|An overview of the city, taken from the castle|
|Michael's Gate, The Old Town|
I love first impressions of a place. It's one of my favourite parts of travel. You can read a guidebook, plan your route, look at photos, but first impressions will always surprise. Like when we spent a week in London en route to Canada this summer. The smell of blooming lilacs astonished our desert-weary senses at every stop the train made. And our first morning, my eyes pricked with tears when we were greeted with the lovely sounds of an operatic street performance as we entered Camden Market. The senses simply take these experiences in, leaving lasting impressions.
But Bratislava was different. The surprise did not come in the form of a startling first impression. Instead, the surprise came in how the city welcomed me, enveloping me in a warmth I did not expect, in a strong sense of home. I simply felt that I belonged. It did not matter that I hadn't been for twenty years... that the streets and buildings were barely recognizable to me. Everything was familiar and inviting. It simply made sense. When I entered restaurants, I knew exactly what I wanted to order. And bakeries were the same. Yes, I will have that poppy seed cake. Why would I want to order anything else? And the beer... the Slovak beer very clearly spoke my name.
There was a peace and a calm I felt in the streets. Every day all I wanted to do was walk the same streets again and again, mingling with street cars and people who felt familiar. Just walk the streets my parents used to, all those years ago.
|Jeff had a special fondness for the street cars.|
I loved the food, the people whose sense of fashion I could not understand, the tree-lined streets and pedestrian zones. There was a quiet to this capital city that surprised me. On our last day, I stole away an hour by myself and walked down our street, Obchodna, the same street my father used to walk on his way home from work. I was filled with melancholy as I wondered what life was like for my parents back then, and what life would have been like for me if they had stayed. I sat on a bench and listened as a lone violinist played tunes I grew up listening to. And I felt sadness at having to go, even though I knew it was not my place to stay.
|Quiet morning on Obchodna, standing near the entrance to our apartment, with Michael's Gate in the distance.|
|Obchodna at night. Shops & restaurants galore!|
|The Slovak Pub on Obchodna. Great traditional food. Highly recommended.|
|The main square in the Old Town|
Since returning, friends have asked if I would recommend traveling to Slovakia. I start by warning them I am incredibly biased, but then I say a loud, resounding, "YES!" But truly, it is a beautiful country. And Bratislava is a beautiful capital. I recommend staying by the Old Town, where you are surrounded by gorgeous buildings and cobblestone streets, with the Danube just a short walk away. In fact, stay where we stayed... in one of Monika's apartments. Obchodna is a fantastic location, just 100 metres or so away from Michael's Gate, and with every kind of shop/cafe/restaurant you may need just outside your door. Oh, and make sure you get to my cousin Ivan's pub, Zbrojnos. It is literally right next to Michael's gate. Say hi to Ivan ... and have a Zlaty Bazant for me!
|Kaiya helping Ivan set up for a concert|
|The building is over 700 years old!|
Bratislava also has plenty of modern luxuries. There are two large shopping malls that were walking distance from where we were staying. I recommend Eurovea, which is beautifully situated on the Danube. Skip the shopping and hang out at one of the restaurants overlooking the river. Or just walk along the river and enjoy the massive playground. That's what we did! Aupark is another, older, shopping mall. It also has a massive outdoor playground and borders Sad Janka Krala, Central Europe's oldest public park.
While there is more I could say (ya, haven't even mentioned the castle), I'll let Jeff's photos say the rest. We're a team that way. ;)
|Plenty of statues for everyone to pose with|
|St. Martin's cathedral|
|The food was a big hit|
|As were the fall leaves|
|And the parks|
|Walking to the castle our first morning|
|Castles are even more fun when they come with playgrounds!|
|And fun places to pose|
|At night, standing guard over the city|
|The opera house|
|In the main square|
|And Michael's gate, one last time|