You can buy a round-trip train ticket from Vienna to Bratislava for 15 euros, so I decided that'd be a fun place to spend a day.
I arrived around 10:30 a.m. and strolled slowly downhill from the train station to Old Town, noticing along the way that Bratislava is quite empty on Sundays. On the surface, the city looks and feels like what it is: a poorer European city. Cement-block offices and apartment buildings look definitively Soviet-era compared to the decorative facades of practically every single building in Vienna, no matter what goes on inside.
I passed the presidential palace with little fanfare -- it seems to be rather unceremoniously dropped at the intersection of two major thoroughfares just to the north of Old Town. I didn't take a photo of it.
By the time I entered the walls of Old Town Bratislava, I was already pretty hungry, so in a roundabout way that included brief detours down lanes that were particularly picturesque, I searched for a restaurant I had been pointed toward that supposedly served good traditional Slovakian fare.
I found it in a very quiet and narrow street up the hill from the main square.
Through an arched doorway, around a corner, through a minuscule courtyard with pretty flowers in the windowboxes, and through another low, arched doorway, and then I was inside.
The restaurant was dark, and I seemed to be their first patron of the day, though by the time I left, it was well-populated.
The servers were friendly and patient, and I ordered something from the "traditional Slovak" section of the menu: what was essentially beef stew in a tomato-based sauce with peppers and onions, stuffed inside a huge, folded-over potato pancake. It was a heavy meal, but it was tasty.
I also learned how to say "thank you" -- it's similar to the Czech phrase, but pronounced a bit differently.
I didn't go inside the castle itself, but the grounds are pretty, with nice views of the city and the Danube, and the main courtyard is deliciously plethoric (see first photo).
On my way back down the hill, I found a shortcut to Old Town that lead me down a few narrow staircases in a residential neighborhood, then takes you across a bridge over a highway, and through the old city wall via a tiny, low door that would be easily missable from the other side. It felt a bit like a secret passageway, and I emerged into the cobblestones of Old Town mildly triumphant.
I wandered back through Old Town snapping photos and looking at things. There was a small market going on in one corner of the main square, and lots of people were out and about.
I found a place to have tea just off the main square that was bustling enough to make for interesting people-watching, but not quite in the middle of things. I dallied and read my book for a little while before heading off again.
I'd noted before arriving in Bratislava an establishment called Funki Punki Palacinky, which started as just standing-room-only bar service restaurant operated through a window in the side of a building in Old Town, but they have since opened a second location with two small dining rooms.
They serve -- what else? -- crepes.
I have begun wondering if I should put together a compilation of cities around the world in which I have eaten a banana & Nutella crepe. The list is already quite long. I see no sign of the tradition slowing down; it continued in Bratislava with Funki Punki.
Service here was considerably more brusque than in Prašná Bašta, but perhaps that's because the wait staff was, well, of my generation.
I waited a while for the crepe, but, as always, it was worth it. The crepe was eggy, which I like, and it was rolled up like a taquito, which is a less common presentation, but (surprise!) it tasted the same ;) They also like to garnish with oranges around here -- there was one in my glass of water and one on my crepe plate.
I basically inhaled it, but amazingly, I remembered to take a photo first.
Fortified by my crepe, I began wandering again, but this time out of Old Town and through the residential neighborhoods of Bratislava.
The architecture of the homes really fascinated me, and I kept walking just to see the houses that might be around each corner. I walked past the house of the Palestinian ambassador, which was pretty but not ostentatious (see the last photo).
The architecture took advantage of the steep hillside, too, with back decks and porches with lovely views. The houses were at once both stoic and modern, with lots of right angles, flat surfaces, intentional use of color, and lots of privacy walls, fences, and gates.
I left the war memorial and headed in the direction of the train station, and less than 200 meters down the road, I stumbled into an outdoor beer garden called FUNUS in the middle of this residential neighborhood. There were lots of dogs, a few kids and babies, and it was -- it seemed -- populated entirely by local patrons.
They had no English menu, and did not seem keen to accommodate me, so I almost gave up, but at the last minute appealed to a nice-looking couple sitting with a golden retriever at one of the picnic tables. They seemed around my age, and their English was good, so they translated the menu for me and made a few recommendations.
I joined them at their table while I waited for my meal to arrive -- a traditional Slovakian dish of tiny potato dumplings in sheep's cheese with bacon. They told me that even "really serious" vegetarians in Slovakia eat this dish, bacon and all. It was hugely rich and heavy, but pretty tasty.
I chatted a bit longer with the couple, who told me that sometimes you can find high-powered Slovakian businessmen making deals at this restaurant because of the nice ambiance. I was quite happy to have stumbled upon it, and afterwards, I trotted off to the train station to catch my ride back to Vienna with a full belly.