under the only entrance left of the old city walls and out into more modern communist Bratislava. I should mention from almost everywhere on the tour were fantastic views of the castle which is supposed to be one of the highlights of the city. However, the -7 temperatures put us off making the climb up to see it.
As we left the old town there was a stark difference in buildings and look of the city. There would be a street of beautiful old buildings, akin to those you might see in Paris of Vienna, flanked on the other side plain concrete cube flat buildings. According to Martina many of the elderly citizens of Slovakia often hark back to the communist era when everything was plentiful. The government built hundreds of these horrific looking flat blocks and so for young couples entering the property market it was all very accessible and easy. However, all this came at a price and unless you were liked your children were not allowed an education. That’s communism for you and so today the city is really interesting with such a mix of different architectural styles, from the spectacular to the functional. After going down the main shopping street we made our way to one of the last stops on tour – the blue church. This might be one of the prettiest churches I have ever seen and definitely lives up to its nickname of the ‘Smurf Church’. I can understand why the waiting list to get married here is so long as it really is like something out of a fairytale.
By the end of our tour we could no longer feel our fingers or toes and so we made our way on a friend’s recommendation to ‘the Slovak Pub’ for lunch. Our guide had made a few suggestions for local cuisine to try and so I opted for the traditional dumplings with bacon with a Slovakian coke to drink. I enjoyed the coke which reminded me a bit of Dandelion and Burdock juice and was quite fragrant but wasn’t as keen on the dumplings, they reminded me of stodgy macaroni cheese with fatty bacon. Feeling very full and finally warm again we braved the cold to walk back to our hotel via a few shops to pick up warm clothing and postcards in preparation for the New Years Eve celebrations.
After a nap we got dressed and layered up for the celebrations of the evening. We had noticed a few nice restaurants down at the main square and so decided to head there for dinner where we opted for Carnevalle a steak restaurant which luckily for us had a spare table left. We ordered a bottle of local Slovakian red to go with our steaks – I had the beef fillet from Uruguay that had been corn fed with pepper sauce and a side of rosemary roast potatoes and I can honestly say with absolutely no question it was the best steak I have ever eaten in my entire life, and I have eaten a fair few. After dinner we had googled a wine bar to check out called Grand Cru Wine Gallery which we had been told was a great place to sample some of the local Slovakian wines and we were not disappointed! We picked a small table next to the window and Martin came over and recommended a really interesting white Cabernet Sauvignon for us to start with. It was so good and really unusual since I have only ever had red Cab Sauvs before. From that point on we knew it would be a great night with Martin bringing wine after wine, all of which were great. He was able to tell you a bit about the winery, how the wine was produced and even gave some tasting pointers. The even better thing was that you could finish your glasses and then try something new rather than having to buy bottles of each one. It was one of my favourite bars of the entire trip and my top recommendation for anyone visiting Bratislava.
Time was ticking on and we began talking to a local family who were sitting at the table next to ours also having a great evening. When it got to 11.40 we followed them down to river to a great spot next to a live countdown and brought the new year in surrounded by friendly people dancing and singing. The family were even nice enough to pop a bottle of champagne at midnight and share it with us while everyone was celebrating. The fireworks over the river were beautiful – it really was the perfect place for a new year celebration. After the fireworks display the family headed home while we headed to one of the Christmas Markets to continue the street party there. We met lots of other local people who were all very welcoming and more than happy for us to join their groups for the festivities. It was an epic night and a highlight of the entire trip for me. We stumbled into bed around 4 and all fell fast asleep, far too inebriated to consider preventative hangover techniques…..This was a rookie error.