48 Hours in Bratislava

 

This day last week I was in the middle of a 48-hour stay in the city of Bratislava, a pitt-stop on the way to Sziget music festival in Budapest (more on that in the next post!).
As a ginger who hasn’t been on a proper sun holiday since the cringy days of family package deals to Majorca where any hotel without a kids’ club wasn’t worth batting my glitter-glued eyelashes together at, I’ll admit I may have slightly underestimated the European heat – this was only the beginning of my knowledge of Slovakia proving itself to be extremely limited. The heat struck like a wall of dead, sweaty air when you walk into a heavily populated gym, and I immediately thanked myself for having left my warm jacket at home.

After stumbling our way through the barrier of sweat, hastily-applied suncream, and unhelpful Slovakian bus drivers, we eventually made it to the tram station which would take us in the direction of our hostel. What I hadn’t anticipated was the large amount of dodgy-looking characters who roamed the streets – drunks, cripples, barely-clothed scrawny faces who revelled in approaching young unaccompanied travellers at the stations. I’m not saying it was extremely dangerous, just slightly less civilised and more suburban than many of the other European cities I’ve visited – and this was only in the first few hours or so. Still, we had to avert our gaze as a man covered in dried blood boarded the tram and sat staring at us, making no obvious inclination or cry for help, and seemingly oblivious to the extremity of his unknown injuries.

On finding our hostel (Patio Hostel, Bratislava), a wave of relief swept over me at being briefly removed from the sun’s preying rays, and also at finally being able to remove our backpacks. Shoulders aching, we attended a welcome BBQ downstairs in the garden, accompanied by several hen and stag parties, complete with inflatable and edible items of memorabilia…apparantly Bratislava is a serious hotspot for European pre-nuptial celebrations, who knew!

After locating the local Tesco and stocking up on some essentials, we went wandering in search of ‘Rock OK’ , a lively and dimly-lit underground bar, advertised as the starting point of a nightly pub crawl aimed at integrating the many socially-awkward and party-seeking backpackers who pass through the city during the Summer months. (Rock OK)

Considering it was a Saturday night, the streets were fairly quiet and we found ourselves wondering did such a pub crawl even exist. The streets were buckled under roadworks, with cones, railings, and upturned earth blocking off the streets which Google Maps had set out ahead of us. I got the impression that the entire city was very much a work-in-progress, as the roadworks were central to much of the scenery and background of the busiest areas we encountered.

After a rather sexist drink allowance of ‘Free glasses of beer, or wine for the women’, we got talking to our fellow travellers in the Rock Bar, and did our best to mingle – I’ve found that in situations such as these it is one of the best things you can do to be open, friendly and inviting – we were all in the same boat, after all, and so there was no point in being shy.
Many of the other travellers, some from Spain, New Zealand, England, and Italy, to name but a few, were also stopping off in Bratislava on their way down to Sziget, so a common topic of conversation was easily established.
Making friends with a group of Australians proved to be one of the highlights of the night, as well as typically rejoicing together as we realised there were two other Irish lads on the crawl – although unfortunately they lived up to the ‘drunken Irish’ label the other nationalities muttered to one another. We didn’t stay for the entire crawl however, as after the third ‘pub’ proved to be more of a nightclub than anything else, we decided it was time to navigate our way back through the dilapidated streets, sleeping JCBs and makeshift gravel footpaths.

After wonderful cold showers and a brief annoying realisation that someone in the hostel downstairs had stolen and eaten the bread we’d bought, we set out for a day of exploration in the city. We decided to decline the appeal of a walking-tour of the city purely because of the heat, our timeframe, and also because we much preferred the idea of discovering things independent of tour guides and plans.

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Using some of the roadworks as points of reference, we meandered down the main streets which proved a lot busier during the daytime, a large quarter of the city around the church and fountain being pedestrianised to accommodate travellers. The Old Town proved to be extremely inviting, the ‘Alstadt’ area full of great picture opportunities, innumerable bars, cafes and restaurants that looked good enough to stay in all day. The former Palace of the Hungarian Estates surrounded by the many little cobbled streets proved extremely enjoyable to wander about, despite the midday heat!

We voted in favour of a Pad Thai style lunch instead of sampling some of the local cuisine, and were thoroughly impressed by the service and food of The Green Buddha, close to the main square.

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After impulse-buying another pair of ‘Uganda-pants’, as I call them, (my first ever pair having been purchased in Uganda) in one of the many little craft shops along the street, we took the 83 bus to the end of the line, and got off at Temantínska, and followed the beach-ready stream of locals and tourists alike down a short distance to Drazdiak Lake. This freshwater lake was the first experience I’ve had of an inland lake in Europe, and it didn’t disappoint! Although there were hoards of overly-exposed sun-worshippers and naked children throwing rocks at the (extremely patient) swans, the atmosphere and simplicity of the place really appealed to me. We secured ourselves a beer after hopping the language barrier of the bar, and for the first time since the trip had started we felt really at ease as we chilled in the sun (or in my case, the shade and beneath a light throw cardigan).

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That evening we wandered back through the city and had an early night, as the prospect of a busy day navigating our way to Budapest loomed ahead of us.

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Travel Checklist – One Week to Go

I’ve always been early off the bat to prepare for trips away- when I was younger I’d often pack my bags two or three weeks in advance of my family leaving for a 2-week holiday, out of pure eagerness and impatience for it. I’ve managed by now to learn to stifle some of the excitement that comes with anticipating a trip abroad, yet still find myself indulging in the odd splurge into my savings to buy something that I’ll ‘definitely use’ whilst travelling – even if I end up completely forgetting to pack it and only realising when I get home that it’s been sitting on my desk the entire time I’ve been away (Captain Hindsight is a killer).

With a week to go until a short break in Europe, I thought I’d start some of this travel-blogging craic early and share my checklist for the next week with regards to packing, saving, and preparing myself both mentally and physically for a trip away. In order to do this successfully I’ve broken the list down into various important aspects of travel that I feel should be taken into account when trying to plan and pack for a spell abroad.

Time Managment:

Given that I’m working everyday until Friday, today (Sunday) might be the only chance I’m going to get to head into town and pick up any necessities before flying on Saturday morning. If I hadn’t considered this and taken my potential free time into account I would most likely be left rushing about on Friday evening trying to source everything in time before shops close – taking the risk of forgetting something vital. I know I will have access to a computer and printer during the week, and so will have the opportunity to print off tickets, boarding passes, and other necessary travel documents well ahead of schedule.

Holiday Type:

I’m attending a music festival in Budapest for a week, and so packing light yet intuitively is going to be key. In order to save money I’ve already sourced a backpack that I can borrow for the week, and although I own a small and portable tent, the research I’ve done on the festival has told me that there are ‘camping packs’ available for 20-30 euro on the festival grounds. These contain a tent and other necessary items that would be awkward and cumbersome for campers to travel with, many festival attendees (like ourselves) opting to fly into the city and spending a night or two in hostels before roughing it in the campsite.

Health and Diet:

This is a big one for me, as I’ve always felt that the way I’ve been treating my body and mind in the lead up to an important event, date, or period of time always has a direct correlation to the successes or failures of it. In other words – if I’ve been eating and drinking like crap a few days before I have to undertake something as substantial as an entire day spent travelling, I’m not going to feel my best and will be more likely to make silly mistakes and forget to do things that would hinder the smooth flow of the journey, and ultimately impact the enjoyment of travel negatively. It might seem like a no-brainer, but if we consciously eat well and maintain a balanced mindset in the lead-up to as unpredictable a life event as travel can be, we will at the very least possess the ability to know ourselves and trust our own intuition to maintain calm in the midst of chaos should a crisis occur.
Not to mention the importance of being correctly fueled and energised to navigate busy airports, train stations, and strange cities without burning out and ending up sitting alone, lost and emotional in a bar in Rome (I wish I wasn’t speaking from experience).

Budgeting:

Yet another aspect of travel where I have previously failed miserably, budgeting for even the shortest trip away is so key when your available funds fluctuate regularly between a healthy and comforting 3-4 digit number, to a minus figure that should only be used to describe the depths of Winter in Antarctica. At the beginning of this month I wrote down exactly what funds were available to me at the time, how much I was guaranteed to earn by the time the trip came around, and also took into account the minimum amount of money I could allow myself to get by on day-to day until my departure. If I felt I ever exceeded this amount, or if something came up that I hadn’t expected to need money for, I kept a mental tally of this until I got the opportunity to write it down so I wouldn’t forget. This is the first time I actually feel like I’ve been on top of my spending habits and in control enough to maintain such a balance – the only thing I regret slightly is depending that my latest paycheck will come through before Friday, but it’s never been late before!

Research:

As well as researching the available facilities at the festival itself, we’ve also arranged to fly into a neighbouring city instead of directly to the nearest airport, as we found we saved money that way. It’s worth looking these things up in advance and researching the options for reaching your destination, as quite often (especially in Europe) it can prove cheaper to fly into somewhere else and get a train to where you want to go – an added bonus to this is that you get to see a whole other country on your travels!

I’ll probably think of more things that I should have written here in a while, but for now I’ll leave it at that and head off to find some insect repellent…

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