Bratislava – juxtaposition of old, new and communist

After a long but scenic train journey through Slovakia, I arrived tired and ready for bed – I found my hostel (Hostel Blues) easily, a great one with a good vibe and fab kitchen.

I allowed myself to have a lie in the next day and headed out around 10 hoping to catch the 11am free walking tour. I made my way towards the meeting point, and walked through quaint streets and squares that housed some ornate buildings. Bratislava has a very compact old town (the pretty part), and many advise to miss it out in favour of the more famous nearby cities of Vienna and Budapest, but I still think it worth a visit; if not only to see how communism impacted places in Europe. It’s a fascinating city, with a complete juxtaposition between ugly communist era blocks and the ornate historical buildings of old Bratislava.

The guide on our free waking tour was brilliant – she took us to all the important landmarks in Bratislava, as well as informing us of the history of the city – from its origins to its communist disruption. She professed a genuine love for the place and this only heightened my interest.

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The communists destroyed a huge amount of historic Bratislava in favour of creating new, ‘interesting’ buildings that were largely made of concrete and are thus on a limited lifespan. This is especially prevalent when you come to see the cathedral; right next to it is now a large ugly road that leads to the famed ‘UFO’ bridge – which is quite an odd landmark. The castle is one of the most iconic buildings, it has recently been completely restored after suffering an extensive fire about 300 years ago. Yes it’s not as majestic as castles in other cities but it is nontheless a beautiful building and one the Slovaks should be proud of. Once you’ve managed to navigate your way up to the castle, you can enjoy the fabulous, far-reaching view. On one side there’s the old town with brilliant orange roof tops and neat little streets, then there’s the concrete city the other side of the river. The tour guide told us to come up to the castle and take a picture of the colourful tower blocks, she said that’s the real Bratislava, I’m sure she was joking though. But I did of course take the obligatory photo.

It’s quite fascinating just wandering around the old town and soaking up the atmosphere. There’s plenty of historic buildings that seem to be in complete disrepair; peeling paint, holes in walls and lots of grafitti – some of which is pretty cool – and some still seem to be inhabited.

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After just one day walking around Bratislava you’ve pretty much seen the place, the historic centre is so small and it’s very easy to find your way around. Its a great little city though, and definitely a good place to stop for a few hours if you’re enroute to Vienna or Budapest.

Devin Castle

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Rather than head to Vienna in the morning or the previous evening, I decided to go and check out Devin Castle which is a short bus ride away from Bratislava. The castle is a ruin situated on a hilltop along the Danube River (on the way to Vienna). Its such a picturesque place – the fairytale castle, a pretty town, trees for miles around, a river, and a gloriously sunny day with clear blue skies – it was perfection.

Before visiting the ruin I walked along the river for a little while, took some photos and enjoyed being out in the sunny countryside – though by this time I was boiled! After a while I came across an old communist style concrete building – it was abandoned and boarded up. There were some stairs that lead up beside it, and you could still access these by climbing a little way up a muddy bank. So I did just that. The stairs take you to the top of the building, where there is a big open space and what used to be rows of chairs in a semi circle facing the open space and beyond that the river. It looks like it was once some form of theatre, or simply a viewing platform or picnic area for the magnificent scenery. With the castle looming behind and the river in front, this place would have once provided a 360° view, but now its thoroughly overgrown and very graffitied. Although the building is a bit of an eyesore, especially being in direct eyeline of the castle from the river, its such a shame that its become abandoned – it would probably make a great cafe!

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Rather than head back down to the path and follow this to the castle entrance, I decided to try and walk up the hill. I figured I might be able to climb over the castle wall – a somewhat daring and slightly naughty feat, but I was up for the challenge! Approaching this way was great, it felt like I was the only person enjoying the scenery; at one point I just sat and looked out over the castle and river – one of the turrets sits on a little outcrop all by itself, for extra defence – what a wonderful place. I managed to find some stairs that lead up from the abandoned building to just below the castle walls – a much easier way than scrambling on the muddy surface. Having reached the wall I pondered my next step. I managed to successfully heave myself up after several attemps (this is when being short once again has its downside!), however once on top I immediately got shouted at in Slovakian by the WC attendant. I hastily slid sown the other side and meandered on like nothing had happened. She continued to stare at me throughout my entire visit. I could feel her eyes boaring into the back of my head, what a creepy lady… In hindsight, I can completely understand her attitude, I was being sneaky and I didn’t realise you had to pay for entrance – oops!

Inside the ruins there isn’t much of significance – there are plaques with some interesting information about the castle and its original inhabitants, as well as a small exhibition with a few archaeological finds. The view from and of the castle is probably the main tourist draw. The whole site is quite large; as well as the castle there’s a ruin of an old church, a weaponry, huge fortress style walls and other buildings here and there. Its definitely worth a visit, if only to see an impressive ruin on a rocky outcrop. Granted, there are bigger and more impressive castles in Slovakia, but this sufficed as an accessible day trip from Bratislava – definitely worth it.

I chatted to an older guy from America while waiting for the bus back, he was also staying at my hostel and was just visiting a few cities in Europe. He was currently taking a long distance course from the University of Manchester and we talked about education in our countries – since he used to be a teacher. Its cool sharing and learning about different cultures and countries -one of the many fun aspects of travelling!

On my return to Bratislava I had a quick walk along the river and then headed back to the hostel in order to catch my train to Vienna. Its still strange to think that two capital cities are so close together, and so easily accessible for a day trip or quick visit – only an hour away – amazing!

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