Bargain flights to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, was all that it took to persuade us to visit one of Europe’s newest sovereign states. Slovakia separated by harmonious agreement from the previous Eastern European state of Czechoslovakia as recently as 1993 in a process referred to now as the ‘Velvet Divorce’ and the city is only now fully opening up to tourists from the west.
Ryanair markets Bratislava as the airport serving its illustrious neighbour, nearby Vienna, and this is a bit of a shame because this seems to imply that the airport only exists to service the famous Austrian capital but as we discovered, Bratislava is well worth visiting for itself.
The passengers on board the flight were predominantly Eastern European; presumably Slovakians taking a short break from the cabbage fields of Lincolnshire and returning home for a rest. It was just our luck to select seats close to a couple of Slovakian girls with a young child and thus we broke one of the most basic rules of flying with a low cost operator which is to avoid at all costs a seat near a youngster. The problem is that there is nothing for them to do you see so they quickly become bored and a pain in the ass to fellow travellers. If you fly with a full price airline kids get fun packs and crayons and when they get fed up with that there are cartoons on the in flight TV to amuse them but with Ryanair all there is to read is the emergency evacuation procedure stuck on the back of the seat in front and that doesn’t keep a child amused for very long.
The flight was good and the highlight was when Sue won first (and only) prize in the sky-bar raffle, which entitled her to a free Ryanair flight to anywhere. This was all very well but there were some serious limiting conditions involved in this raffle which meant that the lucky winner was required to pay all of the taxes and book the flight within seven days of winning which makes me wonder about just how many people actually claimed their raffle prize? We arrived well ahead of schedule but the advantage that this bestowed was snatched away when there was a problem with the baggage conveyor and we had to wait a good thirty minutes before we collected them and found taxis into the city centre and to our hotel.
Hotel No. 16 was a curious place; in a Swiss chalet style building that is shared with the Liberian Embassy and inside had an intriguing collection of expensive furniture, cheesy bric-a-brac and a ceramic wood-burning stove that was providing far more heat in the reception area than was really necessary. The rooms were excellent however (except for Micky’s which was a bit small) and had wooden beams and tasteful décor, which probably explained why it was a bit more expensive than I usually like to pay for a room.
The owner of the hotel is a man called Braňo Hronec who was a Czechoslovakian jazz musician and pop star in the 1970’s and there were some heavily moustachioed Brotherhood of Man look-alike photographs of him on one wall of the hotel reception. Apparently he recorded three long play records before fading quickly into obscurity as a conductor of the Slovak Television Dance Orchestra in the 1980s and finally becoming a hotel proprietor of the Hotel No. 16. As a pop star he is remembered in Slovakia chiefly because in the mid 1960s he established his own jazz sextet, pioneering the use of the then rare and expensive Hammond organ, and for releasing some cover versions of popular songs like ‘Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In’, but most of all for a version of Christie’s smash pop hit ‘Yellow River’ with Slovak lyrics. I bet that was good, but I’ve been unable to locate a copy, even on e-bay!
Although it was late in the evening we took the fifteen minute walk into the city and found a modern bar/restaurant that was still serving, but only just, and we enjoyed our first Slovakian meal and the local beer, Zlaty Bažant, that was so nice that I for one had two. It was quite late now so we returned to the hotel that was at the top of a quite steep hill and after a long day and a final brisk walk we retired to bed and looked forward to exploring the city the following day.