Bratislava was a change from Berlin and Prague. Coming off the train and out of the train station, I could see it was much smaller and less modern. It took me a while to get oriented and find a place to buy my bus ticket into town. A young beggar woman approached me at the ticket window and stayed next to me for several minutes asking for money. I was a little nervous about her and kept saying “No” until she left. All the guides tell you to refrain from giving money as it encourages the practice of begging and keeping kids out of school. I located my bus, however the driver would not let me get on there. I guess there are “rules”. He then pulled around to other side of the terminal and passengers loaded up including me after a jog to get there. In Bratislava, they use a paper ticket and activate it by punching the ticket on the bus which adds the time and date.
I got turned around a little on the directions, normally the website, Hostelbookers, sends you great directions in your confirmation email. However, I eventually found my hostel. It was a little spooky walking around though as there were a lot fewer people around than I had seen in my prior stops. The city has a general run down look to it. I saw more graffiti here and dirty streets than in any of my other stops.
The Hostel Blues was a nice place, close to downtown, just on the edge of the old city. The staff was nice and there was an elevator which was great as my room was on the fifth floor. They had a great kitchen for guests to use, which I took advantage of during my stay. Close by the hostel was a large Tescos, think Walmart with food. I had a great time wandering around the store checking out prices and the different kinds of foods. They had about 30 feet of deli cases just filled with sausages and different kinds of ham and other sliced meats. Some of the sliced meats I had never seen before. Prices seemed to be close to what I see at home on average. It is hard to tell as I was trying to convert from Euros to dollars. Their bakery was huge and I spent about 15 minutes just wandering in that section. This was late in the day and so most of the shelves and bins were picked pretty clean and still there was more than the average Safeway at home.
I got some soft rye rolls, ham, cherry juice, milk, cereal and chips and it came to less than $10 and it was enough for 2 meals.
I took a day off from sight-seeing, sometimes you need to just catch up on sleep and laundry. I did wander around the old quarter on my own for a few hours though and just kept wondering where were all the people. I saw quite a few nice old buildings and the old town gate. Snapped a few photos here and there and decided to wait until the next day when I would take the free walking tour.
The walking tour was led my an Australian who was pretty informed about the history of Slovakia. I got a lot out of his talk. Seems that when the Soviets were running all of the countries behind the iron curtain, they decided to keep some older cities and modernize others. They chose to keep Prague in its historical condition and maintain it and they decided to modernize Bratislava. Poor decision in my mind. They only kept a small section of the old town and put this massive highway and modern bridge running right through the city, next to a beautiful old church. The vibrations from the heavy traffic are constantly damaging the foundations of the church as it runs less than 15 feet from the front door.
The part I liked the best was the Blue Church. It was immaculately maintained and an art nouveau style. It is pale blue with bands of dark blue mosaic tile and white trim. Even the inside is blue. Needless to say, they have a long waiting list for weddings and baptisms. Next door is another art nouveau building in pristine condition, a high school and across from the church is an abandoned Soviet built hospital in ruins.
According to my guide Slovakia has some of the best growth in Europe, due a lot to incentives they have to invest in the country, low wages and a low (17%) tax rate. He told us that Slovakia is the number one in car manufacturing in Europe. To me though, from what I was able to see, Bratislava is rundown and still has the look of Soviet style. I walked around wishing for a bottle of windex and some paper towels so I could just wash the windows. Even that much would help.
The day I really looked around was a national holiday so many of the shops were closed which added to the quiet streets. I lost count of how many travel businesses I came across, most of them including the english phrase, “Last Minute”, in the shop sign. I wondered if that meant a lot of Bratislavans want to get out of town. I also saw a higher than average second hand clothes stores.
Overall, Bratislava was disappointing for me, I did see some interesting things and I hope my guide was right when he told me that in 7-10 years time, Bratislava will look very different. I hope they invest in their infrastructure and develop their sites, right now it is a little shabby and less than chic.
Oh well, on to Budapest…stay tuned.