Secrets of Bratislava – Travel Tips
Koren Helbig dispels your preconceptions about Bratislava and offers invaluable secrets for travellers:
If you’ve ever seen the 2005 American horror film Hostel, chances are you think Bratislava is a pretty crummy place to go. Unless you’re the type who could do with a few less limbs and isn’t too fussed about being, you know, alive. Or maybe you’ve listened to fellow travellers who label the Slovak capital rather dull and boring and worth only a day or two of your time, tops.
All lies, my life-loving friend. Not so long ago I spent a month in Bratislava and discovered beyond the city’s tiny Communist-battered Old City lies a wondrous mix of UFO parks, gritty socialist-era markets and a totally hipster (not in the annoying way) factory turned artist hideaway. Here’s what you need to know.
Tržnica indoor market (pictured, top)
Where: 112 Trnavské myto street, Bratislava
Why: Myto translates to “toll” and in Medieval times this area marked a boundary to Bratislava at which travellers from nearby Trnava had to pay to enter. There’s not much to show for this history nowadays, but the area does hold a fabulously old school Communist-era market chock full of a bazillion Slovak cheeses and pickled everything, including huge vats of the popular fresh sour cabbage. The market’s food is crisp, inexpensive and traditional – and it’s also the cheapest place to pick up wine; little bars sell a litre for as little as €1, have there or takeaway. The place still gets a bad rap because of its downtrodden appearance and the clientele its cheap fare attracts but perhaps that reputation is now largely unwarranted.
Cvernovka artist hideaway
Where: 18 Páričkova street, Bratislava
Why: To the uninitiated, slipping behind the dilapidated, century-old factory walls of Cvernovka comes as a surprise, as dingy hallways give way to wide, light-filled studios brimming with the beautifully creative pursuits of Bratislavan designers, architects and artists. But a shadow hangs over this thread factory turned artist hideaway. Three buildings were torn down in June 2012, three months later that demolition permit was extended and rumours abound about French firm Hamilton Group’s plans for the site, although progress has perhaps been slowed by the financial downturn. Cvernovka might not be around forever so check it out while you can. Its residents host the occasional open day – check the website for details.
More info: http://www.cvernovka.com/
Where: Bieloruská street, in the Medzijarky neighbourhood (Vrakuna district)
Why: The Communist fascination with UFOs is wrought large here with an oversized (albeit decrepit) flying saucer sitting atop one of this children’s play park’s many hilly mounds. You’ll find the odd drunk perched beneath but don’t let that bother you. This is actually a nice quiet spot with hulking Communist-era blocks of flats arranged in a protective circle around the green space, effectively blocking the noise of cars in streets beyond. The whole thing is smack-bang in the middle of the Medzijarky neighbourhood dominated by social housing, including the grey, five-sided so called “Pentagon” residential building just east of this park, lending the area a slightly downtrodden yet intriguing feel.
Note: there’s no guarantee the two dapper gents pictured will be present.
Where: Off Búdková street, Bratislava
Why: Treading among this lush wooded forest is akin to stepping back in time; one can imagine gents of yesteryear’s high society sauntering the park’s meandering trails while ruminating over important philosophical or literary matters. At the same time it’s kind of like one of those awesome ’90s choose-your-own-adventure books, with a multitude of paths to take that ultimately wind up in the same one or two locations. Once marking the outskirts of greater Bratislava, Horský is now firmly within the city’s surrounds, offering a nice perspective on just how much the place has grown over the past 100 years or so.
Nearby: Take the southern Francúzských partizánov road as you exit to walk by an almost hidden blocky stone monument commemorating fallen WWI soldiers. I hear some enterprising young locals occasionally scale its heights and enjoy a picnic atop its flat surface. Continue walking along Stará vinárska street to peek at the palatial homes of American, British and Chinese ambassadors and diplomats.
Where: 14 Tovarenska street, Bratislava
Why: Okay, so unless you know someone associated with this early 20th century laboratory turned warehouse and offices, you’re unlikely to be allowed in most of the time. But it’s worth mentioning as behind the guarded gates, and only after 6pm, several popular Slovak bands and many more musical wannabes head into the basements to practice. The likes of Billy Barman, Talk Show and Hugo Chaves Orchestra are known to fine-tune their tracks here. But like Cvernovka, Tovarenska 14 may not be around for long as many similarly historical buildings nearby have fallen prey to demolition crews in the past five years.
Tip: Get behind the Tovarenska 14 gates during concerts held by one of the local music venues housed there. Check what’s on at Batelier, Loft and Fuga for details.
Secrets of Bratislava by Koren Helbig