Stag parties have been an important vessel in my travels over the years, with dozens of lads’ weekends to the great cities of Europe. One of the best I’ve been on was a 2007 trip to the capital of Slovakia. I enjoyed it so much, I vowed to go back one day – and with return flights for £23, that day came in January 2016. But at the back of my mind I was wary that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations if I was sober and didn’t have a stag dressed in a Borat mankini to parade around the streets. Here’s my verdict of how things had changed, in words and pictures.
Sightseeing v paintballing
On the stag do, we spent our free afternoon dressed in army fatigues, running around a forest outside Bratislava shooting each other.Older, wiser and with my wife in tow I spent the daylight hours in 2016 making the most of this beautiful little city by the Danube. Bratislava was made for short breaks and as it’s such a tiny place, everything can be seen on foot and in a few hours if you’re in a rush. We did the Old Town to death, and enjoyed a few of the sights just outside of the centre that a stag party wouldn’t dream of seeing like the Hansel and gretelesque Church of St. Elisabeth, a.k.a the Blue Church. We also made it to the Slávin Monument, a war memorial and military cemetery commemorating the 6,845 Soviet soldiers who died liberating Bratislava from the Nazis after WWII. The city views are amazing from up here and the peace and quiet make it well worth the effort to get to.
White castle v dirty castleLike lots of Central and Eastern European cities, Bratislava is dominated by a huge hill-top castle. Unlike those in Prague and Kraków, this one actually looks like a castle should, with its four corner towers. The building was left in ruins after being destroyed by a fire in 1811, and I was surprised to hear it was only restored in the 1950s.
As these photos show, it was a dirty brown colour when I visited in 2007, but has since been given a makeover and is now gleaming white.
Getting to the UFO
The highlight of Bratislava for me on both trips was the UFO – the flying saucer-like bar at the top of the single support column of the SNP suspension bridge. First time I went, I only had an hour or so to sightsee before our paintballing appointment and to be honest I was not too sober from the night before. I wandered hungover through the streets of the Old Town thinking “this looks a bit nice – I’ll have to come back one day”, before I reached the River Danube.
The moment I saw that bridge, it was love and I knew I just had to get across to the other side and up to the bar. The trouble was in my sozzled state, I couldn’t find a way for pedestrians to get across, so I ran into the central reservation of the busy main road and made my way towards the Petržalka side.I was getting beeps from drivers and was waving back at them, thinking they were being friendly, but they were warning me what I was doing was illegal and dangerous. Oh well, I lived to tell the tale and got this photo looking up at the UFO that I wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise.
Koruna v Euro
Slovakia replaced the Koruna with the Euro in 2009, and is one of only five former “Eastern-bloc” nations in the Eurozone – a result of the country’s historically sound economic policies.
I remember Bratislava being one of the cheapest places I’d been to back in 2007, and it’s still a pretty cheap destination for those from North and Western Europe.
Wine v beer
Slovakia is not all about beer. I had enough of that last time, but was surprised to see local wine sold everywhere we went. We popped into a few intimate wine bars in the Old Town, and settled down in comfy seats with candles on tables. I had no idea places like this existed in 2007, although I’m sure a group of unruly lads would not have been allowed in.
We enjoyed sampling local reds and whites at Grand Cru Winery (Zámočnícka 404/8), where the persuasive owner does not let you leave before you try some of every grape type to grow in Slovakia.
In contrast, our 2007 alcohol intake consisted of vast quantities of the delicious local beer Zlaty Bazant with the occasional jagerbomb thrown in.
Ballet v clubbing
Only joking. I noticed Swan Lake was on at the Slovak National Theatre the week before we went, with tickets at €15, but nothing was on when we were in town. Back in 2007, our entertainment consisted of pub-crawls, starting at Bratislava’s Irish bar, The Dubliner, followed by evenings at Charlie Brown’s nightclub.
FootballFrom the UFO in 2007, I could see a football stadium so had a quick look around it. It turned out to be the home of Artmedia Bratislava, Slovakia’s top team at the time who had beaten Celtic and FC Porto in the Champions League. Unbelievably, the groundsman had forgotten to lock the gates so I waltzed right in, sat in the dugout and ran out on the hallowed turf of the Petržalka Stadion. This year, I couldn’t spot the stadium, and assumed I was looking in the wrong place. But when I got home, I googled Artmedia Bratislava and was saddened to read that the club now play in the bottom tier of Slovakian football after hitting financial difficulties, and the Petržalka Stadion was demolished in 2012.
Slovakia qualified for their first tournament at the 2010 World Cup. They’ll be in England’s group at Euro 2016 in France, where Napoli’s Marek Hamšík will be the one to watch.