Saturday, November 10, 2012

[The Life of Shaun #455] Bratislava

A few weeks ago, one of my most regular travel companions, Mary Keany, and I took another trip together.  This time our destination was Eastern Europe (i.e., behind the old Iron Curtain - don't get snippy with me, "Central" Europeans) to Bratislava.  Within the Soviet satellite state, Bratislava was the second city of Czechoslovakia.  However, after the conjoined twins were separated, Bratislava became the preeminent and capital city of newly independent Slovakia.

I was always interested in Bratislava because it sits so close to the border of Austria, you can see into it.  Much like the fantasy in my mind of East Berliners peering into a strange world they couldn't enter, Bratislava spreads tantalisingly across the river that should separate Slovakia from The West; an iron thorn in the West's rump.

Overshadowed by Prague in the region, Bratislava did not become known to Brits until RyanAir opened a route there, allowing the masses of hens and stags who'd had their first does in Dublin the ability to celebrate their second/third/fourth marriages somewhere a little more exotic.  Though a local taxi driver complained the prices have risen to Vienna levels (Vienna is just a short ride up the Danube), it was very affordable on the pound (even though they're in the eurozone - who knew?!), and the city seems to have managed the influx of low-end tourists quite well.

Bratislava turned out to be really, really nice.  I didn't know too much about it - just had heard it was "pretty".  But I've been to plenty of pretty and disappointing cities.  It's not somewhere for a massive gaycation, but it's a proper city for a good time with a friend.  The city is walkable and charming, big enough to keep you engaged, but small enough to get the feel of over a weekender.  Crucially, everyone speaks English and, thankfully, everyone we encountered was friendly.  The food was good, veggie-friendly, and wine very reasonably priced.  Add in a camp gay bar and viable gay club, and you've got yourself all the ingredients for a good weekend away.

Cheers from Naperville during some rare quiet time,

Our hotel had a photography conference on the same weekend we were there.  I found this one the most... erm, interesting.

MK with the classic Bratislava view.

Bratislava's main street in the old town.  It's lined with restaurants, bars and cafés.  Though they of course cater to the hen/stags, they are not charmless or overpriced.

Mary and I found this charming: the Slovaks, realistic about their geography, provide blankets in addition to heat lamps for their outdoor space.

The main square.

On one end of the New Bridge is the "UFO Tower", which of course I was immediately drawn to.

Once inside you can see the Soviet-era blocks spreading out from the city centre (new shopping mall to the fore).  Just beyond the blocks is Austria.  In fact, a lot of what you can see from the tower is Austria.

Old Town from the UFO Tower.  An interesting anecdote is the highway driving down the middle of the city, passing immediately in front of Bratislava's main church.  The Soviets did this purposely to show their disdain for religion.  They also paved over the former Jewish quarter to build this highway.

This is either a mural to the glory of the proletariat or an example of pre-internet gay porn, not sure which.

Me at one of the many street cafés; this is how Mary found me most of the weekend.

Map showing how Bratislava abuts the former Iron Curtain.  Light pink shading shows the city limits; where it lines up with the dark grey line on its left, that is the border with Austria (oddly not following the Danube as it it does in most of the region).

Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London E1 | UK |

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