Stepping off the train in Bratislava, we were both full of a little trepidation. I knew next to nothing about Slovakia, nor the city we were in, and we had no idea what to expect during our two night stay. After picking up some dried banana pieces from a little kiosk, we got a taxi to our hotel, and from that moment knew what the crack was.
Bratislava is beautiful. The buildings, statues, fountains, landscape…basically everything that we saw was aesthetically pleasing, and we decided to drop our bags off, grab some lunch, then see what’s directly around us. We ended up at the “Savoy Restaurant”, which promised traditional Slovakian cuisine with a modern twist – I was intrigued, and we were swiftly seated on the patio area in the heat of the emerging sun, a welcome break from the cold temperatures of Vienna. Their menu is small, but promises seasonal specials and locally sourced ingredients, and after ordering a ‘Pressburger Schnitzel’ (where the pork is marinaded in white wine before being breadcrumbed), the waiter gave us a small selection of butters (one herb, one mushroom, and one goats cheese with peppers) and a basket of bread.
We weren’t sure how long service would take, but moments later he arrived with two giant plates; the schnitzel was divine, with the perfect level of tender meat and crisp coating, and the potato salad with raw onion served as a great accompaniment. What was instantly noticeable was the fact that this dish was much lighter than the monstrous dinner we’d had in Austria, but if I were to compare the two, I think Vienna has the edge. It was EUR. 36.50 for two meals and three drinks, and I believe we will be returning tomorrow for their seasonal dinner menu (with promises of honey glazed pork, slow roasted lamb, and all sorts of other delights).
After paying, we thought we should utilise the wonderful weather and head up to “Bratislava Castle”, the must do of pretty much everyone that travels here. It was only 15 minutes walk to get there, through a wonderful park with statues and fountains, and boy is it impressive. There’s been people living on castle hill as long ago as the stone age, but it now serves as a meeting point for the Slovakian government and houses the collections of the national museum, but due to restoration work, the interior is currently closed to the public. The first thing you notice is the view; from those mighty walls, and on a clear day like today, you can see Bratislava, Austria, and Hungary, whilst bathing in the glory of blue skies above and the flow of the Danube below. I cannot put into words how scenic this place is, and that’s coming from somebody who’s lived in the Peak District for nineteen years. I’d go as far as saying it’s idyllic.
There are four main gates to get in; Sigismund in the southeast (the oldest and best preserved, stemming from the 15th century); Vienna in the southwest (from 1712); Nicholas in the northeast; and Leopold in the northwest, which is where we entered. The courtyard offers some astounding photo opportunities before climbing the final stairs to the castle itself; I didn’t realise just quite how big the walls were. Standing at 154ft at their highest, they dominate the landscape and you can quickly see why they trusted the place to once protect the Hungarian crown jewels; the white walls are like man-made cliffs of Dover, and even the windows of the inner courtyard made me feel like a dwarf. We toured around the grounds for a while, taking plenty of photos and generally snooping about, but I was actually disappointed that much of it was closed – I would have liked to go in the treasure room and Knight’s hall, but maybe I’ll return in the future to get my fix of jewels.
As we were leaving, Jacob spotted another segment, and we found ourselves in the “Baroque Gardens”. The original disappeared in the 19th Century (after being initially finished in 1784) but were reconstructed in 2016; something we were both extremely glad about. Spiralling arrangements of mowed grass, white pebbles, flowers, and bushes roll down slopes lined with parallel regiments of identical trees, all in the presence of the fountain in the centre, and the castle at your back. It’s so quiet there that I could have curled up on a bench and slept, but the longer you stay awake the more you realise how lucky you really are.
I think the plan tonight is to grab some food in one of the restaurants in the park we passed through earlier, and then have a relatively early night. I can’t forgive my ignorance as to the wonders of this city, but I urge you not to make the same mistakes; if you have the chance, you should come here for sure.