I’ve been making plans to travel to Bratislava for a long time. Actually, I must have told my friends one too many times, because, after I went there, their reaction was mostly: Oh, again?! No, not again, finally!

Bratislava is just an hour from Vienna. It’s the capital of Slovakia (not Slovenia, Slovakia). Actually the two cities are the closest national capitals to each other in Europe, if you don’t count the Vatican City and Rome. While this closeness makes it a perfect location for a daytrip from Vienna, it’s also the reason, I’ve never been there for so long. Bratislava always felt like a place, I can easily visit any time. And anytime is often just another word for later. Whenever I had a weekend off, I’d either took the chance to explore a more “remote” place or simply enjoy some days at home. Bad luck for Slovakia.

To prevent later from becoming never, I finally booked a boat and train trip for a weekend in Bratislava. This was before I learned, that bus connections are incredible cheap between those cities. Nevertheless the journey on the Danube was a perfect way of arriving in this city. What I’ve heard a lot about Bratislava is, that one day is enough. Whether my friends liked it or not, their conclusion often was, that one day is sufficient to see everything, there is to see. I did a free walking tour and it felt like our guide wanted to specifically proof them wrong. She was great and packed a lot of information into a very interesting 2.5 hour tour, which didn’t even include the castle or the UFO bridge, the two main sights in a lot of people’s minds. We got interesting insight into the rich and exciting history of the country. We also learned about some Slovakian customs, why you’d rather be a boy than a girl during Easter and what the best Slovakian drinks are, that you need to try (not the beer, they give that to the Czech…).

I fell in love with the small streets of the old town. It’s a perfect spot for a good stroll past fancy cafés and restaurants and beautiful old houses. Some of them are nicely renovated, but turn into another side road and you’ll find others, which seem to be left to decay. The intriguing part of Bratislava are the contrasts. You’ll find an old town similar to many European cities, but leave the inner city and you’ll discover a pretty different sight of Communist era architecture with pompous roads and monuments on one side and districts full of panelaks right behind. You can see it from the top of the castle, but climb to the observation deck of the UFO tower (well, actually there’s an elevator) and you’ll get the most interesting looks of the city: the old town sharply cut by the big main road leading to the Most SNP (UFO) bridge, the panelaks of Petrzalka. The beautiful, green band along the Danube and Hungary and Austria in the distance.

Austria is where the windmills are. The mountains are far away here, even Vienna feels further away than it is. Bratislava felt like a city left in time, somewhat out of time – a beautiful first glimpse into Slovakia and a reminder, that it deserves to be more than just a brief afterthought of a trip to Vienna. There are different things you need, when you travel. Adventure, relaxation, party etc. I believe there is a right time for every city. Two laid-back days with a little sightseeing, a little relaxation and lots of sunshine were just what I needed at that time. I also watched the runners of the Bratislava marathon. They got lucky with some of the most beautiful early spring Sunday morning weather. I’ve already put the 2017 version on my calendar.

I’m intrigued by Slovakia, its people and its culture. Bratislava is a first visit, let’s see what else the country has to offer.