Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia is an hour from Vienna and an easy day trip from the Austrian capital. Arriving at the main train station in Bratislava is like stepping into a completely different decade or era.
The train station is extremely small and you get between platforms by literally walking across the tracks. When we arrived we managed to accidentally walk around the main station building instead of through it, so we headed back inside to try and find a tourist information booth which was hidden down a long corridor.
Once we had a map of the city we walked the 2km from the train station to the old town. The street we walked down was filled with old trolley buses, trams and run down buildings. All of this was a culture shock. We had literally left the wealth of Vienna less than an hour away and stepped into a country that is clearly still recovering from the impacts the former soviet economic system.
The old town itself was extremely clean and more modern buildings were to be found close to the river. After walking through the various narrow passageways throughout the old city we had a traditional honey pastry snack at “the oldest shop in town” this was then followed by beer and lunch at a local pub.
After lunch we headed to St Martin’s Cathedral which surprisingly has an area with a glass floor that looks down onto bones from the 11th century.
The next surprise came a few hundred meters up the road where we came across buildings that look like they haven’t been repaired since the end of the second world war. Being only two streets away from the old town made the poor state of these buildings even more surprising. (I’ve tried to find more information on these buildings but I can’t find any definite information on them, it is most likely they are owned by the catholic church who don’t have enough information to pay for their repair.)
We then walked past the old city walls and down to the Most SNP Bridge (UFO Bridge). Here the Danube is slightly more blue and beautiful than it was in Vienna. And after humming the Blue Danube Waltz and recording a silly video we walked up to the Hrad (Castle).
The Castle has great views over both the old city and the suburb of Petržalka. The vast Panelák housing complexes dominate the views over Petržalka (if we had another day this area of the city would be interesting to explore).
After then getting lost in the maze of walls and paths surrounding the castle we managed to see the changing of the guard at the Grassalkovich Palace (Presidential Palace) before making our way back to the train station to return to Vienna.
Overall, Bratislava was the surprise and highlight of my trip. This was the first time I had been in a former Eastern Bloc country (excluding Germany) and despite the culture shock it was a really great place to visit. The people who we talked to were extremely friendly and has left me wanting to return.