Bratislava is a city that I’ve never given a chance. I’ve spent two days in Bratislava six years apart and both times I couldn’t wait to leave after 24 hours.
However, this really isn’t the city of Bratislava’s fault. The city itself is quite a charming medieval town with an interesting historical centre, cobbled alleyways, plenty of good food and drink and friendly locals. Unfortunately, both times I’ve visited this city, my state of mind hasn’t been in the right place to fully appreciate the Slovakian capital.
My first visit in 2010 was halfway through a two-month jaunt across Italy and Central Europe. I had booked a four-night stay in Vienna only to realise after a few hours into my visit that I didn’t like Vienna at all and wanted to move on. I eagerly booked a train to visit Budapest — a city that I had always dreamed of visiting — for two days later and decided to use my last remaining day in Vienna to take a day trip to Bratislava.
As I got off the train in Bratislava, the heavens opened up and after walking around in the rain for a half an hour I decided to give up and retreated to a cafe where I lazily read my book for a couple of hours. I hadn’t done any research into Bratislava and without having the WiFi connectivity that we all take for granted these days, I was at a loss as to how to spend the rest of the day when the skies finally cleared. I wandered around aimlessly, exploring Bratislava Castle, St Martin’s Cathedral and random streets in the pretty old town. However, with my mind firmly set on Budapest, I was just going through the motions and wasn’t appreciating the city.
In 2016, after travelling through the Balkans for three months I was eager to visit Ždiar in Slovakia again and spend some time hiking the Tatra Mountains. Train connections, however, meant that I had to spend another afternoon in Bratislava. With my mind once again firmly set on another destination, I found myself walking around with little idea as to how to occupy myself. The draw of watching football in the pub was too great and I spent most of the afternoon escaping the heat with a beer in hand. I was excited to be in nature again and after three months in the Balkans, I was beginning to feel a bit jaded with mid-sized European cities.
My stay in Bratislava only got worse the next morning when I hopped on a tram to the train station without buying a ticket as I couldn’t find any ticket booths near the station. About two stops from my destination I saw two burly looking conductors get on the tram and knew I had to come up with a story quickly. I decided to play the dumb tourist card.
First, I acted as if I wanted to buy a ticket from them. Then I tried to argue with them about how the lack of ticket booths wasn’t my fault and that they shouldn’t try to take advantage of tourists who don’t know the city well. Eventually, with the minutes ticking down until my train and their threats of calling the police increasing, I forked over the €50 penalty knowing that, despite my growing dislike of Bratislava, they were well within their right to fine me.
As my train pulled away from Bratislava it was evident that something about this city simply did not agree with me. When you’re travelling long term this is inevitable, as you simply cannot develop a connection with every city you visit. And who knows, there’s always the chance that maybe one day in the future I’ll spend another 24 hours in Bratislava and the third time will be the charm!
What cities have you been to that you didn’t enjoy as much as you thought you should? Add a comment below!