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Clare
Clare

Days 1 and 2: Bratislava

We had am 08.30 flight from Stansted to Bratislava yesterday morning, which sounded quite civilised until I counted backwards and realised that it still necessitated us getting up at 03.30. I had been a bit apprehensive about how much chaos there might be at Stansted on a Saturday morning in August, but things seemed to get off to a remarkably smooth start as we arrived half an hour ahead of schedule and found that the Ryanair queue was surprisingly well organised. We maybe waited for thirty minutes or so to get to the check-in desk, but people were actually waiting in proper lines (which was a big improvement on last summer!). Unfortunately, when we got to the front of the queue and tried to check in our bag, things started to go a little bit wrong. After weighing and putting a sticker on the case, the man at the check-in desk informed us that we had been queuing in zone E when we should have been in zone F, and we'd have to go to zone F to get our bag put onto the conveyor belt. Oh dear.

It seems that the reason the queue had been a bit more civilised than last year was that different Ryanair flights were now supposed to be going to specific ranges of desks, rather than any flight going to any desk which is how it had worked previously. The man assured us that we wouldn't have to queue again, but when we got around to zone F there wasn't any way to hand over our bag without joining another queue. We were directed towards a desk which was technically for business class passengers (does anyone fly business class on Ryanair?!) but seemed to be serving more as a desk for anyone who had any sort of problem. The queue appeared short at first sight, but everyone in front of us seemed to be travelling either in a large group or with outsized baggage, and so we ultimately waited another half an hour in order to spend approximately 10 seconds handing our case to a member of staff. I was thinking how lucky we were to have been at the airport with so much time to spare before our flight... but in the end it turned out there hadn't been any need to rush anyway, because our flight was delayed, for an unexplained reason. It was nearly 09.30 before we were finally in the skies and on our way to Slovakia.

Bratislava feels like a place we have visited a lot (I think this is my fifth time here) but when we we started thinking about it yesterday, we were amazed to realise that the last time we came was as long ago as 2012, when we travelled from Bratislava to Budapest via Szombathely. That was so long ago that we didn't even have the blog! Our aim for this holiday is to explore some of Slovakia beyond the capital, specifically some of the more central and eastern parts which we saw from a train window in summer 2011, when we made a 30-hour railway journey from Bratislava to Kiev. Bratislava still felt like the best place to start our journey though, both because it's the easiest place in Slovakia to fly to and a beautiful city in its own right :)

It was after midday by the time we had landed and were able to make our way to the airport bus. At €0.90 for a ticket into the city centre, it was definitely a whole lot cheaper than the airport buses we took in Bergen and Stockholm earlier this year! Within half an hour we had arrived outside the main train station in Bratislava and decided to kill the time before we could check into the hotel at 2pm by having lunch in our favourite station cafe. The menu didn't seem to have changed a lot since we were last here, although the waiters maybe seemed a tad less surly than previously :)

We checked into the hotel just after 2 and had a bit of a nap to recover from our early start, before heading out for a stroll around Bratislava. Everything looked beautifully familiar as we approached the edge of the old town.

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Before long we found ourselves in the main square, Hlavné námestie, looking at the old town hall with its pretty roof.

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From there it was just a short walk to St Martin's Cathedral, which looked beautiful in the evening sunshine. I'm sure last time we were here it was all covered in scaffolding.

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We walked from there to the Danube and then back into the centre of town to hunt down an Italian restaurant we had eaten at on our previous trips. We found it without too much difficulty and had a lovely meal, although it seemed to have become a bit more upmarket than we remembered it.

It was lovely to be back in Bratislava again and we made quite an early start to exploring this morning, walking into the town centre shortly after 8am in search of some breakfast.

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The streets were a lot quieter than they had been on Saturday evening.

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The main square was almost deserted...

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...and we almost missed one of our favourite statues just around the corner.

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We found a McDonalds which opened at 9 and while we ate breakfast, things began to get a bit busier. We were soon passed by several groups on walking tours, who looked suspiciously like they had come off cruise ships. I was slightly confused for a few minutes before I realised that they must be on a Danube river cruise!

It was turning into a bright sunny day as we left McDonalds and walked past the attractive building of the Slovak National Theatre.

images_articles_2016_slovakia_bratislava This is just at the start of the pretty, but slightly unpronouncable, Hviezdoslavovo námestie. images_articles_2016_slovakia_bratislava

Hviezdoslavovo námestie is a long tree-lined promenade which leads down towards the Danube at the far end.

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We climbed up partway onto one of the bridges across the river and got our first view of Bratislava castle.

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The temperature was creeping up towards 30 degrees by this point and we decided to head back to the hotel so that I could apply some sun cream.

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When we ventured out again a little later, our first stop was the presidential palace.

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We'd only ever seen this from the front before, but today we discovered that around the back of the palace there are some beautiful gardens.

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This was the view of the front of the palace which we were more familiar with.

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From the palace it's not far into the old town, but rather than head in that direction we turned around and began climbing up a rather steep side street. Our destination was Slavín, a memorial and war cemetery for Soviet soldiers who died liberating Bratislava from the Nazis in 1945.

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From a distance the monument is unmissable, but the closer you get up the hill the harder it is to figure out where you are going. We ended up wandering around side streets for quite some time until we eventually came to a familiar-looking staircase which took us up to the memorial.

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Slavín is a really interesting place to see in its own right, for the history and the rather Soviet-looking statues.

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However it's also worth coming up here just for the views back out across Bratislava. In one direction we could see the cathedral and the famous UFO bridge...

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...while in the other direction we had a fantastic view of the castle.

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It was much easier walking back down to the town than it had been walking up! We stopped at a nice restaurant for a late lunch and then started on a mission to find Bratislava's blue church.

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This is definitely one of the most stunning churches I've ever seen, but it is located on an obscure side street outside the main town centre, next door to some decaying tower blocks. It took us a while to track it down but we got there in the end :)

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By this stage we'd managed to walk 11 miles so decided to go back to the hotel for a rest. We've had a great day in Bratislava though and are excited about exploring some more of Slovakia tomorrow :)

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