Our journey into Slovakia started with an eight hour train ride from Prague. and the Soviet-era carriage had not aged well over its 30 year service. For hours the scenery consisted of little but sparse forest dotted over a flat landscape. As the intermittent villages and towns materialised around us, ominous abandoned buildings peppered with graffiti passed by, merely shadows of what they once stood for.
This is probably not the most accurate description of Slovakia, but this was my first impression. In reality, Bratislava the capital city, is situated just one hour by train from Vienna in Austria, and is bustling with students. When my friends had told me that our train travel through Europe would take an interesting stop off in Slovakia, I had certain reservations. Images of backwater movie locations popped into my head; Hostel and Eurotrip had made me nervous.
When first arriving in the city you realise how small it is, not surprising when you consider that the population of Slovakia is only five million I stayed in the Hostel Blues which was not in the city centre but this did not matter because nearly everything is within walking distance. The hostel was cheap too, costing roughly 15 euros a night. Bratislava was quickly winning me over but I wouldn't let it win with just cheap hostels and not making me sit on any more trains.
The first building we passed came as quite a surprise. There to our left stood a newly built Tesco. Naturally we had to investigate so our first activity when we arrived in Bratislava was to compare differences between a British and a Slovak Tesco. There were none.
So once this avenue of intrigue had been explored we moved on to the city centre. When I say city centre you will probably be imagining a hub of activity, when really it was more of a square scattered with souvenir carts, selling mugs and t-shirts to the few tourists that meandered around.
However, once I reached the old town it is was very easy to be won over and I admit at this point I wanted to buy a cottage and declare it home. The 18th Century architecture has been recently restored and naturally there was also a McDonald's. There are no roads in the city centre and what you find are many cobbled streets cutting between each other, which gives the old town a very relaxing atmosphere. In fact the only thing that broke this solitude was a group of stag party blokes from England.
This leads nicely onto the main reason for visiting Slovakia... beer. I payed on average one euro 50 cents for half a litre of very good beer. This combined with a meal would cost no less than six or seven euros. I could also talk about the inexpensive wine but you get the idea, lots of stuff is cheap. Although if you are expecting fantastic nightlife then this is not the place to be. There are bars and pubs to socialise in and I even found an Irish bar, but these tend to be slap-bang in the middle of the city and their prices are significantly more expensive.
Bratislava has brilliant architecture which is, from what I overheard from other people's tour guides, full of history. Cheap food and wine, little noise and a Mediterranean atmosphere. But this really felt like the perfect place for couples to spend a holiday. Not exactly ideal for three unshaven and really quite smelly train travellers.
By James Taylor
JMU Journalism travel articles
Bratislava street art (Picture: Flickr pe_ha45) YouTube: Bratislava highlights