Oh Bratislava. The sixth city of our Eastern European journey was a delightful whirlwind that swept us off our feet.
From Vienna, we took a Twin City Liner ferry cruise east along the Danube River to reach the Slovakian capital. We toasted to the start of our two-day visit with mimosas in hand, which we made ourselves with a bottle of pink prosecco and a can of orange juice after the bartender gave us a blank stare. Bon voyage!
The comfortable ride on the river was a relaxing way to travel especially after all of the trains. After about 75 minutes, the imposing Bratislava Castle came into view. Make sure to get tickets on the port side of the boat so you can take advantage of the scenery.
Upon arrival, we checked into Patio Hostel and dropped off our backpacks. Along the way we spotted Street Food Park in front of the Old Market Hall. Several food trucks and stands provide quick eats while casual seating makes for a fun atmosphere. Brad and I shared a spicy burrito that relieved our Tex-Mex withdrawals. Fresh and fast, the area is a hotspot for locals and travelers alike.
To balance out the savory, we had afternoon tea at Konditorei Kormuth. Rick Steve recommends this cafe and it's easy to see why. For ten euros you can pick any dessert and beverage of your choice.
The rooms are covered with intricate murals, porcelain dishes cradle hot drinks, and the homemade desserts take your breath away. Ornately carved wooden tables transport you back in time and the service is impeccable. I asked for lemon with my tea and the server freshly squeezed some. SAY WHAT?!
On top of feeling like royalty, the blueberry chocolate cake was one of my favorite desserts of all time. This place is a Slovakian treasure.
While bathing in the afterglow of pure food perfection we wandered the cobblestone streets. The architecture is interesting and colorful. The decay of some buildings was a beautiful and interesting sight.
Cozy thoroughfares, such as Kapitulska Street, are quiet and provide a hint of mystery that most other European cities lack. We relished the lack of tourists and were able to soak up the culture uninhibited. Look for cannon balls!
Old Town is a great area to explore. Michael's Gate is the last preserved city gate and was originally built in the 14th Century. Climb the tower to see the scenery below and learn a bit of history via museum exhibits.
Hear the bells of St. Martin's Cathedral and take a quick peek inside to admire the stained glass. The church has an idyllic glow at sunset.
Before dinner we grabbed some drinks at Baudelaire. The bar has an impressive cocktail and shot list. The straws were made out of pasta! Try the Fife, inspired by Ernest Hemingway's mistress, and the Fitzgerald shot, which was crafted by the American author's friend, artist Gerald Murphy. Sit at the bar with the friendly mixologists and you may even get a round of free shots, wink wink!
For an authentic Slovak meal, dine at Modra Hviezda. Ask to be seated in the brick and rock cut vault, which is dimly lit with candlelight. The romantic ambience is intimate and the hearty food warms the soul. After a flavorful chicken noodle soup, we ate venison stew with dumplings and pork loin with mashed potatoes and shallots. If you hear any strange noises don't be alarmed, it's just the friendly parrot.
Once laundry was done, we borrowed a couple mechanically challenged mountain bikes from our hostel. Bratislava is bike friendly and the sparse traffic makes it enjoyable. For fuel, we stopped at Mondieu Cafe for brunch. It was a convenient place to keep our bikes and enjoy some outdoor dining. The berry lemonade was refreshing and washed down our hearty carb dishes.
If you are able to spend more than a day in Bratislava, make sure to explore Devin Castle. The three-hour roundtrip bike ride is equal parts trails and roadways. The countryside was lush and showed signs of fall with the turning leaves. We relied on Google Maps, but there are signs along the way to point you in the right direction.
High on the banks of the Danube River sits one of the oldest castles in Slovakia; the area was settled about 7ooo years ago. Each ticket costs five euros and a few exhibits are placed throughout which include in situ artifacts discovered during archeological digs. The fortifications, towers, and stunning views transport you back to a magical time. Feel the stonework and appreciate the effort put into this national cultural monument.
We were able to make it back in time before sunset to check out Bratislava Castle. The site was along an important trade route dating back to the Celts. The outside grounds are free to walk about and the recent restoration has a refined simplicity. The bright white walls contrast beautifully with the burnt orange roof tiles. Although it wasn't the most impressive castle of our trip, the views were worth the effort.
After returning the bikes and resting our sore butts, we walked to Pinot u Bruna for a few glasses of wine. The quaint spot is next to St. Martin's Cathedral and has several bistro tables outside near a gorgeous willow tree.
For dinner, we switched things up and had Italian at Gatto Matto. The prosciutto bruschetta, tomato basil soup, and bolognese lasagna were flavorful and filling.
Walking through Old Town during our last night was bittersweet. The charm of the city is unmatched and deserves attention. Bratislava was our favorite destination of the trip, which honestly caught us by surprise. In this instance, the underdog came out on top and challenged our preconceived expectations in a stimulating way.