Monday, February 4, 2013

The Beautiful Beaches of Bratislava

There are a lot of nice beaches around Bratislava.

That sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?  When my Couchsurfer told me she was taking me to the beach for the day, I though she had perhaps drank too many slivovica shots.  Slovakia is a landlocked country known for its mountains and snow.  The thought of a beach here sounds absurd.

Use your imagination.  Go to Bratislava in the summer and there are several nice places where you can lay your towel in the sand, grab a cold drink, get a nice tan and then cool off later with a dip in the water.  And don't worry, there will plenty of nice girls to look at.  This is Slavic Europe.

1. T-com Beach
T-Com Beach is on the opposite side of the Dunaj River from downtown Bratislava.  If it's not June, July or August don't go looking for it because it doesn't exist in the winter.  During the summer months construction crews dump several tons of sand on the riverside and contain it all in wooden partitions.  After that they set up beach chairs, umbrellas and several fancy, stand-alone cafes on top of the sand.  If you want to feel glamorous and have a good view of the Old Town, cross the New Bridge and pick out a spot.

2. Zlaty Piesky
Zlaty Piesky is a small resort with a lake located on the city limits of Bratislava.  Whenever I felt inspired to pull out my guitar and write a song, I would go out here to clear my head.  Take the red tram line 4 all the way to the last stop where Tesco is.  This lake is more relaxed and less glamorous than T-com, but is a great area for camping, picnics and the occasional music festival like the Uprising Reggae Festival.  If you don't feel like jumping in the lake, the surrounding park has places for volleyball, street hockey, tennis and mini-golf.

3. Čunovo Lake
Čunovo is an excellent choice for a short day-trip to get away from the "big" city.  From the city center you can take any connecting route to Bus 91 and you will be at the lake within 50 minutes.  If you want a more scenic trip, rent a bike and follow the Dunaj River south from Bratislava.  I was fortunate enough to have a Couchsurfer with a car.  During the trip south I was looking at a map and realized the road on the other side of the tree grove was where I had painfully crossed the Hungarian-Slovak border the previous day.

It was a hot August day and after parking the car, we immediately jumped into the cool lake.  My host told me that the lake isn't natural and used to be an old rock mine that was later filled in with water.  This may explain an island which is unnaturally located in the exact middle of the lake.  We were both feeling fit and decided to swim to the island.  It took some some effort but eventually we made it to the shore and laid down to dry off in the sun.

Since Couchsurfing is by nature a traveling network, people often meet at random, talk briefly and then leave so quickly that they hardly have time to get to know each other.  You feel like a pinball bouncing from place to place without ever truly stopping.  Barely 24 hours had passed since I had hitchhiked from Budapest, arrived at her place exhausted, made introductions and then promptly passed out on her guest bed.  She had been kind enough to take me down here to this pleasant, scenic corner of Slovakia that only yesterday had looked like hell on earth.  I took a moment to look at this lady and consider exactly who she was.

But not too many moments.  She's in a swimsuit and that would be weird...*ahem*...

She was what I would call a classic Slovak lady: tall, thin, and quiet with a pretty face which made her look much younger than her years suggested.  She had lived in the United States for a while and it had given her a different perspective on the rather traditional life of Slovakia.  We chatted about our respective travels but spent much of the time in quiet reflection. Čunovo Lake will do that to a person.

I needed the peace and quiet.  In another 24 hours I would be hosting my own, rowdy Bratislava Reunion Concert.  

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