What’s “Next” in Central Europe
For a former Eastern-Bloc city, Bratislava is doing remarkably well. Bratislava and its surrounding area is the second most prosperous region in Central Europe, just behind Prague. But everyone knows about going to the "Czech" part of the former Czechoslovakia, while Slovak's are just starting to see an influx of in-the-know travelers coming to soak up the café culture and youthful atmosphere.
Here's a short history lesson: after the fall of the Great Moravian Empire, Slovakia became part of Hungary from the 10th century until the end of the First World War when the Treaty of Trianon granted Slovakia to Czechoslovakia. Between 1939 and 1944, the country was a German-controlled state, and then was conquered by the Soviets to recreate a pro-Soviet Czechoslovakia. Since 1993, Bratislava has been the capital of the independent Slovak Republic. And Slovak's have wasted no time embracing capitalism.
The center of all the action is in district I (1) – Stare Mesto – or Old Town. Vibrant and current, take a stroll, stopping at galleries, restaurants, cafes and pubs. The streets have been completely renovated over the last ten years, bringing back a sense of "life" that was lost during the communist era.
No matter where you are in the city, you can see the Bratislava Castle towering from above. Over the centuries, the castle has changed hands and styles. In the 15th century, during the reign of Sigismund of Luxembourg, the castle was built in Gothic design. In the 16th century, King Ferdinand ordered a Renaissance rebuild, while in the 17th century it went for Baroque. Today the castle houses the collections of the Slovak National Museum, exhibitions of jewels from the ancient past, as well as the Museum of History.
To see the city's highest point, take to the Slavin Memorial on top of the hill behind the castle. Overlooking the entire city, this monument is in memory of the Soviet casualties during the liberation battle of Bratislava in World War II. On warmer evenings, come sit in the monument's shadows peering down at the traffic below.
Like many Central and Eastern European cities, Bratislava has a rich classical music heritage. It may surprise you that the greats have studied and played here: Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and more. At the Slavak National Theater, a building that dominates Hviezdoslavovo Square, you can see a glimpse of the past, and enjoy opera, ballet and drama performances from future stars.
If you want to be part of something really "big" come for a visit December 31. In the last decade, Bratislava has been known as "Party-Slava" for New Year's Eve celebrations. The center of the action is at the city's Main Square where locals and travelers dance and drink until the wee hours. The climax of the event are the fireworks bursting in air from the Danube River.
Just about an hour from Vienna and a little over 2.5 hours from Budapest, Bratislava is one of those city's no longer on the verge of popularity – it's already beginning to soar.
So why not pop open a bottle of bubbly and start celebrating now? You're off to Bratislava.
Contributed by: Rachel, E-business Editor, who has experienced much more of Europe than she ever imagined, traveling by train.