Words and Pictures by Glen Sweeney
We had been promising ourselves a trip to Bratislava on the Twin City Liner since its inauguration but somehow never got around to it. So, this summer with gritted determination we set out to commit to a date and even went so far as to book our tickets and an hotel for the overnight stay.
To book we decided to purchase our tickets at the TCL terminal situated on the Donau Canal by Schwedenplatz. This way we could ask a few questions and hopefully receive adequate answers. The first thing to note is that tickets are not transferable; you must travel on the departure time and date booked. Within the impressive boat like building you also have the opportunity to enquire about city excursions, but take note, if you do not want to commit it is very easy to join an excursion once you are in the city, www.tour4u.sk. There is a very good, free, city guide book available, so watch out for that and grab one or two. Inside you will find a pull out map and descriptions of interesting places to see and experience. www.bratislava.at
On the day, we were booked on the 9.00am sailing and were there in good time so we enjoyed coffee and breakfast in the café overlooking the quayside and part of the TCL complex. Embarkation was smooth and easy, there is no allocated seating other than the front three rows which can be reserved at an additional cost. As you are free to wander and there is access to the aft and upper decks we decided not to pay this premium. Also on board there is a small bar where you can purchase snacks and liquid refreshments.
The journey itself is fast and the speed impressive, it takes approximately one hour and fifteen minutes for the outward leg, (one hour and thirty for the return), but it is in fact fairly uneventful consisting mainly of a vista of trees and water with the occasional fishing lodge and canal barge to break the monotony. But it was a smooth, relaxing experience and so very pleasant not to be fighting our way through traffic, in addition to not having the worry of parking a car in a foreign city.
On arrival in Bratislava, as we had decided not to participate in an excursion, we headed directly for the UFO observation tower that is situated in plain sight of the disembarkation point. It is a short walk and took us across the Nový Bridge; this provided a great view point of Bratislava Castle across the river. The observation tower is a must if you have the time and good weather, it will give you a fantastic panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside. Immediately below the deck is a restaurant and bar where you can get a coffee or beer or more if required.
With our return to Earth we decided to find our hotel, the best deal we could find was with the Hotel Ibis, which is located just outside the main city centre, or ‘Old Town’. We found it a perfectly adequate hotel for a one night stay with friendly staff and a nice atmosphere. There is a bar and restaurant, where we subsequently enjoyed a tasty breakfast the following morning. www.ibishotel.com
Having off loaded our minimal luggage we set off to investigate the city itself, it is not a large place so although there is a tram system it is possible to see a great deal on foot. Within minutes from the hotel you enter a labyrinth of lanes and alleys all with interesting shops, cafes and bars. Suddenly a quiet lane opens up into one of the main streets which is lined with street cafes and restaurants. In fact you are spoilt for choice when it comes to food and beverage. The city is also awash with churches, museums and other historical monuments, with a little research you can easily discover what interests you personally and fill a whole day doing the tourist thing.
Fortunately we had a fine sunny day to just wander and take in the sites, taking in the Old New Town Hall, the Opera House, St. Michaels Gate just to name a few. It is a wonderful relaxed comfortable place where you can meander and stop for a drink then wander some more to discover new unseen places.
If you only have one day you would certainly need to decide what you wanted to include in your itinerary. As we had the luxury of a second day we could take our time and soak up the ambiance. Come four o’clock however we decided it was time for a well deserved gin and tonic and we found a small bar called the Antik Café and took great delight in savouring a long cool drink after a long hot day. Everywhere we stopped the local people were more than friendly and everybody spoke extremely good English. In this bar we asked for some inside information regarding somewhere to eat that evening and we were given the information and location of the Slovak Pub.
So, that evening we ventured forth just a short way out of the main tourist area, to find the ‘Slovak Pub’, www.slovakpub.sk, I am pleased to say that the advice we were given proved to be extremely sound. It is in fact a pub, a restaurant and cocktail bar divided between three floors and I must say it provided us with a full evening’s entertainment with good food, drink and friendly service, definitely a must if you are staying overnight.
Day two, because of the splendid evening before, began a little slowly but having refreshed ourselves adequately with a fine breakfast at the hotel we set out to investigate the castle. This I am sad to say was a little disappointing, for despite being a formidable sight from a distance up close the reality is that there is not very much to see. This was not helped by the fact that it was undergoing a total renovation and the main structure appeared to be completely empty. It is a very pleasant location and offers alternative views over the city but we felt a little cheated. Maybe by next year, 2012, things will be different so please make enquiries for yourself.
Taking our disappointment on the chin we sauntered down the hill and returned to the city centre via St Martin’s Cathedral and a visit to anther café for some homemade lemonade. It was now late morning so we decided to find the ‘Man at work’ sculpture for the obligatory photo stop and then retire for an early lunch giving ourselves plenty of time to return to the TCL and our four o’clock return journey. Taking advantage of more local knowledge we visited the Presburg restaurant for lunch, www.pressburgrestaurant.sk.
This proved to yet another excellent piece of advice and we enjoyed great local food and fantastic service.
To summarise, we really enjoyed the whole experience and would definitely return and maybe take in a wine tour excursion, although the price for this proved a little outrageous, also we would look at offers from the OBB who offer very reasonable return fares to Bratislava. Although the TCL is worth doing once again it is a bit pricy.
We found the city itself clean and safe, indeed totally unthreatening; the people were friendly, helpful and welcoming. A two-day stay is certainly worth considering and there is always a night at the opera or casino or simply enjoying the local hospitality to enhance your stay. Although we stayed at a budget hotel there are top class hotels and restaurants available should that be your preference. We found the prices for eating and drinking out, on average, lower than Vienna. Most things of interest are within walking distance from the centre and there are tram, bus and trolley bus services available as well as taxis.
Overall a pleasant two days that we both enjoyed and would without hesitation recommend to anybody. If you live in Vienna – you gotta go!