Lockdown Armchair Travel – Bratislava, Slovakia, 2012

Continuing this lockdown look at travel experiences of the past, and S is also for Slovakia, and a weekend to Bratislava in February 2012. It’s a stunningly beautiful city from an architectural point of view. So what do you think of, when you think of Bratislava? Maybe nothing in particular comes to mind, but there is one thing that dominates the city.

The Castle. Not only is it a beautiful building…

But the views of the rest of the city are spectacular.

It’s also a splendid sight by night.

You might also think of the Danube flowing through the centre of the city.

Despite what Johann Strauss might have you think, it’s not really blue. However, the church of St Elizabeth is!

It looks like cake icing, doesn’t it? Delicious on the inside too.

And I loved the door handles!

A stroll around the centre of the city will take you to some delightful squares and spaces. Here’s Hviezdoslavovo namestie

Adjacent to the theatre

On the Saturday night, we popped in for a cultural experience – a performance by the Slovak National Theatre Opera. It’s a grand theatre

With opulent boxes

And a decorative bar!

The town is full of churches and cathedrals. This is the stunning Church and Convent of St Elizabeth on Spitalska

with its incredible ceiling

St Martin’s Cathedral is also very grand

with some great sculptures

Sculptures and street art figure highly in Bratislava – some of it takes your breath away, some of it makes you laugh.

Elsewhere, the Old Town is beguiling, on every street corner.

And I confess we found a few pubs and restaurants that we became very fond of, very quickly!

Bar 17

Pulitzer Restaurant

It’s good to pay a visit to the Slavin Monument, a war memorial treated with much respect.

This is the Cabinet Office

And this is the Grassalkovic Palace, the President’s Residence.

But the joy of Bratislava is just in the simple pleasures of walking around and discovering odd and beautiful sights.

Must go back sometime! I posted a more detailed travel blog about our weekend at the time, which, if you’d like to read it starts here – one blog post for each of the three days we were there (plus one for the opera review!)


Review – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava, 25th February 2012

Eugene OneginMrs Chrisparkle and I have actually seen very few operas over the years, and our most recent experiences have been in eastern European cities – Carmen in Leipzig; Nabucco in Riga and now Eugene Onegin in Bratislava. I find I get an additional thrill about seeing an opera production somewhere that used to be behind “the Iron Curtain”. I always think that thirty years ago or so it would have been where the people who had aggrandised themselves to Positions Of Importance by treading on the aspirations of ordinary members of society went to See And Be Seen. It’s basically a sense of being privileged. But nowadays it’s a more acceptable and less oppressive form of privilege – at least I hope.

FoyerFrom the outside the theatre is elegant, smart and beautifully lit at night. Ascend a few steps and you enter a wide and simply tastefully decorated foyer, all creams and golds. A gentleman sells programmes – 1,90 euros for a slim booklet in Slovak; 3,50 euros for a slightly fatter more detailed book translated into English and German. It is virtually compulsory to use the cloakroom, so you go down some staircases to another wide foyer, at one end of which about seven attendants await your coats and scarves; at the other end of which is the bar.

BalconiesAs people remove their coats you get to see how well dressed they really are. In the UK we don’t tend to dress up for the theatre anymore. Not so in Bratislava. Evening dresses, dinner jackets and bowties were in high evidence; the less formal men were wearing lounge suits and ties and their ladies in attractive dresses and outfits. Mrs C, of course, looked stunning in her jacket and smart trousers – but I was just “Man from Levi’s” and felt a little over-denimmed. Surprisingly though the staff behind the bar were rather scruffy. We had a glass of the Hubert Brut each – yes they actually had some – and it’s a perfect way to add to the sense of occasion.

Adriana KohútkováInside the auditorium the balconies and boxes are extremely ornate in their baroquish gold swirls and elegant balustrades. But what surprises you is that although the stage itself is very wide and you can get a lot on there, the stalls themselves don’t go back very far at all. It’s like you’ve arrived at a sawn-off London Palladium. They also sport the most uncomfortable seats you could imagine. Normally when you fold a theatre seat down, the base of the back rests a little bit above the seat pad. In this theatre there’s about a six inch gap between the base of the back and the seat, plus the seat pad is pushed forward a good few inches too. The only way I could find to sit in the seats with any degree of comfort was basically to hunch down and sprawl widely which I’m not sure was appreciated by the lady to my left. I think the seats must have been designed by the Sales and Marketing Department of Bratislava Chiropractors, Inc.

Pavol RemenárBut what of the performance itself? Well, to my inexpert opera-going eyes, I thought it was excellent. It’s a modern staging, full of downbeat looking peasants, and men slouching over empty bottles of vodka, making a vivid contrast with the bookish decency of Tatyana and the exuberant naïveté of Olga, as well as the stolid goodness of Lensky and the devilish sophistication of Onegin. Tatyana was sung by Adriana Kohútková and she was brilliant. In the early parts of the opera the plot focuses heavily on Tatyana and she delivered a really powerful performance. I enjoyed the way they had stacked her books slightly proud of the main curtain so when she was clambering over them trying to find somewhere to sit and write her love letter she was more exposed; then on scene changes I liked how she would pull the curtain half across the stage, cowering in the protection it gave her, peeping round its edges scared of what she might see.

Gustáv BeláčekSurrounding the substantial orchestra pit is an apron that provides a complete circular walkway (well, square really) from one front corner of the stage, out past the orchestra, all along right in front of the first row, and back to the stage again. When the main characters came out and used this apron, you really felt as though you were in the thick of the action. Miss Kohútková was stunning when she was out on the apron. You couldn’t take your eyes (or ears) off her.

BoxesPavol Remenár’s Eugene Onegin also made excellent use of the front apron, mainly in the penultimate scene where he confronts Tatyana and her new husband Gremin (the crowd-pleasing deep bass of Gustáv Beláček, who was fantastic) tearing his hair in anguish and singing for all he was worth. In the earlier scenes he was excellent as the slightly foppish chancer who flirts with much of the chorus and breaks the heart of Tatyana. Funny to think that Pavol Remenár attempted to represent Slovakia at the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest – it’s great when two worlds collide! Tatyana and Gremin spent the ballroom scene actually in a box watching the stage like everyone else, and sang their roles from that spot, so that the people sitting in the box one level above them were visibly perplexed as they knew something was going on underneath but couldn’t quite fathom out what.

Jitka Sapara-FischerováSome other very nicely done moments included the kindly but humorous performance of Jitka Sapara-Fischerová as Filipievna the nurse, the over-the-top French song of M. Triquet sung amusingly by Ivan Ožvát, and the staging of the duel between Onegin and Aleš Briscein’s Lensky,Ivan Ožvát where both characters were surrounded by their seconds and other onlookers, gradually closing in on the pair of them till you heard a shot, and Lensky’s body just slowly fell out of the crowd onto the stage in front. I really loved Lensky’s aria that he sings just before the duel – even though I didn’t understand a word of the Russian Aleš BrisceinI found it very moving and superbly performed. After Lensky’s death the music becomes very vital and exciting – a fantastic tune and its juxtaposition with Onegin’s static soul-searching regret for what he has done made for a surprisingly effective moment.

Final sceneThe opera ends with Tatyana’s and Onegin’s finale scene where the lives are visibly ruined and nobody wins – except the audience who were witness to a fine performance. The orchestra conducted by Jaroslav Kyzlink sounded fine to me and all in all it was a wonderful evening. It certainly gave us a taste to widen our knowledge of opera and if you’re up for a bit of culture in Bratislava I would definitely recommend a performance at the National Theatre.

Bratislava, Slovakia – a weekend away – Sunday

Bratislava CastleThird and final day saw us braving the uphill walk to Bratislava Castle. To be fair, it’s not very far, although I expect those people who thought Slavin was beyond physical capability would need to pack at least some Red Cross supplies for the journey. You get some great views, not so high as Slavin, but more directed over the Danube and also over St Martin’s Cathedral. I’d read that the museums inside are a little dry and dusty and Mrs C isn’t a great one for museums, so we wandered around outside and admired the restoration, which is dead smart.

Primaciálny PalaceThen we dropped back down to the Old Town and thought we’d brave the inside of the Primaciálny Palace. It was a good move. For only 2 euros each, you get to see the inside of this 18th century palace, which has been very nicely restored. There is an attractive corridor of paintings leading to a view down on to St Ladislav’s Chapel, then back along the other side of the corridor to enjoy some splendid 17th century English tapestries depicting the story of Hero and Leander, before finally visiting the Hall of Mirrors (slightly disappointing, don’t expect Versailles) where the Peace of Pressburg was signed after the Battle of Austerlitz. A nice little interlude – not dry and dusty at all.

St Martin's CathedralThen we thought we’d take a look in the cathedral, which (as we had planned ahead) we knew would be open for tourists. As it was, we caught the tail end of a Christening service and lots of well dressed locals were all taking photos inside (which the notice on the door says is a strict no-no). So we pretended to be friends and relatives and took a few photos too (not of the baby though, that would have been intrusive.) It’s a nice little cathedral – very small, not over-ornate, and perhaps not very spiritual-feeling either. Nice vaults and windows though.

Camel PubIt was lunchtime so we decided to give the Camel pub on Ventúrska a try, as the man outside had been working very hard to coax people in. It seemed to have a good menu so we plucked up courage. It’s very small, but quite comfortable. When we arrived, the only other people in there were an English couple talking quietly to each other and two English ladies (in their 70s according to Mrs C) who were singing along to the songs on the MTV channel. Whilst we had our dinner, they serenaded us with their arrangements of Cockney Rebel, Hot Chocolate and even a bit of the Jagger/Bowie version of Dancing in the Streets. It was rather entertaining to hear them enjoying themselves!

A place to park your Penny FarthingBizarrely, when the food you ordered arrived, it came in through the front door. I guess it was prepared and cooked in the restaurant next door – but I don’t know for sure. Maybe they take your order, ring for a takeaway and just add a mark-up. It made the other English couple snort with laughter. I had a Wiener Schnitzel and it was massive – in fact there were two cuts of meat and they were both massive. Mrs C opted for a mushroom omelette, but even that (price 3 euros) looked mighty hearty. I had a Zlatý Bažant – lovely – she had a white wine – slightly disappointing from the look on her face.

Old TownTo take the taste away, we thought we’d have a little post-lunch drinkie, and, again on recommendation, discovered the Bratislavsky mestiansky pivovar on Drevená. We found at least two floors of bar and restaurant area, but there may be more. We probably should have eaten there instead, but nevertheless my homebrewed beer was cheeky and Mrs C’s white wine was acceptable. The service was good but not over-friendly. I can see how at night time it could become Definitely The Place To Be.

All StarsAfternoon nap – you guessed it – followed by a wash and brush-up and a final night on the town. Sunday night. How lively would it be? Not very. Some places we had earmarked for a return visit were in darkness. But first, we did want to catch some of the Carling Cup final match in a sports bar, and we found the perfect place – All Stars on Sedlarska. I’m not sure you’d go there for any reason other than to watch sport and drink pivo, but that’s as good a reason as any. From where I sat I could see nine TV screens in super-duper HD quality. The beer was jolly nice too. The wine, I’m guessing from Mrs C’s grimace, wasn’t exactly Chateauneuf.

PrimiAnd so to dinner, and we finally chose Primi near St Michael’s Gate. It’s very large and swish, and we were sent downstairs to the non-smoking level, which was very atmospheric and attractive. Our waiter was very understanding about the coeliac issue – and also very helpful and honest too, as we both initially went for the Shashlik and he advised us that actually it’s not very good and recommended some other dishes which were great. I had the Pork tenderloin steak with rice and vegetables and it was sumptuous. Mrs C had the chicken steak with a shallot sauce and potatoes. Looked great. The waiter recommended a bottle of Slovak Cabernet Sauvignon at what appears to be the standard posh restaurant price of 29 Euros, and it was extremely good. For pud Mrs C had the hot berries and ice cream again (safe for coeliacs) and I had the Hot Choco Sticky Cake which was pretty darn magnificent. All in all we thought it was a really nice restaurant, and I expect in summer its outside seating areas would be fantastic.

Cafe VerneWe decided to go to the Slang Pub again but it was shut. So we went to the 17s bar and had another nice glass of red each. It was quiet in there though, and despite the sign on the door that said it would remain open until midnight, come 10.30 they decided to wrap up for the night. A bit early we thought, even though we had a flight the next morning! So, desiring to the extend the evening just a little bit further, we moved a couple of buildings along and ventured into Café Verne. I had read this was a great little place except that the service was poor. Well we found the service to be perfectly fine, and the wine was nice, although perhaps not quite as good as 17s. But by 11.15 they too had had enough and we were the last to leave, despite their opening hours being till midnight. Is Partyslava beginning to face hard times? Is the tourist pound/euro on the wane?

Quirky BratislavaSo to sum up – Bratislava: quirky and charming, excellent for food and drink; good for the arts; the attractive Old Town is all pedestrianised and easy to get around; without venturing further afield three days is more than enough to do it at a nice leisurely pace. If there are more good deals at the Marrol’s hotel, we’ll be back for more self-indulgence!

Bratislava, Slovakia – a weekend away – Saturday

Coeliac shopThe next morning we awoke bright and early and headed off in search of further sightseeing delights. What we didn’t realise was that a mere minute walk to the left out of our hotel was a Coeliac shop! Not selling coeliacs, no, but just gluten-free food. Mrs C was therefore able to stock up on gluten-free versions of those delicious wafers and other snack goodies. It’s only a little shop, so if you’re in need of gluten-free food in Bratislava, do drop in. It’s at Medená 19 and is called Bezlepkový svet.

Slavin MonumentWe thought we would walk all the way to the Slavin Monument and then wind our way back to the Old Town. The Slavin Monument is dedicated to the soldiers of the Red Army who died in the liberation of the Slovak lands in World War II. You might read on trip advisor about people walking there who said it was a hard slog and it takes ages. Hmmm; these people can’t be very fit. I think it took us about 45 minutes to walk up the hill from the Old Town, past all the posh houses and ambassadors’ residences, and get to the site. I’m sure you can manage it.

CemeteryOn the way up we found a little cemetery off Sulekova, which made for an interesting fifteen minute detour; quite higgledy-piggledy, with functional and elegant rather than over-ornate graves. We were surprised that very few of the graves contained a photograph of the dead person; very different from our memories of Austria.

Slavin gravesWhen you get to Slavin, it’s very peaceful and respectful, quite rightly. Neat lawns (brown) are surrounded by 278 small gravestones, each bearing the name and rank of their late soldier. With my faltering understanding of Russian in Cyrillic, I could pick out a Smirnoff, and some Captains, Lieutenants and Aviators. The view over the city is splendid. I found it quite moving. A few locals were paying their respects, side by side with some skateboarders taking advantage of the wide approach to the monument.

Cabinet officeWe took a long set of steps down to Namestie Slobody (Freedom Square) which looks like it was once very grand and is now a bit of an anachronism; very wide, very 60s, and with a central fountain that doesn’t seem to work. Opposite it is a very attractive building, which I now discover, with the use of an online translator, is the Cabinet Office. No wonder it looked quite high security. A little further along and you enter the gardens of the President’s Palace – the Grasalkovič Palace. The gardens are elegant but simple, but the back of the building isn’t anything special. It’s much more attractive from the front, with its proud flags and swish gates. Police were cruising as we took our photos, but we had purely tourist motives, honest.

Grasalkovič PalaceIt was too early for a heavy lunch – all meals in Bratislava are heavy – so we found a really smart place to have tea and play with the wifi, – Café Dias on Poštová. Very comfortable, good value and nice toilets too. Two English Breakfast teas, including a little pot of honey and a sweet creamy profiterole come in at under 4 euros.

Church of the TrinitariansWe checked out the baroque Church of the Trinitarians on the corner of Zupne namestie, but it was closed. We then dropped down to the SNP Namestie, which has nothing to do with Scottish Independence, but commemorates the Slovak National Uprising, the anti-Nazi resistance movement. It features some quite stirring statues and a big block of Slovak text engraved on a grey stone wall.

Slovak National Uprising SquareFollowing a tip-off that Obchodná is “where it’s at”, we wandered down that street which in the cold light of day is rather drab and run-down. It has all the signs of being the kind of place that comes to life at night – but still didn’t look particularly welcoming. We took a couple of pictures and moved on.

ObchodnaRound the corner we discovered a church that was open! It was the Church and Convent of St Elizabeth on Spitálska. It was nothing special on the outside but boasted baroque splendour inside, including a stunning ceiling. We carried on back into the Old Town, past the Primaciálny Palace, and into the Hlavné Namestie, where we took funny pictures with the Napoleonic guy who leans against a bench.

Church and Convent of St ElizabethDefinitely time for lunch now, and we wandered into this place called the Minerva, on Michalská. It’s underground and very atmospheric. The service was very friendly and the food was good – Mrs C and I both ordered the Grilled Trout and it was massive. A large Krusovice and a white wine for the lady. We met a couple of very nice American girls who sounded relieved to hear some other English voices. Everyone seemed to have a good time – ideal for tourists and locals alike.

NapoleonThere’s nothing you can do after a heavy lunch but sleep it off. But we couldn’t rest too long as we were due at the National Theatre for Eugene Onegin. It was a very enjoyable evening, more of which elsewhere later.

Carnevalle RestaurantWhen you emerge from the theatre at 9.45pm food is a desperate requirement. We decided not to look too far, and picked Carnevalle on Hviezdoslavovo Namestie. We knew that it would be expensive and potentially a tourist trap, but it was a risk we were prepared to take. We found the service extremely friendly but polite; we sat in the conservatory area adjacent to the square which was comfortable and warm; we went for the Garlic Lamb Shank which was delicious, sharing some rosemary potatoes and grilled vegetables, washed down with the waiter’s recommended wine, the Dunaj, which, at 29 euros was quite expensive, but was also the cheapest of the Slovakian red wines on offer, and was completely yummy. In the absence of a gluten-free dessert on the menu, the waiter suggested to Mrs C a fresh-fruit salad, and it appeared massive and exquisitely fresh and tasty. I had the Lemon Meringue pie which was very nice. I’d have no hesitation in recommending this restaurant if you’re after a less pubby type of atmosphere. It was the most expensive of our meals in Bratislava but certainly no more than you would pay for something similar in London.

We ended up at the 17s bar again afterwards for a nightcap. You probably think we have a drink problem.

Bratislava, Slovakia – a weekend away – Friday

Bratislava Old TownWhy Bratislava? Well, we’ve not been there before; it’s a European capital city; we know some friends who enjoyed it; and we liked Prague back in 1997 and thought it would be similar. On the downside the only direct flights from the UK to Bratislava are with the dreaded Ryanair. So you have to head off to Luton Airport, determined to stand up for yourself if weight/size restrictions raise their ugly head, making sure you don’t voluntarily fall for any of their costly extras. The last time we flew from Luton, a few years ago, the airport itself was a complete nightmare. Overcrowded, and with the opportunity (can you believe it?) of paying a premium to fast-track the security checks. Fortunately it was a much more pleasant experience this time; Mrs Chrisparkle’s only negative observations are that there are too few toilets. Otherwise the shops and restaurants were sparkling and welcoming at 5.30am and it got the weekend off to a comfortable and enjoyable start.

Marrol's HotelOur hotel was Marrol’s on Tobrucka. We went for it because it was No 1 on Trip Advisor and they seemed to be doing good deals. We elected to pay for their limousine transfer to and from the airport, which was a little expensive, but a very relaxed way to arrive in town. The driver loaded our one suitcase into the back of the car. “Only one suitcase?” questioned the driver slightly jealously. “You have a very practical wife, yes?” We sensed his wife wasn’t that practical.

DanubeOn arrival at the hotel we were treated with genteel charm from the start. As Ryanair got us there so efficiently (I hate it when they are so smug about it though), we arrived at the hotel hours before check-in officially started. Nevertheless, we were given our room key straight away. A welcoming glass of Hubert Brut at reception was a very nice gesture. Hubert Brut is the local Sekt and appears on every menu and is actually quite delicious. But if you ask for it in a bar or restaurant, the waiter goes away and comes back a few minutes later saying they haven’t got it and offers you the sweeter Hubert Deluxe instead. I think I got a small glass of the sweeter version somewhere once – it was cloying and a bit yukky. Get the Brut if you can.

Milan Rastislav StefanikThe room was smaller than we expected but extremely well furnished and even came with a complimentary minibar. The bed was very comfortable. The bathroom was slightly faded glory but Mrs C loved it. The TV could get hundreds of channels. Our daily breakfast was lovely – fresh juice, lots of tea and coffee, great bread, lovely cereals, good cooked eggs, bacon and sausage – you could spend a long time there stocking up your body for the day ahead.

Blue ChurchOur first sightseeing trip on the Friday morning was to find the Blue Church – or St. Elizabeth’s to give it its proper name – on Bezrucova. It’s very beautiful from the outside, like it’s covered with Wedgwood icing. As we were to discover with nearly all churches in Bratislava, it was closed apart from during services. And one doesn’t feel comfortable – or welcome – plodding round a church whilst people are praying. We were able to sneak a look inside though, and all the pews are blue too. And the doors have very elegant handles. All very charming and bijou.

Slovak National TheatreWe had booked in advance to see the Slovak National Ballet on Saturday night so we made our way to the new theatre on Pribinova. I’d got a bit confused with their official online ticket selling site, so emailed them and a very helpful reply contained a reference number that I could just give to the box office lady and the tickets would be mine (on payment of an incredibly reasonably 12 euros each.) Alas, when we got there, we were told the performance was cancelled. So much for “the show must go on”, then. She did, however, offer us tickets for the opera – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, which was to be performed on Saturday at the grand old Slovak National Theatre. 25 euros for those tickets. We said yes. I’ll blog about our opera experience later!

Eurovea GalleriaBack outside we found ourselves at a swish new shopping centre – the Eurovea Galleria. Talk about home from home: Debenhams, Next, Marks and Spencer… no Primark though. Marks was astronomically expensive, but Debenhams remarkably reasonable, and Mrs C emerged from their concourse one Biker Chick Jacket to the good. From the centre you can drop down onto a path alongside the Danube. There’s some rather nice statues of a lion and of Milan Rastislav Stefanik, Czechoslovak minister of war 1918-1919, in aviator gear there, but the thing that surprised us most was how brown the grass was. It was a feature of the town in general – wherever there was a wide grassy open space, you won’t find anything green growing there. Some very swanky new apartments down there with Danube view; very desirable I should imagine.

Slang PubAfter all that shopping excitement, it was time for lunch. We made our way to the catchily named Hviezdoslavovo Namestie, (to be fair it is named after Mr Hviezdoslav, Slovak poet and dramatist) where we found the theatre but more importantly some bars and restaurants. That lunchtime we chose the Slang Pub. Regular readers might recall that Mrs C is a Coeliac, so we have to be careful to avoid that awful gluten stuff. We feared it might be difficult in Slovakia, as our memory of Prague fifteen years ago is that it was all dumplings and goulash, beer and pretzels, all of which are no-go areas. We need have not feared. Firstly, in our entire time in Bratislava, we did not encounter one person who could not speak English. That was very helpful. Secondly, they all seemed very clued up on Coeliac’s disease, and as soon as it was mentioned said things like “ah yes, I know” or “I personally have a nut allergy” or “no bread for you then Madam”. So Mrs C had a delicious looking (and she confirmed it was delicious-tasting too) chicken breast with bacon and cheese melted on top, and I had a goulash. Mine was washed down with a lovely Zlatý Bažant beer, and Mrs C had a white wine. It was very friendly, comfortable and good value at 22 euros for all that including a tip. We said we would go back. As it happens, we didn’t.

Mr HviezdoslavWe wandered around the square and were amazed at how quiet it all was – very few people on the streets or in the bars and restaurants. It must all come to life tonight, we thought. It’s a very nice square, or rather an oblong, nestling at the southern end of the Old Town, full of attractive old buildings, with curious streets coming off it, some statues, and the US Embassy to boot. At the far end you can get a glimpse of the new bridge with its odd UFO pod hovering over it, which I understand houses a very nice but vastly pricey restaurant, which we felt we didn’t need to fork out for.

Slovak FilharmonikSome of the Old Town buildings stand out as really beautiful – I thought the Slovak Philharmonic in particular looked great, and I was sorry they weren’t performing that weekend. Sadly, a lot of the backstreet areas have been subjected to appalling graffiti. Some of the buildings in the Old Town reminded me of those rather stately homes in the East Village/ Greenwich Village areas of New York.

Reminds me of New York An afternoon nap called, especially as we had been up since stupid o’clock. So when we later headed out at night to find pre-dinner drinkies, we found ourselves at a place called Café Hemingway on Klariská. It looked great from the outside. Then we went in, and were slapped in the face by a vast swell of cigarette smoke. One gets so used to the smoke-free nature of going out in the UK that the thought of sitting in a smoky atmosphere is now beyond imagination. My guess is that if you’re a smoker, the Café Hemingway looks like a perfect place to relax.

Man at WorkSo we started reading the signs on the doors. A cigarette symbol means you can smoke inside, a struck through cigarette means you can’t. I think if there is no symbol it means they have separate smoking and non-smoking areas. A couple of doors down we found quite a modern elegant bar called Twenties. We tried it. We ordered the Hubert Brut and they didn’t have it. Instead we tried some other white wine and it was super. They have a restaurant at the back which we didn’t check out but the vibe felt good. We thought we would come back. We didn’t.

Castle by nightWe walked up the steps and turned right towards Zupne namestie. There we found a little treasure, a restaurant called Pulitzer. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it did win some awards. It’s great. We ordered the Hubert Brut, they didn’t have any. But they did have some lovely Krusovice beer which I remember from Prague as being sweet and juicy. It still is. Mrs C had a white wine (again) and was beginning to realise that your average white wine in a bar or restaurant in Bratislava is likely to be not quite cold enough and not quite dry enough. The proof of the pudding though was in the eating. I had chicken stuffed with spinach and tofu, with the nation’s speciality gorgeous roasted potatoes in rosemary. Mrs C had the Garden Salad and pronounced it divine. Then for dessert I had Šúlance – dumplings in a sugar and poppy seeds mix, which was slightly odd but very tasty. Mrs C plumped for hot berries in ice cream. The place had a very trendy, studenty feel to it, and was ridiculously cheap for the amount we ate. Loved it. We said we would go back. We did – but it was closed, so we didn’t.

17s bar Time for post-dinner drinkies and we discovered the 17s Bar back down on Hviezdoslavovo Namestie. An excellent little find. We ordered the Hubert Brut. They didn’t have any. But they did have other very nice wine and beer at a very reasonable price. Friendly and welcoming, exactly the kind of bar you would associate with Bratislava or Prague. We said we would go back. We did, every night. But we remained surprised how quiet late night Bratislava seemed to be. Where were all the stag parties we had read to fear about? To be fair, we saw one bunch of drunken youths earlier on in the evening, but that was it. Doubtless Saturday would be busier.