Overnight in Brat­is­lava

Published Categorised as Slovakia, Travel No Comments on Overnight in Brat­is­lava

I’m work­ing in Austria for the next few weeks. I’ve been visit­ing for the last ten years to run school work­shops. You spend a week in a local school running drama, creat­ive writ­ing, and some­times art or cook­ery classes as an English immer­sion programme. On the last day the kids put on a show with present­a­tions of their projects and skits in English for their teach­ers, class­mates and often famil­ies. Every week you’re at a differ­ent school. It can be any age group too.

I normally take my DSLR, and sort out the photos after­wards, but I couldn’t find what I’d done with the char­ger. My phone has a very decent camera though, so I’m going to use that and post them as I go. I’ve become increas­ingly frus­trated with the way the FB and Instagram algorithms decide what people see and in what order. Everything’s jumbled up and got no context or order, and it makes seeing travel photos partic­u­larly frus­trat­ing. So they’re just going here, where they stay in chro­no­lo­gic­al order and in context.

The best way to keep up with the new entries is to sign up for emails in the side­bar – the email addresses are kept confid­en­tial and not sold or given to anyone else.

Although I have often worked in Vienna (and will be next week) it’s a busy place with lots of activ­it­ies for kids, so actu­ally a lot of the book­ings are in small towns that don’t get much in the way of tour­ism, and where they’re thrilled to have some­thing new to do. Febru­ary is also a peak book­ing time because it fits in nicely with the Austri­an school sched­ule.

The next few days I’m at the yearly work confer­ence (today’s after­noon train­ing session I’ve been excused from because I already did it last year), then next week I’m at a school in Vienna, then two more schools, one on the Hungari­an border and one inbetween Graz and Mari­bor.

The company books me a hotel for the work­ing week, and gives me a travel allow­ance for the week­ends. As long as I turn up at the next assign­ment, I’m free to go where I like in the week­ends between. As there can often be some distance between book­ings, it’s a good oppor­tun­ity to visit places in between. This time I’m going to Graz and Györ in Hungary in between. Austria and the neigh­bour­ing coun­tries have an excel­lent public trans­port system with very reas­on­able prices, which makes this a lot easi­er. I rarely spend more than €30 for a train tick­et, even for jour­neys that take a couple of hours and are on a plush new high speed train. You can also get tick­ets for any train and any city’s local trans­port system on the same website and phone app. No print­ing or collect­ing from machines needed.

The Austri­an school day also finishes at 1.30, so you get oppor­tun­it­ies to do local sight­see­ing after work quite often. As you’re often in small places you might never visit other­wise, I try to do my best to see anything of interest while I’m there, because I might never come back to that town. (Although I’m visit­ing a small town on this trip that I went to three years ago, albeit visit­ing a differ­ent school).

Often going via Brat­is­lava can be the cheapest way to get to Vienna. The two cities are only three quar­ters of an hour apart by bus or train. I have been to Brat­is­lava many, many times, but never for long each time. The first time I went was around ten years ago- the old town was pretty but a little dowdy and quiet, and the suburbs were pretty dreary. Every time I go back there’s more life, and more places to eat and drink in the old town. The airport has been done up, and the bus station is currently being rebuilt (I have spent far too many hours at the old brutal­ist station wait­ing for coaches- espe­cially in the time when they were rebuild­ing Vienna cent­ral station and the bus was the most conveni­ent option). If you asked me ten years ago, I would have said you could really see Brat­is­lava in an after­noon, but these days it’s worth a prop­er holi­day.

I arrived at 3pm, and was stay­ing in the Old Town. I dumped my stuff, and had a wander. The vegan cafe my friend recom­men­ded had sold out of food by the time I’d got there, and because it was the low tour­ist season a lot of other restaur­ants were clos­ing early too. Slov­ak food is pretty heavy on meat (which I don’t eat) and dump­lings (which I do like, but however are also in plentitude in Austria). In the end I got a smažak – the Czechoslov­aki­an deep fried cheese takeaway favour­ite. It normally either comes with chips or in a sad-look­ing bun. However I got mine from a Turk­ish place, and the guy served it in nice Turk­ish bread with fresh salad and mint and yoghurt dress­ing, which was a dramat­ic improve­ment.

Bar in a decom­mis­sioned tram. It wasn’t open that day though.

Ahoj is Slov­aki­an for hello. I have always liked the fact that such a land-locked coun­try settled on saying ahoy all the time. Altern­ated with ciao and servus for when they feel more Itali­an or ancient Roman.

Slov­ak may be a diffi­cult language with a lot of gram­mar points, but at least once you know how the letters are used all the words are pronounced as spelt. At one time Czech and Slov­ak used the same spelling system as Polish using multiple letters for sounds not in Latin such as cz, rz, ye, tj etc. Every­one had had enough of this, so a new spelling system was created for Czech, and the Slov­aks, Croa­tians, Slov­e­ni­ans and Serbs ended up borrow­ing it too. Slov­ak and Czech are very simil­ar, with Slov­ak perhaps having more h and ye sounds, and fewer rzzzzs.

There are also a lot of words which are common in other Slavic languages, but use a h instead of a g in Slov­ak (and also often in Czech). Brat­is­lava doesn’t have a Grad, it has a Hrad. You can ask someone if they govor­ite English in Russi­an, Serbo-Croat, Slov­ene and Bulgari­an. The Czechs and Slov­aks however hovor­it’ (as do the Ukrain­i­ans)

Sad times for the straw­berry booth.

You get a lot of gues­t­house for £28 a night in Brat­is­lava Old Town.

Krtek is every­where- more on him later

This was just stand­ing outside a restaur­ant.

The trait­or cooked his relat­ives.

Vend­ing machine full of vari­ous kinds of hand­made cheeses

I’m a big fan of these Slov­aki­an jaffa cake bars that cost 20p each. Not a big fan of the rum-flavoured one in a blue wrap­per though that I bought by mistake.

Death by deep-frying.

This cheers up the over­pass. The extremely fancy synagogue of Brat­is­lava managed to survive the Nazis, but was then destroyed by 60s town plan­ners to drive a dual carriage­way through the centre of the old town. There’s a poster board on the street that shows you how it all looked before the over­pass.

Still plenty of cobbled back­streets though.

This bar was on the same street as my hotel- it looks like it hasn’t changed since forever. If I hadn’t had been trav­el­ling alone I prob­ably would have given it a go.

Window display of dusty model boats, old sewing machines and empty bottles in the bar.

Brat­is­lava station still has quite an Iron Curtain vibe. You have a choice of a news­agents, vari­ous sand­wich stands, a cafe on the balcony and a shop that sells souven­ir bottles of preserved plums. Brat­is­lava seems at a loss for what to sell as souven­irs outside booze and cheese- all the tour­ist shops were full of Klimt (Austri­an) and Little Mole (Czech) stuff.

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