Bratislava

This is the first of six destinations as laid out in the Central Europe Trip post. The big picture difference between a Trip and Destination post is that the former is about conception and planning, while the latter is about execution and being there.

It is in the nature of things for plans to not work out as laid out in the schemer’s mind. From an adage like Murphy’s Law, to the “Best laid plans of mice and men,” I am reminded that random events deviate us from our best intentions. And out of the swirling chaos that is Heathrow Airport, British Airways experienced multiple failures in their computer systems effectively shutting down their global operations while we were waiting to connect to Vienna from London. Brilliant. And so we had a 6 hour delay inserted into the schedule getting us off to a late start. This news story highlights the catastrophe, and to be honest, we were lucky as we were only delayed by six hours. Most flights were delayed twice that, or rescheduled for the following day.

I have no more control over airline operations than I have over the weather. The difference is that for the weather I can bring an umbrella and have some sense of recourse, while for airline issues I can only bring a good attitude and hope for the best.

 

Arrival

The 2 hour flight from London to Vienna was uneventful after the long wait due to BA’s computer snafu. The English flight staff were more apologetic than usual for the delay-imposed inconvenience. And passport control was a breeze in Vienna, with well organized short queues which moved quickly.

I was glad to have bypassed any further public transportation to get to central Bratislava, as I’d had enough delays for 1 day. It was a quick 40 minute Uber ride to get to the center of town from the Vienna airport. Our Uber driver was sitting proudly behind the wheel of a new Mercedes E class. He shared with me during our German-efficient introductory conversation that his new Benz had only 3,000 KMs on the odometer. It actually was a nice ride, as the vehicle handled the road competently. But the driver never really tested the vehicle’s capabilities, keeping to the speed limit the entire way. What’s the German word for “pussy?”

 

I was relaxing and taking in the scenery on our drive to the city center. There was an interesting contrast between the countryside in Austria and Slovakia. The Austrians had wind turbines everywhere, scattered across the farmland – spinning slowly, producing that good green electricity. And in The Slovak Republic, the countryside was left onto itself, rolling, pastoral, and green. Did the Slovaks lack the economic means to stand up the wind turbines like the Austrians? Whatever the explanation, the contrast at the border was noticeable.

As we entered the outskirts of the city, I couldn’t help but notice row after row of large, gray Soviet era big block apartment buildings. Function without aesthetic appeal, the legacy of the socialist hive-mind thinking all over former communist Europe. It contrasts so well with the beautiful old architecture of the pedestrian-only center of the city,

 

Settling in

Our apartment was located on Biella street just 50 paces or so from Michael’s gate. It was situated in the northernmost part of the old town in a 500 year old building, very conveniently located to access the compact, scenic old town of Bratislava. The apartment was spacious with 10 foot ceilings and large windows which let in a good breeze when opened. It was comfortable with a spartan decor, a theme that would play out for most of our apartment rentals on this trip. There was minimal street noise considering the central location, and pedestrian traffic.  On the downside, the apartment did not have AC, a necessary compromise when renting in a 500 year old building, and another repeating theme on this trip.  The apartment was well ventilated, and a fan was available, so no hardship was endured without the AC. I would both recommend and re-book this property.

 

Discovery trek

We essentially did two discovery treks, the first was in the historic, pedestrian-only old town.

The capital of The Slovak Republic is pleasantly under-touristed, and less densely populated than most European capitals I’ve had the pleasure to visit. It is situated on the Danube river, at a crossroads of Central Europe, within driving distance of Vienna, and Budapest – both of which have much more international recognition than Bratislava. Most of the highlights of this Central European treasure are within or near its compact old town, or “Stare Mesto.” There is no grand scheme necessary to see all there is in Bratislava, Google Maps are unneeded as well. I used the tried and true technique of wandering around on foot from one interesting thing to the next, finding good food and drink as I went.  Best discovery technique ever, and fun too.

 

On a recommendation from a couple we met on the Bratislava Food Tour, we did a discovery trek to Lake Drazdiak the following day – a local spot for urban water recreation, surrounded by the old Soviet-era apartment blocks. It was a meandering 6 kilometer walk to the lake, crossing the Danube from the old town, and a vast array of monolithic, communist-era block apartments as we went.  The Soviet housing was a somber contrast to the elegant, historic architecture of the old town. The locals did what they could to make the communist relics more appealing. They were painted with color schemes that appeared to disguise, or soften the hard angles of the basic, functional Russian designs. There was a completely different vibe walking through this part of town. I didn’t feel unsafe in any way, I just didn’t feel comfortable, and I didn’t want to linger.

We followed a path along a canal to the lake, which was well used by many locals for exercise and strolling on the Monday morning in late May when we were there. Once we arrived at the lake, we continued our long walk by circumnavigating it. We stopped for lunch at a lovely, rustic restaurant on the lake shore, as described in the Food Scene section. The lake experience truly was immersive, as we were among only locals. We were the only English speakers within earshot at any given point, which is my measure of success.

 

Food Scene

I found the food and drink in in Bratislava to be hearty, and the cuisine simple and basic. With the focus on pork, dumplings, sausages, and soup, I would hesitate to recommend this destination to vegans, or folks on a restricted diet, if variety of food were a primary focus.  Personally, I found the food to be delightful, but I knew what to expect on this trip. Hearty, lumberjack food, with some breaks here and there.  They do have foul and fish, but would add that those are more of a specialty, and not offered at a typical local place.

Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar.

A Pivovar is essentially a pub with its own micro brewery, which serves food. This place had an extensive local menu and was recommended to us at check in time. It looked like we could eat all of our meals here and have something different every time. I chose the roasted pork knuckle and my wife selected the roasted pork belly. The beer was a lager, and I tried a juniper brandy called Borovicka, which didn’t agree with me. The food was very good, and we considered returning here to try the other tempting menu items. I would highly recommend this place, and as it turned out, it was a stop on our Bratislava Food Tour!

 

Restauracia Drazdiak

This restaurant was on the shore of a little urban lake with the same name. I’ve never felt more like a local in a restaurant.  Fire grilled mackerel, and trout, mixed salad, grilled veggies. The grilled mackerel was cooked to perfection, with the crisped skin retaining the juicy, savory, fishy goodness. I like mackerel and look for it out when available, and this place did it right. My wife liked the grilled trout as well, a much milder fish.

 

Slovak Pub

Roast pork with red cabbage and dumplings. Garlic soup in a bread bowl, roast pork ribs with pickled veggies, horseradish (on the milder side), and mustard, also rather mild. The little round, green peppers were very spicy. One bite and my mouth was on fire, nothing else registered on the taste buds after that. The quality of the food, along with the service was rather middle of the road. It was not up to the Pivovar Pub standard.

 

Moods

English Breakfast, a modest sized cappuccino, a generous mug of black tea. It was a Slovak interpretation on the classic dish. The sausage was a spicy hot dog like variant, the bacon local, one egg sunny side up, half of a tomato, baked beans,  plus a small mixed salad on the side. I don’t believe the English would approve.

 

Bratislava Food Tour

This was one of the highlights of discovering Bratislava. The food was great, our guide was friendly, energetic, and knowledgeable, and we met some nice folks as we indulged in the local goodies. I would highly recommend this as a way of getting to know the city and food culture. Below are the locations, along with the fare sampled there.

BRATISLAVA CASTLE

Čučoriedkovica (blueberry brandy

 

KAPUCINSKA

Oravský korbáčik (little whip cheese) 

Oravské udené uzlíky (smoked knot sheep cheese) 

Bravčová klobása (pork sausage) 

img_1428.jpg

 

BRATISLAVSKÝ MEŠTIANSKY PIVOVAR            

Oškvarková nátierka (cracklings paté with bread) 

Bryndzová nátierka (bryndza spread with bread) 

Vianočná kapustnica (Christmas sauerkraut soup) 

 

BUCHTÁREŇ            

Buchta s čerešňovým džemom (steamed dumpling with cherry jam) 

Buchta s nutelou (steamed dumpling with nutella) 

Buchta s bryndzovou náplňou (steamed dumpling with bryndza filling)

IMG_1436

 

ZYLINDER

 Špenátové pirohy (spinach pierogi with bryndza sauce) 


 Kačací konfit (roasted duck breast with stewed cabbage, potato pancakes and bread dumplings)

 Prešporský schnitzel (Bratislava veal schnitzel with potato salad) 


 Red wine André 

 

LUCULUS 

Zmrzlina (ice cream)

 

MOODS – DOBRÁ NÁLADA NA KORZE

Bratislavské rožky (Bratislava rolls with poppy seed/nut filling)

IMG_1459

 

Epilogue

Reflections on Bratislava. A charming and historic old town, less crowded and touristy, contrasted harshly with the remainder of the outlying city with its sprawl of Soviet-engineered apartment complexes. I had the distinct feeling that Slovakia was on a lower economic rung as compared to its western-slavic neighbors in Poland and the Czech Republic – and most certainly as compared with Austria. The locals were lovely and friendly. The food and drink were basic and hearty, with pork, dumplings, cabbage, soups highlighting the local menu; and beer, Slivovica (plum brandy) and Borovicka (juniper brandy) as beverage staples. I would do a return visit to Bratislava in a heartbeat. This was a memorable destination, and the photos do not do it justice.

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