For some reason, the idea of Eastern Europe always attracted me a lot more than the west. I mean… Of COURSE I want to gaze moonily at the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps, and, yes, I DO want to spend hours exploring Gaudi’s masterpieces in Spain (yes, yes, I know how cliche I sound), but, well, I would rather spend my days exploring the Post-Communist countries of the east- experience how they’ve rebuilt themselves after the wars, walk through the same streets that saw protest after protest not-so-long ago…
It took a while for my parents to be okay with the idea of going to Bratislava, Slovakia for a weekend by myself. There is always a sort-of ‘fear’ in our minds about hate crimes and racist attacks. But, as usual 🙂 they agreed to let me go, and I happily booked my flights and 3 nights at what seemed to be a really nice hostel.
After my presentation on 3rd May 2013 (it was excellent, thank you), I picked up my backpack and headed to the airport (that was an almost-harrowing experience… The shuttle bus left half an hour later than my most conservative estimate, and I was TERRIFIED I would miss the flight!!).
Even though literally ALL my friends had tried to scare me about what happens to backpackers in Slovakia (thanks to the 2005 movie ‘Hostel’), I was pretty excited!
I landed in Bratislava around 6.30pm and was immediately extremely pleasantly (so many -ly words :P) surprised to see that the prices on the vending machines were muuuuch cheaper than good ol’ Milano.
Anyway, I took the 90cent bus ticket (as opposed to Milan’s 5 or 10 Euro, depending on the airport), and headed to Hostel Blues.
Hostel Blues was about 40minutes from the airport. The staff had already told me how to get there, and it was pretty easy to find. I was warmly greeted when I reached, and they gave me a nice list of places to see, things to eat alongwith a map with a bunch of tips scribbled on it.
I went up to the dorm hoping to find some interesting people. All the beds were taken except one bottom bunk. No one else was there just then, except the girl who had occupied the bunk above mine. I excitedly said ‘HELLO’ and smiled, waiting for a response. Nothing. I said ‘HELLO!!’ again… And she jumped, looked up from her phone and said something that sounded like ‘Boo!’ and went back to her phone. Weird 😛
I went back down to the 24-hour common room/bar and settled down with a glass of Slovakian Cola (it’s called Kofola- and is pretty interesting). In the beginning I was sitting alone. Most people had come in groups, and I’m not THAT outgoing yet that I can just go and barge into a set of friends. Anyway… I ended up chatting with a couple of girls from Spain who were studying in Poland, and an Indian girl and a Brazilian girl who were working in Prague.
The next morning was, thankfully, bright and sunny and warm. I had a list of things to do and see (and eat). I left the hostel around 10am and headed straight to the free walking tour of the city. Breakfast on the way was at Shtoor Cafe… Cappuccino made of cream (instead of milk… I don’t count calories on vacation :P) and bread with Bryndza (sheep milk cheese- YUM!).
The walking tour was reeaallllyyyy nice. Super interesting, and the guide, Romana, was upbeat and clearly passionate about what she did. I was worried in the beginning that she would be imposing when it came to asking for tips in the end, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised to see that she did nothing of the sort. Just for that, I tipped her a little more than I had originally intended.
The walking tour ended just after 1. Time for lunch! Romana had pointed out a bunch of nice places to eat, but I usually don’t trust these guides (after an annoying rip-off experience in Hong Kong a few years ago). But I had nothing to lose, so I went to have a look at the restaurant anyway.
The menu outside looked good. The prices were REALLY good for a student on a budget, and once I walked in, the place really charmed me! It looked like an old place, definitely looked ‘authentic’, so I took a seat, and ordered the famous Slovak dishes- Garlic Soup (Garlic Soup is to Slovakia what Onion Soup is to France), and Bryndzové Halušky (potato dumplings with sheep cheese). Thankfully I have an enormous appetite!
Thoroughly satiated and content, I wondered what to do for the rest of the evening, It was barely 3pm, and I had a LOT of time on my hands, and had covered most of the noteworthy spots. The next bus to Devin Castle was over an hour away, so I killed time by taking touristy pictures by the Danube river…
… with Mr Napoleon…
… and on one of their pretty little streets in the city centre…
Then I went to Hrad Devin, about 40 minutes from the centre.
I spent most of the evening there, walking around, and taking pretty pictures.
I entered a museum-like room in the castle. The caretaker was so creepy! She sat with her eyes closed most of the time, and released really, umm, ‘weird’ sounds when she was breathing- something between a groan and a moan and a sigh. REALLY weird. I don’t know why I was so scared. It was a normal sized, lit room, but I was constantly on tenterhooks. I didn’t want to react unnaturally, so I made a conscious effort to be normal… But seriously, I was scared out of my mind.
Back to the city centre, dinner was Zemiakové Placky (potato pancakes- these Slovaks really love their potatoes!!) with spicy pork, and a glass of Kofola. Slovak Pub was a restaurant recommended by the hostel. It turned out to be another branch of the flagship restaurant I had eaten lunch at. Good meal again, mmmm!!
Totally and completely exhausted, I went back to the hostel, chatted with a local who had been working a a chef on a cruise ship (WOW!), and finally fell into bed.
The next day was a short trip to Vienna, Austria (OH MY GOD… What a beautiful place!!!), and the day after that was Goodbye, Bratislava- Hello, Milano. I woke up at 5am, ran to the city castle (I had missed it the previous day because I got SO late returning from Vienna), ran back and ran to the bus stop so I could get to the airport on time.
And a wonderful little trip ended just like that! A 1 hour flight and a shuttle bus journey later, I was back to ‘regular life’… Back to Domus for the launch of our fourth workshop, waiting for the next escapade…