The true meaning of being a Bratis-lover!

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The true meaning of being a Bratis-lover!

Of all the tiny capital cities in the world, Bratislava tops Anjaly Thomas's list of favourites. River Danube and naughty Cumil-the-workman may have something to do with it

By Anjaly Thomas

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Published: Fri 16 Oct 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 16 Oct 2015, 2:00 AM

There are a couple of reasons for the many quirky statues dotting Bratislava, Slovakia's pretty capital city. Firstly, it enlivens the landscape rendered lifeless during the communist regime (that ended in 1993) and, second, it is a huge draw amongst tourists.
It is said that Slovakia, in its eagerness to destroy every trace of the regime, installed quirky statues all over the city in defiance and they became so popular, that the then newly independent country was inspired to add more. Today, day-trippers from Vienna arrive eager to embark on the statue-circuit ticking them off the list as they go about town.  
Bratislava, on the banks of River Danube, is the main city besides being the economic, political, and cultural centre of Slovakia. Here sits the President and the Parliament and everything else a tourist comes for.

Cumil: The bronze statue of a workman peeping out of a manhole is the major attraction in Old Town, Bratislava. Opinions are divided about whether he is crawling out of a sewer or peeping under skirts!
But the reason I was here was as peculiar as the statues dotting the city.
"Bratislava has great coffee," I had been told in a Viennese café. "Cafes in Staré Mesto specialise in all sorts. If coffee is the way to your heart, then you will fall in love with Bratislava."
I love coffee. Vienna had pleased me with its many varieties and I hoped Bratislava, this less-known eastern European city, would do the same. That is how I came to be here. That and the Krémová Cesnaková Polievka (creamy garlic soup in a bread). I'd like to add right away that I was not disappointed.
But let me go back to the start. I had come the Danube-way, albeit more expensive than the train or bus, but it had its merits. From the speedboat, Bratislava Castle, with its white walls and red roofs, appeared imposing and impregnable, sparking off a vivid fairytale scenario in my mind. As I scrambled to adjust my views on this gem, I realised that I was missing out numerous other beautiful sights around - like the old bridge, the row of coloured houses on the other side of Danube, the UFO Tower and the very beauty of the river I was on.
As I disembarked, I vowed to see as much as possible and not waste time photographing every nook and corner.
I was pleasantly surprised to find an old city full of castles, palaces, theatres, beautiful old buildings, cobblestoned streets, churches and a fantastic transport system - although the trams seemed a little antiquated. The old and new merged beautifully, and the old buildings were nicely preserved. Bratislava, however, is a city that can make a photographer of anyone so, before long, I turned into a camera-happy tourist, my vows forgotten.

Between getting in and out of coffee houses (the famous Roland Coffee was particularly satisfactory) and photographing old buildings, we (I had, by such time, befriended a Spanish traveller) had walked around the Old Town (Staré Mesto) - the tourist hotspot - and squeezed our way through narrow cobblestoned streets, namely the Bostova, which, in the past, housed the city's executioner, bought the mandatory souvenir coffee mugs and proclaimed our affection for the city by changing into "I Love Bratislava" t-shirts.
 
Schöne Náci: An old legend of Bratislava - of an old poor man living in the town in the early 20th century, who dresses in a nice frock and hat and greets everybody on the street. 
In a few hours of arrival, we had seen pretty much what there was to see - this included the castle, the Old Town, parks and a few churches. Bratislava has managed to blend a tragic past with a hopeful future with a self-deprecating present - and somehow succeeded with this mishmash of attitude. Granted the place was pretty, sporadically interesting, quaint and budget-friendly, but I did feel from time to time that it lacked elegance. I am not an expert on east European cities or architecture, but the indescribable essence that most every other Slavic city has was somehow missing.
Cuisine
The cuisine of Slovakia is hearty and filling, with plenty of cow and sheep cheeses, cabbage, onions, garlic, potato, dumplings and flavourful meats. Check out a traditional watering hole or restaurant for something local.
Don't miss the creamy garlic soup served in thick crusted bread. You will never regret it. To complement the garlicky soup, grab an ice cream cone from the nearest vendor (there are many) - and choose from the numerous flavours.
Bratislava also happens to be the only European capital that borders two countries: Austria and Hungary. Vienna is one hour by train and Budapest is two, and since it is a part of the Schengen and Eurozone, you could literally "walk" into Bratislava from either of these two countries.
If you are wondering if Slovakia merits an extended visit, my answer would be yes. Because, like a coffee shop acquaintance said, "Bratislava is really a big village, but the smaller villages outside of this are far more beautiful. Then, there are the castles and the skiing. We have everything, but on a smaller scale, perhaps." 
The highlights
The Castle, of course! You can't miss this one. In fact, it is so high up on the hill that you are unlikely to miss it even if you tried. This white and red castle, built in the 9th century, with four towers has a very turbulent history. In the 16th century, when Bratislava became the official town for the coronation of Hungarian kings, much of the Hungarian jewels were secreted in its southwest towers. In 1740, Empress Maria Theresia had the castle reconstructed in Baroque style, but it was burnt down in 1811 and reconstructed again in 1956.
St Martin's Cathedral, located below the castle, is a must-visit place. This church became the Coronation Church for Hungarian kings between 1563 and 1830. To visit the castle, you can walk upwards from St Martin's Cathedral via a series of stairs.
The UFO Tower that's built over the new bridge; this 95m tower gives you fabulous views of the city of Bratislava. There is a small price to pay to come up here, but 6 Euros is definitely worth the visit.
The Slovak National Theatre that consists of three ensembles for opera, ballet and drama and is Slovakia oldest professional theatre.
Michael's Gate, with its green copper roof, is one of the oldest buildings in the city, was built in the 14th century and is 51m high.
If you are short on time, hop on the red tour bus for 10 Euros for a quick and insightful round of the city. For this price, you also get a running commentary of the city's many highlights in various languages.
Devín Castle, now in ruins, is about half an hour's drive away from the city and stands at the confluence of Morava and Danube rivers.
wknd@khaleejtimes.com



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