Most meaningful experience: Meeting some young startup guys at a bar talking about mobile startups.
- Wander through the historic old town and soak up the views from the Bratislava Castle
- Check out the “Man at work” bronze statue of a sewer worker emerging from the pavement
- Sample the local craft beers, including the alcoholic ginger beer
- Coincide your visit with a weekend when the city really comes to life
Despite being only a few hours by train from Budapest, I almost didn’t stop in Bratislava. A stranger at the opera had said it was a “rundown city” but nevertheless, I decided to go.
As in Budapest, the Danube separates the city, with the historic old city on the northern banks and modern infrastructure rising to the south. Spanning the river was a bridge with a UFO sky tower hovering above (it reputedly offered a great lunch but I didn’t go in).
Bratislava’s history has been strongly influenced by a variety of nations and religions – Austrians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Jewish, Serbs and Slovaks. It’s also a multicultural city due to the Indians and Persians who have migrated here more recently.
The old town is a maze of sorts, with beautiful old churches, quaint shops, and pastel-colored buildings, all centered around a cool town square. An old castle overlooks the historic core on a hill to the east and is the city’s main attraction while an upside down pyramid and statue of a man (named “Cumil”) emerging from the gutter also draw visitors. Cumil has other “statue brothers” scattered around the city, including Napoleon’s Army Soldier.
After a short tour of Bratislava’s sights, I stumbled upon a small street beside the highway that was bustling with young locals. They were clustered around a micro-brewery, just one of many producing craft beer throughout the city. As a bit of an aficionado, I had to stop. The beers on offer exceeded my expectations, as did the grilled brie salad and chicken with tomato and olive sauce. I particularly liked the ginger beer, which was actually alcoholic, unlike the ginger beer in the United States.
At the brewery, I met some young guys working in the mobile phone startup space. We chatted about the local startup scene and grabbed some beers to drink on a medieval bridge that stretched over the highway.
As I walked back to my hotel through the old town, I couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place. It was like the old town had turned into a festival, with open-air restaurants, food stands and music igniting the streets. I grabbed a delicious hamburger to-go. Bratislava was clearly an exciting place to be out and about on a Friday night.
Despite what the stranger had told be at the opera, I thought Bratislava was a great stopover and well worth the 24-hour trip from Budapest. It’s clear that the country has benefitted from being in the EU, with modern shopping malls and foreign companies such as IBM employing lots of people. Because of Slovakia’s free college education, they have a young workforce but also a lot of skilled employees who lack sufficient opportunities. Perhaps that’s why many big companies are moving there.
When you are there, notice how the locals stress – not slur – the SSSs, especially when saying Slovakia. It rolls off the tongue with pride.