My last 2 days in Bratislava have led me to draw the most unlikely comparison. Bratislava reminds me, in a strange yet not completely far-fetched way, of Memphis, my favorite city in the USA. Needless to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 48 hours here! As I was planning the last few weeks of my trip a few weeks ago, I decided to come to Bratislava somewhat on a whim. I was initially attracted to it because it is off the beaten path a bit, and considered making it a day trip from Vienna. I’m so happy I stayed 2 nights! As the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava offers its own dose of unique history and culture, yet is small enough to feel like you’re visiting a small town.
How does Bratislava remind me of Memphis? Both cities are similar in population (around half a million, more or less). Here are a few other ways:
1. It’s a chill river city. The Danube is basically Europe’s version of the Mississippi River, and it flows just south of the old town portion of Bratislava. As in Memphis, the river is the ideal place to go for a stroll, to relax, or to have some food and drinks. I spent an entire day laying on this beach next to the Danube, reading a book for fun as well as my first law school assignment (Chimel v California! wooo). Especially after coming from some of
the busiest cities in Europe, life is a little slower and more relaxed around here, just as in Memphis.
2. I (almost) got hustled at the bus station. Like it or not, Memphis is a city full of hustling. As I got off my bus from Budapest, I was feeling a bit tired, sick (still fighting that cold), and lost. I decided I would splurge and take a taxi, and I knew from my hostel’s website it should cost between 4 and 8 euro from the bus station. I decided I was willing to pay up to 10 euro given my condition however! As I approached the first cab driver in the queue and started my bidding at 5 euro, he informed me the charge would be 20 euro flat to my address. I literally laughed in his face as I turned around and walked away! After 2 years of living in Memphis, 3 years of living in NYC, and 3 months travelling abroad, there was no way I was falling for that one. Better luck on the next person, dude! Within 15 minutes, I had purchased a ticket on public transport for 0.70 euro and had easily found my way to my hostel. Just as in Memphis (or anywhere really), it’s smart to watch your back here 🙂
3. It’s a bit on the gritty side. There are several parts of the city that are less renovated and a bit more rundown than other cities I’ve visited this summer. The same can be said for some areas of Memphis (although my understanding is the local government has put a lot of emphasis on fighting blight in recent years). In my mind, the right amount of grunge adds significant character to a place, as in Berlin. However, the grittiness here is unaccompanied by the frenzied energy of Berlin, and instead is a testament that time marches on and can leave places behind, as in some parts of Memphis.
4. The cost of living is low. I have been blown away by how cheap everything is here! My dinner and drink the first night was under 5 euro! Beers and glasses of wine are all under 2 euro, no matter where you go! Also, my hostel is extremely up-to-date and nice, and I am paying less than 35 euro for 2 nights. Oh Memphis, I remember when I paid 25 percent of what I paid each month for a tiny walk-up studio in Midtown NYC for a practically new downtown apartment with a pool, gated parking, free access to AAA baseball games next door, a balcony, etc…sigh.
5. Blues music! To be fair, I did pick my hostel (Hostel Blues) because it is a blues-themed hostel…and I love blues music! However, I had no idea they feature live blues musicians at night in the lobby for free. I loved listening to these 3 guys pick away and play the harmonica. I had to remind myself I was in Bratislava and not on Beale Street. 🙂
6. They both have royal homes (Ok, this one is a bit of a stretch). The Bratislava Castle is arguably the city’s biggest attraction. I took a walk around its grounds my first few hours in the city. It was first built in 907 AD and is now a museum exhibit with beautiful gardens. It’s also on a big hill with stunning views of the city and the Danube below. Memphis has Graceland, the former castle of another king, which is arguably its biggest attraction as well (haha…sorry. I know this one was a bit of a stretch!)
7. It has an array of cute and hipster coffee shops. Just as in Memphis, the cool coffee places abound. I had coffee and a poached egg with avocado yesterday morning at Urban Space…and of course it was ridiculously cheap too. This place would fit right in in Midtown Memphis or Overton Square.
8. Everyone is extremely friendly. Just as in Memphis, the hospitality is deep and genuine. My waiter this morning insisted on telling me about his favorite place in Bratislava and encouraged me to check it out. The girls who work at my hostel have given me endless recommendations (more than they were required to!) on restaurants and coffee shops, as well as places to see and chill (they are the reason I found my amazing beach!) Just as in Memphis, it seems everyone here looks out for one another (except the few hustlers!) and everyone treats each other and visitors alike as neighbors. ❤
I am so happy I came to Bratislava. What was supposed to be a random stopover has turned into a much-needed few days of relaxation, chilling out, and saving money. Just as Memphis does, I feel like Bratislava surprises those who visit in the best way possible!