Each new year gives you a new life and, sometimes, new ideas. I couldn’t agree more with this idea, as it has happened to me. With the new year, I noticed a change in the way I travel. As you have read in my previous posts (I hope), I started 2019 in a far-flung country (if we consider that I am from Indonesia). That country was Finland, and Finland stamped a generous six-month Schengen Visa in my passport. That was kind of a surprise for me—for a person from a developing country like Indonesia, getting a Schengen Visa (even for a week) was as hard as being an astronaut. There are a bunch of requirements, a handful of paper and a river of tears, especially if they end up refusing your application.
The requirements are sometimes too fanciful to believe—they may as well be thought of as:
- A nose hair of Thor.
- Merlin’s nail clippings.
- A signature from Hercules.
- A document stating that you have killed a Minotaur.
- At least one stamp from Valhalla (if you have entered Valhalla before).
I fully understand why they aim to prevent too many immigrants from entering their countries, but maybe we should do the same, so we won’t have an excess of foreigners dwelling in Bali and pretending to be Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love.
So, after a spell in friendly Finland, I suddenly realized that I don’t need 3 weeks holiday once a year like I did before—instead, I need an unlimited number of 1 week holidays throughout the year. Yeeeayy!
The third European country I visited was Slovakia.
Why did I choose Bratislava?
I chose Slovakia for two reasons. First, Bratislava has a number of castles, and I truly fell in love with castles after visiting some in Vyborg and Turku. Second, quite honestly, I heard about Slovakia from a cheap slasher movie—which you might have watched, as well (though you won’t admit it)—Hostel. That movie successfully described Slovakia as a strange, unknown, quite dangerous country. Another movie framed Slovakia as an inexpensive country where you can spend only one euro and feel like a tycoon: Eurotrip. Based on that prejudice, I booked a direct flight from Moscow to Bratislava. What was my impression of Bratislava?
1. Bratislava is cheap and cheerful
But it isn’t as cheap as ‘EuroTrip’ claimed. Even still, if you compare hotel prices in Finland and Slovakia, it’s quite amazing how different they are. I realize that both countries can’t actually be compared to each other—each country has its own culture, uniqueness, and cost of living, all of which are influenced by a number of factors (economic, political, and so forth). But as a real pragmatist and skinflint, I’ve made some calculations about how much I spent on hotels in Finland and in Slovakia.
1 day in Finland (2-3 stars hotel) — 70 Euro.
1 day in Slovakia (2-3 stars hotel) — 40-50 Euro.
I discovered that the luxury Radisson hotel was only in Bratislava, with a view overlooking the Bratislava Grad (castle).
2. The town is just quiet and peaceful.
In spite of its status as a capital city, Bratislava is less visited (in my opinion) than its neighbors, such as Vienna or Prague. Yet, it doesn’t mean that Bratislava is any less popular than them. It’s just a matter of choice, as some might prefer a lively town with interesting touristy places, while others make the most of a city’s unpopularity. You can walk around the old town and hike up to Bratislava Castle anytime you want without waiting in line is a benefit of visiting Bratislava.
3. If you want to know, flying to Bratislava is cheaper than flying to Vienna.
The distance covering both cities is less than 2 hours, especially if you drive like Michael Schumacher along the highway. This will be a big advantage one who is eager to visit Vienna, but not keen on spending money left and right on tickets. From the Bratislava airport or from the city center, you can take a bus or book in advance with Regiojet right to the capital city of Austria. The price varies from around 7 euros to up to 10 euros. It is definitely cheaper than taking a direct flight from somewhere to Vienna.
Visiting Bratislava needed less time than we thought. We stayed for four days, and one of those days we spent in Brno, Czech Republic. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with prolonging your visit, because, again, it depends on your preference. Some friends told me that we should go farther into Slovakia and go sightseeing in the Tatra Mountains, which are very beautiful, or stay for a while in Debrecen.
Due to a lack of information about Slovakia and how to travel inside it, this time we decided to visit only one city, then move to its neighboring countries for one or two days.
If you ask why I didn’t buy a Lonely Planet guide, I will quote one of my students when I asked the same question: “Because these books tells everyone about ‘secret places.’” Places that are no longer secret if you remember how popular the books are, which means everybody who wants to visit a secret place will buy it and go there along with thousands of other people. SO, I am not a big fan. Hey book…let me explore these places without you.
Before going to Slovakia, I joined a forum on Facebook to connect with some «real travelers» who have been to every corner of the world. Unfortunately, I came back empty-handed. They didn’t even «like» my message…oh, poor me. I left that exclusive group.
After digging for some information by ourselves right when we arrived in Bratislava, we found out that the city center has it all. That means that I don’t need to go here, there, and everywhere to enjoy some sightseeing.
Tips for choosing hotels
Saving as much as you can is a great idea. Comfort has a price, and it’s worthless if you need to struggle to get to your destination. Even though cheap hotels are easier to find outside the city center, it’s better to choose one inside. We tried two hotels during our short stay in Bratislava. The first was about 15 minutes by bus to the city center, while the other was right in front of the Bratislava Castle. Which one is better? Both have great service, but to be honest, the hotel that’s a one minute walk to the city center was the best, as we were surrounded by a bunch of restaurants, tourist attractions, and a bus terminal.
What I did in Bratislava for 2 days?
One of the places I had on my itinerary was Devin Castle. I am a castle freak and am always willing to visit one no matter how far the location is. Compared to Bratislava Grad, the Devin Castle requires a little bit more effort. But, when someone is in Bratislava, this castle is really worth a visit. As long as I can remember, I couldn’t find any special tour or special tourist bus to reach this place. Thanks to a good map I found on the receptionist desk, we finally had an opportunity to stroll around this amazing site. The site has been there since the Neolithic Age and has been inhabited by the Celts, Romans, and Slavs. By climbing some steps and hiking a bit, you can reach the top and enjoy seeing the Morava and Danube rivers flow around the castle. The view surrounding the castle is incredible, as it allows you to imagine how life was during those during past eras.
To get there, you need to catch the number 29 bus, right under the NSP Bridge. Note this: Get on the bus RIGHT UNDER THE BRIDGE, as the bus won’t stop on the terminal as most people might think it will. Then, just wait to get off at the last station — Devin Castle. Entrance Fee: 10 EUROS. Facilities: Toilet, parking lot, some restaurants that might be closed.
Note: Rumour has it that the tiny watchtower (maiden tower) was a place for imprisoned lovelorn daughters leaping to their death.
A massive rectangular castle located on a rocky hill. Requires climbing staircases. Includes a museum. These are my descriptions of Bratislava Grad. Unlike the Devin Castle, Bratislava Grad is easier to visit, as it is located right in the heart of the city. Climbing to the top is not that challenging. The path to the castle is well-maintained with comfortable staircases and smooth asphalt. It even has railings which you can hold onto if you are a dubious person like me — I am not sure that I can keep my balance when I climb something, I tend to fall on the flat surface, so I have no idea how I can’t fall on staircases.
There is no entrance fee if you just want to take a little saunter around the castle. Nevertheless, if you decide to visit the museum inside the castle, you need to pay an entrance fee. The museum was quite interesting, although the collections were still limited due to renovations.
Strolling around the old town
Staré Mesto is the historic center of Bratislava. It consists of a main square, historical buildings, museum and, of course, a souvenir shop. You can stroll through its small alleys, sipping some coffee or beer while enjoying watching the locals go about their business. Despite the number of tourists, walking around Staré Mesto is far more comfortable compared to, for example, La Rambla (for me) or the Kuta Area in Bali.
The Bridge of NSP
The bridge of the Slovak National Uprising is one of the must-visit places when visiting Bratislava. Not only because of its historical background, but also because it is the most iconic place to take some pictures! If you stand somewhere close to the bridge, you can capture those two icons of Bratislava at once – Bratislava Grad and Bridge of NSP. The history of this bridge dates back to the year 1972, when they still called this bridge NSP Bridge; in 1993, the name was changed to Nový Most (New Bridge), before they decided to use NSP Bridge again in 2012. I hope they won’t change it again in the future…
Inside this UFO-looking bridge, you can find a deck with an observatory and a restaurant (although I haven’t tried it yet).