Our departure from the Bratislava bus station wasn’t all that inspiring, namely as I’d unwittingly waltzed us out what was in fact the rear of the station.
A quick left turn and I had us back on course (with a bit of gut feel and dumb luck) and from there we had a nice morning walk to our apartment in Bratislava, the smallest European capital on our trip (with a population of just over 400,000).
Body odour aside, the gentleman who met us at the door with our key (and to make sure that we paid) was most welcoming, although he did seem to linger quite a while.
Dumping our bags, it was straight onto the streets for us, as we only had 1 day in this new city.
Immediately the different pace of this place was apparent. Unlike Budapest which was a busy, bustling city, this place seemed to have fewer locals, and cruise tours from the Danube aside (which would disgorge boatloads of people who would wander around in mass groups for a day), fewer tourists.
As luck would have it, we found the river first, so we quickly arranged our tickets to Vienna for the following morning, and after paying homage to some communist era statues, made our way to the Bratislava Old Town.
A quick bit on the run followed (in the form of a ham and salad baguette which made a nice change from the heavy meals we’d been having lately) before we decided to make the ascent up to Bratislavský Hrad (Bratislava Castle) which loomed ever present high above the town.
It really looks extensively rebuilt and freshly painted so lacked some of the charm of other castles we’ve viewed on this trip, but it was still an impressive place. It’s elevated position also gave us some nice views over the town which re-affirmed how much smaller this capital city really was.
South-East Asia may have the banana pancake trail, but here in Europe the trail itself is made of cobblestones, and it was through another old town we now strolled, its uneven stones again under foot.
It certainly wasn’t large, but it was another attractive old town for us to enjoy, however it was not long before we began to wonder how we would be able to fill our afternoon.
Cue another local bus adventure, as we’d discovered in our trusty Lonely Planet there was a small town several kilometres away which was home to another, apparently more impressive old castle.
The biggest challenge we then had was to actually find a ticket office when we got to the local bus station. At first mistaking a cafe, then a store selling magazines and newspapers, we found a small little box tucked away (and looking more like a toilet block) where we discovered a very bored looking lady.
Although she understood no English and us, no Slovakian, we managed to get our tickets only to have to wait almost 40 minutes for the bus.
The journey itself took nowhere near as long, and we shortly found ourselves at the end of the line, gazing up at Hrad Devin (Castle Devin).
A quick glance at the timetable told us that the next bus was an hour away so we got to it and started exploring.
The town of Devin is situated right in the corner of Slovakia, so once we climbed our way up the hill, we quickly found ourselves taking in a vista that included no fewer than 3 countries, as across the river lay both Austria and Hungary.
The castle itself was beautiful, but mostly ruins which I feel lends itself to a much more authentic experience.
A small museum was present as well, and with its commanding views and position right on the river, it is easy to see how it was once a place of military significance.
With time to spare we made our way back down to the bus stop as other like minded visitors began to do the same.
Had we for some unfathomable reason not returned in time, there were a couple of restaurants nearby where we could have whiled away an hour sipping a beer or two.
Back in Bratislava we took a detour to locate a place known as the “Blue Church”. It may have appealed to some on a novel level, but for us this pale blue structure (complete with matching interior) was really a bit of an eyesore so we quickly continued on.
There was a charm around the Presidential Palace (which we found whilst seeking a local micro-brewery we’d read about), and the regalia of the palace guards I thought quite impressive (complete with feathered slouch hats) but the quirkiest sights, we were still to find.
I’d read quite a bit, and even seen some images online of Bratislava’s famous statues. Supposedly throughout the Old Town they were scattered. The four most famous of these: A Napoleonic era soldier, a sneaky paparazzi photographer, an old man tipping his hat & a workman in a manhole.
The latter 2 we’d found with ease earlier that day, but of the others, there was no sight. We wandered for quite some time, before eventually giving up and doing a bit more research on their location online.
With directions fresh in our mind we sought them out again, only to still find our efforts fruitless.
After a bit of a closer inspection of their supposed locations, I noticed marks on the wall where the paparazzi man once lurked, and further evidence beside a bench seat in the main square was all that remained of the soldier who once leaned there.
Whether they’d been removed by officialdom, or stolen by scrap metal thieves I’ve not yet learned, but it was a disappointing end to the day.
A delicious dinner of local dumplings, and pork in a creamy sauce lifted our spirits, before we retired to prepare ourselves for our river journey the following morning to the Austrian capital.