The Danube is growing cities on its banks, from Germany to the shores of the Black Sea in Romania, and all of them have a characteristic style. It is a powerful and elegant river. The longest avenue in Europe, connecting East and West long before the two sides of the continent took different directions. In the northern part, the Danube takes on an elegant pose, green meanders between the Alps and cities that adjust their palaces and castles to the river bed. As it moves through Austria, containment gives way to a wider channel. The river changes the German from the lounge to the one of the multiple Slavic dialects and its cafes on the bank.
Bratislava is a place of borders. In this sense, the Danube has just left Austria. A few kilometers to the west it still bathed the banks of Vienna, to the sound of Strauss and with mathematical elegance. At the height of the capital of Slovakia, the world ceases to be exact but still maintains order. It is the balance between chaos and containment. The city dedicates its soul to the river on one bank and leaves the left for industry and offices. One is enough. You do not want to waste Bratislava.
The Old City has just a dozen streets that intersect in timeless-looking squares. Its architecture contains a complex mystery of ages: temples that look Gothic but bear the mark of the 19th century; palaces that arrived late to the Renaissance, in the Middle of the Enlightenment; Elegant fountains with late 20th century statues. Bratislava was made to be covered in a couple of hours. There is no bombast. There is no excess of shapes. All the urban space of the Old City is measured and valued. Nothing is left over and nothing is missing. Few tourists even visit it, compared to the older Danube sisters Vienna and Budapest.
Too demanding competition.
But the city does not demand great efforts. If the traveler manages to get the comparisons out of his head, he will enjoy, in the Hlavné Námestie square, an excellent beer on a terrace without space problems. The place is charming, surrounded by palaces whose facades explore the entire color palette. In the center rises the fountain of Maximilian, King of Hungary, built in stone in the 16th century, which freezes with the arrival of winter. A few meters away, the Mariansky Stíp square is filled with trees up to the very façade of the Jesuit church, a gift that the Baroque made to the city.
The walk is always calm in Bratislava. There is no rush. It is usually reached by train from nearby cities and in a few minutes the traveler already contemplates the restaurants of the Old City, preparing a succulent veal goulash. In the Puerta de San Miguel there are many establishments to shelter from the cold, many of them with an interior patio from which to observe the intimate architecture of the city. The buildings follow the rule of red tiles, which darken over the years and give the city panoramic views the color of good wine.
But Bratislava calls for further exploration.
The contrast between the Old City and the rest of the city is tremendous. Outside the old town, the buildings of the sixties make it vulgar and devoid of charm. However, the surrounding hills are the best antidote to ugliness. They told us about Slavín, a slope the Slovaks call Monte Calvario. The neighborhood is made up of houses that border on luxury and extravagance, but at the height of the top, the views of the river, with the Calatrava bridge and the church towers, make the city a place to be reckoned with.
In the heights of Slavín the traveler understands part of the recent history of Bratislava and its compromised role between two worlds. A Soviet monument surprises everyone who visits the hill. It is made of black stone and pays tribute to the Soviet soldiers who fell during World War II. In those years, Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia and imposed a puppet state in what is now Slovakia. Bratislava not only endured the tragedy of war, but woke up from a brutal hangover with sixty years of Soviet dictatorship. In the Prague Spring of 1968, flowers and books were not distributed around the city, but Russian tanks still entered its streets and crushed any voice that came out of the chorus of silence. The Slavín monument is uncomfortable, like any ceremony that tries to remember the past. No one can deny that the Soviet army saved Bratislava from Nazi occupation, but the Russian authorities settled too early on its streets and did not abandon them until the Russian giant collapsed. And there is still Bratislava, calm, as if it had not changed countries at least four times in the last century. Busy with being modest and finding the exact spot between restraint and bombast.