Vienna and Bratislava are the two closest capital cities in the world, conveniently located on the Danube making the ride very easy. Coming from Vienna, the first thing you see of it is a huge suburb, full of communist era tower blocks. The next iconic thing is Bratislava Castle, which several locals told me isn’t that pretty and looks like an upside down table. Slovakia is apparently full of castles, but unfortunately I didn’t have the time to go and explore the other ones. There are lots of no-smoking signs outside them apparently after two kids burnt down another one after throwing away their cigarettes.
I was only in Slovakia for about 48 hours, so have 3 main memories. On the day I arrived, I met my Couchsurfing host Július at the office of his start-up. They were having a table football tournament between all the start-ups that shared the building. This meant free food and drinks and hanging out with a group of open-minded Slovaks in their early 20s who had a lot to say about their country, and could all speak English just fine – which several of them put down to playing computer games when they were younger. There was also a guy from Italy who was there working with Roma communities, a group that is apparently heavily stigmatised by locals, which according to a recent study is sadly incredibly common across Europe.
On my day off, Július had to work, so I went on the Bratislava Free Walking Tour. Free Walking Tours are quite wonderful, basically working on commission. There is no set fee, but there is an expectation that you’ll give a few euro (or whatever you can) to pay for the 2-3 hours of their time they gave you. Our guide was young but experienced, and managed to explain the history of not only the country (in relation especially to the Czech Republic) but also the tourist spots. Other than the blue church, which was quite lovely to look at, my favourite part were the statues around the city. They started with Cumil, who is a man crawling out of a manhole. He has a large sign next to him now, because he apparently got smashed into by vehicles several times and decapitates. Poor man.
The third and final highlight was that evening, when we took a bus to the outskirts of Bratislava – doesn’t take long as the city is so compact – and spent the evening barbecuing in the woods, simple pleasures.