Bratislava – Capital City of Slovakia

Using one of my new favorite modes of transport – Student Agency RegioBus – I was in Bratislava from Prague for just 10 Euros and 4.5 hours of travel time. Bratislava is a city of about 500,000 located on the Danube River between Vienna and Budapest, as the river flows. In fact, some use it as a base for travel in the region given its central location.

The bus terminal in Bratislava – Mlynské Nivy – has a tram stop right next to it with the line I needed to get to my hotel. The ticket only costs .70 euros and can be purchased by machine, in some locations, or at a Tabac booth. The hotel for this stop was a DoubleTree by Hilton and, like Vienna, not in city center. Rather, it was more in a business district and, on a Friday evening and early Saturday, was a pretty subdued area. However, it was one of the best values of my trip at only 10,000 HHonors points for a night. The hotel itself was nice and I was upgraded to a two room suite, so even better.

A tram ride into city center does not take that long once you figure out the line and stop. I did miss my stop on the way in and had to get off, walk a couple of hundred yards, and take another bus to city center. The city center itself is rather small but nice. Pedestrianized in many places, it was very active on a Friday night. Unfortunately, as is the case in many European capitals, it was rather heavy on large groups of young men – I’m talking 6-12 guys together – who are already completely pissed by 9:00 p.m. I walked around for a bit, had some dinner, and caught the bus back to the hotel around 10:30 as the bus/tram schedule becomes significantly reduced after 11:00 p.m.

No doubt, riding public transport in a foreign country can be confusing..

No doubt, riding public transport in a foreign country can be confusing..

 

On Saturday, I did something I rarely do – I hired a tour guide/driver for a couple of hours to show me around town before depositing me at the bus terminal. I’m really glad I did as my guide, “George,” was a pleasant young man who has started his own business after learning English while working for a limousine service for four years. I would highly recommend his services and his website is at http://www.slovakiatrips.com. He was proud of Slovakia and willing to answer any questions I had about the country, their history, their relationship with Europe and with Russia, etc.

In the course of just under two hours, we were able a lot of ground. We started with the Slavin war memorial which honors the 6,000 plus Soviet soldiers who died in the process of liberating Bratislava from the Germans in 1945. The view from the top was wonderful and it was interesting to see the steps of the memorial stacked with floral arrangements even though there was no special holiday at the time such as Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day or the such.

Slavin War Memorial, Bratislava, Slovakia

Slavin War Memorial, Bratislava, Slovakia

 

We then stopped at the castle (hrad) that has been a fortified position overlooking the Danube since around 3500 BC. Yes, that’s right – over 5,000 years ago. This, of course, is due to the importance of control of the major rivers from a military and commercial perspective. The castle itself is nothing special. Certainly not as grand as you will find in many other cities, but does offer fine views over St. Martin’s church, the Old Town, and the Danube.

Bratislava Hrad

Bratislava Hrad

 

We did a little driving around with George pointing out important buildings, embassies, Parliament, and such before a brief stop in the Presidential Palace gardens that are open to the public. Slovakia has been an independent country in its current formation since 1993 with the dissolution of the Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia.

We finished our tour with a quick visit to Old Town’s pedestrianized streets. One of the key stops was St. Martin’s Cathedral which was the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1563 to 1830. The revered – I’m not sure why – Maria Theresa had her coronation in this church.

Bratislava Opera House

Bratislava Opera House

 

So, what did I think about my 24 hours in Bratislava? I think it was probably the right amount of time. If I were to go back, I think I would plan to hike to Devin Castle, maybe do a boat trip over to Vienna and back, and get out into the countryside as I had a few different Slovaks tell me that the outdoors are an important part of their culture.

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RegioJet/Student Agency – Not Your Daddy’s Bus

I’m using buses quite a few times on my travels through Eastern Europe, so I thought I would go ahead and post about the experience as its own post since so few people in the U.S. are ever on a bus after they get out of school. Additionally, I think there are probably some impressions of bus travel based off sensational photos that one occasionally sees out of developing countries with people sitting on top of the bus, hanging on to its side, laying on the hood, and doing everything possible to cram 200 people into a bus designed for 60.

The bus line I’m using is RegioJet which is booked through an organization called Student Agency. Despite its name, it is not just for young kids on backpack tours of Europe. Instead, it is a reliable, well-appointed service that runs on time and offers great value.

The best option for my trip from Prague to Bratislava

The best option for my trip from Prague to Bratislava

 

The seats are very comfortable, if a tad cramped in regards to width and leg room. Individual entertainment screens at each seat offer internet access, movies, TV, music, and games. In addition, there is wi-fi available on the bus and all of this is included in the tariff. There are complimentary hot beverages and snacks and cold beverages available for purchase. Here is what the interior looks like..

Individual video entertainment screens

Individual video entertainment screens

A comfortable bucket seat with leather trim

A comfortable bucket seat with leather trim

 

And, for an idea of costs, my trip from Vienna to Prague – about 4.5 hours – cost 15 euros. My trip from Prague to Bratislava was even less – 10 euros – for a 4.5 hour trip. And, so far, the stations have been very close to my hotels. Needless to say, I think this is a great option for getting around this part of the world.