Bratislava is a perfect city for a day trip. It is about four hours East of Prague, an easy bus ride away. Michelle and I caught an early bus to the capital city of Slovakia and relaxed for the day in what seemed like a small Czech town. The language, Slovak, is similar to Czech and was easy to read, but we couldn’t understand the spoken word very well. For a country that was part of Czechoslovakia not so long ago, the differences in accent and language were surprising.
The first sight we ran into was, of course, a Christmas market in the middle of Old Town. It is surrounded by gorgeous buildings including Old Town Hall, with a beautiful white, green, blue, and brown tiled roof, and the 1777 purple Primacialny Palac, where the mayor sits.
Compared to Vienna, the Christmas market was small, but the central location and children singing onstage sporting traditional Slovak dress told us this was also a main market for locals. We ate a Slovak sandwich of meat and onions, marinated in something delicious. We also tried the vanilla hot wine which was incredible.
After lunch we wandered around Old Town and through Michalska Brana, the oldest city gate in the country, dating from the 1300’s.
The main sights are easily walkable from the gate, so we made our way up the hill where Bratislava Castle sits. It was small compared to Prague’s castle, but it had more of the stereotypical castle architecture. Unfortunately, the castle is under renovation until 2014, so we were unable to go inside.
However, the view from the surrounding wall was breathtaking. Bratislava was spread out below, and the Danube twisted under bridges. We could easily see the soviet-style bridge featuring the ‘UFO’ tower, an observation tower that looks quite alien.
Aliens have landed in Bratislava
From there we continued up a steep hill, passing the U.S. embassy. Michelle and I may have gotten way too excited to be so close to American soil. The embassy looked like a tiny decorated White House. Up another steep hill, we finally hiked to the top to the Slavin Memorial. The tower commemorates the Russian soldiers who died liberating Slovakia during World War II. Slavin is also a Russian military cemetery, something that truly showed me the divide between Czech and Slovak culture. The cemetery was peaceful under the blue sky with the castle and city dotted below.
We hiked back toward Old Town, stopping for hot chocolate on the way down. The hot chocolate served is literally that – melted chocolate with a side of a glass of water. It was delicious, rich, and thick.
Michelle and I at the Slavin Memorial
We continued on to the Old Synagogue, a red building that looked like an apartment with a small plaque remembering the Holocaust. It was simple, just as most synagogues are. With only a few hours left, we again grabbed food in the Christmas Market, including ribs and goulash, and a dessert that looked like a chocolate filled taquito with powdered sugar. It had a sweet and almost sour taste. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was certainly worth the taste.
We then made our way to Bratislava's White House, the President's house. No surprise, it looked very similar to the US White House.
Our final stop was St. Elizabeth’s Blue Church. The small, pale blue and white church had rounded sides and gold tiled portraits. Michelle and I decided that if we were to remake The Little Mermaid, this would be where Ariel gets married. It was a great end to the trip.
Though Bratislava was perfect for a sightseeing day, I’m not sure I would have wanted to stay much longer. However, I do hear the nightlife is pretty great. All in all, I felt like my study abroad was complete by going to a country that has so much significance to the one I chose to study in.
Michelle and I hanging out with the Bratislava Statues