Bratislava #1: Walking Tour

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January 13th 2020
Published: January 21st 2020
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Nymph Statue
The free walking tour didn't start until 11 am, which was nice and late. This meant that I could have a relatively lazy morning. I made my way to the Old Town for the start of the tour, but I managed to get lost, prominent street names are not Bratislava's forte, China has definitely spoilt me in this respect. I thought I was going to miss the tour as I wandered the streets trying to right myself and find the meeting place. I made it there, only about five minutes late, and saw quite a group of people. This part of Europe is definitely busier. My first impressions of the Old Town of Bratislava was that it was really cute and quite a lot busier than the places I had just been, which is understandable as it is a capital city. This tour was a little different to others I have done as we all introduced ourselves and the guide wanted a lot of audience participation, which was quite nice.

We had met at a smaller square just off the main square and the guide gave us a bit of history about Bratislava. The city was also known as Poszony in Hungarian and Pressburg in German. The city had been part of the Hungarian Empire in the past and then Czechoslovakia after the end of World War I, before being controlled by the Germans during the Second World War and then it was again part of Czechoslovakia until 1993, when the two countries decided to go it alone. We then walked down to the main square and the guide pointed out the former city hall, which was I think originally a dwelling house and now a museum. I really liked the pretty painted buildings on the square. Some of the buildings contained embassies and their flags hung on display. On one corner, there was a famous cafe, in front of which there was a statue of Schöne Náci, he lived in Bratislava and spoke several languages, but if I remember correctly had to leave the city, however he was always very friendly to people especially the ladies. A walk away from the main square took us to another statue. This one was a little more unusual as you had to look down to find it. This statue is called 'Man at Work' and depicts a man peeking out from a manhole in the road. There are conflicting stories on what the man is doing. Some say that it reflects him working hard, while others think that due to the position of the statue he is a Peeping Tom indulging in a bit of upskirting. Next, we headed down to the Opera House and the fancy square there. There were some statues of famous people along the square, the only one that I knew was Hans Christian Anderson. There was also the very swanky looking Carlton Hotel, which had previously been three different buildings; the middle one had been a hospital, I think, and the other two had been hotels. We walked the streets some more and came to an old Gothic style Pharmacy, Lekáreň u Salvátora. On the front of the building the name and type of business was stated in the three languages that were commonly used in Bratislava; Slovakian, Hungarian, and German.

At the end of the street, we came to part of what had been the Jewish District. The Jewish District in Bratislava had been massive, but like in much of Europe, due to the Nazis and Communism, the district is a shadow of its former self. There is a church, St. Martin's Cathedral on the edge of Jewish District and the guide showed us some pictures of what the area looked like in the past. There used to be a synagogue right next to the church, it was so nice to see that religions could coexist peacefully. Another interesting thing that the guide told us was that the man, Imi Litchenfeld, who created the Israeli martial art, Krav Maga, had been born in Budapest and had spent his childhood in Bratislava. He had been an athlete, who boxed, wrestled, and did gymnastics. During the anti-Semitic riots in 1930s Bratislava, he helped defend his community and taught others how to defend themselves. I think this was kind of like Krav Maga v1.0. Later, on the tour, we past his childhood home.

We started the climb up to Bratislava Castle. The area in the Jewish District is now home to a few bars and restaurants. Our guide was explaining how much alcohol prices went up when the euro was introduced. We came to a funny looking statues in front of one of the bars. It is called 'Niemand - Pičús' and the guide told us that you generally don't call anyone that as 'Pičús' is quite the insult.This statue isn't going to win any beauty contests as its head is rather large and the bloke had a strange look on his face. We continued the climb up to the castle. The weather wasn't the greatest, but we still had a pretty good view. I could see the Danube River, Old Town and the UFO Bridge below. The castle is pretty impressive and and nice looking. There is a lot of renovation work going on and I hoped that I would be able to return later in my trip to visit the museum inside. Our walk lead us across to the parliament building which was on the other side of the castle. Our guide filled us in a little about Slovakian politics and the killing of the journalist, Ján Kuciak, in 2018. Kuciak was investigating tax fraud of several businessmen that were connected to high level politicians. It led to the resignation of the Prime Minister and his entire cabinet. However, our guide didn't seem to think that anything had really changed in Slovakian politics and that there was still a lot of corruption, as there is allover the world, some places are just more blatant than others. We headed back down the hill, and our guide lightened the mood telling us about some different dishes in Slovakian cuisine that we should try and also telling us about some good restaurants. We came back into the Old Town through Michael's Gate, one of the old gates of the city and we also passed the narrowest building in Bratislava. Some people like to say it is the narrowest building in the world or in Europe, but it isn't. Anyway, it's a kebab shop now.

I was starving by the time that the tour was over, so I headed off in search of some food. I came to a place called 'Grandmas' or something along those lines. The food looked quite appealing on the board outside, so I headed in. I was shown to a table and given the menu. Looking at the prices, Slovakia definitely isn't as cheap as the other places I had visited on my trip. I blame the euro, it is a budget killer. I decided just to order the garlic soup as I wanted to try the dessert dumplings on the menu. sipped my rather expensive beer, while I waited for my food to arrive. The soup didn't take too long to appear. It was served in a bread bowl like the one I'd had in Sighisoara, but this one tasted a lot better. I really liked the garlic soup, it was quite creamy and the bread in the bread bowl was really yummy. I was gutted though, when I went to order the dessert that I wanted, the waiter told me that they had none left. I had to settle for a coffee instead. The service in this place was pretty shit as well, the staff messed up the orders for a lot of the other tables and when I asked for the bill, I was told to go to the register to pay. The total took me aback too. It was 16 euros for a soup, beer and coffee, it was definitely overpriced. I'm sure they must have added a hefty service charge on the bill. Not a place I would ever wish to return to. Even the toilets were broken. I was still hungry, so set off to find some dessert. There were a few cake shops around, but I had seen a place earlier that did Chimney Cakes, which I'd seen in Brasov, but hadn't had a chance to try. I made my way to the shop I'd seen earlier and ordered one. Today seems to be the day of shitty food choices. I was seriously underwhelmed by the Chimney Cake. i thought that the pastry would be really nice, but it was pretty meh, the fillings that I chose were really nice, I loved the peanutella and the forest fruits, I just think there needed to be a bit more of them. It was also very messy to eat and completely overpriced at almost 6 euros.

Now that I was full, I headed over to wander around the Old Town some more. It's hard to take decent photos on the walking tour, especially when there are a lot of people about. So I headed back to some of the places we had visited to get better photos. The 'Man at Work' statue was crowd free, which was nice and I was able to get some picture of him free of people. I also went back to the former Jewish quarter to get some pictures there and read the literature that was on boards around the area. There wasn't too much in English and to be honest it wasn't that interesting, so I left to walk around the Old Town some more. I enjoyed my walk back along the fancy square next to the Carlton Hotel and the Opera House. I got to look at some of the other statues that were in the square. I found another cool statue in front of a bar. At first, I was a bit unsure as to whether it was a statue or one of those street artists, so I approached with caution ready for it to move. There was a plaque on the wall behind it and it was saying it was a statue of 'The Alchemist', after which the bar is now named after the premise's previous business. I walked around for a while longer, but since it was getting darker and colder, i decided to head back to my hostel to relax for the evening.

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