Gap Semester

Vegging Out, Bratislava-style {or, culture and couscous and cafés, oh my!}

After a 3.5 hour train ride from Hungary, I found myself in the quirky little capital of Slovakia, in a seemingly deserted hostel. For those who don’t know, last March I participated in (and won!) the Model NATO Challenge representing Slovakia, and consequently learned a great deal about Slovakian history and policy, as well as having the chance to meet the Slovak representatives in NATO’s North Atlantic Council and ride on the Slovak float in the Parade of Nations.  {see That Time Terorists Took Over Europe}

This young country holds a special place in my heart after five intensive hours of arguing for her interests, so I was particularly excited to finally get to visit Bratislava.


fall colors


Bratislava is an interesting mix of old European charm and not-quite-as-old Communist Brutalism. My first afternoon was spent ducking into a small, New Age shop to avoid the commencement of a long-promised downpour. This resulted in the purchase of a few crystals and learning some phrases in Slovak from the friendly local girl at the counter.


omnomnom {excuse the terrible lighting, but it was too good not to document}

At her recommendation, I went to a very hip restaurant called Urban House for dinner and ordered the most delicious veggie burger I have ever had the privilege of tasting. I also enjoyed a homemade coconut cheesecake and a book, then walked back through the drizzle along the cobblestone streets of the old town, past bulbous spires tapering to thin points and chunky concrete Communist-era apartments buildings.

For the first time in over two months, I found myself the sole occupant of my room – which made for a good night’s sleep but little chance for meeting other backpackers. Luckily, I met some very cool people on the free walking tour the next morning.

my inner child is never hidden very deep – seesawing at the castle


The highlight of the tour was most definitely the Blue Church, which provided a nice contrast to the abandoned communist hospital across the street. Our guide, who grew up in Bratislava, seemed to embody the spirit of the city itself: blunt about its difficult past and current challenges, proud of the history of non-violent yet effective demonstrations, and hopeful of the direction the 22 year old country, as a whole, is moving in.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with my new-found friends from the tour, sampling traditional Slovak cuisine, exploring Hrad Castle, relaxing on rugs and poufs literally on the streets of the Old Town, introducing each other to new music, and finally eating another traditional meal at ‘the largest pub in Bratislava!’. After a fruitless search for ice cream in 50 degree Farenheit weather, we split ways and I returned to my suddenly crowded hostel to pack.

I’ve made one last trip to Urban House before heading out of the country, but I have the feeling this will not be the last time I find myself here in Slovakia.


Urban House does it again: spicy couscous & beans and a chai tea latte

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