Bratislava a medieval 21st century city

Slovakia is a country that has been independent for less than 20 years.  Prior to that is had been part of Czechoslovakia, and before 1919 Slovakia had been part of the Hungarian Empire.  Before that, it had been part of the Great Moravian Empire, and before that – well, suffice to say, that Slovakia has quite a colourful history, but now that it is an independent country and part of the European Union, Slovakia is finally able to develop on its own terms.

Slovakia’s Capital is Bratislava, a relatively small city of just over 450,000 people.  It has the distinction of being the only capital city in the world to border two independent countries; Austria and Hungary.

Inexpensive by comparison to Western Europe, small enough to manage on a short visit, with charm enough for a longer one, Slovakia’s capital offers a variety of activities to travellers with any interest.

Bratislava is a city that is full of contradictions.  On the one hand, it is considered to be one of Europe’s finest medieval cities, yet, in order to modernise and to distinguish itself, ultra modern architecture is encouraged so that contemporary high-rise buildings gel alongside medieval towers.

A good example of this quest to embrace modernism is the newest bridge over the Danube.  Called the Novy Most, it is a towering suspension bridge, with a curious UFO-looking restaurant positioned at its apex.

Any visit to Bratislava should include a tour of its eponymous castle, which is a very imposing structure that sits on an 85 metre-high plateau that overlooks the Danube River.   It’s site has been occupied since the stone age, but the current baroque-style building was completed in 1649.  It was destroyed by fire, but rebuilt again in the 1950s.    

One of the welcome aspects of Bratislava’s historic old town is that its maze of cobblestone streets are mostly limited to pedestrians. Here, shade trees and fountains decorate small parks, and you have an abundant choice of cafes and restaurants.

On warm spring or summer evenings, both banks of the Danube near Old Town make for truly delightful walks. The “left bank”, nearest Old Town, is adorned with simple but very agreeable flower gardens, running along a promenade that runs roughly between the National Gallery and the National Museum. The opposite side, which adjoins a popular city park, draws joggers and roller-bladers, as well as a bit of party crowd in the evening.

Getting around Bratislava is relatively easy; just use the local buses, trams and trolleybuses. Getting to the city from elsewhere is equally as easy as Bratislava is a rail hub connecting many European countries; a number of airlines fly there from various destinations, and the Danube is one of the world’s great rivers so there are plenty of vessels that will carry you to Bratislava from a number of ports.

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