Call me geographically inept, but when I sought some travel advice from a friend while planning a spring trip to Vienna he suggested taking a day trip to Bratislava. Puzzled and slightly embarrassed, I pulled out a map to confirm the exact location of this Slovakian city. This is a country I never really put on my travel list, but in the spirit of adventure I told my husband that we needed to make a day trip to Slovakia’s capitol during our vacation. Early one morning we jumped onto the train near our apartment and headed east to the neighboring country. By this point we both felt like seasoned locals and tried to do our best “no big deal” faces while transferring from the U-bahn to REX which took us into Slovakia. That face basically consists of blank stares and sunglasses. The train pulled into a tiny station with a giant sign reading “Welcome to Slovakia” and pretty much beyond that point we were left to navigate the streets on our own while contemplating every Slovak street sign we encountered. The city center is straight from a Medieval movie set, but of course this set actually weathered the years of changing communities, wars, and re-building. It’s a beautiful, eye-catching, and storied city, but small, and after a few hours wandering the angled cobblestone streets I felt that morning pastry and coffee wear off. As part of the adventure, the evening before our day trip my husband and I sparked up a conversation with an artist who was from Bratislava, small world, yes. He guided us to the local bars and cafes he frequented when back at home and in a broken German, English, Slovak hybrid we exchanged farewells, thank you’s, and friendly remarks.
The trek to our local destination took us through a few interesting spots of the city and I started to get that little uneasy feeling after leaving the haven of the tourist stops and onto the skinny apartment lined streets. There were a few stares and a lot of over the shoulder glances, but right when our hunger peaked and we were ready to turn around, our recommended cafe appeared revealing a large window decal reading “U Kubistu“. A few tables outside led to a clean white and minimally designed interior, something we would see at home tucked among the hidden streets of Silverlake or East Los Angeles. A long row of tables ended with an exposed kitchen where one chef was turning out plates of fresh local food. In another corner a group of friends were chatting over daytime cocktails, while a couple was flipping through some of the old books offered on the windowsill. A peek at the menu at U Kubistu and my healthy mindset was pleasantly surprised to find familiar plates like lentils cooked with green onions and spring lettuce along with goat cheese grilled with balsamic vinegar. Their local classics were also far from what I expected as we indulged in a rich potato based soup and a dense flatbread before switching to the lighter fare. My husband and I felt like we had stumbled into a California cafe by way of Bratislava, a neighborhood gem that was well designed and youthful. We kept repeating how happy we were to find something off the beaten path, a tucked away cafe that we were rewarded after exploring beyond the tourist borders.
After a refreshing meal we made our way back to the train station, pleasantly smiling as we continued to marvel at our local find. The residential streets didn’t seem so ominous and we even passed locals without those awkward exchange of glances. Once we reached the train station the same giant sign that welcomed us into the country felt a little more personal as we headed west back to our temporary home in Vienna.