Thus far, in my three months teaching in Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria, my path has crossed both Prague and Bratislava twice. I spent this past weekend soaking in the holiday spirit in a much more decked-out Prague than I saw in early October. The weekend before that, I revisited Bratislava as its Christmas decorations and festivities first came together. While Prague was undeniably a scene of seasonal perfection, with its traditionally decorated tree and softly twinkling lights. However, the masses of people bottlenecked among the main markets reminded me of just how much I love the much lower-profile capital city of Bratislava, and yet how little I have mentioned it here.
On both of my visits to Bratislava, I have been struck by how livable the city feels. As you walk through the old town, the buildings and cobblestone streets look similar to those of Prague, but you can’t help but notice how many more locals dine next to you in cafes and how much more elbow room you have, even in the main square. You feel as though you are seeing a snapshot of the city’s everyday routine. Dogs are being walked, groceries are being carried, lives are being lived. Despite having low expectations for the city based on lack of hype from other backpackers, I found myself having to pry myself from it both times Sunday afternoon called me away.
If there was ever a question about how I felt about the city, the Christmas market confirmed my affection. While it held the same smoky huts filled with sausages, crepes and mulled wine, and the space was crowded without a doubt, the feeling was entirely different. Few words of English could be heard and the giant crowd dancing around a man with an accordion could sing along with each word of the Slovak folk songs. The small gifts sold in stands did not all proudly bear the name of the city, unlike those in Prague, most likely because most people would not be nearly as impressed. But to me, that made them much more appealing. The electric blue flashing lights on the tree may have been a little over the top, but the overall experience, like most of mine in Bratislava, just felt authentic.
This is not at all to downplay the impressiveness Prague. The city left me in awe and I had a fantastic time each time I was there. There is a reason people flock there and I will go again the first opportunity I have. But when I look back on my time here, Prague will be a highlight, but Bratislava will be my soft spot. So here are some snippets from the not-nearly-enough time that I spent there. Maybe you’ll be inspired to check it out yourself.
(P.S. If further inspiration is necessary the city’s Shtoor Cafe, pictured further below, is the home of 1.30 Euro bottomless coffee in a continent of baby-sized instant Nescafes.)