Ask Bridget Brink to name the downsides of life in Bratislava, and her answer is simple: “I just don’t have any.”
The US ambassador came to Slovakia more than a year ago, and it was not difficult, in her opinion, to get used to life in the capital, nor to Slovak culture.
“From my perspective, it’s a fantastic city, fantastic country, easy to live in, lots to explore,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s been a year already.”
Despite devoting her career to Europe and supporting Slovakia's entry to NATO between 2002 and 2004, her first hands-on experience with the country began with her arrival in Bratislava as ambassador last August.
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“I have been to almost all other countries in Europe but Slovakia,” said Brink, adding it was thus fitting to end up in Bratislava.
“I really love the beauty of the city,” she added.
For her work, which includes lots of trips and meetings in Bratislava and across the country, she has managed to learn a lot about Slovakia. Only after her arrival in the capital, for instance, did she learn about the efforts to rename Bratislava to Wilsontown - honouring US President Woodrow Wilson - in 1918.
“Woodrow Wilson and the efforts by Slovak Americans to push for independence of then-Czechoslovakia are really important part of our shared history, and something I wasn’t that familiar with until I became ambassador,” Brink claimed. “I’m proud of that.”
Even though she did not start her post with a list of places that she wanted to visit, she was soon given such a list. Bratislava Castle, as well as other castles, art museums, and prominent places in Bratislava and around Slovakia are included.
“I still have many places to go on that list,” Brink noted, adding that the coronavirus pandemic has slowed her plans.
Almost like D.C.
The American ambassador grew up in a city much smaller than Bratislava. However, she sees cultural parallels between her town and the Slovak capital.
“Community and family are very important. Nature, too,” claimed Brink. She later moved to Washington D.C. because of her work though.
It is the US capital that Bratislava reminds her of: “Washington D.C. is a manageable place that feels like a small town [compared to bustling New York City]. Bratislava reminds me, in some sense, of that smaller-town place.”
In Slovakia’s capital, one of the things the ambassador likes to do is visit cafes and restaurants by the Danube. However, she has not yet found her favourite.
“It’s amazing to see how the city has been able to use the potential of the Danube,” said Brink.
The history of Bratislava is another reason that she fell in love with the capital. The ambassador especially feels the city’s past when strolling up and down the old Bratislava streets and squares.
“I love how Bratislava has really wonderful pedestrian zones,” she said. “I don’t know if Slovaks see that themselves the way I see it as an American.”
Cycling in Železná studienka
Living now next to one of Bratislava’s public parks, Horský park, the Michigan-born ambassador said: “One of the things that I really like about Bratislava, and Slovakia in general, but it’s really nice in the capital, is there are a lot of green spaces.”
She often sets out on walks and bike trips to the Bratislava hill of Kamzík and to the recreational area of Železná studienka - with rich history of mills - at the border of the Small Carpathians protected area.
“I really enjoy national parks,” Brink went on. “It’s a very joyful memory of my childhood.”
In Slovakia, she has visited most of its national parks; a picture in which she poses with a ground squirrel in Muránska planina, Slovakia’s smallest national park, provides strong evidence.
Her family also enjoys skiing in Slovak mountains and has become especially fond of Slovak ice-hockey. The ambassador herself has been to some of the Slovan Bratislava ice-hockey games, and her son is enthusiastic about playing ice-hockey.
“If he can become a professional hockey player, that’d be probably his first dream,” she laughed, warmly, again.
Slovak art and Bratislava bands
Although Brink loves travelling out to Slovak regions to connect with locals, she enjoys her time in Bratislava equally. It is the capital that provides her with plenty of opportunities to visit art museums, which she loves dearly.
“I really love art, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed in every place where I have served,” the ambassador said, adding that the ship-shaped Danubiana art museum in Bratislava is special for its location and architecture.
Outside the city, she enjoyed the Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce.
Moreover, while in Slovakia, Brink is keen to discover art from Slovak artists and thus get to know the country from a perspective other than politics.
Continuing the search for her favourite artist, she seems to have found Slovak bands close to her heart: Korben Dallas and Para, of which current Bratislava Mayor Matúš Vallo is a member.
Best burger in Bratislava
Over the year, Brink has also fallen in love with Slovak cuisine, including bryndzové halušky, potato dumplings with bryndza cheese, parené buchty, steamed buns filled with jam and covered in poppy seeds, and she would not show disdain for Slovak wine or beer, which she considers high quality.
In the Spectacular Slovakia podcast, she also mentioned the place where, according to her children, the most delicious hamburgers in Bratislava are made.
The ambassador admitted that in comparison to other places where she has lived, Bratislava has not been a difficult city to convince her friends and families to visit, although many of them had not before put Slovakia on their itineraries.
“I can say it’s a hidden gem for Americans,” US Ambassador Bridget Brink claimed, hoping to see more people from the USA coming to Bratislava and the rest of the country in the future.
The podcast, created by The Slovak Spectator, was supported by the Bratislava Tourist Board and implemented with the financial support of the the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic.