I’ve ended up doing a few rather serious posts lately, so here’s some more frivolous fare to balance matters out. Last week I went on a last-minute holiday with Megan, who was in desperate need of a break from studying. Naturally, as a good, dutiful friend, I felt it was no more than my duty to accompany her in this endeavour. Bratislava was our destination of choice. Here’s the lowdown on this fine European capital, through the mercenary but practical lens of how much everything cost.
£60.79: Return Ryanair flights from Birmingham to Bratislava, Slovakia
We vaguely decided to go somewhere European, Warsaw and Prague being favourite possibilities. However, when we examined the destinations available on the dates we wanted, from the few airports (read: only airport) that geographically suited us both, the obvious option was to fly to Bratislava, Slovakia.
A quick google intensive research suggested that it would be cheap, friendly and pretty, so we bit the bullet and handed over our fine gold to the airline of the Devil himself.
This is how we ended up being sullenly herded across a concrete wasteland to a plane that appeared to be tied down against the wind. I should point out that there was a special boarding tunnel available, but Ryanair obviously hadn’t paid the use-of-tunnel fee, so we were treated to a last taste of the great outdoors before boarding.
Special inflight entertainment was provided in the form of rollercoaster-level turbulence, with the added distraction of watching my life flash before my eyes several times. However, given that I’m writing this, you already know that we didn’t crash, so I won’t bore you with a hair-raising account of the various moments at which I thought the wings were about to fall off.
1€50 and a smattering of humiliation: Transport from the airport
Having established that the 61 bus went from the airport to town, I decided that no more detail was required and we should wing it when we got there. Luckily, this helpful sign was on display to clarify literally nothing:
We exited the airport and happened across the right bus as it pulled up to the stop. We politely waited in line behind thirty or so others, until we reached the door, at which point we realised that tickets were purchasable exclusively from the coin-operated machines behind us and that we had A) only notes and B) no time to buy a ticket before getting on the bus. We therefore decided to nonchalantly amble back to the airport and find some change. Twenty minutes later, we boarded the bus successfully, tickets in hand, miraculously got off at the right stop and made our way to the hostel through the darkened, empty streets.
We’d been also shamefully disorganised about booking hostels, but it proved remarkably easy to find somewhere to stay at two days’ notice. We booked two beds in a dorm at Patio Hostel for the unbelievable price of 1€ for the first night, increasing to an outrageous 9€ on the second. In retrospect, the price and availability of beds probably says something about the demand for accommodation in Bratislava, midweek, in November.
1€70: Beer in the hostel bar
To celebrate our arrival, we decadently splurged more than the cost of our first night’s accommodation on a delicious cold beer. Shockingly, the town hadn’t been exactly buzzing when we walked through it at 10pm on a Tuesday, so we stayed in the hostel bar, which was pleasant, if quiet. The social highlight of the evening (catching up with Megan aside!) was when we got chatting to the extremely friendly but somewhat bemused barman, who asked us what became the town’s catchphrase: “What are you doing here?”
This is perhaps the time to admit that, throughout the planning process, numerous people have pointed out to me that Bratislava, while lovely, is essentially a small, quiet city with almost nothing to do. Undaunted by this dismissive judgement from ignorant Brits, I became slightly more apprehensive when every single local we encountered echoed the sentiment. On balance, it seems that going to Bratislava on holiday outside of the summer/clubbing season is not exactly the done thing.
3€50: Coffee and tasty mystery pastries in a fancy café
Determined to experience whatever we could find, we struck out early to explore, and had breakfast in a very elegant café towards the Old Town. Here we were reminded of just how stupid and rude it feels to wander into a country with absolutely no command of the relevant language – I had tried to pick up a bit of last minute Slovak from WikiTravel on the plane, but the pronunciation defeated me. The waiter was confused and somewhat panicked by the arrival of tourists, but he was as friendly as everyone else we’d spoken to, and offered to translate the extensive menu into English for us.
unfair to make him read the whole menu out, so we opted for the pastries we saw on the counter. They were full of walnut paste and absolutely delicious, although sadly I didn’t actually find out what they were called and will consequently probably never experience their delights again.
FREE: Exploring the Old Town on foot
This was undoubtedly the highlight of Bratislava, although the limited extent of the city meant it took mere hours. We saw many beautiful buildings – here’s a selection of snaps.
FREE: Accidentally attending some kind of ceremony and an art gallery
We walked up to the castle, which is apparently still under construction. Having at first accidentally wandered into a building site, we then found our way round to the front, where some kind of official undertaking seemed to be occurring. We snuck past several fancy cars with blacked-out windows into the crowd of onlookers, and watched. After a few minutes’ wait, a column of blue men (below) emerged gaudily from the castle and marched out of a gate. Since they didn’t re-emerge, I assume they’d gone for good, and we moved on.
On the way back into town we were beckoned into a secret art gallery by two elderly ladies (OK, not secret, but we didn’t know what it was at first and it seemed mysterious). The tenuous conclusion I drew about contemporary Slovak art from the small selection of pictures is that it ranges from Odd to Depressing.
10€: Lunch in a miserable tourist café
Our wanderings led us around the entire centre and well past 2pm. This meant that by the time we remembered about lunch, we were far to hungry to choose an appropriate establishment in which to have it. The result of our tardiness was Poor Choices, specifically the choice of the most conspicuous, expensive and uninspiring restaurant in the near vicinity. We had a disappointing and overpriced lunch, which we philosophically decided was probably fair, since we’d been incredibly lucky in most respects. My stoicism faded a little when we subsequently passed several cheaper and nicer-looking bistros from which tempting smells were emanating.
7€60: Tickets out of Bratislava
I know what you’re thinking. Don’t think that. No, really. We didn’t give up – we just spontaneously expanded our concept of Bratislava to include a little bit of Austria. In concrete terms, we decided on the second morning that, although we could probably happily have spent three days in Bratislava, we had essentially already seen all the city had to offer. Fortunately, it’s cheap and easy to get to Vienna by bus (hence, I suppose, why Ryanair thinks it’s acceptable to call the airport “Bratislava-Vienna”). So, for those who have been thinking that what this blog needed was a few more cliffhangers, stay tuned for tales of Vienna next time!
Some capital cities, whether or not you happen to like them, have a certain life of their own; they operate as if their inhabitants are mere parasites living on the surface of the great, sentient, metropolitan beast. London, Paris and New York number among such cities. Bratislava does not. Bratislava, like the vast majority of settlements, is really just a place in which some people live. That said, it’s a very pretty place, and the people who live there were at best welcoming, and at worst confused, so I’d recommend it for a couple of days – just make sure you bring a book.