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Kava.Bar

Wifi: Good.

I ducked in out of the afternoon murk of Obchodná, one of Bratislava’s main shopping streets, the other day, into the convivial warmth of the Martinus Bookstore.  As I slurped a coffee in their street front cafe, watching the trams creak by and perusing my Slovak for Beginners book, I noticed that the menu claimed the establishment I was drinking in was striving to recreate the atmosphere of those Parisian cafes of the 1920s – a platform for animated discussion and creative thought, etcetera. Interesting. But there’s a lot of cafes making claims these days. One stop up on the number 5 tram in the direction of Dubravka, Kava.Bar is perhaps most refreshing because it makes no claims whatsoever. It just quietly goes about serving some of the city’s best coffee, in an unpretentious street corner location on the way up to the castle.

The view out ©englishmaninslovakia.com

View out ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

So effortlessly serving coffee that is concocted with skill rather than a “close your eyes, press the button of the expensive Italian machine and hope” approach is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Many times over the last few months, in cities that purport to have a coffeehouse culture far greater than Bratislava’s (Budapest, Vienna) I have been served, with the sombre theatrics of airs-and-graces bow-tied waiters in ornate chandelier-hung surrounds which prepare you for food and drink far better, coffee that is barely acceptable, and that – were it not for the fact that I was in those coffeehouses where you need to behave – is 100% returnable. Kava.Bar brews espressos thick with crema, and macchiatos where the milk enhances the flavour of the coffee rather than concealing the fact it has not been made well enough.

Bratislava’s cafe scene reached a peak probably some time during 2014. The closure of Prešporák that winter brought it down again a few notches. It’s somewhere like Kava.Bar that seems set to get in back to that pinnacle.

Blackboard art… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Blackboard art… ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Black-and-white Art Deco-esque tiled floor, big blackboards, displaying intricate sketches and fun messages, championing daily specials, just a cluster of small iron tables but plenty of higher-up window seat perches: Kava.Bar is definitely not about main meals and much more about people watching with a cake, quiche or beverage (they also make really nice tea, plus the joint lends itself well to a glass of good wine in the evening).

It’s not quite designed for lingering like the city’s best cafe of recent years, Prešporák, was. They would certainly never claim their coffee was the equal of Hangout Cafe’s and there’s none of the cafe-for-the-masses feel of Panta Rhei’s Café Dias or the amenable mini coffee chain atmosphere of Stur. Kava.Bar is a proudly independent joint that merely tries to be itself, and does well at it. Its location, on the main route up to Bratislava Castle, will always win it visits (although currently it doesn’t appear to be receiving as many as it deserves). But it has the added merit of having more extensive opening hours than a lot of the other cafes around. I don’t know how they manage to get up so early on Sunday mornings, actually. But I’m very glad they do.

I’m just not sure about the name… it sounds a little too modern. When inside, in fact, kava.bar is much more akin to those Parisian cafes of old that other places wax lyrical about emulating.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Right on the corner of Zamocká and Skalná, just over the dual carriageway from the old town centre.

OPENING: 8am-10pm daily

BEST TIME TO VISIT: A wintry Sunday morning when almost every other good place for coffee is shut.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Kava.bar it’s a 600m walk southwest to Bratislava Castle, one of the city’s best viewpoints

Boat: Getting to Bratislava by River

Everyone knows about those grand old Central European trains, right? Kicking back in the dining car with a frothy beer and a plate of fried cheese (well fried cheese is unquestionably the dish all Central European trains do best) as you cruise between nations is undeniably one of the continent’s very best experiences. And of course, being a through-stop between west and east, Bratislava’s Hlavná Stanica train station is one of the great the jump-on points for such a journey. For Bratislava train connection info, let’s give the floor to the Man in Seat 61. But Bratislava is blessed with an arguably still grander possibility of approach (or indeed departure): on, oh yes, the Blue Danube itself – from Vienna (or, if you just want to glimpse Bratislava from the water but not stop, Budapest).

OK, the Danube (Dunaj) is not always as blue as Strauss insinuates in his music:) Nevertheless, large swathes of the journey between Vienna and Bratislava are very pretty (through Nationalpark Donau Auen) and the water really does seem cobalt at points when contrasted with the green of the forests on either side. The prettiest part of the journey is around the town of Hainburg near the Austrian border and, just beyond, by the confluence of the Morava at Devín Castle.

Vienna to Bratislava Boats (and back)

1: Lod.sk Vienna-Bratislava Hydrofoil: Hydrofoil boats leave from late April to late October. They run Wednesday to Sunday from late April to late June, daily in July/August and Friday to Sunday from September until the end of the season in late October. Departure from Vienna is 17:30, departure from Bratislava is 9:00 (the boats, Slovak-run, give you the day in Vienna or the night in Bratislava). Journey duration is 90 minutes downriver to Bratislava and 105 minutes upriver to Vienna. Prices are 20/29 Euros single/return. Of course with your ticket you don’t have to travel back next morning; it’s valid for when you want to travel back. The Lod.sk website is now in Slovak (of course), German and English.

2: Twin City Liner Boats: The Austrian-run Twin City Liner runs regular (almost) year-round connections from Vienna to Bratislava. Departure from Vienna is at 8:3012:30 and 16:30 with departure from Bratislava at 10:3014:30 and 18:30. From March to October there are usually one or two additional services as well each way. Boats are a bit quicker than the Lod.sk Hydrofoil boats as a rule (75 minutes downriver to Bratislava, 90 minutes upriver back again). Prices however seem a tad steep, at an average 30 Euros for a single trip – meaning that overall Englishmaninslovakia recommends Lod.sk when possible during the tourist season. The Twin City Liner website is in German, but has a basic English version.

Departure in Vienna: Schiffstation Reichsbrücke, Handelskai 265. All Bratislava boats depart from here, unless you’re on a cruise ship, in which case you’ll likely be told everything and won’t require this blog to help. Nearest subway: Vorgartenstraße (on U1 line).

Departure in Bratislava: International port, Fajnorovo nábrežie 2, just down on the river from the Old Town east of Most SNP. Here’s a list of facilities available in the terminal building.

Between the beginning of June and the end of August, a Budapest to Vienna Hydrofoil passes through Bratislava but ridiculously does not stop off (it used to; they scrapped it). Departure times are 9:00 from Budapest (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) and 9:00 from Vienna (Wednesday, Friday, Sunday). You’ll pass through Bratislava at approximately 13:45/10:30 respectively depending on which way you’re going. Total journey time is between 5.5 and 6.5 hours.

GETTING TO BRATISLAVA BUT NOT BY BOAT: See our list of air connections to Slovakia.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: On the way from Bratislava to Vienna by boat, the most diverting spot, just over the Austrian border, is Hainburg, 16km west.

Trnava: A Touch of 1920’s Paris at Thalmeiner

There are a few things that can really make a regional town proudly independent from its big city rivals. A thriving arts scene (a theatre, perhaps), a particular point of interest… or just maybe an exceptional restaurant or cafe. Such things can create a buzz, generate an aurora of sophistication, stick a middle finger up at the big city and say “thanks, but we can do very nicely without you.”

Trnava, on paper, on your map as you unfurl it in the car on the drive east out of Bratislava, is a regional town: it’s close enough to Bratislava to commute for locals, it is not far enough away from Bratislava to waylay tourists with limited time bound for the wilder adventures of the Slovak mountains beyond. On paper. The tourist board makes much of the town’s exceptional churches, quite rightly, as a way of attracting visitors. But perhaps Trnava’s most obvious attraction is staring everyone in the face, gracing the side of the main square there: one of Slovakia’s most elegant cafes. One which will impress you even when compared to Bratislava’s, or indeed Vienna’s selection of coffeehouses.

I walked through the door of Thalmeiner and I was transported: the stylish Art Deco-style prints on the walls, the abstract tiled tabletops, the burnished brass old coffee roaster, the suave waiters. This is the type of joint far-bigger cities than Trnava (Bratislava and London included) would love to covet and no wonder – I can think of very few places in Bratislava or in London to compare with here. Thalmeiner transplanted to either place would be overcrowded, with weary, curt staff and probably queues out the door. And when I go in someplace for coffee, I don’t want curt staff or queues. I want to lose myself in the atmosphere, people-watch, order a damned good macchiato, and sketch out a scene in my novel, write that article or that shopping list without hassle but with a smidgeon of the old-fashioned glamour so regrettably absent from the world these days. Which makes Thalmeiner and me pretty well suited.

The Decor…  

One would be content to sit quite some time without even ordering, and just checking out the decor. Thalmeiner’s specific and finely-honed style is an intelligent Art Deco-ising with its original artwork: even the town’s water tower is made into an iconic print here, with a larger-than-life chess piece advancing across an imaginary board in front of it. Or take the cafe’s flagship image: a thundering old steam engine with a cup of coffee emblazoned across the foreground and a sign proclaiming “EXPRESS” (a clever play on old express trains and espresso). The gleaming old coffee grinding machine might waylay you on the way in, too, as will choosing your nigh-on obligatory cake from the counter.

The Vibe…

I took a pew out back in the covered leafy courtyard, because there were no seats free in the main part. I took a look around me. What I liked was that clearly all types of Trnava folks (not just the law students or the middle-class artsy types) were descending on Thalmeiner for their caffeine fix. Not that there weren’t a fair few intense-looking younguns tap-tapping away on their laptops, there were. But there was none of the cliquishness that exists in some cafes and bars intent on creating a certain ambience: there were grizzled locals, too, even a group of very macho-looking men you wouldn’t expect to see in any type of place other than the nearest krčma (pub)! The service overall? Ultra-professional and friendly, rather than over-the-top and condescending.

The Coffee – Presentation Honed to a Fine Art

And when that coffee comes – ah! Presentation, as with everything else at Thalmeiner, is integral down to the finest insignia on the saucer.

Drinks come on chunky silver cups with more of the Art Deco imagery on the sides. The condiments are all Thalmeiner-brand. A glass of water and a small chocolate cake come with the coffee.

I always look forward with relish to that moment when the fruitiness of a well-made coffee hits the back of your tongue, and Thalmeiner, unlike many places that make far greater claims, does not disappoint. The crema here is soupy-thick but the taste doesn’t go overboard with the bitterness. But it is strong enough to leave the sipper needing to take their time (perhaps that is the intention).

The coffee on offer each week at Thalmeiner changes, too, to keep you on your toes, and at least one brew on the menu will be roasted by Slovak coffee roaster, Komarno-based Green Plantation (thus the coffee is always fresh-roasted).

©englishmaninslovakia.com

The Extra Mile…

Perhaps it’s giving that extra thought into how they source their ingredients which is what I was most impressed by at Thalmeiner. They make an evident effort to utilise local suppliers and local recipes for their cakes and sandwiches (a nice touch) and, in the absence of local produce, they at least try to be a bit ecological about where they get their food from (for example, those with a sweet tooth will, like me, also be tempted by Thalmeiner’s hot chocolate – with chocolate sourced from the Mexican plantations).

At any rate, what is guaranteed at Thalmeiner is a sophisticated respite from the real world, with the whiff of glamour in that decor of theirs redolent of… Well. Surely it’s not just writers who get excited about coffeehouses that hark back to those Montparnasse cafes of 1920s Paris? You know, ornate interior, Bohemian types scraping together their last few centimes to buy the next drink that will eke out their stay, animated conversation, ideas being formed…

MAP LINK: (it’s on Trojičné námestie – number 4)

OPENING HOURS: 8am-10pm Monday to Thursday, 8am-midnight Friday, 10am-midnight Saturday, 10am-10pm Sunday.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Thalmeiner it’s 46km south-east to another of Slovakia’s best cafes, the Antikvariat in Nitra.

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Around Bratislava – Petržalka & the South: On Getting to Danubiana Art Museum & Why It’s Cool

A trip out to the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum is possibly the best thing to do in the whole of Bratislava: yes, even amongst the twenty-five or so other singular activities lined up for you in Slovakia’s fair capital on this very site. But this article deals more with how to get there, and how fun getting there can be.

For those of you not in the picture, the Danubiana Museum is a modern art gallery that’s been created on a promontory of land jutting into the Danube near the town of Čunovo some 15km downriver from central Bratislava. Everything about it from its design to its exhibitions is first-class, and has helped put Bratislava on the map as a sort of boutiquey arts destination. It has a good art shop and cafe too, where there’s a decent range of books on Slovak artists, and postcards. Its knock-on effect on the art scene across the city was huge: in the years following its opening in 2000, many more high-end art galleries opened in the Old Town. Yet surprisingly few foreigners make it out to the gallery itself. (it’s interesting to note that Danubiana only seems to get Slovak and German wikipedia entries, and it’s not overly promoted in Bratislava, either, which perhaps partly accounts for it).

From inside the museum space, looking out at the Danube

From inside the museum space, looking out at the Danube – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

But with spring well on the way (at least, Bratislava is bathed in glorious sun as I write this) it’s not just the art that constitutes a reason to go here. It’s the journey itself. Particularly if you’re in the city for just a few days, having a green getaway on one of them is nice; some would argue essential since Bratislava’s dramatic countryside surroundings surpass even what the city centre can offer). Most visitors choose Devín Castle for that getaway, and rightly so, because that’s wonderful too. But heading in the opposite direction to Devín, i.e. downriver to the museum, is just as tempting. There are three ways you can do it:

1: Hiking, Cycling or Roller-blading along the trails on the Dunaj (Danube)

Cross over either of Bratislava’s two central bridges across the river onto the southern Petržalka side and you’ll see the start of a cycle trail that takes you all the way out of the city, close to the course the Danube takes as it wends south to Čunovo and then almost immediately on into Hungary. It’s possible to hike, of course, but cycling or roller-blading are the main ways people do it.

The great thing is that along here there are bars you can rock up to on your skates/bike, stop at one of the picnic tables for a good mix of Slovak fried meat and a frothy beer, then continue on your way. As I’ve said, it’s probably 15km to Čunovo but it’s really quite beautiful: small lakes to stop at for a picnic just “inland” and, at one point, an old chateau. Patches of old forests and the lakes provide cooling off opportunities, as it gets very hot here in summer.

One possibility for bike hire is Bike Bratislava, located near the Downtown Backpacker’s Hostel. Hire will cost in the region of 15 Euros per day for adult mountain bikes. Or, try Bratislava Bike Point, a new-in-2014 service based under Most SNP (on the Petržalka side) of the Danube.

2: A Boat Trip Down the Danube (Dunaj) From Central Bratislava

These trips don’t run all the time: just Saturdays and Sundays from May through to September. Take the boat trip, and you get free entry to the museum at the other end. It’s also an amazing experience to see Bratislava from the water, and as you wind out of the city you’ll see lots of the river that it’s impossible to glimpse from the cycle paths. Departure times are 2pm from central Bratislava (get there half an hour or so before). It’s a 45 minute trip to Danubiana. The return voyage is at 4:30pm and it takes 90 minutes as it’s against the current. This gives you a good 1.5 hours to look round the museum, have a coffee in the cafe or peruse the wonderful selection of art books in the shop.

Ticket sales are through Lod (10/6 Euros per adult/child for the boat trip that includes museum entry) but because their website is not abundantly clear I’ll tell you where the departure dock is. Head towards Most SNP (yeah with the spaceship up top) then walk left along the path besides the river.  You’ll see some of the boats they use moored ahead on the near bank. You will have to go to the ticket office first, however, on Fajnorovo 2 (basically, when you can’t go along the river any more bear left around the building impeding you and you’ll see the entrance). This is also where the boats to Devín and the Bratislava-Vienna boats depart, incidentally.

 

Weird & Wonderful Sculpture by Danubiana Museum

Weird & Wonderful Sculpture by Danubiana Museum – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

3: Bus From Most SNP to Čunovo 

I want to say a few words about this bus, because the museum website and indeed every other source in English says nothing about the logistics of this. On paper it sounds easy enough. Bus number 91 from the station right under Most SNP goes to Čunovo and takes 30-40 minutes to do so. You can also take bus number 91 from Most SNP and change in Rusovce. But these buses stop in the town of Čunovo. And Danubiana, despite having its address listed as Čunovo, is someway outside the town.

So here’s what you do. From where the bus drops you, continue on down the main street until it bends. Directly ahead lies a metalled track which goes passed a few houses on the left into woodland. Keep going. After five to ten minutes this comes out on a road which runs below the raised bank ahead which is the cycle path you could have taken from Bratislava. You won’t be able to get up immediately onto the cycle path as there is a stream in the way, so turn right and follow the road along until it comes out on a larger road. Then bear left, keep the snack stand you’ll see on your left and follow the signs, keeping on the cycle path you’ve now been able to join, which take you out onto the spit of land jutting into the river where the museum is. As a point of interest, you’ll first pass on the right Bratislava’s white water rafting centre, where Slovakia’s multi-medal winning rafting twins, Peter and Pavel Hochschorner, often train. There’s a hotel here too – the Hotel Divoká Voda, but I’m not going to vouch for its quality.

And at the end of all this, it should be noted that now Danubiana has been UTTERLY REFURBISHED AND EXPANDED! You can read all about the new-look Danubiana museum very, very soon.

MAP LINK:

OPENING: 10am-6pm October 1st-April 30th, 11am-7pm May 1st-September 30th

ADMISSION: Adults 8 Euros, Children 4 Euros

800px-Kosice_airport

Flights: Košice’s Connections – The Latest (2016 Update)

When Košice got a new flight connection from London Luton, you heard it here first: almost a year before it happened! It seemed when that route began operating in autumn 2013 that Slovakia’s second city was really making moves to turn its airport into a serious international airport – fitting, as it was in 2013 that it was European city of culture. You can still read the original post below, and the comments related to it, but Englishmaninslovakia moves on and three years on we want to let you know about the new routes that are cementing Košice’s status as a significant air hub in Eastern Europe (one of the five fastest-growing airports in ALL Europe in 2014, you know).

As for 2016, there are a couple of great new air routes which will aid travellers to better plan their trip to Košice. One – the direct connection with Warsaw – is already in action. More on the other route nearer the time it starts running!

Košice – the best possible introduction!

The Latest 2016 Routes

Košice-Warsaw: (Poland) New as of March 2016!  Departure times from Košice will be at 05:35 on Monday through Saturday AND departure times from Warsaw will be 22:35 on Sunday through Friday.

The New 2015 Routes

As of June 2015, there will be flights between Košice and the UK’s Doncaster-Sheffield Robin Hood and Bristol Airports – also operated by Wizz Air, who run the now-successful Košice-London Luton route. (NB: the Košice-Milan Bergamo route is not running in 2016).

Košice-Doncaster-Sheffield Robin Hood: (UK) Operates twice weekly; departure times from Košice will be 19:00 on Tuesdays and Saturdays AND departure times from Doncaster-Sheffield Robin Hood 21:15 on Tuesdays and Saturdays. OPERATED BY WIZZ AIR

Košice-Bristol: (UK) Operates twice weekly from October 2015 (although didn’t start running in 2016 until April); departure times from Košice will be 19:00 on Mondays and Fridays AND departure times from Bristol will be 21:20 on Mondays and Fridays (and are scheduled for the rest of 2016 calendar year). From a ridiculously cheap 29 Euros!! OPERATED BY WIZZ AIR

Košice’s Other Flight Routes

Košice-London Luton: (UK) Currently operates at least daily. Departure times from Košice are 06:10 (Mon-Sat) and 06:10/19:00 (Sun) (mid-Sep-June) and 06:10/19:00 (Sun/Wed) /  06:10 (Mon-Tue/Thu-Sat) (July-mid-September) AND departure times from London Luton are 14:55 daily (Mon-Sat) and 14:55/21:10 (Sun) (mid-Sep-June) and 14:55/21:10 (Sun/Wed) / 14:55 (Mon-Tue/Thu-Sat) (July-mid-September) OPERATED BY WIZZ AIR

Košice-Vienna: (Austria) Currently operates on average twice daily during the week and once daily at weekends. Departure times from Košice are 05:00/15:10 (Mon-Fri) / 15:10 (Sat/Sun) AND departure times from Vienna are 12:55/22:15 (Sun-Tue & Thu-Fri) OPERATED BY AUSTRIAN AIRLINES

Košice-Prague: (Czech Republic) Currently operates two direct flights daily (plus two more daily that go through Bratislava). Direct flight departure times are 05:00/14:55 (Mon-Fri) / 05:00 (Sat) / 14:55 (Sun) AND departure times from Prague are 12:15/22:05 (Sun-Fri) (no flights on Saturdays) OPERATED BY CZECH AIRLINES

Košice-Bratislava: (Slovakia) The two afore-mentioned non-direct Czech Airlines flights between Košice and Prague stop in Bratislava Mondays to Fridays. This is Slovakia’s only real internal flight connection but we’re not going to champion its cause here. Why? Because you will save a maximum of one hour, if you’re lucky, over the fast train from Bratislava, because it’s prohibitively expensive (the train ride is a mere 20 Euros) and because it’s not ecological! TAKE THE TRAIN FROM HLAVNA STANICA

 

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Košice

Places to Go: Climbing Košice cathedral

Places to Go: Unsung charms and legends: insights into Košice city centre

Places to Go/Events & Festivals: Slovakia’s Famed Film Festival Arrives in Košice to Stay

Places to Stay: The city’s first ‘eco-hotel’

Places to Eat & Drink: Košice’s most imaginative breakfast stop

Places to Eat & Drink: THE bistro to be seen at in Košice

Getting Around: Quirky Košice city tours

Musings: The Definition of ‘Discussed’

 

AND…

The Original Post from November 2012…

London to Košice Flights!

A little birdie (but a very knowledgeable and reliable birdie) tells me flights from London to Košice are starting up next year, with the official announcement to be made in early January after negotiations conclude at the end of this year. March is the projected date for flights to commence. Currently Košice is served from Prague (by Czech Airlines), Vienna (by Austrian Airlines) and otherwise only Bratislava.

It’s been a while coming. Košice’s train connections from Bratislava even with the faster IC-trains, are rarely under five hours and often delayed (speaking as someone who has had to stand from Košice to Trenčin, aka almost-the-whole-way-across-the-country, I can tell you that is not fun). If Košice is serious about attracting international visitors next year for its year as European City of Culture, this is what it needs. Given Slovakia takes six or seven hours to traverse from end to end overland, a Košice flight to another major transport hub is nigh-on essential. Especially when you consider neighbouring Poland has loads of destinations served by cheap flights including plenty to the UK: you can imagine there would be a healthy market for a Košice-London connection. Probably you’d get some Ukrainians coming across to make the most of it too, given it’s only a couple of hours from Košice and bargain flights are hard to come by in the Ukraine unless you want to go to, ah, Russia.

Bargain flights. Hmmm. We know what’s coming, don’t we? But please tell me Ryanair are not the airline being negotiated with. Please. As you will gather from my recent post on cheap flights, what Slovakia needs is an airline that gives visitors a first impression that ISN’T, well, blue-and-yellow plastic, zero leg room and scratch card announcements. I’m a big advocate of budget flights, don’t get me wrong. But when a country is essentially served ONLY by cheap flights, and cheap flights from one source at that, then there’s something wrong. Let’s not assume that visitors to/residents in Košice are only concerned with low prices and aren’t bothered about low quality.

UPDATE WINTER 2013: To confirm the below comments, there are flights running with Wizz Air from London Luton to Košice. Flights (from London Luton) run at 14:10 now on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

ryanair-image

Flights: Flying to Slovakia WITHOUT Ryanair

It’s about 1am in the draughty terminal at Luton Airport. They call it London Luton even though it’s over an hour away via a dirty train journey, of which the best thing that can be said of it is that it at least circumnavigates central Luton.

Luton Airport might, indeed, be purgatory (and seems to be constantly “under refurbishment”. Several hundred miserable individuals like me, huddled round plastic seats, eking out the dregs of their Costa coffee, here because their cheap flight leaves at 6am (which means check-in is 4am), piling on the layers of clothes so they can transfer mundane items from their carry-on luggage to get it down that 0.2 kilos below the 10kg limit, waiting grim-faced for the invariable announcements about delays or cancellations or, still more likely, the absence of announcements about delays and cancellations because the pimply-faced Ryanair customer service operatives cannot be bothered to make one. Several hundred individuals living, quite accurately, little better than animals for the next few hours until they reach their airport destination the other end – which, also, will be nowhere near the town or city it’s named after.

I really hope you have no idea what I’m talking about. But I fear you might. Yes, the wait for that Ryanair flight, the horror of which is almost enough to put you off making a journey in the first place. Almost, but not quite. Still we do it to ourselves. I do it to myself. Have been for the last few months, experiencing some of the many ways of travelling by plane between England and Bratislava.

I guess we do it because we always think it will be alright. We’ll get an early night (we reassure ourselves) so we don’t have to worry about that ridiculously early departure time, that the lack of leg room, or the at times brutally rude stewardesses who you wouldn’t trust with helping you across the road much less guiding you across half of Europe, won’t get us down, that the chirpy automated voice with the irksome Irish lilt informing us about scratch cards can be blocked out. So this is why me and the other miserable individuals are here, at this forsaken hour, in Luton Airport.

Bratislava, in fact, is connected by air to London Luton and Stansted, Birmingham and Liverpool. For a Slovakia-bound Englishman/woman there are plenty of flight options, and all with Ryanair. Slovakia, in fact, has over sixty per cent of its in/out commercial flights controlled by, yep, Ryanair.

I’m not going to get started about big corporations’ stranglehold on the Slovak economy, and how these corporations for almost undoubtedly dubious reasons are welcomed to take that stranglehold by senior Slovak ministers. Not in this post. But on a purely Ryanair-focused note, they are one of the multinationals that can be said to “own” Slovakia. They are, in effect, the national airline. There are multiple reasons why this is worrying. Again, this post isn’t the time to delve into many of them. But such dominance is certainly EXTREMELY worrying for Slovakia’s image as a tourist destination (and what with this blog and all Slovakian tourism is of concern to me)  that so many visitors have, as their first impression of Slovakia, that atrocious Ryanair experience which I am, as I write, undergoing for the umpteenth time. For most of us, there just isn’t any other feasible option.

The Alternatives to Ryanair

Wizz Air from Luton to Brno, followed by two-hour bus to Bratislava.

Well who wants to rock up at a destination only to find their destination is actually a further two hour bus ride away? Not me. Plus, flight times are limited (Fridays, Sundays and Mondays only). Prices can be as low as £40 but are more often over £100.

Easyjet from London Gatwick to Vienna, then one hour bus/train ride to Bratislava.

It’s still a more inconvenient option but it’s a viable alternative, mainly because, whilst Easyjet are very far from the ideal airline, they’re not Ryanair. And the cabin baggage allowance is those precious few centimetres more width-ways and length-ways. Flights are regular (once daily), but you’ll need to book ahead to get a good rate. Even a week prior to flying, flights are £100 plus, and often over £150. Where as Ryanair, those unscrupulous devils, do at least have what could be termed a “cheap” flight as little as a few days in advance.

(or scrap flying to Bratislava and see how to fly from the UK to the High Tatras or the UK to Slovakia’s second city, Kosice)

OK, my feet are cold and I have to pay £5 for wifi so can’t even post this post yet (and therefore not until Bratislava, meaning, readers, you’re reading this in real time minus about eleven hours, sorry for the lack of authenticity and corresponding feeling of gloom this causes). I can’t even rant to the world: talk about suppression. I’ll go get another Costa Coffee.

Tip

If you’re over-nighting at the airport for your flight to Bratislava, make it Stansted. More people sleep there (the seats in the far corner by zone J). There’s also more diversions for those of you too cold to sleep. And they have the whisky shop there that gives out generous free drams if you pretend you’re interested in buying some…

Which post to read now? Skip merrily on to my foolproof Mastering Public Transport in Bratislava post (assuming you arrive, despite this post, at the airport).

Michael Portillo Does Bratislava (Autumn 2012)

The other week, Michael Portillo (fey-looking former Conservative UK MP turned railway explorer – logical progression, no? – for those of you who aren’t familiar) in his latest series of Great Railway Journeys took a rail trip through the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Starting in Budapest, he wends his way by train through Bratislava and then on into Austria by boat. I would have liked to add at this point that it’s worth checking BBC Iplayer (UK followers only) to watch for a riveting insight into Bratislava and its place in that empire. Sadly I can’t.

Whilst the programme is relatively informative if you’re interested in Budapest’s bridges or waltzing in Vienna, Bratislava and Slovakia (as usual in the media) get precious little airtime. This is unfortunate, given Bratislava’s pivotal role in the empire. We’re talking the old second city of the empire here. Pozsony as Bratislava was then known was THE place where Hungarian monarchs were crowned and hung out after Budapest got occupied by the Turks: this was the royal seat of the monarchy from the 1530s into the 19th century, for Godsakes.

Mr Portillo gets off the train, mooches around St Martin’s Cathedral (the place of coronation of the afore-mentioned monarchs) and then gets on the fast boat to Vienna, asap. The only other shot in Bratislava is the terribly insightful, momentary camera-full of three nuns strolling through the Old Town. It’s so edited it’s basically not worth showing Bratislava at all. It certainly offers no insight into Bratislava’s part in the empire.

A wasted opportunity to put an interesting spotlight on a city that doesn’t often get the spotlight, and, really, at precisely the moment it should have done. Instead we get more of the same old stuff on Budapest and Vienna. Sigh.

Thanks, Michael.