So, today I went on a day trip. To another country – I visited the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava.
Embarrassingly enough, I know next-to nothing about Slovakia. I know that it was part of Czechoslovakia, yes, and that’s about it. And that its capital is really close to Vienna. Like, an hour away. To the point where the airport RyanAir uses to reach Vienna is actually in Bratislava. Cheekily, in true RyanAir style, they term it ‘Vienna (Bratislava)’.
However, Slovakia Tourism has hit upon a winner. They offer a fourteen euro ticket which gets you a return train trip from Vienna, plus public transport in Bratislava thrown in too. I had a day off in Vienna, so away I went.
In true Caitlyn style, I got totally confused with where the hell Wien Sudbahnhof – Ost Bahn was, as this station was demolished in 2010. I finally found the tin shed, thirty seconds after my train departed, and as such had a lazy start into Bratislava. Just don’t tell the people on my coach that I still can’t find my way around Vienna.
Bratislava grows on you. When I got in, I was faced with a Soviet-era train station – perhaps something I should have expected as Bratislava is home to the world’s biggest Soviet-style housing complex – kilometres of the same, drab concrete slabs housing tens of thousands of Slovaks.
It did get better – heading into the Old Town, it was like a mini-Prague. It actually did feel like the same country as the Czech Republic – pastel-coloured buildings, uneven cobblestoned streets, a massive castle overlooking the town (I can’t quite call it a city) and very, very cheap beer. Slovakia’s already converted to the euro so seeing signs for half a litre of beer for one euro certainly kept stopping me in my tracks. Even the languages sound similar. So maybe the Allies weren’t so crazy when they smooshed the two countries together to form Czechoslovakia back in 1918.
But, after a day of wandering around, I still don’t really know anything about the place. Their souvenir shops were full of amber jewellery, tshirts with beer slogans and postcards depicting idyllic countryside… just like the majority of Eastern Europe. The only unique thing I found was a hell of a lot of ice hockey paraphernalia (they’re hosting the world championships later this year) which is not exactly something on which to build a tourist industry. They have a castle, a church and a town square… yep, not finding anything new here. The craziest thing I found was this building, apparently home to a local radio station.
It rang a bell. Suddenly I was transported back to Shanghai in January. Perhaps the Chinese nicked it off the poor old ‘Little Big Country’ (Slovak Tourism’s slogan) for their pavilion for the Shanghai Expo last year?