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Although just across the erstwhile Iron Curtain from Vienna, Slovakia's capital city Bratislava is quite a world apart. The peaceful medieval old town, with winding streets and chocolate-box houses, feels very different from the imperial grandeur of Austria. Slovakia split from the Czech Republic in 1992 in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and joined the European Union in 2004 along with many other members of the Eastern Bloc. As the Pet Shop Boys said, Go West!

I visited Bratislava for two nights in October 2013, staying at the Park Inn Danube Hotel, after time spent in Italy and Austria. It was just starting to get chilly in the evenings, but by day the capital was bathed in warm sunshine, and there was nary a stag party to be seen. I travelled in and out by train from Vienna, which only took an hour each way, and had a great time exploring this beautiful city.

Slovakia Railway Station - Welcome to Slovakia!

Welcome to Slovakia! Arriving at Bratislava Hlavna Stanica, the central railway station and point of arrival for travellers from Vienna.

A short walk from the station took me to the top of the old town, where I entered through the clock tower Michael's Gate, on what was once the city walls.

Michael's Gate

Schoner Naci

I received a further warm welcome from Schöner Náci, who politely doffs his top hat to all and sundry. The statue, like a number throughout Bratislava, is based on a real character that used to inhabit the city.

The Slovak National Theatre is on Hvievdoslavovo Namestie, the uncompromisingly long-named pedestrian boulevard through old Bratislava.

Slovak National Theatre

Market stalls

Autumn market stalls just off the central square, Hlavne Namestie.

Colourful window of the Old Town Hall on Hlavne Namestie. I unashamedly pinched the idea for this shot from one of the local tourist brochures.

Colourful window

St Martin's Cathedral

St Martin's Cathedral in the crisp, cool autumn sunlight. It is one of the oldest churches in the country, and used to be where the Hungarian kings were crowned.

Hvievdoslavovo Namestie is the central pedestrianised boulevard, running from the National Theatre down to the Novy Most bridge. It is lined with pavement cafes and restaurants, and was very pleasant in the autumn colours.

Hvievdoslavovo Namestie

Bratislava Castle

Bratislava Castle stands proudly above the old town, and looks the business since its recent restoration and having been painted sparkling white.

King Svatopluk rides his equestrian statue outside the gates of Bratislava Castle. He ruled during the late 860s - not a typo, that's over a millennium ago.

King Svato Pluk

Knights at Bratislava Castle

Gleaming white knight statues and gilded stonework on the ramparts of Bratislava Castle.

There are expansive views across Bratislava from the castle, including those of more recent times. The column on the central left is the Slavin war memorial, commemorating those who fell during the liberation in 1945. On the hilltop stands Kamzik TV Tower, featuring that most indispensible luxury of ex-Communist countries, a revolving restaurant.

Kamzik TV Tower

UFO bridge

The UFO bridge, Novy Most crosses the Danube to the south of the old town, and is crowned with a conspicuous, but non-revolving, UFO shaped cafe.

Great views across Bratislava again from the really quite good UFO cafe. The castle can be seen on the left, and Kamzik TV Tower on the hilltop in the distance.

UFO cafe

Barge on the Danube

The mighty river Danube, Europe's longest river, runs through four European capitals on its way to the Black Sea. Having already passed through Vienna and Bratislava, the next stop is Budapest, followed by Belgrade. Watching giant barges power their way upstream against the current was very impressive.

The Danube was crossed by the old railway bridge Stary Most, seen here just a few months before its demolition. It will be replaced with a new bridge for foot traffic, cyclists and trams.

Stary Most, old railway bridge

Cumil, Rubberneck

Another of old Bratislava's characters, Cumil or Rubberneck, lurks in a manhole in the centre of town. Whether he is having a rest after cleaning the sewers, or is skulking low down for more nefarious purposes, is up for debate.

The Blue Church looking very pretty against the sky. I tried a dozen times to get this photo framed and focused as I wanted, but eventually realised that it was probably time to get a new camera.

Blue Church

Soviet carved heads

Across from the Blue Church was a large abandoned building, an institution of some sort perhaps, complete with Soviet style statues carved into the walls. Despite trying, I've been unable to find out anything about it.

Hlavné námestie is what I gathered to be the main square, I sat in a little cafe and drank a beer while the sun went down.

Hlavne Namestie

Bratislava Castle at night

By night, Bratislava Castle gleams in floodlights above the dim streets of the medieval old town.

East of town is the starkly modern Eurovea centre, a giant shopping, dining and entertainment complex for the bold new EU-member Slovakia.

Eurovea fountains

Inverted Ministry of Truth

The inverted pyramid of the Slovak Radio building really interested me, as I thought of Orwell's pyramidal Ministry of Truth disseminating broadcast propaganda in 1984. Here it is quite literally turned on its head.

Grassalkovich Palace, the residence of the President of Slovakia, is not far outside of the old town on the way back to the station. Presidents Bush and Putin met here in 2005.

Presidential Palace

Michael's Gate

A final shot of Michael's Gate, surrounded by toy-town style colourful houses in beautiful medieval Bratislava.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2014