by Jason Fischer
Just an hour’s train ride away from Vienna lies a hidden gem, neatly tucked away in the heart of Europe: Bratislava. Although this post-eastern bloc city is the capital of neighboring Slovakia, it doesn’t garner as much attention (unjustifiably so) as its more affluent and larger neighbor, Vienna. It was in Bratislava that I decided to kick off 2014 by celebrating New Year’s Eve on the cobblestone streets with awe-inspiring views of the historic Bratislava Castle and the Danube River. Despite the frigid temperatures, the friendliness and hospitality of the locals, and of course the local Zlatý Bažant beer, kept up my spirits and hopes for the New Year. The time and setting culminated in my most pleasantly surprising and memorable New Year’s Eve to date.
Upon arriving to Hlavná Stanica (Bratislava’s main train station) my companions and I immediately decided to satiate our appetites by indulging in the Slovak national dish, bryndzové halušky, a creamy bowl of small potato dumplings mixed in sheep’s cheese and topped with bits of bacon at the city’s locally famous Slovak Pub. This dish proved to be not only heavy and flavorful, but also quite practical considering how cold the weather would later prove to be. The reasonable prices were especially astonishing considering the portion sizes and quality.
From Slovak Pub we decided to go to the old city center, where the main festivities would be taking place. During the hours leading up to midnight, the streets were lined with public concerts playing everything from classic Slovak folk music to female hip-hop dance routines, as well as kiosks serving beer or mulled wine. The contrast of the historical architecture of the city center with modern New Year’s Eve celebrations was intriguing – it made me feel comfortable, welcome and at home.
As the New Year’s hugs and kisses were exchanged, a very friendly local put his arms around my friends and me, and told us an interesting fact about New Year’s in Slovakia. As it turns out, the day also happens to be the celebration of Slovakia’s independence from Czechoslovakia on 1 January, 1993. However, that is not to say that the day is celebrated there only for this reason because it truly is a New Year’s celebration. As the night reached its climax, the city erupted overhead with fireworks at the castle along the river bank. With champagne bottles popping, it was as if at that moment Bratislava transformed from a sleepy city into a giant birthday cake with fireworks for candles.
This city is the perfect place to go for a day trip from Vienna. Its relatively small size makes it easier to explore with a limited amount of time or on a budget. From the history of the ancient churches with relics of 1,000 year-old saints on full display, to the enjoyable public spaces such as the riverfront (perfect for an intimate stroll with a significant other or a group of friends). Bratislava should be on every student’s to-visit list. It is a quick getaway that includes delicious meaty food and fine cocktails, beer or wine, as well as a historic surrounding that never disappoints a curious mind.