Week 25: “A nickel! I open my own hotel!” or, Bratislava, Slovakia

Anyone who’s watched EuroTrip will recognize the incredibly over-exaggerated quote above, spoken by a Bratislavan in the movie and poking fun at the perceived low cost of living in Eastern Europe.

Earlier this month, Arestia, Michelle and I decided to go road trip to Bratislava and see the other half of former Czechoslovakia. Side benefit: Michelle was going to teach Arestia and I to drive stick.

After a week of fun events (professional development breakfast at K10, our workspace, where I got to meet locals and expats with a very altMBA-like mindset; The Junction, with gorgeous views of Prague and some fantastic stories by authors, artists, and filmmakers; lunch at the “baby tower,” or Zizkov Tower, complete with David Cerny’s famous baby sculptures crawling up the sides; Disclosure concert with a bunch of Remotes at a cool warehouse-like venue in Prague; seeing Ucitelka, a Slovakian movie about corruption during the communist 80’s), we hopped in our rental car and hit the road for a weekend away.

Kutna Hora & The Bone Church

We decided to stop at the Bone Church near Prague on our way to Bratislava. Formerly known as Sedlec Ossuary, it’s a church literally made of the bones of about 40,000 people who died between the 14th & 15th centuries. The interior decorations, including a huge coat-of-arms and a chandelier that was absent due to restoration, were both impressive and creepy. Something like this can only be one of those weird road trip destinations that you are both happy and distressed to have seen.

Bratislava, Slovakia

After the most uneventful border crossing ever (literally, we just kept driving), we arrive in Bratislava. We park in a mall to meet our Airbnb host, and my first impression is how American it all looks. We sit in a Starbucks, surrounded by one of the most modern malls I’ve seen in months, speaking perfect English to the local Slovakians. Not nearly the under-developed land EuroTrip depicts.

Our Airbnb is modern and perfect, on the DC-like waterfront overlooking the Danube. We have some lunch and wine, and set out to explore the old town.

Bratislava is charmingly small. It’s quaint, colorful, and just as beautiful as Prague, but way less commercial and touristy. The pace of life here encourages sitting down for glasses of wine, people-watching, and enjoying the great weather.

We ask a stranger to take a photo of us. He proceeds to run away with my phone, holding the joke just a second too long and making me panic. We meet him and his friends – they’re a stag do (a.k.a. bachelor party) visiting from Ireland, almost all of them are married and have kids, and we keep running into them all weekend.

We enjoy sunset drinks at Sky Bar (which has some of the worst service ever), sushi dinner, and bar-hop a little, closing our night with a few games of Heads Up with our new friends.

The next day, we plan to check out Bratislava Castle, which overlooks the whole city. We get caught in torrential rain, are soaked within five minutes of leaving our apartment, and spend the morning drying off/feeling sorry for ourselves at Urban House, the coffee shop where “the hipsters hang out,” according to our Airbnb host. Later, we make it up the hill to Bratislava Castle. It’s a more modern castle than one typically imagines, as its been restored, but we enjoy learning a bit about Slovakian history (the castle has been here for thousands of years) and climbing up to the very top for panoramic views (the other side of the Danube hosts the more modern side of Bratislava, with colorful Soviet-style buildings).

Later, we walk down the hill and through Old Town, along the bank of the Danube, enjoying our slow-paced weekend. We have more wine, relax, have a typical Slovakian dinner with sounds of an orchestra in the background, and head to bed for the drive home the next morning.

Growth Zone, or Which One’s the Brake Again?

On the way back to Prague, we pull off a couple of times to learn how to drive stick shift. Michelle is incredible patient with me while I struggle to remember how to drive any car, much less a manual one. By the end, we are making donuts all over the IKEA parking lot, and I’m left with the impression that this is freakin’ hard. I’m not really clear how I’m supposed to get good at this without actually driving, which is kind of terrifying.

Afterwards, we pick up some Swedish meatballs to de-stress, and are on our merry way back home for our last week of Praugust…

It was a lovely weekend with great company, thoughtful conversation, self-reflection, and general good times. Though this started off as a random idea – a joke, almost – it ended up being one of my favorite memories of the year thus far, shared with good friends. I’m reminded how much fun road trips are, and look forward to more!

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