As some of you may already know, despite having quite a fear of flying, I love to travel. Coupled with my Europhilia, that means that I like to try and fit in at least two holidays a year around Europe – usually to places I’ve never been before, and usually on my own, so that I can try and get a feel for the place (though having friends who live in these places is always a plus). In July, I flew to Vienna, Austria and then took a bus to the smaller capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava.
I went with absolutely zero expectations of what it would be like, having done minimal research about the place. I booked my hotel online (which I think everyone does these days), but I was so eager to get it booked and paid for, I didn’t read any reviews for the hotel, or really work out what the place was like at all. I looked at the Google Maps preview on the site and thought, ‘oh! It’s right on the Danube, that’ll be nice.’ So I booked my room and it wasn’t until later that I realised that, oh, it is right on the Danube, because it’s a boat. So that was an experience. Arriving on the first night to find my room infested with enormous spiders and not air conditioned (despite it being about 35°C, even at night) was enough to have me frantically googling for another hotel… though when I woke up and looked at it in the daylight, it wasn’t that bad at all. The only real downside I experienced was that the entire boat rocked quite violently when one of those low, wide river cruise ships went past… which, on the Danube, happens quite often. But you get used to it after a few days. It was located right on a tram line, so I really can’t complain… and after all, it was just a place to sleep.
I spent my days exploring the city, and popped over to Vienna for the day twice during my week-long stay. I have to admit, although it’s a capital city, comparing it to Vienna makes the name posted on the signs at the train station seem very apt indeed. Malá veľká krajina, or ‘The little big country’. It’s quite a charming city; some parts are very old and are definitely starting to look their age, but they’re jumbled up in between the more modern parts of the city… I especially loved the Slovak Radio building, which was apparently voted one of the ugliest buildings in Slovakia (or possibly the world, I don’t remember), but I think it’s magnificent. (Apologies for the bad photo, it was taken from the window of a moving tram!)
As much as I hate to say it, I suppose I was quite prejudiced against Bratislava (and Slovakia in general) before I went. I expected it to be quite run down, maybe even dirty, and a little backward-thinking… but thankfully, I learned that this is not the case at all! The city is clean, and their infrastructure… We in the UK could definitely learn a thing or two. I spent the entire week hopping on different trams, getting trains across international boreders (which did make me think about the whole Brexit thing and thoroughly bummed me out, but I’ll leave the politics for another time) and I don’t think I ever saw a single late train or tram. Some of the bus drivers were a bit terrifying, speed-wise, but I suppose that’s what you get when you get the last bus of the day and the driver is clearly rushing so that he can get home.
I know I should probably mention Vienna as well, but I’ve already rambled on for so long that I think I’ll have to leave it for another time. The crux of the matter is, if you’re thinking of going somewhere in Central Europe for your holidays, I cannot recommend Slovakia enough. The people are friendly (though I’d recommend picking up at least some basic Slovak before you go, I didn’t find a lot of people in restaurants and things to speak English) and the food… oh my god. It was incredible. Lots of meat and potatoes, but not in a boring way – and potato dumplings have changed my life in a huge way. I would go back literally just for those. So, yes, as always I’d like to thank you again for reading… and next time you’re looking for a holiday destination that’s a little bit off the beaten track, give the little big country a thought.