Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Tereza, a native of Slovakia, wrote a few posts about her country.  If you haven't visited already, you will want to after reading this!

Main Square at night!  A city not to be missed in Europe.
(Photo from Bratislava Tourist Board)
Some of you may be wondering where in the world this place could possibly be.  Bratislava is the capital of the Slovak Republic, located in central Europe. Slovakia (as opposed to Slovenia, which is further south, and formerly part of Yugoslavia) became an independent country in 1993 after a peaceful split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics. We’re still good friends, and both Czechs and Slovaks feel at home in both countries and can understand each other perfectly (yes, there are two different languages). A tourist should be aware that the Euro is the currency of Slovakia, while the Czech Republic kept its Crowns (although both countries are part of the European Union).

So why would anyone want to visit Bratislava? The truth is, most tourists stop by for a day or two, traveling either from Vienna, Austria (Vienna and Bratislava are supposed to be the world’s closest two capitals, less than an hour apart) or from Prague, Czech Republic, on their way to or from Budapest, Hungary.  One large group of visitors, who are not quite so welcomed by locals, includes young British men going on “stag parties,” lured by cheap beer and cheap air tickets.

Old and New in the capital of Bratislava
(Photo from Bratislava Tourist Board)
With a population of some 500,000, situated on both banks of the Danube River, it is indeed small enough to see most sites within a day or two. You can get an idea of what it looks like from the movie, “Peacemaker,” which was filmed in Bratislava – the city serving as both luxurious Vienna and war-destroyed Sarajevo at the same time, often just a few streets apart. There remain many places that need to be fixed up, particularly the depressing suburbs full of concrete apartment buildings leftover from the Communist times; revitalizing the city means there will be a number of construction sites. In spite of that, the city does have a special and exciting atmosphere, particularly during warm summer nights, when the old town vibrates with people parading the pedestrian zone, sharing drinks and food outside with friends, or attending concerts in one of the old town squares.

The best time to come is definitely summer, not just because of the weather (although it can get quite hot) but mainly because of the rich (and mostly free) programs in the streets of downtown and at the hilltop castle. These programs are known as the “Cultural Summer and Castle Festivities.”  It is a good idea on arrival to stop by the Tourist Information Center, for information regarding both the summer festivals and other musical and cultural events on offer at any time of the year.

Beautiful at Christmas!
(Photo from Bratislava
Tourist Board)
One notably interesting event occurring the last weekend in June is the “Coronation Festival.” During the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bratislava served as the coronation city (then called Pressburg in German or Pozsony in Hungarian); eighteen kings and queens were crowned in St. Martin’s cathedral. Each year, the coronation ceremony is authentically reenacted for a different king or queen.

If you come during the Christmas season, you will find a traditional Christmas market (food and crafts) in the Main Square and in the courtyard of the Town Hall, with the standard warning that goes with all crowded places, be aware of pickpockets. This time of the year there are a number of cultural events in the streets of the old town, while the New Year’s Eve concerts in the Main Square are very popular and showcase famous local bands playing well past midnight.

Check out next week’s post for specifics of what to see in downtown Bratislava!

1 comment:

  1. This city sounds lovely! Any general advice, though, regarding pick-pockets?