An Afternoon in Bratislava
Bratislava is a patchwork quilt. The city is the stitching together of cultures, colors, language, and moments. I was there for a handful of hours on a day nestled in the middle of Summer, 2018.
We follow our tour guide down the cobbled streets as she talks about the city, pointing out a gelato stand, the park, statues, places to eat and to shop. We stop in the shadow of St. Michael’s tower and all of my classmates and I raise our phones to snap a quick picture. We listen to our tour guide and nod appreciatively. My gaze wanders and lands on a man sitting on a step near a shop. His knees are curled into his chest and his neck tilts so much that I cannot see his face. He moves, lists, and nearly tips over, but catches himself with a fist on the ground. He moves again, with more deliberation, and scoots a little to his right before the action becomes too much. He stops. He never raises his head. Shoppers walk by him without a passing glance. Our tour guide commands our attention, and I hurry to stay with our group, lest I become lost in the twisting streets of the city.
Barely an hour’s drive from Vienna, Bratislava sits very close to the Danube, on the fringes of Western Europe, it feels like stepping into a new world.
A stately, cream yellow building with ornate window treatments looks out onto a stone square. People mill about, taking pictures, perusing the small market that has set up under the bright sun, listening to the live music coming from a few streets over, or sitting on the lip of the fountain that froths cool water in defiance of the warm day. The yellow building is one of many brightly colored buildings that line the courtyard. Vivid blue, pink, yellow, and lavender stand knitted together to form the square. Halfway up the yellow building, level with the center of the neighboring window, a small dark dot is embedded into the facade. A cannonball from a long ago siege. A reminder of the past, and the conflict that the city endured, and grew beyond.
The walking tour takes us no more than an hour to complete. Our tour guide takes us to a Slovak pub to eat and rest, and then we are free to wander the streets.
Among the gray stone streets, a glimmer of gilded bronze. The disks are no more than the size of my palm, and are easily overlooked. A very simple three-pointed crown is stamped into them. They are markers, indicators of the path the long ago kings took for coronation. Now, they pepper the paths of workers and shopkeepers and tourists, their eyes up, scanning the shops and restaurants, not glancing at what might be underfoot.
Bratislava wears its conflict proudly. The city does not shy away from its history, does not push the uglies under the rug. It is brazen. It is honest.
An old building, very near the end of our tour, sits in disrepair. The trouble is, the tour guide explained, the building is owned by three people, and since those three cannot reach an agreement on what to do with the building, they aren’t permitted to do anything. So it sits; a towering feat of intricate decoration, the upper floors rented out as residences, the lower floors abandoned, full of a history contained behind locked doors and stowed away equipment. Standing frozen, waiting.