Eastern Bloc. 1980's, communism, red flags, old hooded women with bread baskets, big walls and grey skies. Well that's exactly what it felt like on the bus ride from Bratislava airport into the main part of the city where we would be dropped off. One of the first things that became apparent was the amount of graffiti plastered everywhere in this city, if your arm could reach high enough then there was a slogan or picture and it didn't look like anyone was making any attempt to remove it. 'Bratislava Bad Boys' was a popular one, I later learned this was the local Football firm from Slovan Bratislava who are this biggest club in the country. Along with the grey and light pastel coloured council blocks reaching 20 to 30 stories high my first impressions weren't reigning in any preconceptions I may have had for what Slovakia might be like.
Thankfully first impressions aren't everything though and we decided to go for lunch and found a nice little cafe that was apparently a social community project. It was a coffee shop combined with a library and listening to the conversations from other tables the clientele appeared to be from all corners of the globe. I overheard a couple talking and the young guy was Filipino on a date with a local Slovakian girl, when a Filipino waitress started talking to him in English about how he had come to be over here. He'd met her on the internet and this was their first meeting in the flesh. The walls of my preconceptions were crumbling around me at the increasing cosmopolitan realisation of this city! Being so close to central Europe and a gateway to the east has probably helped but the exit from communist rule and the rise of globalisation has got it's teeth into this corner of Eastern Europe.
Later in the day we wandered into the old town and there was all that graffiti again, in this genuinely beautiful and significant part of town it was everywhere. It looked like Banksy and his mates might have been over here and had a skin full of the strong local 20p lager then got the spray paint out. Whether they had tried and failed in the past to clean it up I'm not sure, but it was a shame to see these fantastic old buildings covered in neon pink with some nineteen year old locals name tag on a 14th century door.
Our next few days were spent eating very cheap but for me surprisingly tasty and stodgy local dishes alongside a good few of those cheap beers. I liked Bratislava and I like countries that haven't been around very long. England is old, lots of old money, old fashioned people and old ways of thinking. Slovakia reminded me of Croatia in that people seem genuinely proud of their independence and having a country to call their own. It has a feel that the young people can shape the place for the future and have a real bearing on where it is heading. The old communist bread carriers are a dying breed and it I really got the feel that the young iPhone carrying generation of kids want to be part of modern day Europe. It's proximity to Vienna no doubt helps with progress but it is a place living in two eras but probably not for long!