The Buildings of the Emperor Justinian

During any trip around the south-eastern corner of Europe, there is a reasonable chance that you will encounter something that was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Among Roman emperors – and Byzantium essentially was Rome moved to the east – perhaps only Hadrian matched the zeal of Justinian for building things.

Hagia Sophia is, of course, the most famous of all Justinian’s projects, but travel around the Balkans in particular and somewhere there will be a church, a castle, an aqueduct, a bridge or a fragment of something that owes its existence to the Emperor.

The great basilica in Constantinople was, in fact, the third such built on the site. The first two were burned down and within weeks of the second catastrophe, Justinian had ordered a replacement, but on a scale never seen before. Almost unbelievably, the construction of the enormous church had been completed within six years (just think how long it took to build Wembley Stadium nearly 1500 years later). True, there was still artwork and mosaics to be added internally, but the achievement was truly phenomenal.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The model for the great building was the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus, better known as Little Hagia Sophia and completed in the year before the super-sized version. Eventually, the smaller church was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans, but lives on in the form of Küçük Ayasofya.

Little Hagia Sophia

Little Hagia Sophia

Some of the constructions are no longer with us. Another reconstructed church in Constantinople, the Church of the Holy Apostles is now the site of the magnificent Fatih Mosque. The triumphal Column of Justinian was demolished by the Ottomans in the 16th century. Justinian also rebuilt the Great Palace, little of which building survives, although happily many of its beautiful mosaics are preserved at the Great Palace Mosaic Museum in Istanbul.

Justinian wasn’t just about vanity projects, though. Something that lives on in modern Istanbul is the extraordinary Basilica Cistern, built during his reign to provide water to the Great Palace and other nearby buildings. Even today, the Topkapi Palace is served by the cistern. The cistern is almost a cathedral in itself, containing huge Greek and Roman style columns, two of which portray carved Medusa heads. Justinian also restored the Cistern of Philoxenos (or Binbirdirek in Turkish), which features 224 marble columns.

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Another basilica built under Justinian’s auspices is the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Among this church’s glorious collection of mosaics is the famous depiction of Justinian that seems to appear on just about any book devoted to the Byzantine Empire. Another mosaic features Justinian’s wife, the Empress Theodora.

Justinian mosaic at San Vitale

Justinian mosaic at San Vitale

Remnants of Justinian’s era are dotted around the Balkans. Tirana is a curious place, with its mixture of Chinese and Soviet style architecture interspersed with the odd Ottoman building, but near the centre of the city, you catch a tantalising glimpse of Kalaja Fortress, yet another of the Emperor’s projects. There is little left to see, but a few walls remain and possibly some archaeological remains, though it is impossible to be sure as the area is not open to the public.

Justinian was born near the present Macedonian capital Skopje, so it’s no great surprise to know that the imposing Kale Fortress that overlooks the city was built during the reign of that emperor. Like so many fortresses, castles and citadels, this particular edifice has been rebuilt and reconstructed many times, so the current building is rather different to the original, but its existence is once again due to Justinian.

Kale Fortress

Kale Fortress

With a touch of irony, while ancient statues and monuments to Justinian have gone, modern-day Skopje remembers the great emperor among the myriad statues that have sprung up in Macedonia Square in the past few years. In an even more ironical twist, the Justinian monument is of identical style to the nearby one of Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria, who spent much of his life engaged in almost constant warfare against a later Byzantine leader, Emperor Basil II.

It's that man again

It’s that man again

This leads us tidily to Sofia, where the St Sofia Church is the city’s second oldest. The church was built, at Justinian’s behest, at a similar time to Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) and ultimately – though not until the 14th century – was to give its name to the present Bulgarian capital.

St Sofia

St Sofia

Any Byzantine Emperor with aspirations of greatness (and Justinian was not a man riddled by self-doubt) desired to leave their mark in the Holy Land and Justinian’s contribution was the Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos, perched on top of Jerusalem’s Mount Zion. As a statement, this was pretty unequivocal, although a church so precariously situated was unlikely to have a huge life span and it duly crumbled under an earthquake some 200 years after its construction.

Across in Syria, however, there are remains of yet another Justinian construction. Qasr ibn Wardan was a defensive complex built in the Syrian desert and substantial parts of the palace and church are still beautifully preserved. The style of the building stands out almost incongruously against the desert, a building completely out of keeping with its surroundings.

Qasr ibn Wardan

Qasr ibn Wardan

Continuing into Egypt, one of the most famous buildings in the Middle East, St Catherine’s Monastery, is a further example. The basilica attached to the monastery bears an inscription dedicated to the memory of the Empress Theodora, who died shortly before the construction of the complex.

St Catherine's

St Catherine’s

Back in Istanbul, you may be told by guides (human or written) that the Galata Tower was one of Justinian’s buildings. This is quite simply wrong. The tower was built by the Genoese is 1348. There had been an old Byzantine tower at a different site, but the present Galata Tower has nothing to do with it or Justinian.

All emperors liked to leave their mark, whether their intentions were megalomaniac, dynastic or altruistic (or a combination thereof) and some did so more spectacularly than others. Justinian certainly did and his legacy can be seen all over the south east of Europe and sometimes beyond.

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Istanbul – Three Cities in One

Superficially, Istanbul is a tale of three cities; the original ancient Greek version, the great Imperial capital built by the Emperor Constantine and the modern capital city. Byzantion, Constantinople and Istanbul. That is to tell too simple a tale. Few places anywhere in the world have undergone the upheaval and changes of this extraordinary city.

Really, the best way to approach Istanbul is from the sea. That way, you can imagine the awe it must have inspired in medieval travellers as the great walls and buildings hoved into view. How those travellers must have stared in sheer wonder at the vast magnificence of Hagia Sophia as their ship sailed up the Bosphorus.

Sailing to Byzantium

Sailing to Byzantium

Historians will tell you, quite reasonably, that to understand the present, you must understand the past. Nowhere is this more pertinent than Istanbul. On this basis, a trip to the Archaeological Museum at an early stage of a visit is not a bad plan. There is a vast collection of Hittite, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Byzantine, Ottoman and just about any other kind of artefacts you could imagine, or possibly not imagine. The prize piece is the huge Alexander Sarcophagus, with its ornate carvings depicting Alexander about to hurl a spear at Persian cavalry on one side and hunting lions on the other.

The museum gives a glimpse of the city’s complex history and there are plenty of other places that attest to the varied nature of Istanbul’s past. The railway station combines the European and Oriental in its architecture and is worth seeing for that alone. The station started life as the terminus of the Orient Express and naturally, there is still a reminder of the legendary train in the name of the station’s restaurant. There is also a small museum at the station with diverse bits of Orient Express and other railway memorabilia.

One of the many must-see attractions is the Topkapi Palace, home to Ottoman Sultans and their evidently large entourages and staff. The palace was developed and added to over several centuries, with the result being a large number of buildings of varying styles. Of all the diverse collections, one of the most extraordinary is housed in the Imperial Treasury. This is jewellery at an in-your-face level, with plenty of gold to go with it. This is the sort of place that one can imagine being checked out by a suave international jewel thief (probably played by David Niven), devising some cunning plan (no doubt involving ropes and wires) to empty the collection.

Pavilion at Topkapi

Pavilion at Topkapi

The Obelisk of Theodosius is something that it’s impossible to miss, in any sense. The title is something of a misnomer, as it was originally made for the Egyptian Pharaoh Tuthmosis III and was part of the great temple of Karnak before the Roman emperor Constantius II had it moved to Alexandria in 357 CE. A later emperor, Theodosius I, moved it to the hippodrome in Constantinople in 390 CE. Only a section of the original survives, but at over 20 metres, it is still a stand-out object, not least because it looks so out of place. It has, though, been out of place for the best part of two millennia.

Theodosius Obelisk

Theodosius Obelisk

Across the Golden Horn lies the district of Galata, a Genoese colony in medieval times. It was the Genoese who built Galata Tower, visible from much of the city. The tower is essentially a tourist attraction these days, offering a splendid view across Istanbul, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. There is a café at the top, naturally rather expensive, but a nice place to enjoy the view for a while.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

Galata is part of the Beyoğlu area, still on the European side, but separated from the Constantinople part by the Golden Horn. It’s a very cosmopolitan district with a much more western feel to it. The main street, İstiklal, is permanently packed with shoppers, visitors, theatre-goers and seemingly just about everybody in Istanbul at times. There are stylish buildings covering a multitude of styles and old-fashioned little red trams clank up and down.

Beyoğlu and tram

Beyoğlu and tram

Beyoğlu is the home of Galatasaray, one of three hugely-supported football clubs in Istanbul. Another, Beşiktaş, is located just to the north. Across the Bosphorus, Fenerbahçe complete the triumvirate. Rivalries are, to put it mildly, intense, and those of a nervous disposition or easily scared by loud noise should avoid Turkish football in general and Istanbul derbies in particular.

Virtually across the road from the Beşiktaş Stadium is the Dolmabahçe Palace, which succeeded the Topkapi Palace as the main administrative centre of Ottoman rule in the 1850s. It’s an interesting mix of Baroque, Neo-Classical and Rococo, all incorporated into an Ottoman style. You can’t saunter around as you can at the Topkapi; you must take a guided tour. Be prepared for a dazzling overload of gold and crystal. At the front of the palace is a particularly impressive clock tower in a style that Istanbul seems to specialise in, a kind of Baroque meets Ottoman.

Dolmabahçe clock

Dolmabahçe clock

Istanbul always has the capacity to surprise and for a first-time visitor, the shock can come from the air. A loud screech and a tell-tale flash of bright green mean one thing: ring-necked parakeets. These noisy and colourful birds are a common sight in Istanbul. Originally common to tropical parts of Africa and Asia, the adaptable parrots have colonised a number of European cities including London, Barcelona and Brussels. Gülhane Park, where many of the parakeets hang out, is also the location for a vast treetop heronry.

Eating and drinking can be expensive, though it doesn’t have to be. As usual, keeping away from the obvious tourist areas keeps the price down. There are some good little restaurants tucked away under the bridges that span the Golden Horn. Even in the more central areas, you can still get a decent deal. For ten quid, you can get a soup, main course and a couple of beers, which is pretty respectable. Even so the American couple who asked us for advice were probably being a bit optimistic. Where, they asked, could they get something to eat and drink for ten lira? Well, you could try Albania.

It’s best not to expect too much from Turkish beer. Efes is ubiquitous and at least the draught version is a deal more palatable than the bottled or (shudder) canned. Efes Dark is an interesting concoction, though it is probably best approached as a drink to have at the end of an evening. A rather vigorous 6.1% ABV, it’s a dark brown beer with a slightly nutty taste and not too much sweetness, slightly reminiscent of a strong brown ale.

Istanbul is the sort of place you could spend a long time in without seeing everything, but even if you’re only there for two or three nights, you can cram a lot in. Quite a lot of the ‘must see’ places are within a quick walk of each other; for example, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Theodosius Column and Topkapi Palace are all pretty much adjacent. There’s a good array of public transport, too, from little trams to big ferry boats, to get you around.

There are myriad reasons to go to Istanbul. You don’t have to be an aficionado of Byzantine history, though a little understanding is never a bad thing.

Dubrovnik – where the Balkans meet the Mediterranean

Dubrovnik is overloaded in the summer months. It is not a large city and the beautiful little Old Town gets seriously busy. So here’s an idea – take a trip there in the winter. As long as you’re not desperate for a sun tan, there’s a lot to recommend it.

For one thing, the place is quiet and it’s very easy to stroll around, see what you want to see and take photos without feeling hemmed in. For another, the hotels are virtually empty at this time of year and often offer discounts. Lastly, the temperatures are usually pretty mild and even in December, it’s common enough to have double figures. You’re not going to get baked, but you’re highly unlikely to freeze, either.

Strolling around is the perfect pastime for Dubrovnik. Staying out of town in one of the many hotels on the Lapad Peninsula west of the city is a good option. If you’re not out on the far reaches, it doesn’t take to long to wander into town, but either way, there are frequent and very cheap buses that will take you to the very edge of the Old Town.

Duck cam view of Stradun, the main street

Duck cam view of Stradun, the main street

One thing you’ll want to do is take a walk around the walls of the city, something else that is a much more civilised experience when things are quiet. It provides some splendid views and provides you with some useful historical information on the way. One uncomfortable piece of modern history can be gleaned by looking at Dubrovnik’s roof tops: they are look remarkably similar. That’s because they were all repaired at the same time following the nine-month siege of the city between 1991 and 1992.

View from the city walls

View from the city walls

Dubrovnik doesn’t have any ‘wow’ museums, but there’s still plenty of interest to be found. The Maritime Museum reflects the history of the Republic of Ragusa, as Dubrovnik was known, and the feuds and battles with Venice across the Adriatic. One thing that British visitors might note as they look around the museum is the sheer number of the featured ships that were build in Britain; the museum almost serves as a monument to the British shipbuilding industry. A ticket to the Maritime Museum also allows access to other, smaller museums nearby. One is the pleasant little Ethnographic Museum on the site of the city’s former granary. The other is the Rector’s Palace, the residence of the Rector of Ragusa in medieval times. It doesn’t quite attain the grandeur of the Doges’ Palace in Venice, but the building is an interesting mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance and has a Venetian look to it. It also houses a small and slightly ramshackle museum.

Rector's Palace

Rector’s Palace

While the Lapad Peninsula is well stocked with hotels, there are still plenty of open spaces and places to walk. It’s possible to walk around the peninsula, though you have to circumnavigate the odd hotel. Another good walk is up to Velika Petka, a hill thick with pine trees. The climb to the top is not too strenuous and offers a splendid view of the whole peninsula. Either of these walks offers decent opportunities for spotting birds. What you might spot is rather dependent on the season, but there is always something to see. During this particular visit, the number of human tourists may have been few, but the grey wagtail visitors were present in large numbers.

View from the top of Velika Petka

View from the top of Velika Petka

It’s easy to forget that you’re in eastern Europe sometimes. Walking around in the middle of December with orange trees in full fruit makes you wonder for a moment if you’ve strayed into Morocco. The buildings, too, tell of a varied past, with a synagogue, a mosque and a Serbian Orthodox church all within a short distance of each other in the central area. There is also a plethora of churches, led by the lovely Baroque cathedral.

When it comes to food, not surprisingly fish restaurants abound. There’s something for everyone, though. Dubrovnik gets masses of visitors and there are restaurants to cater for all tastes. Prices vary considerably and it’s understandable that it’s a bit pricey in the Old Town. Away from the centre, food and drink can be very cheap indeed.

Croatian wine doesn’t get exported much, but there’s plenty of it and much of it is very good, as well as inexpensive. The same applies to beer and you’ll find a variety of brews and styles. Drinking local beer is always guaranteed to be cheaper, wherever you go, and it also seems a great deal more civilised. It always seems somewhat impolite to visit a country and drink stuff from other places.

It’s pretty hard to avoid rakija (or variants thereof) anywhere in the Balkans and the Adriatic Coast is no exception. In fact, the area seems to have even more types of the stuff than just about anywhere else, with all of the Dalmatian islands having their own particular concoction.

One drawback of visiting in the winter is that visiting the islands isn’t quite as easy as during the rest of the year. Croatia has more than a thousand on its Adriatic coast, so there’s no shortage of possibilities. The advantage in winter is, of course, that if you can arrange a boat trip, you won’t have to battle with the crowds of summer.

Travellers to Dubrovnik should note that the city is not accessible by train. There is, though, an airport and the bus ride from there to the city is probably one of the most scenic you’re likely to find when it comes to travelling to or from an airport. Airport buses usually make their way past dismal industrial estates and retail parks. This one gives you the splendour of the Adriatic coast.

Our preference would be to avoid Dubrovnik in the summer, but – as with everything else – it comes down to personal choice. The winter offers a look at the city at its quietest, but not everyone wants peace and quiet. It is, though, quite a delight to take a photo of a completely empty square at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon when you know for certain that it would have been jam-packed a few months earlier.

Riga – City of Parks

It’s difficult to know where to start when considering the delights of Riga, but one of the first things that strikes a visitor is the sheer amount of green space in the city. Most capitals have their parks – London has plenty, for example – but perhaps the effect is intensified by the fact that Riga is not a huge place.

There is green space everywhere and at the heart of it is Bastejkalns (Bastion Hill), with its lovely park and winding Pilsetas Canal. Like most of Riga, the park is beautifully kept and free of rubbish and it’s delightful to stroll around or take a rest. The park also houses the unmistakable and defiant Freedom Monument, known locally as ‘Milda’. In front of the monument is the equally distinctive Laima Clock, erected in 1924 so that people wouldn’t be late for work.

Bastejkalns

Bastejkalns

For fans of Art Nouveau, Riga is a must. Most of these buildings were built for private rather than public use and the majority are in the Old Town. The is even an Art Nouveau Museum, appropriately situated in the former house of the architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns, who was responsible for many of the hundreds of Art Nouveau buildings in the city. It is largely because of the quantity and quality of the architecture that the centre of Riga was designated as a UN World Heritage site.

You can't have enough Art Nouveau

You can’t have enough Art Nouveau

There is an intense irony in that Riga’s ugliest building is the site of the Museum of the Occupation. This truly horrible building appears to have been designed by a Soviet architect who needed to dispose of a job lot of large grey Lego bricks. The museum itself is a moving and disturbing memorial to a people who were occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War and the Soviet Union thereafter. There seems to be a constant debate about the use of the building, but somehow it seems an apposite location.

Museum of the Occupation

Museum of the Occupation

A far more pleasing building comes in the shape of the neo-Byzantine Orthodox Cathedral. It’s a distinctive sight, with its typically Orthodox onion domes standing out across the city. It has been substantially restored after being turned into a planetarium during the Soviet era. There are also Lutheran and Catholic cathedrals in Riga. The Lutheran version is especially with its tall tower and the building features on postcards and many a pretty little biscuit or sweet tin. It’s also the largest church in the Baltic region.

We love onion domes

We love onion domes

By the bank of the Daugara River sits the much renovated and rebuilt Riga Castle. Sadly, it is having to undergo yet more restoration work as a result of a recent fire. This means that the excellent National History Museum is presently closed. It’s also worth noting that the National Art Museum is undergoing rebuilding as well. Thankfully, Riga is not short of museums and galleries, so there should be enough to keep even the most enthusiastic culture fiend happy.

At the quirkier end of the museum spectrum, the Latvian Railway History Museum is not just for the trainspotters. It’s a nicely put together collection of all things railway and is a treasure trove for the social historian. The museum is on the left bank of the river across the Stone Bridge. Near to the museum is the new National Library, a curious white pyramid of a building.

A visit to the Baltic would not be complete without garlic and Riga has the wonderful Ķiploku Krogs restaurant. Every dish contains garlic and that includes the desserts. It’s also a great place to have a drink and a nice option is to have a garlic tapas washed down with some dark Latvian beer. One drawback, admittedly, is that the experience means your breath is likely to be able to fell an elephant at 100 metres, but luckily elephants are extremely scarce in Latvia.

Happily, breweries are not scarce and Latvia retains a decent number of independent and micro-breweries. There is also a reasonable variety of beers, from lightweight lagers to dark lagers, bocks and Baltic porters. Some breweries are owned by groups, though this doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. The Lacplesis brewery, for example, is owned by a large Danish group, but the beers are unpasteurised and of a good quality. Piebalgas, an independent brewery, is also worth looking out for. They produce a very tasty dark lager.

There’s no shortage of places to stop for a drink. It’s a little more expensive to sit in a bar in the main square, but it’s fun to linger for an hour or two and watch the array of performers, chancers, locals and visitors that pass before you. A beer in one of the many park bars will be cheaper and it always feels very civilised to be able to sit around with a glass of beer at half past ten in the evening in a public park. It seems almost inconceivable that you can indulge in this way in the UK. No doubt, after a few minutes, drunken imbeciles would start brawling and causing mayhem.

On that rather depressing note, Riga has become something of a magnet for the retards who feel the need to drink themselves into near oblivion and make live miserable for everybody within about a mile’s radius. These are, of course, the stag weekenders. Cheap flights and cheap beer are not only appealing to the more civilised end of humanity, so if you’re looking for three or four days in Riga, avoiding a weekend might be a decent idea. That said, normal people have no desire to rush into the nearest faux-English pub or McDonald’s and your average retard is unlikely to disturb your museum visit, but it’s harder to avoid idiots in a small city.

Despite the occasional influx from the brain dead, Riga remains one of Europe’s more charming cities and is worth visiting at any time of year. For the sheer magnificence of its buildings and the peaceful beauty of its parks, Riga is, perhaps, Europe’s most attractive capital.

Bratislava – Street Art and Style

Sometimes, you hear the view espoused that Bratislava is a kind of poor man’s Prague, a pale imitation of the real thing. Yes, it’s quite nice, but Prague is the place you really want to visit. Bratislava is okay for a few hours, they’ll tell you, but nothing more than that.

This view is not only lazy, but plain wrong. For one thing, Bratislava is nearer to Vienna than it is to the Czech capital, the two cities being Europe’s closest capitals. For another, and more important factor, Bratislava has its own distinct character, with a few delightful quirks that give it an individual style.

One way to enjoy a stay in central Bratislava without incurring too much expense is to stay on a boat. There are several ‘botels’ moored on the Danube and apart from being near the centre, the experience offers novelty value. Unless, of course, you happen to live on a boat.

One sight on the river that you can’t miss – in any sense – is the UFO Bridge. Its real title is the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising and though it looks rather 21st-century, it was, in fact, completed in 1972. You can go up to the top of the ‘spacecraft’ via a lift (unless you really want to walk up 430 steps) and have a coffee or a meal in the restaurant. From there, you get a fantastic view of the city and if you sit still for long enough, you find yourself looking at a different part because the place revolves (very slowly, thankfully). In the evenings, it becomes a nightclub.

The UFO

The UFO

Another place to provide a panoramic view is the castle, which affords a sight of the city of Bratislava, but of neighbouring Austria as well. Like many European castles, this one has undergone much rebuilding and restoration, resulting in a mix of styles from Gothic and Renaissance through to Baroque. The site houses the current Parliament building, a rather dismal grey box of concrete, and also the Museum of History and Music Museum.

Bratislava (duck cam view)

Bratislava (duck cam view)

One of the remaining parts of the medieval fortifications of the city is St. Michael’s Gate. The lovely Baroque tower houses a small museum and at the top, there is another wonderful viewing point. Bratislava does scenic views very well.

The Castle

The Castle

The street below the gate is, apparently, one of the most expensive in Europe and clearly designed for those with far too much money. Designer names abound on the shops and the restaurants are not for those of us looking for good value. A quick departure to a place of more modest ambition is required and there are plenty of those, even in the central parts of the city. It’s not hard to find somewhere to refuel for a fraction of the cost of the area around St Michael’s.

Something that costs nothing at all is an exploration of one of Bratislava’s endearing traits, street sculpture. A figure appears from a manhole in the street; a shady-looking paparazzo snaps passers-by outside a restaurant; a Napoleonic soldier leans nonchalantly on the back of a bench in the main square. In Hviezdoslav Square, you’ll also bump into a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, who was so complimentary about Bratislava that the favour was returned.

As you might expect, Slovakia is big on beer (one thing it does have in common with Prague). There are the usual international conglomerates and there is a fair amount of Czech beer to be found, but there is also a pleasing growth of micro-breweries and brew pubs. A good example of a proper, no-nonsense pub with its own brewery is Pivovarský Hostinec Richtár Jakub, which is near the university and which sells not only its own beer, but a range of guest beers from elsewhere.

There is no shortage of places to have a good drink and even in the central part of town, it doesn’t have to be expensive. One option, particularly in the summer, is to find a little bar down by the river and sit outside with a very cheap glass of beer while watching the evening sun go down.

Bratislava’s proximity to Vienna is reflected in the culture of music, theatre, opera and ballet. Just near the watching statue of Andersen, the ‘old’ National Theatre building in the Old Town is a glorious neo-Renaissance affair dating from the 1880s and the Austro-Hungarian days. Sadly, the use of this theatre is being overtaken by the ‘new’ National Theatre, which took more than twenty years to build and finally opened in 2007. Presumably, such a length of time was required to design and construct a building as hideous as this.

The main square

The main square

Mercifully, though, there is more to Bratislava than the odd hideous building. These things happen in any city and sometimes, buildings are so bad that they become attractions of their own. Bratislava’s sights, museums, restaurants, bars, parks and streets are a match for anywhere in Europe, all with the bonus of the magnificent Danube at its heart. Don’t for a minute believe all that stuff about Bratislava being merely Prague’s poorer little brother.