Epiphany in Bratislava, capital of independent Slovakia,“Pearl of the Danube,” the once coronation site of Hungarian kings. After Christmas quiet with bits and pieces left for the wise men’s arrival. The last few of the wooden Christmas market stalls and small evergreen trees, a wood-carved nativity in the square. Christmas trees inside of a church. Cold air, sun. Grey river, flowing. Hungarian-empire grandeur, flowing into colorful, cobblestoned Old Town and Communist concrete. Just enough of many things, enough to be whatever one needs it to be.
Only one day. My first adventure of the new year, of a new decade. Here to say, this is the type of decade I will create.
I flew into Bratislava on Sunday evening from London Stansted; it was the cheapest short trip to somewhere new during the ten day period that I would be in Europe, so I borrowed a backpack from a friend, pre-booked a hotel shuttle to pick me up when I landed at 9:35 pm, and that was the extent of my planning. The airport was tiny! I remember being literally the very last person through customs and out of baggage claim and being the only one in the foyer besides the driver waiting for me. Then, it was a twenty minute drive to my hotel on the Danube River. Not long after that, I was in bed.
Monday morning, I woke to a stunning sunrise of deep orange purple red over the river outside of my window, the iconic Commuist-era “UFO” bridge illuminated in the light. It was 11:00 am by the time I left to explore, wearing tights, jeans, toe warmers, two pairs of socks, Under Armour, a turtle neck, a fleece, a jacket, mittens, and earmuffs. Bundled up like that, I was content in the chill.
First destination: Bratislava Castle, the white stone building on the hill overlooking town and the river. It was a sunny day and a nice walk up cobblestone streets to the top. Orange-whote-rooftop river skyline. The castle museum was closed for the Epiphany holiday, but the grounds were still full of people, mostly families. There were some short, simple Christmas trees, wrapped in plain strands of lights and leaning against the courtyard walls. A giant wooden carved nativity. I went into the gift shop nearby and bought ceramic painted balls and an angel for my mom.
It was beautiful up there on the hill. Still, l wanted to see more before the sunset at 4:11 pm, so I made my way back down not long after the gift shop excursion. My next three hours were spent roaming Old Town’s streets.
Bratislava is lively and simultaneously quaint. Not too big, not too small. While I was there: energized by Epiphany crowds, but quiet with all but the souvenir stands closed for the holiday. I mostly wandered with my camera, popping into small shops as I came to them. There was a man playing music in the square, a large Christmas tree lit and the last remnants of the Christmas markets. And, of course, an ice skating rink. I walked along the Danube, icy blue grey surface reflecting bright sun, winding along the castle hill, Communist concrete buildings, modern billboards.
At 3:00 pm, I went into a traditional Slovak pub for food – I know, a weird time to eat. But I was starving and couldn’t find anything to snack on or takeaway, so I gave in and sat at the red and white checkered table alone, ate Slovak cheese and dumplings with beetroot; it was so cozy and warm, the last bits of Christmas decor still dangling from the rafters. Afterwards, rejuvenated, I walked around the Christmas square as the sun began its descent; then, out of Old Town and past the KGB bar that friends had told me to visit. I didn’t sit inside, since it was getting late, and I didn’t want to drink alone.
The sky was purple orange as I walked home, castle peaking in between and over old Communist-era buildings and empty tramcar streets. Music playing at St. Michael’s Gate, the cold that I had thus far avoided slowly creeping under my layers. I stopped at the convenience store to buy some Mozart Kugel, an Austrian candy that I love.I was home just after 5:00 pm, tired, excited to eat that candy alone and cozy in my room whilst I caught up on work for the day.
Next day, I used the hotel shuttle to return to the airport at 8:00 am, that morning’s purplegrey sunrise over the Danube, the way the man’s violin music echoed across the entire square, vivid in me. I was back in Cambridge before noon.
When: January 2020
How long: 1 day, 2 nights
Via: Flew from London Stansted to Bratislava, took a taxi from the airport to my hotel (downtown along the Danube)
Ate – Koliba Kamzik (late lunch/early dinner)