- Capital: Bratislava
- Location: Central Europe, next to Austria and Czech Republic
- Language: Slovak
- Population: 5.5 million
- Currency: Euro
Compared to its neighbors, Czech Republic and Austria, Slovakia is significantly less traveled, which is all the more reason you should go. Most of the places you go, you'll be surrounded be locals, taking in and enjoying the culture and I definitely recommend walking through the old town which is nice, small and welcoming. Most of all though, definitely go down to the riverbank of the Danube. It is an incredibly gorgeous area, lined by trees on either side and not obstructed by development like other cities
My time in Slovakia was short (just two nights and three days) but sweet. I wish I had some more time in the country to go around and explore about, but this was unfortunately back in my days of quickly hopping from place to place, so my trip was entirely confined to Bratislava, the capital. I still made sure to see the entire city, including every street and corner of the old town, and even got in a run in the morning along the Danube. I did enjoy my time there, but I feel like I hardly got to do anything in the short time of my stay. That being said, here goes
Some of you may have seen this city's depiction in the movie Eurotrip. Let me just say something right away. It isn't like that. Not at all. In fact, compared to the other capitals I've seen, it is actually a pretty quiet and quaint city with just about 400,000 people. As a result, it can actually be a perfect place to take a bit of a rest if you happen to be doing a long backpacking trip within Europe. This was pretty much the situation for Blake and I when we arrived from Poland.
As a city, Bratislava has a pretty nice, well maintained old town with red cobblestone streets and picturesque little buildings. It is smaller than that of other cities like Prague or Budapest, and it is far less crowded, leaving you time to take in and appreciate the architecture without obnoxious British or American bachelor parties running around. And best of all, it all leads down to the Danube River.
I have seen this river in other cities before, but But Bratislava, in my opinion, had the nicest views of them all, because unlike the other cities like Budapest and Vienna, there is much less development along the riverbank, so you get a bit of an escape from the surrounding urban landscape. But there is one awesome exception, however, and that is a huge castle up on a hill. It's a nice site to see in the day, but if you go at night (as seen above) it lights up like a shining beacon which is pretty incredible to see.
In the summer, Bratislava gets hot. Like +40C (100F) hot. And the country is entirely landlocked, so on the surface it may seem problematic for you if get the idea to go swimming and cool off. This is what I, somebody who grew up near a shore, naively thought at first. It was about midday during my second day there and I thought for sure I was going to sweat through everything I owned and shrivel up like a prune. But then I heard something. Off in the distance, it sounded like one of the hostel workers was having a conversation with someone and the words 'lake in Bratislava' happened to come up. Could it be true? I had to find out so I walked over and asked if there was such a place. To my surprise, she responded, "Yes. But only locals ever go there. Most foreigners have no idea that it exists."
Perfect! I immediately asked how to get there and she explained that is was a short walk from one of the last tram stops on the outskirts of the city. Happily, I grabbed a shot of espresso, grabbed Blake, and headed for the door. We got on the tram and as stop after stop rolled by, the city setting continually diminished until it seemed as if we retreated into a quiet suburb. Then the train came to a halt. It was our stop.
We walked over and what we saw was exactly what we needed. There was fresh, green grass (as opposed to brown city grass), sand and a large blue lake with still water. Many people were out and about either swimming or relaxing in the sun, but one thing was instantly apparent: no one was speaking English, just as the lady in reception had said. Blake apparently noticed this too, as he leaned over and said, "I think we are the only non-Slovaks here. It's awesome!"
The water was refreshing and a little warm since the lake was pretty shallow. But that turned out to be a good thing because it allowed you to wade out into the distance all nice and calm like. Overall, it was the perfect relaxing day I needed in order to recharge and continue on with the backpacking trip.