I barely slept last night because the heat right now is so miserable. I'm from South Carolina, I'm used to extreme heat (albeit, with widely available air conditioning). But this is something else - this is Lucifer. It's particularly bad in my room, which has no ventilation and a window that lets in all the sun light, making it so much worse. So when my alarm went off this morning, it took every ounce of will power to force myself out of bed instead of trying to get a few more hours of sweaty sleep. But I did get up and made it into the city centre in time for the 11:00 Bratislava free walking tour.
I love free walking tours for three reasons. One, they are free. FREE. (Though you can and probably should tip the guides because that's how they make money, but no one but you has to live with that if you don't, so it's up to you). Don't tell me backpacking has to be expensive. Two, it's a great way to get an overview of the city. Not only to orientate yourself geographically, but also to the history and culture. The guides generally love it when you ask questions and they are locals, you get an insiders perspective on the things you want to know about. And three, other backpackers tend to do them so it's a chance to meet new people because no one is pretending that you don't get lonely from time to time while solo travelling. I talked with a few different folks (including the guide) throughout the tour as we were walking between sites and it was really nice to have an actual conversation with someone since the only people I've talked to in person the past few days have been waiters, hostel staff, ticket sales people, and random strangers that I've asked for directions.
Anyway. The tour was wonderful (shoutout to Simona!) and I learned so much about the history of Slovakia and Bratislava. I won't go into every single stop we made, but give you some of my favourite parts. We started in Hviezdoslav Square, one of the most popular areas of the city.
The Statue of Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, a famous Slovak poet and translator for whom the square is named after, is the focal point of the area with lots of fountains and benches surrounding him. Later in the day this area was packed with people.
Directly across from Pavol is the Slovak National Theatre that was built in 1885, and right next to him is the Carlton Hotel where Theodore Roosevelt once stayed. Speaking of American presidents, apparently (and unsurprisingly...) George W. Bush confused Slovenia and Slovakia when doing a state visit to Slovakia in 2005. 'Murica! Within the square is also a statue of Hans Christian Anderson, a famous Danish author. So why does he have a statue in Bratislava? He once said something nice about the country. That's it.
Along the way we also passed by St. Martin's Cathedral, the largest church in Bratislava. It was also the coronation church for the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830 and if you look closely, you can see a crown at the top of the steeple (sorry I don't have a great zoom with my camera lens and lenses are expensive af).
While the history and culture and everything was great, hands down my favourite part of the tour was this little guy: Čumil.
Apparently a truck accidentally ran over him once, decapitating him in the process. Thankfully they were able to save him, and now a street sign is placed next to him in an effort to protect him.
Towards the end of the 2.5 hour tour (we covered a LOT), we ended up at the Slovak National Uprising Square, which was a site of protests and rallies during the 20th century that were significant in the fall of communism in Slovakia.
To finish off the tour was Church of St. Elisabeth, or, more commonly, the Blue Church. Can you guess why it's called that?
Since the tour was 2.5 hours and started at 11:00 AM, lunch was much needed so I found a reasonably priced restaurant and ate my weight bacon, sheep's cheese dumplings. And what better way to help digest such a heavy meal than a relaxing afternoon by the Danube River, across from Bratislva Castle, and next to the SNP Bridge?
When I finally felt like I could move, I made my way back across the river to trek up Bratislava Castle. The view from up top is pretty incredible. Across the river you can see Austria in the distance (with the wind turbines that you can barely see), and to the south and across the river is Hungary.
At this point I was sweating profusely and exhausted. So I headed back to my hostel to throw on my swim clothes and head to Zlaté Piesky, a small lake on the northeastern edge of the city. My hostel happens to be about a 15 minute walk away, but it's easily accessible by public transportation. You can go to the "official" park for €2 and deal with lots of tourists and crowded beaches, or do what I did and go to the other side where it's practically deserted except for a few locals.
After relaxing and cooling off here for a bit, I decided to wander over to the nudist beach a little further north to take a dip. I've never been to a nudist beach before and my gender dysphoria and self-consciousness made me not want to try. But I said fuck it because I will never see any of these people again. Plus, how many people can say they've been to a nudist beach in Slovakia? Once I got over my initial hesitation, it was so liberating and nice just to enjoy the coolness of the water after a long and very hot day. Trans people - myself included - often avoid swimming and other situations when our bodies are exposed and it felt great to be able to claim a space for me to embrace the discomfort and find liberation with being uncomfortable. So while this was my first time at a nudist beach, it probably won't be my last time.