Is Bratislava the single most boring capital city on this earth? With the exception of Canberra, it’s certainly the dullest capital I’ve ever seen. It makes Tehran, an ugly concrete monstrosity [and previously my most disliked capital city], look interesting – if not architecturally pleasing. If only I’d believed all those people who warned me of Bratislava before booking a hostel for two nights. If you ever plan to visit Slovakia, do yourself a favour and trust me when I say that ‘justice’ can be done to Bratislava in an afternoon.
To back up my claim, you’ll note that even the street art is desperate to escape!
The most interesting thing to happen to me in Bratislava was being filmed by some Canadians for a short film about the city. I look terrible, and it’s somewhere out there on the internet for the world to see, but at least that was a novel way to occupy ten minutes of my time there. They asked me ridiculous questions about why I would go to Bratislava after having seen Hostel – I guess a lot of people struggle to distinguish crappy Hollywood movies from reality, which is more disturbing than the film itself.
I laughed when I opened up the Bratislava tourism booklet that the hostel gave me and it stated that ‘Bratislava is a city of which you will never tire.’ Seriously? Has any tourist or traveller EVER backed this claim? I’m yet to meet any, and I’ve met a lot of people. And to top it off, the standard response from a Slovakian when they find you’ll been to Bratislava is ‘I’m sorry’. No joke.
So, a few things about Bratislava and I’ll try to be positive:
It loves statues.
There’s stacks of them. Most are of historical figures that I’d never heard of but a few are entertaining – one of a guy in a manhole under a ‘Man at Work’ sign and one of a photographer with a huge lens shooting around a corner. Apparently the ‘Man at Work’ didn’t always have a sign, but he kept getting run over [despite being on the footpath] so the city thought they’d better put a sign there to prevent having to replace him yet again. There’s also a statue of Napoleon leaning on a bench in the main square, just in front of where a French cannonball is lodged in the wall of the Town Hall.
Most of the Old Town was destroyed by the Communists – to make way for a nice shiny new bridge.
The Communist government, surprisingly enough, didn’t really give a damn about the cultural heritage they were pulling down. They also built a highway right beside St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava’s holiest church in which eleven Hungarian kings and queens were crowned. All the rumbling trucks and traffic going by is slowly destroying the church, which means that without the scaffolding [and now a fence there], bits and pieces could fall off onto passing cars. Wasn’t that well thought out?
When the Old Town of Bratislava was still standing, it was apparently considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. One claim made often in Bratislava is that the city inspired one of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, The Little Match Girl. The famous writer visited the city in 1841. I’m not sure that it’s such a wonderful thing for the city to potentially have inspired such a sad story [which has been my favourite of all his stories for a very long time].
It has a Smurf Church.
Ok, so apparently it’s not actually for smurfs, but it sure as hell looks like it could be. I’m not sure of the religious orientation of the average Smurf, but I think they’d feel at home. I learned that while I like Art Nouveau art and sculpture and a whole lot of things, I don’t particularly like the architecture – especially when this hideous church, which also vaguely resembles a giant jumping castle and reminds me of those ugly 1980s prom dresses you see in American movies, is considered one of the finest examples of such. It’s called St. Elizabeth’s, but I’ll never be able to think of it as anything other than the Smurf Church.
It has it’s very own UFO.
For some reason the Communist government decided to park their flying saucer on top of the Novy Most – New Bridge. It’s now a very pricey restaurant.
It ‘boasts’ the location of one of the most famous and iconic images of the twentieth century.
One thing I did learn is that one of those ‘photographs that changed the world’ was actually taken in Bratislava, not in Prague – where it is most often credited to. I remember seeing the photo in one of my classes at high school, and when we got to the place it was taken the free walking tour guide [what, you think I’m going to PAY for tours when I can do them for free?] pulled out a copy to prove it. The photo was taken by Ladislav Bielik in 1968 and you may or may not be familiar with it – it documents the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, ending the Prague Spring and is certainly an emotive image.
What is interesting is that Bielik’s family never knew that he had taken the picture – which became emblematic of Soviet oppression worldwide – until they found the negatives after his death, decades later. He had never claimed credit for the photo, or others, despite winning various awards for it – it would have been a terribly dangerous thing to do at the time.
I did the walking tour, and then saw basically all the other sights myself, and it took just a few hours. Admittedly I didn’t go to the castle, but then I’d heard the castle was about as interesting as the city itself and that was enough to decide in favour of cake. There are some museums, but nothing took my fancy and I’ve seen a fair few museums lately too. There are only so many museums you can visit before going crazy.
So there are a few interesting things in Bratislava – but nothing that should cause you to linger more than an afternoon, at most one night if your escape route isn’t until the following day. Especially if you’re unfortunate enough to have to share a dorm with a group of drunken young Australian girls who would be perfect candidates for a top quality reality TV show such as Ladette to Lady. If you think I’m exaggerating – I mean how bad can a bunch of 19 year olds really be – my evidence for this is the fact that one of them thought that it was hilarious that she had been so drunk the night before that she pissed herself in bed, on the top bunk, and that the poor stranger underneath ended up being covered in something decidedly unpleasant [thin mattresses]. And it required an immediate Facebook status update so that all of her friends back home could congratulate her. I only hope that she’s Facebook friends with her father or grandmother…I bet they’d be proud.
You wouldn’t believe how happy I was to be leaving that day.