Welcome to my place ... Bratislava
Leo Sharkey, originally from Letterkenny, Co Donegal, first arrived in Slovakia last August. He is a lecturer and lawyer in the capital Bratislava. He decided to move there so he could experience a different culture and explore the neighbouring central European countries.
Where is the first place you bring people to when they visit Bratislava?
First stop is a tour of the historic and beautiful Old Town ( Stare Mesto). Go through St Michael’s Gate, one of five gates of the old city walls, down Michalska street to the two best bars in the city – Goblins, an Irish rock and roll bar with lots of local and imported live music, and Uisce Beatha, a superb and mellow tavern with an eclectic clientèle from all walks of life.
Sample the delightful local beers and the legendary Slivovica ( plum) and Borovica ( juniper) liqueurs. Both bars are frequented by members of the Slovak Shamrocks, the friendly local GAA Club, where help and advice can be found. Then take a walk along the mighty Danube and a look at the famous UFO bridge which resembles a flying saucer.
The top three things to do in Bratislava that don’t cost money are . . .
A must- see landmark is the powerful and stunning Slavín monument, a memorial to the Soviet soldiers who broke the Nazi war machine and shaped the last 70- plus years of European history. The fascist client state of Monsignor Tiso gave way to occupation by the Nazis in 1944 and conquest by Russia’s Red Army in 1945. It is perched high up overlooking the city. You can either walk up from St Michael’s Gate or get the bus or tram. You can then take in the imposing Soviet architecture and enjoy the unique outlines of the city. Stunning.
The historic old town Stare Mesto, is fabulous for a wander around. Its winding cobbled streets are lined with Gothic and Baroque architecture and the Slovak National Gallery is worth exploring.
Tour the best Christmas markets in Europe where the most delicious mulled wine of all, Varne Vinho, which comes in red, rosé and white varieties, is served.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Bratislava?
The cuisine is strongly reflective of Bratislava’s Slavic, Hungarian and Germanic heritage. The Pulitzer restaurants are excellent and serve Slovakian delicacies such as Kapustnica, a tasty sauerkraut and sausage soup, or bean soup, which invariably contains some meat ( usually pork). With the beans, it is a hearty meal in itself. And try Halusky, a unique and filling sheep cheese dumpling and bacon fat dish that historically fuelled Slovak farmers through their working days. Zelenho stromu is a fabulous restaurant with excellent and competitively priced local cuisine.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Bratislava’s place in history? Bratislava Castle, a picture postcard setting, is next to the Parliament and overlooks both the old town and the Danube, which shaped the early settlements of Rome, of which Bratislava was one. It is an easy trek from the centre of the city. Bratislava was once the capital of Hungary and now Slovakia and sits on the border of Austria and Slovakia, reflecting its very complex and rich heritage.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Bratislava?
A bottle of the great Dunaj wine named after the Danube in the Slovak language, which is a warm magenta- coloured red wine with an aroma of blackberry. Along with that, a bottle of Tatratea, another local tea- based liqueur with strengths ranging from 17 per cent to 72 per cent alcohol. Also some pottery, modra majolica, which has various traditional patterns painted on to a white background, in greens, blues and yellows, beautiful.
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■ Leo Sharkey has lived in Bratislava for over a year
■ Bratislava Castle: a picture postcard setting