Bratislava: Go For the Beer Not the Pad Thai

Yesterday, we took advantage of a rare sunny winter day to check out Bratislava, Slovakia. It’s just an hour away by car–when the car is actually working!

Bratislava is a bit dodgy. It’s more than a little shabby, and the hand of the Soviets still lies heavily on the town, much more so than in Prague. But, that makes it a nice change from slicked-up Vienna, where 20th century history can be hard to find. We thoroughly enjoyed our day there.

Coming into town, the first thing you see is a giant, Jetsons-style bridge. Called the “Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising” by the Soviets, it now houses a restaurant called UFO in the flying saucer part of the structure. The highway under it drives straight through the Old Town. This was typical of the Soviets, who tended to put roads wherever they would be the most useful for tanks to come in and squash unrest. In Prague, a major highway cuts right through Wenceslas Square, for example.

In Bratislava, the Soviets leveled the old Jewish quarter for bonus points. The site of the old quarter is marked by an engraving of the destroyed Moorish-style mosque on the side of the underpass, and a remarkably ugly sculpture in front of a Catholic church. Other plaques throughout the town mark sites of Jewish historical significance.

So, today’s tourists must walk through a graffiti-covered underpass to get to Bratislava Castle from the Old Town. Just makes it more of a pilgrimage, I suppose.

The castle was reconstructed by the Soviets, who erased much of the character of the place. It is bland, but well-lighted and as a display space it is pretty nice. There were exhibits on the castle history and a bunch of just OK modern photos of Slovakia in Ikea frames. Everything was in Slovak and English, not German, which was handy for me–and an interesting commentary on Austrian-Slovak relations.

The view from all sides of the castle was amazing on a clear day. It made up for all the officious old ladies inside it who barked orders at us to remove coats, show tickets, close doors, and so on. Major flashback to Prague’s Grumpy Old Commies.

We had lunch in a Thai restaurant that was rated well online, and had a lovely view, but served the worst Asian food I have had in a long time. Considering I have lived in Central Europe for years, that is saying something.  I think there were potatoes in the spring rolls. WTF? And, note to Europeans: “spicy” does not mean just pour on more salt! We didn’t even finish our lunch it was so bad. Yuck.

On the other hand, the city museum–we always take in the city museum wherever we go, and are never disappointed–was really good. I especially enjoyed the textiles. I didn’t know that textiles were a thing in Slovakia. There was a small, but beautifully curated, exhibit on hemp goods: their manufacture, importance in Slovak culture, and so on. It all reminded me very much of Guatemalan textiles, of which we have quite a collection. Cool.

We wrapped it all up with stop in a somewhat-dusty, somewhat-Irish pub for ale and traditional Central European breaded fried cheese (we were hungry after not eating our lunch!)

At the end of the day, Bratislava had grown on me. I’d like to go back some time.

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