I don’t imagine that a lot of travelers get excited to go to Bratislava. Actually, from what I’ve seen in various travel threads on Reddit, I know people don’t get excited for Bratislava—and actively try to talk people out of stopping there on vacation. Sure, there are other, more cultural places, or places with a better food scene or a multitude of breweries and great beer bars. There are, I’ll admit, a ton of reasons not to go. But as our train pulled into the station, I couldn’t have been happier to get there.
My family has always been proud of its Slovak roots (on my father’s side). My great-grandparents both came over to America from Slovakia, and despite a slight name change (Hudacek became Hudak), still retained its Slovakia-ness. And while my family comes more from northern Slovakia and Bratislava is about as southerly as it gets (you can see Austria from the castle), I had been dying to visit my motherland.
I’m sure it’s mostly my imagination, but as we were walking from the train to our hotel, I felt like I was home. I can’t say why—I didn’t run into any other Hudaks and I certainly don’t speak the language. But it does go a long way to be in a foreign country and to be able to recognize words, or to recognize concepts (especially, for me: food). Bratislava is by no means a huge city, and almost reminded me of my home town of Cleveland. With a population of about 450,000, it’s recognizable as a larger city, but is nowhere near the scale of the top cities in the area. (For scale, Prague has about 1.3 million inhabitants, and Budapest is around 1.7 million.)
The city has a nice collection of pedestrian-only spaces, something I love to see but which America is sorely lacking. The lack of cars and lack of a large tourist contingent really made the city feel smaller and homier, which only contributed to my happiness to be there. We found dinner at 1 Slovak Pub, as I wanted to try some local specialties, and retired for the night.
Our only full day in Bratislava was cool and started with a walk through Hviezdoslavovo námestie (Hviezdoslav Aquare) and up to Bratislava Castle. And I do mean UP—the streets to get up to the castle from the main square were very steep, and certainly not ADA compliant. But we made it to the top eventually and looked around the grounds for a bit before meeting up with Linda from Bratislava Food Tours. The next four hours were spent gorging ourselves on local foods, and I couldn’t have been happier.
After departing from Linda, we walked around more of the pedestrian areas before grabbing a beer at a bar with an outdoor sitting area where we could people-watch. Later that night we left our nice boutique hotel close to the city center in order to spend the night in a hotel close to the train station (we do this often if we have an early departure the next day). We closed out the night at a local bar drinking more pilsners, and just enjoying the cool Slovakia night.
Maybe if I had been in town longer, I would have grown bored. Maybe I would have been itching to move on to our next destination. Or maybe I would have fallen even more in love. As it stands, it was just a quick toe in the water to test the temperature, and going back to visit is a given. I may not spend much more time in Bratislava, but I feel the pull to go to my great-grandfather’s hometown, to see where my great-grandmother grew up. And, of course, to eat the food there.