If you don’t know where Bratislava is, you’re forgiven. It’s the end of semester. If you sort of somehow recognise the name from somewhere but you’re not sure where, half marks. If you know that Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia in eastern Europe and a charming little place, you can come sit on teacher’s knee. Come on now, don’t be shy.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much, if anything, about Bratislava or Slovakia before I visited. Like, literally — I didn’t research it at all. I jumped on an overnight train in Krakow, Poland and arrived in the city at dawn the next morning.
Sometimes when I travel I’m mildly concerned I might’ve been on the wrong train, but thankfully the train station in Bratislava comes with a huge “Welcome to Slovakia” sign as you walk through the station. I suppose because they’ve had a lot of people get off the train and immediately say, “What the fuck is this place?”
I crunched through the snow, past the bus stops and over a pedestrian bridge, following the signs for “historic centre” and “castle”. It was cold and I was tired and I probably should’ve taken the bus. But it was worth it when I turned a corner and saw the castle on the hill.
The surprise reveal is always a memorable moment – a castle on top of a misty hill, a song by your favourite band in a film’s soundtrack or an unexpected penis on a girl you’ve been dating. Life is full of such moments. They’re what make life great.
But I wasn’t thinking that kind of stuff at the time. Walking through the snow had soaked my socks through my shoes and I was getting hungry so I was mostly thinking about looking after myself. Problem was, it was way too early. Not even McDonald’s was open yet. So I wandered up to the castle itself and looked out over the city.
Beyond that, there wasn’t much to do in the city, I’ll be honest. The old town was a bunch of winding streets which were nice I suppose, but they weren’t like Jerusalem’s Old City. You can’t get lost in Bratislava’s Old Town because you can walk through it in about two minutes. Where Jerusalem was an intense medley of spices and fresh bread, the clanging of pots and the shouts of stall owners, in Bratislava you could hear your own footsteps on the cobbles beneath your feet.
If you get a chance to visit Bratislava, you’re probably better off going somewhere else instead. But if you’re in Vienna and fancy something more interesting, Bratislava is only 40 miles away. I guess I’ve already spoiled the surprise of seeing the castle looming large on the hill through the mist at dawn though. Sorry about that.