Tales from Suburban Bohemia: Bratislava
This post originally appeared on Stumpy Moose on 10 October 2002, and was migrated to PraguePig.com on 8 May 2021.
The Slovak Prime Minister ruined my weekend.
Well, not quite, but it makes an interesting lead-in. I’ll explain later.
We went to Bratislava the weekend before last, for our friend Ed Holt’s wedding.
It was my first time in the Slovak capital, except for a half-day I spent at the Slovan Bratislava football stadium watching a World Cup qualifier between Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1997.
That was the first competitive game between the two countries since Czechoslovakia split in 1993 and at the time Czech-Slovak relations were pretty bad.
Football fans are never slow to pick up on these things and the atmosphere in the stadium was extremely hostile — almost as bad as Rochdale vs. Burnley, in fact.
Outside the stadium, I didn’t see much beyond the Slovan Bratislava chess club, which was being used as a press centre.
It was nice, as chess clubs go, but I didn’t feel like I’d got a true impression of the city.
This time, we took a ridiculously early train down to Bratislava, on the morning of the wedding. We arrived at the city’s sordid main train station with a few hours to spare.
With a little difficulty, we found the ugly brown skyscraper that is the Hotel Kyjev, a cheap Communist-era hotel where Caroline had once stayed before.
We checked in and marvelled at the hotel’s decor for a while. Like much of Bratislava, everything in the Kyjev looks like it was designed in 1974.
Our room boasted partially carpeted walls, and a vaguely Middle Eastern maroon-and-beige colour scheme while the English-language room service menu offered a dish called Pork rib a la Gipsy Bandmaster.
Although locals sniggered when we told them where we were staying, the Kyjev is cheap, clean and central, with more comfort than you’d expect from a hotel named after the Ukrainian capital.
Dressed for action, and only slightly behind schedule, we set off for the wedding on foot.
We were at an intersection one block from the wedding, with five minutes to spare, when a line of policemen blocked our path.
One gave an explanation but neither of us caught it.
Time ticked by and we became increasingly agitated. We were going to miss the wedding.
Eventually a crowd of VIPs appeared, walking very slowly past. At the centre of the throng I recognized Slovakia’s current prime minister, the diminutive Mikulas Dzurinda.
With barely enough time to curse the EU-friendly moderate for his fascism and arrogance we dashed round the corner, arriving at the registry office as Ed and his new bride left the ceremony.
It was embarrassing to miss the ceremony, but at least we had a good excuse. And the seven-course wedding meal helped to ease my pain.
On Sunday, I finally got to check out the sights.
The Old Town is Bratislava’s main attraction. It’s smaller than Prague’s, but cleaner and with better cafes.
Bratislava’s most obvious landmark is the SNP Bridge, across the Danube. It’s one of those breathtakingly enormous ugly-beautiful structures that Soviet bloc architects seemed to specialize in.
The view across the river to Petrzalka is also spectacular, in a slightly depressing way. Petrzalka is a massive Communist-era housing development that’s home to around a third of the city’s population. Basically, it’s high-rise council flats as far as the eye can see.
If you’re pushed for time, I’d skip the castle — a 1950s reconstruction of a building that wasn’t that exciting to begin with. (Frankly, the Norbreck Castle is more spectacular.)
Bratislava doesn’t have a big-city feel, but that’s not always a bad thing.
The U.S. embassy in Prague, for instance, has been protected like Fort Knox since 11 September — you have to pass a police checkpoint even if you want to drive by it.
The U.S. embassy in Bratislava, however, seemed to be protected by one sleepy-looking Slovak cop.
Somehow that seemed to make sense.
International Man of Mystery