I’m embarrassed to admit my preconceived notions of Bratislava. The little I knew about the city came from stereotypical pop culture film references like “Europe Trip” or “Hostel” and Jodon’s unenthusiastic musings from his previous trip. I was expecting to happen upon a desolate, communist era community that had little going for it: dirty, poor, a true example of the phrase “the struggle is real”. So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to discover that I was entirely, to the core, wrong about the city. Slovakia was my dark horse of the trip. Bratislava’s old town is small enough to walk around in a couple hours, but has enough sites, and restaurants and cafes to keep you interested for days. The people are friendly, the women are drop dead gorgeous, and everything is affordable. The plethora of cafe’s that we passed along the main old town corridor were incredible. Beautiful, modern-looking cafe’s with character. Their displays were filled with freshly baked cheesecakes, tarts, tortes, and pies. They served dozens of flavoured, loose-leaf teas, frothy cappuccinos and thick, creamy hot chocolates. Each place had it’s own style: cute and colourful or industrial and chic. We spent multiple afternoons hanging out at “Enjoy Coffee” drinking tea and playing cards for hours. On our final morning we stumbled across “Fach” a coffee and bread house. The Americano I had was hands down the best coffee I’ve had in Europe. When I asked the server about it, he said all the beans came from a local, organic coffee maker in central Slovakia called “Illimite”. Oh how I wish they shipped to Canada! The sourdough bread they served for breakfast was so fresh it came out warm. It’s served with a salted butter and is one of the best things you’ll ever eat. We ordered a second serving to go at the end of the meal. I do not regret it.
But more than just the food, Bratislava has a fascinating history and a rich culture. Although there is clear evidence of the oh-so-stunning communist style architecture on the South side of the river, the old town still has gothic style cathedrals dating back to the 14th Century and a beautiful hilltop castle originally built in the 5th Century.
Unexpectedly, while we were in Bratislava, we stumbled upon another random festival. Once again, we had NO idea what was going on, or why bright green lasers reflected down the streets of old town or why everyone was holding a big white helium balloon. After I had brushed my teeth and crawled into bed to read, Jodon came crashing into the room.
“It’s an art festival! Let’s go!”
I was less than enthused. “It’s 10:30, its freezing cold out, and I’m already in bed”
“But we can get tickets, and there are hundreds of modern art installations set up all over the city!”
It had been a while since I’d seen Jodon so excited about something, so I rolled my eyes and got up to put on every layer of clothing I own.
It took me a little while to warm up to the idea of seeing modern art in 5 degree weather in the dark. Especially after having being so cozily tucked into bed. But Jodon was right, it was Saturday night and I was being an old lady in bed at 10:30pm. Plus we had seen nothing else like this before.
The art installations were set up as the sun went down and continued until 2:00am. There were public art installations set up in the streets for anyone to see, and paid-for installations that were set up in churches, old courtyards and random buildings around the city. The festival was called “White Night” and it is apparently celebrated in various cities all around the world. This was the second annual White Night festival for Bratislava.
We paid 8 Euros each for a wrist band that let us into every art piece in the city. As well as a map to find them all (which was more difficult than I had anticipated). The art ranged from massive, building-sized artwork, to smaller, more intimate constructions. We saw a glowing cloud made entirely of light bulbs, a laser show in a 700 year old church and a staged car crash with people in hazmat suits climbing around it. Modern art is difficult to explain. Especially when you yourself have no idea what’s going on. Regardless, the festival was fun, and it made me think even more highly of Bratislava.
By the end of our short stay in Slovakia, both Jodon and I were sad to leave. Bratislava has come a long way in the past few years, even a lot since Jodon had last visited 2 years ago. The city is charming and liveable. It has a great food scene and wonderful sites both inside and outside of the city (We went to Devin Castle for the afternoon and loved it). I would love to come back one day and explore more of the countryside, but until then, it’s off to Hungary!