I was in Ružinov earlier today for a work meeting. I was quite excited, not because I was expecting anything particularly amazing from this large neighbourhood of Bratislava just east of the city centre’s Staré Mesto and Nové Mesto (New Town), but because this was Englishmaninslovakia’s first chance to really scout out the area.
On first appearances, Ružinov appears largely industrial. Lots of Bratislava’s major businesses are based here, including the Slovak Tourist Board with whom I had the appointment. The neighbourhood’s streets are very wide, there’s a lot of traffic and a lot of rather big impassive multinational company facades (the flip side is quite a few green spaces, including a couple of cemeteries and lakes which are good enough for a jog or dog walk). The neighbourhood’s very name, actually, refers to the many rose gardens which were supposedly once hereabouts (where are you now, rose gardens?)
But I’m not going to wax lyrical about Ružinov because Englishmaninslovakia neither likes to deceive nor indeed tempt travellers away unnecessarily from a city centre which is far more charming. However it does contain two exceptional attributes, and one of them was right in the building I happened to be visiting, at Doktora Vladimira. Clementisa 10: namely the exceptional cafeteria of Apores.
What I whimsically call Communist-style cafeterias are still, 21 years on, an important part of Slovak eating culture. Picture a canteen, perhaps like one where you once had school dinners. Picture fixed formica tables, and cheap set-price lunches, and invariably surly old women ladling something unidentifiable and colourless out of a vat, and, perhaps most intense of all, water that comes with different colourings, including a garish pink. These canteens or cafeterias are perhaps not so prevalent as they once were, but they are still ubiquitous and still, I would argue – for better or for worse – an interesting cultural phenomenon for the outsider to behold. But what is almost always true about them is that the food is, well, school canteen style food. It’s not renowned for its presentation or succulent taste.
But this cafeteria was clearly cut from a different cloth. Perhaps you could even say it was a sign of how, slowly, Ružinov itself is changing. There were four gluten-free options, including delicious roasted veg, for which I opted. There were tasty soups. There was really decent espresso, which always cheers me up. There was a view onto the nearby park (so none of those starkly strip-lit canteen images that probably come to mind). Apores was a traditional Slovak cafeteria with a touch of city sophistication.
Because Ružinov, these days, does have a touch of city sophistication. The cool city hangouts are spreading out from the centre (it started with the revamped ice hockey stadium and the pretty chic eateries around Slovanet, just back across the other side of Bajkalská, which marks the conventional city centre-Ružinov divide). Watch this space. Ružinov could become an increasingly trendy place to go out.
For now, however, rest easy: a good cafe serving strong espresso will hardly get tourists flocking. Nor, indeed, will one of the city’s main cemeteries, Ružinov’s Martinský Cintorín. I checked it out afterwards: a leafy spot where a few famous people in Slovakia are buried (Jozef Budský, for example, a Czech actor who helped to raise the standard of professional theatre in Slovakia no end). Nor, quite probably, will the nearby presence of Miletičova, the city’s largest fresh produce market (best day is Saturday; for an excellent post on the market visit this blog).
But should work take you out to the Ružinov area, it’s not quite the industrial wasteland it first seems. Tram 8 or 9 from Trnavské Mýto will take you there.
Oh, and the colourful candle holders in the bottom right of the picture? They are part of Slovakia’s most touching traditions, and get lit up at night to remember the cemetery’s incumbents – particularly on November 1st when cemeteries country-wide are mysteriously-flickering seas of candlelight…
Martinský Cintorín in Ružinov
What with all the attention diverted one set of borders east to the Ukraine, it’s quite possible Slovakia’s Presidential Election on March 15 won’t attract too much international attention. But it is, here in Slovakia, an increasingly interesting contest and one where the virtual unknown Andrej Kiska is set for a run-in with current Prime Minister Robert Fico.
To put all those not familiar with Slovak politics in the picture: as leader of Slovakia’s governing party, Smer-SD, Fico has had all the money behind his campaign. This is evidenced in Bratislava by numerous billboards with Fico’s resolute face. (Slovakia do US-sized advertising billboards so it can be imagined just how large that face is). Indeed, for a while this seemed to be very much a one-horse race. Early polls put Fico twenty points plus above his nearest challenger. But in January and February, Andrej Kiska has come on a pace in most polls, some of which now actually tip him to win against Fico in the second round (two of the fourteen candidates getting the most votes will go forward to a second round of voting on March 29).
Try finding information out on Andrej Kiska and it’s not easy. There’s almost nothing in English and the Slovak wikipedia page on him didn’t exist until quite recently. Even the man’s own website doesn’t give very much away. What’s clear is that Andrej Kiska is a businessman, hailing originally from Poprad – a millionaire several times over who made his money in selling loans and since invested it, among other things, in charitable projects including the charity Dobrý Anjel and in stopping bribery in healthcare. All of which makes him something of a philanthropist. But not really a politician. Indeed, Mr Kiska has no political experience whatsoever.
He seems to be using this as his secret weapon. He comes at this election, he says, as impartial, as an independent. It could be a much-needed quality in a Slovak political scene utterly dominated by Fico’s (centre left-leaning) Smer-SD party. And political experience is of course not so necessary for a President in Slovakia, whose role is as head of state, not head of Slovak parliament. Kiska is certainly giving the Fico Presidential bid enough of a run for its money to unnerve them slightly: there have already been a few words exchanged. More are likely to follow, too, when the fourteen Presidential candidates appear on a series of TV debates beginning March 9th (Kiska is keen, he says, to not make this debate a one-to-one between him and Fico).
The Election is also interesting because if successful, Fico will no longer be able to stay Prime Minister and his party must decide who to replace him. This could mean that the new Prime Minister of the country could be Robert Kaliňák. Food for thought hey? Now, Englishmaninslovakia.com doesn’t get political but Kaliňák would be one of the strangest looking Prime Ministers in Europe was he to be given the nod (he may be a nice enough guy but those eyes are pretty intense). Then again, Kiska looks like he’s gone a few too many rounds in a boxing ring, so it’s all relative…
Kiska will also likely argue in the near future that if Fico was elected President, the power his Smer-SD party would then have (they dominated in the regional governor elections too) would be a threat to Slovakia, and that his own election as President would provide the counterbalance to Smer-SD politics.
But does Kiska really stand a chance? Well, let’s just say that the billboard pictures at the top of this blog post (see Fico, much smaller, on the next billboard up?) are not directly proportional.
Andrej Kiska: Fico’s main challenger in the Presidential race
Duck Fat for Breakfast… mmm…
Just a shout-out, really, this post: Bratislava is full of these labyrinthine old streets that, in and around the Old Town and Castle area, secrete serendipitous bars, cafes, galleries and shops.
On a cool, crisp night last night we were wandering in the streets just below the castle and chanced upon a place we’d seen before but not ever entered: the ArtForum, a bookshop-cum-cafe which is actually represented in a few of the larger towns across Slovakia.
The main point of the ArtForum is in its great collection of proudly avant-garde literature, music and film. Here you’ll find editions of Samo Chalupka poetry or Milan Kundera novels that you just won’t find elsewhere. It also has, of course, a great selection of international authors represented. It’s also one of the few places in Bratislava that sells records (the city is just waking up to the fact that they’re popular again). Plus there’s a little cafe at one end selling good jams and wine as well as coffee and cake.
But it’s the film selection that was actually most interesting for me. Here is perhaps the best array of Slovak and old Czechoslovak movies anywhere in the city centre, for actually purchasing at least. There are all the classics by Slovakia’s most renowned director, Jakubisko, like The Millennium Bee, Báthory and Perinbaba (which although well known in Slovakia are, for most outsiders, an eyeopening introductions to the wonders of Slovak cinema). Then there was one of my personal favourite Slovak movies, Ruzove Sný (Pink Dreams) which is a groundbreaking portrayal of how the Roma are viewed in Slovakia. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. My girlfriend got very excited about Panna Zázračica (which we bought; it’s an adaptation of a book by Dominic Tatarka who is one of Slovakia’s most important 20th century writers). Oh, and they have copies of The Wolf Mountains, the Slovak wildlife documentary I’ve been raving about recently, as well.
But for anyone trying to understand a little bit more about Slovak cinema, this is the place to begin trying.
Bratislava street by night
Running until the 22nd of March in Nostalgia at Kino Nivy is a little-celebrated but extremely interesting film festival celebrating Scandinavian film: the appropriately titled Nordfest. I had a long hard look at the lineup. Most of the films are, understandably, in Danish, Swedish or Norwegian with a couple in African or Chinese, depending upon the collaborators and the setting. All have Slovak subtitles but none had any English subtitles, which sadly limited me to only two films that I could really watch: Searching for Sugar Man (on 7th March) and Factotum – the 2005 adaptation of the classic Charles Bukowski novel – on 21st March (both in English).
I renew a call, as I have with the Jeden Svet (One World) Festival in the past, to showcase these wonderful Bratislava cultural events a little bit more by having subtitles in English for a few more of these films. I know we’re in Slovakia, guys, but if you had a more commonly-spoken language (give me Spanish, French, even German at a push) for secondary subtitles on these great film screenings it would help show the rest of the world just how much Bratislava has going on culturally.
Anyway, fortunately Factotum is the film I most want to see there!
To get to Nostalgia, which is the other side of the Medická Záhard, follow Karadžičova north to the cross with Pol’ná just after the cemetery, turn right, head straight over the pedestrian walkway, take the first left and then bear first right on Velehradská. In two blocks’ time you’ll read Súťažná. Turn left. The cinema is at Súťažná 18.
Nordfest – A Celebration of film from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland
Hrad Červený Kameň – The Red Stone Castle
Hrad Červený Kameň – The Red Stone Castle
Church in Hlohovec’s old monastery complex
Looking Back on Hlohovec as you ascend into the Male Karpaty
The River Vah Flowing Through Hlohovec
Make the Most of Your Time in Britain
Cooks, Clowns & Cowboys
Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Adventures
The World’s Best Spicy Food
The World’s Best Street Food
Food Lover’s Guide to the World (Latin American chapters)
Once you’re done with the cobbled streets, 18th-century burghers houses and enticing cafes of the historic heart (aka The Old Town), you don’t have to go far at all outside the capital for some really interesting days out: wild forests, imposing ancient castles, great art galleries, small largely-forgotten but beautiful towns and villages… In fact it’s fair to say that many of Bratislava’s best sights actually lie outside the city centre: so make sure you check out our the other parts of our Bratislava chapter too:
Just West and…
DON’T MISS OUR ARTICLES IN OTHER SECTIONS ON BRATISLAVA:
Have a look at our Greater Bratislava map to picture it all…
Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel (2011-2014)
Lonely Planet Mexico (latest edition)
Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget (Wales, Scotland, Northern England & Denmark chapters)
Insight Guide to Ecuador (latest edition)
Moon Spotlight Edinburgh & Glasgow (First Edition)
Moon Spotlight: Scottish Highlands (First Edition)
Moon Handbook to Scotland – First Edition
Lonely Planet Puerto Rico – (Forthcoming edition autumn 2014)
Lonely Planet Puerto Rico – (Forthcoming edition autumn 2014)
Lonely Planet Peru (last two editions; authoring Amazon and Andes sections)
Lonely Planet Cuba (last two editions)
Latest Guide to Central Europe (Slovakia chapter)
Latest Guide to Eastern Europe (Slovakia chapter)