After Hours

Postcard from Bratislava

You know I have been to Bratislava so many times and I have never been on the National Uprising Bridge before, I say to the taxi driver as we cross the Danube. You mean the UFO bridge? Juraj – this, at least, is the name he uses in the Taxify app — looks in his rear-view mirror to check my reaction and cracks up. I wanted to show that I actually knew the name of the best-known bridge in Slovakia. It seems I tried a bit too hard.

The castle looks great from here, I say. It is absolutely my most favourite view in the city, Juraj replies, I see it from my apartment window.

I couldn’t agree more. If I were to list Bratislava’s landmarks, the bridge and the castle would be just about everything on the list. OK, I would perhaps add St. Martin’s Cathedral, which we pass by on the way to Panska Street in the Old Town. Quite a few streets in this area are closed to traffic so Juraj leaves me at Hviezdoslavovo Námesti, a few hundred metres away from my destination, but I am glad he does. Why? Well, it is a Friday afternoon in early November. It is still quite warm for this time of the year. The street is covered in colourful leaves which creates a gorgeous atmosphere. I pass by a bookshop and I think I could use some mulled wine, sit in a comfortable chair and read a book.

I slow down and get into the mood. The people that pass by seem to be enjoying their time. I soon find myself on Rybárska Street and spot Čumil, or Man at Work, a bronze statue of a worker looking out of a manhole. Some say he’s trying to get a look under ladies’ skirts. Others claim he’s a typical communist-era worker who does very little work but watches a lot. I think he could also be resting after a hard day’s work cleaning the sewers.

Has Čumil made me want to relax a bit too? I guess he has as I soon find myself in the Urban House on Laurinská Street. An ideal place, I think to myself, plenty of wood, some plants, hundreds of books and comfortable armchairs. I sit down, pull out Yuval Noah Harari‘s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which I am currently reading. I think of getting a snack but I soon find out that even the hummus dish is not vegan, so I just go for a glass of local red, Frankovka Modrá from Fedor Malík and Syn.

Time flies when you are having a good time. It is a very short visit to Slovakia this time — there are only five hours between my arrival from Skopje and departure for London, enough for one business meeting and a meal (or in this case just a drink). One and a half hours at the Urban House and I need to get another cab to the airport. But I am glad I had a short layover in Slovakia’s capital. I had a chance to experience this other, more laid-back side of the city.

I leave the place and slowly walk back to the closest street outside the pedestrian zone and open Taxify to order a taxi. I pick the destination: Letisko M R Štefánika – Airport Bratislava (BTS). Roman, with his black Ford Galaxy arrives three minutes later. He takes my backpack and puts it in the trunk. I buckle up and, still in the mood, ignore multiple notifications on my phone and start thinking of my next holiday and wondering which destination to pick.

But it soon turns out we have all got carried away: me, Roman and even the Taxify app. I know I am in a cab but not really looking where I am going. Roman follows the route as shown in the app and we soon reach a dead-end. We both see the airport but we’re on the other side of it. We must go to airport, yes? Roman asks. Yes, that is where I want to go, I say showing him the destination I added when ordering a taxi. No problem, ten minutes and you come to airport. I know the way, he says.

Well, I am not really concerned about my flight as it departs in almost two hours. I am more curious about the spell Bratislava seems to have cast on us in order to make us forget about reality.