Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Common Misconceptions of an Eastern European Gem

As I was skimming through my movie selection the other day, I came across one of my favorite comedies: Eurotrip. For those who have never seen it, I'll try not to spoil it, but basically the movie follows the travels of these four, recently graduated high school students as they trek through Europe trying to find the lead character's German pen pal--who happens to be a smoking-hot blonde girl. At one point, the crew finds themselves slightly off course when they end up in Bratislava, Slovakia, or as they grudgingly call it "Eastern Europe." Now here's where I start to get skeptical, because the movie depicts Bratislava as a grungy, dirty, dilapidated city with practically no one around except a creepy guy who loves old American television shows. But this is completely wrong.

While it used to be relatively dead many years ago, Bratislava is now a bustling metropolis filled with boutique shops and hotels, fine dining establishments, eclectic art galleries and crowds so thick you can barely cross the street. Streets are lined with baroque palaces nestled near quaint coffee shops. The Gothic church, St. Martin's Cathedral holds political and historical significance--11 monarchs were crowned there. It's common to stumble upon a lavish beer garden, a lively art exhibit, a wine museum or even a Slovakian tea room.

Bratislava is conveniently located at the crossroads between Vienna, Prague and Budapest, which is why so many locals from these cities visit for long weekends. In fact, many Europeans are realizing the allure of Bratislava and taking advantage of cheap flights to Slovakia. Along with its geographical benefits, Bratislava also holds many intellectual opportunities. Bratislava Castle holds a number of museums that feature exhibits on the region's Celtic, Roman and Moravian history.

The one part of Bratislava that Eurotrip did get right is its over-the-top night life. After the sun sets, the people come out in troves to enjoy everything from casual dining to crowded bars to underground dance clubs. There is a place that is literally underground, in a former nuclear fallout shelter that now plays techno and trance music. Many of the outdoor cafes get pretty busy once the kitchen closes and local musicians set up shop; people are literally dancing among the tables.

The countryside surrounding Bratislava is also worth noting, with upscale wineries and mountain towns selling ceramic masterpieces. These are nice if you are looking for a day trip out of the city.

I have only flown into the Bratislava airport, where I caught a shuttle that took me over the border into Austria to visit Vienna. In all honesty, I thought by missing the city, I had dodged a bullet. But my misconceptions of Bratislava were all due to Eurotrip and the negative picture it painted. So while it is an amusing part of the film, and I still enjoy it, I'll make sure to learn a little bit more about a place before I make another judgment like that.

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