I spent 3 nights in Bratislava and really enjoyed it. I think that a large percentage of your opinion of somewhere is made up by experience rather than the place itself. Often, those experiences are influenced by what you do and who you meet.
My first impression on arriving at the bus station was that Bratislava is definitely less developed than neighbouring Austria. Despite being the two closest capital cities in Europe (about 60km between them), they are starkly different. While Vienna is full of parks, grandly laid out and dominated by huge buildings, Bratislava is more quaint.
For the first time on this trip, I found pavements which were broken up or parts that were not paved. Buildings that didn’t look particularly appealing and some rickety old buses. However, I think parts of that experience were more concentrated on the bus station and surrounding area (for some reason bus stations are rarely nice places!).
I was staying at an apartment called ‘Presidential Apartments’. I has assumed the name was to convey some sense of luxury in the accommodation – I realised upon arriving that it was across the road from the Presidential Palace!
Upon venturing into the city centre, I found a really beautiful city. Although smaller and less ‘grand’ than Vienna, perhaps equally beautiful.
However, the dominating experience for me in Slovakia was the Ice Hockey. While I was there, Slovakia were participating in the World Championship Final against Russia. They had beaten arch-rivals Czech Republic the day before.
I found out about a few people meeting in the city centre to watch the game at one of the massive TV screens erected for the event. We ended up meeting in-between two halves of a massive shopping centre. There was about 10 of us in our group, and about 10,000 others!
Unfortunately Slovakia ended up losing 6-2 to Russia, however, what really surprised me was just how proud the Slovakians were about coming 2nd. They were obviously sad to not win, but the cheering and support for the team was massive. After the game was over, people were driving around the city with flags, tooting their horns and singing/shouting national slogans and chants. Needless to say, was a bit of a wild night!
Apparently some 20,000+ people turned up to welcome the team home the next day. I’ve never witnessed the same type of event at home, but for some reason I felt that it wouldn’t have been so joyous.
While walking around the city one day, I happened upon a local wedding. I spent a while sitting outside watching the people arrive and it was pretty spectacular. It’s fair to say that in general the sense of what is fashionable is different in this part of the world, but the wedding revealed a more flavourable insight into that. My personal favourite was the guy with a seemingly innocuous black suit, snappy red shoes and… a print of Michael Jackson’s face on his back.
Some locals told me that this wasn’t a normal sight, so perhaps this community has a particular eye for fashion.