My 5: Bratislava.


Schöner Náci, September 2002. I’ll never forget the magical year I spent in Slovakia’s gritty capital. Although a relatively small city, upon arrival it felt like I’d been dropped into some gargantuan Soviet bloc jungle where a dense concoction of dark, grey and unsmiling was the order of the day. Thankfully, the city’s tight compact old town saved the day with its historical buildings, artsy cafes and grungy bar scene. A collection of cutesy historic statues added much to the district’s enchantment too. This one stands in honour of Ignac Lamar, a renowned Bratislava vagrant whom the locals supported with free food and occasional cleaning work. Famously friendly and charming, if not a little mad, he was a regular city sight. Strolling around in his tails and top hat, he would greet everyone he passed and never gave up an opportunity to kiss a lady’s hand.

The Paparazzi Statue, September 2002. Paparazzi was one of Bratislava’s swankiest restaurants, though us English teachers never actually made it there for a meal. This guy, commissioned by the restaurant itself, was another popular old town landmark. A few years back I was saddened to hear the restaurant had closed down. Horrifically, the owners took the statue away with them!!! I’m not sure if it’s since made a comeback, but I was encouraged to read that city officials were trying to negotiate its return.

Štadión Pasienky, September 2002. Essentially it was the people that made my Bratislava year such a memorable one. By far the most fun, carefree, shenanigan-laden twelve months of my life, the people I shared it with have since taken on an almost mythical status in my psyche. This was an early shot taken just a few weeks into the year. We’d gone to see a god-awful football match between ŠK Slovan Bratislava and Košice, which turned into an excellent opportunity to ignore the game and get to know each other. There was Andrew Reynolds (green sweater) a northern Englishman with an anti-monarchy stance (“string ‘em all up!”) and a penchant for bear impressions. Jessie and Caroline (front row) from Washington State were two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, while some ten years later Irish Mike (white/brown jumper) and I wrote a screenplay together, an Amsterdam-based comedy drama called Red Light. Ben meanwhile (far right) became one of my closest friends, a perennially grumpy but warmhearted son of Doncaster who turned me onto Bob Dylan. And then there was Sladjana…. sweet, sexy, confusing Sladjana… the girl who stole my heart and refused to give it back.

The Dubliner Irish Pub, December 2002. We inhabited numerous bars that year and our two favorites were the legendary Slovak Pub on Obchodna Street and this lively Irish bar on Sedlárska. I remember being distinctly unimpressed the first time we went to Friday night karaoke. The singers took themselves so seriously and were way too polished, hogging the stage with multiple performances. Plus every other song seemed to be Robbie Williams’ Angels! Happily, when Rich (my Californian flat mate) and I stood up and belted out Don’t Let Me Down by The Beatles, the audience seemed to really respond. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that Don’t Let Me Down Friday became a tradition.

The Mask Party, February 2003. Winter in Bratislava heralded the beginning of party season, with people taking it in turns to host. There was a Cheese and Wine Party, which felt very grown up, though sophistication levels suitably plummeted for The White Trash Party, a parade of mullets, sideburns, thongs and affected southern accents. This early morning shot was taken at the infamous Mask Party, my handmade mask having been discarded somewhere in the apartment. I have long forgotten what Bagman and I were talking about, but it looks like it was an intense conversation. 

For more on my adventures in the country, take a look at My 5s from around Slovakia.

You can also enjoy my short story series:

The Slovak Files.

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