Written by fizzytom on 07 Apr, 2013
When it comes to beer, the Czechs are quite rightly proud of their brews which are sold and enjoyed all over the world; brands such as Pilsener Urquell and Staropramen are not unusual or exotic, they can be found in pubs and bars across Europe…Read More
When it comes to beer, the Czechs are quite rightly proud of their brews which are sold and enjoyed all over the world; brands such as Pilsener Urquell and Staropramen are not unusual or exotic, they can be found in pubs and bars across Europe and beyond. You would be forgiven for thinking that the Slovaks don’t share this brewing tradition but nothing is further from the truth; Slovakia may not have any of the really big international brands but there are lots of smaller domestic brands and, better still, loads of good microbreweries.Some tour agencies offer trips to the large brewery just out of town, but if it’s the local microbreweries you want to visit, you need to get yourself a city plan and get researching. There are few places around the city, but my favourites are the Bratislavsky Mestiansky Pivovar – for surroundings and location – and Richtar Jakub – for atmosphere and beer. The two are quite different: the former is quite touristy, though enjoyable, while the latter is off the beaten track and frequented more by young people who appreciate the good choice of beers and prices that are slightly lower than in the very centre of the city. Bratislavsky Mestiansky Pivovar translates roughly as the Bratislava City Brewery; on the website it’s described as the ‘Burgher’ brewery but city brewery is a closer approximation for modern English. Although these are new premises and new owners, this beer hall, restaurant and microbrewery just off Bratislava’s main shopping street, Obchodna, has a long tradition within the city and numerous old photographs and drawings hanging on the walls act as a reminder of this heritage.Although it’s fairly new, there’s a comfortable ambience at the Mestiansky Pivovar that makes it feel traditional, though it’s a tad more comfortable and stylish than your average beer hall. This may come from the fact that the food gets equal billing with the beer and the two times I’ve visited, I’ve noticed that at least half the customers have been dining. I haven’t eaten here myself but I can say that the food looks good – generous portions of traditional Slovakian/central European fare in the form of hearty main courses and the sort of snacks that go well with a beer. The beer is brewed on the premises. There’s a light and a dark. The light is a decent unfiltered lager type beer, superior to your big mass produced lagers and pleasant drinking, if not remarkable. I’m not a particular lover of dark beers but my travelling companion tried it and I felt it wrong not to at least give it a try. This is a richly flavoured beer with a strong coffee flavour. The light is served in 300ml and 500ml, while the dark in 400ml only.A fifteen minute walk away, Richtar Jakub is situated on Moskovska in a mostly residential district, and can be found in the basement of a residential building. I find it more atmospheric than the Mestiansky Pivovar and there’s much more of a local feel to the place. There are several cosy low ceilinged rooms; we sat in the first one. A line of beer bottles from all over the world runs round the room, along a narrow shelf where the walls are, and onto the window sill on the other wall. As is the norm in these parts the beer strengths are designated with a degrees symbol rather than a by volume percentage. I don't really understand but the staff will happily advise. As well as a number of Jakub brews there are domestic and international beers including the on trend Brewdog beers such as Dogma and Dead Pony Club. The Jakub light beer is full of flavour but makes a good session beer. The food is similar to that at Mestiansky Pivovar with a hefty plate of liver and onions served with mustard and a wedge of bread for €4.90. This is a popular joint and reservations are advisable at weekends if you want to eat. Richtar Jakub is my preference because it's less touristy and more friendly but because of the walk you may find it easier to stay in the old town and if you do, Mestiansky Pivovar is still worth a visit. Richtar JakubMoskovská 16 Bratislavahttp://www.richtarjakub.skMestiansky PivovarDrevená 8Bratislavahttp://www.mestianskypivovar.sk/home Close
Written by fizzytom on 11 Oct, 2012
People often talk of Bratislava’s Old Town as being compact but actually it’s rather sprawling with a dual carriageway (which becomes the famous Novy Most) cutting between the medieval core and Bratislava Castle, and the Presidential Palace almost stuck on a little island between the…Read More
People often talk of Bratislava’s Old Town as being compact but actually it’s rather sprawling with a dual carriageway (which becomes the famous Novy Most) cutting between the medieval core and Bratislava Castle, and the Presidential Palace almost stuck on a little island between the main shopping street and the train station. I’ve even heard of the Slavin Monument being described as being in the Old Town though having walked there from the train station and through the leafy residential district that leads to the monument, it somehow seems too far out (and a bit too new). In this review I've opted to write only about the core section of the Old Town, and not to include the castle which deserves a review in its own right.Those visitors who are short of time can easily see the chief sights of Bratislava in a day but you do need at least two if you want to take in a couple of museums or galleries too. It’s perfectly possible to tour the lower part of the Old Town in the morning and the castle in the afternoon, breaking for a good lunch and stopping for a mid-morning or afternoon coffee at one of the cafes on the main square. For those who prefer, there are plenty of walking tours available and these can be booked through the tourist information centre or through your hotel. The lower section of the Old Town is most flat though there are some slight inclines and a few cobbled areas, but there is a moderately steep walk up to the castle and beyond that to the Slavin Monument. The lower section of the Old Town is predominantly traffic free which makes for pleasant strolling and a handy footbridge over the very busy road that separates the Old Town from the castle keeps you safe and cuts a good ten or fifteen minutes off a walk to the castle. The wonderful Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral is a good place to start a tour. You'll find it right beside the road leading onto the Novy Most and it's easy to spot because of its 85 metre tall tower which is capped with a replica of the Hungarian royal crown; this serves as a reminder that this cathedral was the scene of the coronation of eleven Hungarian kings and eight queens between 1563 and 1830. You can go into the cathedral but there is an admission charge and there are strict hours for tourists; depending on your budget and how much time you have available, this may influence your decision on whether to view the interior or not, however, the exterior is interesting in its own right anyway (though I can vouch for the fact that the stained glass windows are better appreciated from inside). If you do go in, be sure to take a look at the presbytery which has the most fabulously complex vaulted ceiling. The streets to the north of the cathedral, between here and St. Michael's Gate, make up my favourite part of the old town. These streets are quiet and don't contain any of the city's famous buildings, in fact many of them are either semi derelict or undergoing restoration work. Many of the offices of the Archdiocese can be found in these streets and you'll often see trainee priests dashing to classes at the seminary. There are several music schools and private teachers based in the old town and I love to hear the musicians playing through the open windows. Dating from the first half of the fourteenth century, St. Michael's Gate is the only remaining gate from Bratislava's medieval fortifications. The 51 metre tower holds the Museum of Arms & City Fortifications over its six floors. I've heard that the view from the tower is excellent but I can't comment personally as the content of the museum has neer persuaded me to go in. Hlavne namestie is Bratislava's main square; it's on a more personal scale than its equivalents in other central European cities and, unusually, the buildings along the sides aof the square are not the grandest in the city. This place was formerly the site of the old city market and yard sticks and a butcher's knife can be seen by the entrance to the Old Town Hall. There's a fountain in the middle of the square which is named the Maximilian Fountain because it was commissioned by Maximilian II in the 1580s after a huge fire had swept through this part of the city. The sculpture on the fountain depicts Maximilian as the knight Roland and legend has it that on New Years Eve Roland will turn around. So far I don't believe that anyone has seen this happen and not only because it is also said that this will only happen if there's a sober, Bratislava born virgin there too.It is actually Hviezdoslavono namestie which is the city's most impressive square. It used to be the city's moat but that was filled in on the orders of Marie Theresa when the city walls were demolished in order to make space for grand new projects. This is the place to see and be seen, with restaurants and pavement cafes along the sides. In the winter there's a free ice rink in the middle of the square, in the summer an over-sized chess board. The magnificent National Theatre is at one end of the square; the first time we visited Bratislava the ballet company was performing a premiere and we went up to the doors where we pushed our noses up at the window to have a look inside at the sparling chandeliers and the men and women of the audience in their finery. Opposite the American embassy on Hviezdoslavono namestie there's a statue of Hans Christian Anderson; he visited Bratislava in the 1840s and declared it to be a fairytale of a city.The squares are lovely places to sit out on sunny days but you will pay a lot more for a drink there than you would on one of the side streets. My advice would be to go a little further for lunch as you can get a good set meal in the newer part of town for a reasonable price, and save the old town squares for drinks. The Old Town Hall (Stara radnica) which stands at one end of Hlavne namestie is a building I like very much because of the mix of architectural styles; that's because bits have been added over five centuries. This building is the home of the City Museum: it's your typical history museum with archaeological exhibits, old coins, arms and armour, and all those things you find in any museum like this in Europe. The art museum in the Palffy Palace is more to my liking and it contains pieces from the National Gallery of Bratislava on a rotational basis.Part of this lovely building houses the Austrian embassy and a plaque commemorates the concert that Mozart played here in 1762 at the tender age of six. The main art collection of Bratislava is housed in the Mirbach Palace, a building I love for its rococo facade. The paintings I am not so keen on, at least not in such concentration, because this collection consists almost entirely of Baroque paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Personally, unless the paintings are by an artist I'm really interested in, I prefer to visit somewhere with a bit more variety. It might sound like I'm being a bit negative about this part of Bratislava but actually I like the area very much. It's the so-called attractions that don't do that much for me. I'm interested in history but I find the museums here rather heavy and uninspiring. I much prefer to wander around the little lanes, nosing in the courtyards and spotting the quirky little features that make the old town so special. These could be old signs over archways, pretty courtyards or fun statues; one of my favorites is the statue of Ignac Lamar holding out his top hat: apparently he was a Bratislava dandy who denied his only true love and spent his days wandering round the city giving flowers to women and sweets to children until his death in 1967. Alas, a couple of years ago his statue was vandalised by a British stag group but has since been repaired.Bratislava is a great city and it does have a handsome Old Town which deserves to be explored but don't feel bad for sitting and soaking up the atmosphere at a cafe rather than traipsing round a museum or church. We liked Bratislava so much we went back nine years later, and even the second time when faced with the option of visiting a musuem we said 'We can do it next time'. Fortunately next year we'll live only a couple of hours away and might get back sooner. Close
Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 09 Sep, 2011
Tourist cable-ways that operate all year round (as opposed to winter-only ski lifts) are situated in three locations the Slovakian High Tatras, one for each of the main resorts that are strung on the Cesta Svobody between Strbskie Pleso and Tatranska Lomnica.**Strbskie Pleso boasts a…Read More
Tourist cable-ways that operate all year round (as opposed to winter-only ski lifts) are situated in three locations the Slovakian High Tatras, one for each of the main resorts that are strung on the Cesta Svobody between Strbskie Pleso and Tatranska Lomnica.**Strbskie Pleso boasts a chair lift up the slope of Solisko mountain to Chata Pod Soliskom. This lift covers an altitude difference of 430m, travelling from the altitude of 1386m to 1814m. The adult return ticket cost 10 Euro at the time of writing (2011). The chairlift trip is very enjoyable, especially further up as the cable climbs more steeply and above the tree line. The Chata Pod Soliskom mountain hostel offers refreshments, as does a cafe at the top station of the chairlift. I am not sure though if the chairlift trip itself is worth the hefty price tag (after all we are talking close to 30 Euro for a family, minimum). However, the chairlift offers a huge advance on those intending to climb to the minor summit of Predne Solisko (2093m) which is accessible by a steep (18% gradient) but short (nominally 45 minutes) route from the top station of the cable car and offers magnificent views. **Stary Smokovec has a funicular to the popular resort area of Hrebienok. The Stary Smokovec - Hrebienok Funicular covers a distance of 2190m and climbs 255m to the altitude of 1272m. It can transport 1600 people an hour from the bottom station at Old Smokovec to the small ski resort of Hrebienok. There are several walking paths, easily accessible from the top station, some leading to mountain hostels and waterfalls. The adult ticket costs 7 euro return, 6 euro up and 4 euro down (2011 prices). Children under 6 years old travel free. There is also a possibility of buying a combined deal ticket for the funicular and the Skalnate Pleso - Tatranska Lomnica gondola cable car (each one way) and walking the 2 hour stretch of Tatra Highway (Tatranska Magistrala) between the two stations This cable-way takes litterally just a few minutes and is a completely unexciting ride in itself, with no views as such. The top is very busy (this is the cheapest and fastest of the High Tatra cable ways). However, it saves a 45 minutes (standard time, and more if you have kids or aren't very fit) and over 250m of a dull ascent, taking the visitor to a starting point of quite a few great Vysoke Tatry walks, from genetle strolls to the waterfalls of Studeny Potok to moderately easy, short walks to Zamkovskego Chata (Zamkovsky's Cottage) and further on to Tatranska Magistrala to Skalnate Pleso and its to station of the cable car or the opposite way to Silezsky Dom. Longer and more sternous walks also start from Hrebienok and several different colour-coded trails pass by. One of the best value options for a nice, high-altitude walk takes advantage of a "Magistrala" joint ticket that for 13 Euro offers a ride up on the Hrebienok funicular and a ride down the Skalnate Pleso cable car to Tatranska Lomnica (or a ride up the cable car and ride down the funicular), allowing for a two-hour walk on the stretch of Tatranska Magistrala between the two stations. **The most exciting set of the High Tatra cableways is undoubtedly in the Tatranska Lomnica. In the actual fact it's three different cableways that include a gondola cable car from Tatranska Lomnica to Skalnate Pleso, a suspension cablecar from Skalnate Pleso to the Lomnica Peak (Lomnicky Stit) and a chair lift from Skalnate Pleso to Lomnicke Sedlo. The Cable Car to Skalnate Pleso, near Vysoké Tatry, constitutes the first (and entirely separate) part of the cable car journey from Tatranska Lomnica to the peak of Lomnicky Stit. This itself is composed of two cable-ways carrying the passengers from the bottom station at the altitude of 903m via the intermediate station Start at 1173m to the Skalnate Pleso itself at 1772m. This cable car operates 4 person gondolas and costs (2011 prices) 10 Euro one way or 15 Euro return. Children under 6 travel free. Skalnate Pleso is above the tree line and surrounded by alpine landscape of High Tatras, with close views of the peaks as well as views to the settlements below. It features a small loch, a nature walk round the loch as well as a restaurant and (in a separate building) an astronomical observatory. There are also numerous high-altitude walking trails. It is also the bottom station of the suspension tramway to the peak of Lomnicky Stit and the access point for the chairlift to Lomnicke Sedlo. The suspension cable-way Skalnate Pleso - Lomnicky Stit near Vysoké Tatry is the second part of the cable-car ascent to the peak of Lomnicky Stit, following on from the gondola cable car that connects Tatranska Lomnica to Skalnate Pleso.. This cable-way starts at 1772m and ascends to 2625m, the top of the second highest peak in the Tatras which is only otherwise accessible to mountaineers and experienced hikers on a guided climb. The cable car costs 24 Euro (2011 prices) for a return journey. Tickets can be bought in advance online and are for specific journeys, allowing visitors 50 minutes at the top. The total cost of a return trip from Tatranska Lomnica to the top of the Lomnica peak is thus a whopping 34 Euros per adult. Despite its price, the peak cable-car gets booked up really quickly and in the high season you need to be up on Skalnate Pleso pretty early to have a chance. It is also possible to book tickets online in advance, but obviously this doesn't take into account the changeable mountain weather and you might end up paying the final 24 Euro for a while-knuckle ride in a cable car to the second highest peak in the Tatras... and see nothing but a meteo station, some rocks and a sea of clouds. On a good day, the views are stunning and apparently worth every cent, stretching towards the Polish lowlands on one side and beyond Low Tatras into southern Slovakia on the other. The only other way to reach the Lomnica peak is to climb it with a guide (it's not on the public trail network) which not only requires hiking skills bordering on mountaineering as well as reasonable fitness level, but also is rather more expensive than the cable car. The cheaper alternative is to take the chairlift to Lomnicke Sedlo. Skalnaté pleso - Lomnické sedlo Chair Lift, near Vysoké Tatry, offers an alternative - and substantially cheaper - means of travelling above the Skalnate pleso to the suspension cable-way to the peak of Lomnica. The lift covers a distance of 1138m and climbs up 408m from 1772m to 2196m above the sea level. Lomnicke Sedlo (Lomnica Saddle) is the starting point for the guided ascent of Lomnica Peak itself and also offers wide views of the surrounding areas and the alpine landscape of the High Tatras. The return journey (compulsory as there is no trail) costs 8 Euro per person (2011 prices).Many people take just the trip up to Skalnate Pleso and either take the gondola down or walk on one of the many paths available for hikers there. Skalnate Pleso itself offers a taste of the high mountain environment, with a small and shallow tarn in which the precipitous walls and the peak of Lomnica get reflected. There is and educational path around the tarn, a kids' play-park next to it and a couple of minutes away, the Skalna Chata mountain hostel that offers refreshments in a slightly more intimate surroundings that the cafe at the top station of the gondola cable car. The main trail that passes Skalnate Pleso is Tatranska Magistrala. Close
Written by MagdaDH_AlexH on 06 Sep, 2011
Apparently the shortest "official" mountain range in Europe, the High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry in Slovak) form the natural border between Poland and Slovakia (historically, between Poland and Hungary), with about two-thirds of the High Tatras, and most of the highest peaks, located in Slovakia (the…Read More
Apparently the shortest "official" mountain range in Europe, the High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry in Slovak) form the natural border between Poland and Slovakia (historically, between Poland and Hungary), with about two-thirds of the High Tatras, and most of the highest peaks, located in Slovakia (the best lakes are on the Polish side, though). The wider term Tatras usually includes in addition to the High Tatras, the Western Tatras, and White Tatras, but not the separate mountain range of Low Tatras further south in Slovakia. The people inhabiting the mountain foothills on both sides, however, share a lot of the same culture, and the Polish Gorale (Highlander) dialect is even more similar to the Slovak tongue then standard Polish (which is similar enough for both languages to be mutually intelligible in most simple situations). Despite its small area, or maybe because of it, the Tatra range has a beguiling charm and is often considered to be a kind of "miniature Alps" (minus the glaciers), though the peaks are nowhere near as high as in the Alps, with the tallest reaching a bit above 2,500 meters. Still, there is plenty of walking, hiking and climbing to do in the Tatras, for all levels of abilities. There is an excellent network of well marked and maintained colour-coded paths and infrastructure for tourists is well developed. The biggest drawback is probably due to the sheer popularity of this small range: in the high or shoulder season you are unlikely to be able to commune with nature on your own as you are likely to meet numerous other hikers on the way. This is especially true where access is easy or facilitated by cable cars, but even some popular summits can get seriously crowded occasionally.Despite that, the dramatic landscape is well worth seeking and the compact character of the range means that a couple of weeks in good weather will allow a determined walker to explore quite a bit of the area. Tourism, from spa and sanatoria to hiking and mountaineering, has been developing in the Tatras for at least 150 years. On the Polish side, the main tourist centre is the town of Zakopane, an old Gorale settlement that developed into a fashionable and somewhat Bohemian resort around the turn of the 20th century. On the Slovak side, however, a string of purpose built resorts of a somewhat artificial character lie along the Cesta Svobody (the Freedom Road) to the south of the main part of the High Tatras. These include Strbskie Pleso, Smokovce, Tatranska Lomnica, Tatranska Kotlina and several smaller settlements. All of these date to the end of the 19th century, when the increasing interest in all forms of naturopathy as well as mountaineering and skiing brought wealthy Austro-Hungarians here. This artificiality of the Slovak High Tatra resorts was perhaps the biggest surprise for me during the first time I came here as I automatically expected the whole caboodle of traditionally dressed Gorale selling tacky souvenirs and posing for pictures with the giant, white sheepdogs that look a bit like discoloured and more muscular St Bernard's. Tacky souvenirs are very much in evidence but to find Gorale one must go a bit east towards Spiska Magura or west to the Liptov Basin. This resort character of the Vysoke Tatry settlements gives them a holiday-village air, with hardly a street of normal houses or an apartment block in evidence, and pensions, hotels and holiday homes everywhere. Shopping is thus limited, though there are grocery shops ("potraviny" and small supermarkets) as well as numerous places selling hiking and, to a lesser extent, skiing gear. Although public transport is cheap and food and accommodation are still relatively good value in Slovakia, even in such a popular area as the High Tatras, the "attractions" are very expensive, substantially more than what we experienced for example in Poland. From the dry sledging runs to rope adventure parks to cable cars, the prices are as high if not higher than in Western Europe. A return trip on one of the Vysoke Tatry cable ways is a great way to cut out some of the most boring and toilsome ascent from many walks, but will set you off between 9 and 12 Euros (this is not counting the one from the Skalnate Pleso to the Lomnica peak which costs 24 Euro) for an adult (children below six years old are free and school children and students pay reduced rates). Parking is also a bit of a problem, with virtually no public free parking in the resort villages, even in front of the shops (I suppose you could park in a hotel car park if you eat in a hotel restaurant) and the standard charge being 5 Euro per day's parking. Similar prices are charged for parking at the most popular trail-heads which means that for one or two people travelling by public transport is very much a recommended option and might work out cheaper than a car anyway. There is a cheap electric train linking the communities of Vysoke Tatry that runs every hour as well as numerous buses. The best time to come to the High Tatras is probably in September or even early October (though temperatures will be lower, especially at higher altitudes), where the worst of the summer holiday is over, and so will be the worst of the summer heat, while the weather is still OK. Late spring is also a good time for leisure walking and sight-seeing, though the more serious hikers should go later as the snow is still present higher up and many paths are closed because of the avalanche danger. Close
Having spent more than 24 hours in the car and crossing five countries in a space of four days we needed some way to reconnect with our own bodies and the basics of the physical world. We thus stopped in the Slovakian High Tatras and…Read More
Having spent more than 24 hours in the car and crossing five countries in a space of four days we needed some way to reconnect with our own bodies and the basics of the physical world. We thus stopped in the Slovakian High Tatras and decided to take a high-altitude walk along an easy three mile stretch of Tatranska Magistrala ("Tatra Trunk-road"), a 30-mile long walking trail crossing the mountain range from west to east. **We park at Stary Smokovec, an old Tatra spa and resort that boasts a funicular which saves about an hour of the most boring ascent from the resort to the starting point of many walks. The ride is brief and unexciting, but we emerge closer to the high country and an easy trail (suitable for pushchairs and disabled) leads us (and numerous other visitors) along a path on a wooded hillside. Above, the alpine-like peaks of High Tatras gleam sharply in the sunshine. Soon, we arrive near the Studenovodskie Vodospady (Cold Waterfalls) a series of lovely rapids and waterfalls to which the trail descends along a stone made-up path. From the large waterfall it's up and up, on the same kind of path: a good way to prevent erosion on such a popular route but hard on feet, particularly little ones shod in trainers. After a bit of uphill effort along steep switchbacks we reach Zamkovskego Chata (Zamkovsky's Cottage), a mountain hostel and a restaurant sitting in the woods at 1475m. All food and drink has to be carried here from the funicular station – even on the way we see a guy with a beer keg on his back! Prices certainly reflect this, as well as fairly captive audience, but the food is a solid and tasty Tatra fare and we don't begrudge the mark-up. Thus refuelled, the children clutching their certificates confirming the visit in the Chata, we are ready to go. The sky is getting cloudy, though, and we can hear a distant thunder. This puts us in a quandary as to whether go back to the funicular station or continue on our original route to Skalnate Pleso. We planned to take a cable car from there to Tatranska Lomnica, but yesterday's thunderstorm damaged it and we are not sure if it's working. People walking from Skalnate Pleso direction confirm that the cableway is running and thus reassured we decide to go on. The path climbs some more and soon emerges from between the trees and follows a hillside, a cutting through a thick Tatra kosodrzewina (dwarf mountain pine). The sky is a show of intermingling grey, white, blue and black, and we are sure to get soaked whichever way we go – especially as, with heads clearly addled by two months of uninterrupted sun in the Med – we left the waterproofs in the car. With every thunder, the Older Child whimpers dramatically, but being the Bad Parents we are, we go on, while lecturing on lightning conductors and the like. On the way we meet several well kitted out, but still dry, people going the opposite way and a Russian-Irish (or is it Irish-Russian) mother and daughter (in trainers) going the same way. The Older Child is encouraged by a presence of a peer and stops the squealing. The views down the valleys are dramatic: a patchwork of dark rain, grey clouds and golden sunshine illuminating bright green squares of fields. The Skalnate Pleso station of the cable car comes into view ten minutes before the rain catches up with us and just before it starts really bucketing down we dive into the Skalna Chata (Rocky Cottage) hostel, where a taciturn "chatar" (cottage-keeper) serves us tea, coffee and hot chocolate. A request for milk for tea is met with a stern "You don't have milk in tea" grunt (in Slovak) but a query about photos on the wall which depict the chatar as a champion of stuff-carriers (207kg in one go, up a mountain) makes him a little bit more amicable if not less grunty. We meet a Polish couple who tell us that the cableway is not working at the moment because of the storm and thus await the end of rain. The rain doesn't end but a short break means that we can run the three minutes to the cableway station in not much more than a drizzle. The station and its restaurant are full of people – including babies in prams and stick-wielding pensioners who clearly rode up in the cable car but cannot ride down. A window in the rain allows us to admire the severe, almost bare rock of the Lomnica Peak (Lomnicky Stit) that raises above the small tarn of Skalnate Pleso. The suspension tramway to the very top looks precariously tiny and I am not sure I would go in it even if it was going and cost less than the astonishing 24 Euro per person for a return trip (on top of 12 Euro for the gondola cable car to Skalnate Pleso, though that bit can be walked on marked trails). Under the dark cloud punctuated by lightning and frequently disappearing and appearing again small windows of bright blue, the corries and rock faces of Lomnica look imposingly beautiful, as if to tell us that human hold on those last edges of wilderness is still a little precarious. The storm takes two hours to pass alternating between a drizzle, a violent downpour and hail. We contemplate walking down but our children's lack of walking boots and approaching dusk mean we decide to wait. Eventually, a rainbow appears below, the cable car gondolas start to move and we can descend. The cableway doesn't work all the way down, but a shuttle bus takes us from mid-station (confusingly named Start) to Tatranska Lomnica. The Other Adult gets a lift from the Polish couple to recover our car from Smokovce and soon we are on the way back to our pension. Once there, we discover the our Most Important Bag was left in the couple's car. Luckily, it contained my phone which, even more luckily, they answer before driving too far off into Poland and thus the bag is recovered and we can eventually retire: the Younger Child asleep in our arms before we even reach the room. Close
Written by proxam2 on 06 Feb, 2011
Prior to 1993, Slovakia, along with the Czech Republic, formed Czechoslovakia. Slovakia's tourism industry is nowhere near as developed as the Czech's and indeed it is regarded as the poor cousin in the relationship. A lot of people will probably have the impression of Slovakia…Read More
Prior to 1993, Slovakia, along with the Czech Republic, formed Czechoslovakia. Slovakia's tourism industry is nowhere near as developed as the Czech's and indeed it is regarded as the poor cousin in the relationship. A lot of people will probably have the impression of Slovakia being a dirty industrial country, and to a certain extent that can be true, with some industries spewing out noxious fumes relentlessly. But times are changing in Slovakia. With their efforts to enter the EU, a lot of the industries have modernised, and are receiving a lot of international help to do so. Communications can be a bit of a problem, as English is not widely spoken and hands up how many readers are conversant in Slovak? Thought so. A basic knowledge of German should be enough to get by. Most people visiting Slovakia would be going to Bratislava, but of course there is a lot more to the country than just its capital. In the north and East near the Polish border there is a great deal of rugged beauty, with the Tatra mountains, also called the Vysoké Tatry or High Tatras. In an very small area (100sq miles or so) there are over 100 glacial lakes, 30 valleys and over 370 miles of hiking trails which take you through a lot of the valleys and over many peaks. ** One thing you need to watch out for is the risk of Tick-borne Encephalitis, especially in the wooded parts of the valleys. Also, due to their altitude, snow often falls as early as September and as late as May. Therefore the best months for hiking are June through August. In winter the Tatras become ski resorts, with Stary Smokovec, being the most popular destination. After our visit to Auschwitz we crossed the border from Poland on small country road and our first experience of Slovakia was driving through a small, rural village. It was time for the dairy cows to return from the pastures, so it took a little time to pass through. Every so often the herder would stop, open a garden gate, and deposit 1 or 2 cows to their respective homes. It was like the bovine version of a school bus. After a while driving on rural roads we made it onto an excellent motorway and were soon in our destination, the town of Strbske Pleso in the Tatra Mountains. STREBSKE PLESOS was founded as a hiking centre in 1872 and at 1335m above sea level, is the highest settlement in the High Tatras. It sits around the second largest lake on the Slovak side of the High Tatras. It is well connected to transport links, and is a good starting point for excursions and day-trips in the mountains and is also a well-known skiing centre. There isn't an awful lot to do here in the way of shopping and entertainment, but all the towns and villages in the area are linked with an electric tramway/railway and most tourist facilities are concentrated in the largest town, Stary Smokovec. Our hotel was about 10 miles from here. Having said that, don't think for a minute that Stary Smokvec is some sort of 5th Avenue. After all, this used to be behind the 'iron curtain', and it shows. Not that it isn't very pretty, it's more in the prices. There is not all that much to buy, which is a shame, because it is SO cheap. I mean REALLY cheap. We had to constantly check if we were working out the exchange rate correctly and not missing a decimal point somewhere. Our intention was to do some serious hiking, but the weather was not exactly conducive to this. A lot of the time there was torrential rain and hailstorms, and we were not equipped for that. Besides, if I want to walk around mountains and get a severe soaking, I only have to travel an hour or so from my house. We had to make do with a few strolls round the immediate area. We did a bit of driving around and visited the regional capital, Poprad. This is the biggest city in the area but there is not a lot to do. The medieval centre was well preserved with some lovely buildings and lots of pavement cafes but the shopping left a lot to be desired. They had all the basics but not a lot in the way of luxury type items or arts & crafts etc. - everything so cheap but nothing to buy! You could sense this was not a overly wealthy country. Most of the population lived in the vast suburbs of grey, communist-era, concrete tower blocks. Very depressing. All in all, our visit to the Tatras was a bit of a wash out. Literally. We still enjoyed ourselves, but as the whole purpose was to 'climb every mountain', it was a little disappointing. The rest of Slavakia was a blur - viewed as it was from the windows of our car as we sped along the motorway towards Hungary. But that's another story.... Close
Written by Wildcat Dianne on 20 Apr, 2008
In a scene from one of my favorite movies, 2005's Czech film Zelary, the main character Hana, who is hiding from the Nazis in a remote mountain village called Zelary, gets a lesson from one of the old ladies of the village on the wild…Read More
In a scene from one of my favorite movies, 2005's Czech film Zelary, the main character Hana, who is hiding from the Nazis in a remote mountain village called Zelary, gets a lesson from one of the old ladies of the village on the wild herbs that grow in the area. The scene brought back a flood of good memories for me because three years before that in 2002, my friend Ivan and I would spend many hours on our bikes searching for wild herbs and mushrooms in the woods and fields near his home of the village Borovce.
My first visit to Slovakia was in September 2001, which is when wild mushrooms come into harvest. About a week into my short visit to Borovce, Ivan took me mushrooming in the woods near Lancar, a small village known for its 18th Century hilltop church.
After arriving in the woods, Ivan and I parked our bikes on the side of the road near a secret spot where Ivan knew the best mushrooms grew. Like Dad with his secret woodcutting places near McCall, Idaho and Loki and Katie with their secret swim holes in Donnelly, Idaho, Ivan had his secret mushrooming place. Armed with bags, Ivan and I made our way into the woods and began searching for mushrooms. Since Dad had taken me mushrooming near McCall a couple of times, I had a fair idea of what morels and brains looked like, but Slovakian wild mushrooms are a little different than American wild mushrooms, and I had to call Ivan over a few times to a patch I had discovered to make sure that what I wanted to pick was edible and not poisonous. It is said that the Ancient Roman Ruler Claudius died after imbibing poisoned mushrooms that his wicked sister and nephew had prepared for him, and I wasn't about to end my 2001 European vacation inadvertantely re-enacting the death scene from I, Claudius in which Derek Jacobi's stuttering Claudius dies after eating those famous mushrooms.
After about an hour mushrooming, Ivan and I had filled our bags and strapped the bounty on his bike and went into Lancar to explore the church and have a drink in another village before heading back to Borovce before it got dark. Ivan's mother Irena greeted our smiling faces at the door of her home and immediately took our bounty and went to work on them. Most of the mushrooms Irena lined on plastic sheeting and put outside by the house to dry for winter use. The remaining fresh mushrooms were sauteed in butter and made into an omelet that is one of the best omelets I have ever eaten. It put button mushrooms from WinCo to shame.
Most Slovakian villagers are poor and cannot afford proper medical care and rely on herbal remedies to cure what ails them. On several occasions, Ivan's parents would take their bikes into the woods near their Borovce home and harvets elderberry flowers from the trees on the roadsides leading into the woods. They would come home with huge bags of white sweet-smelling flowers and put them in a big pan with water and sugar and make a syrup that was jarred and used to sweeten tea and was to help stomach trouble. I grew to like sweetening my tea after lunch with the syrup and wish that we had some elderberries here in Idaho, and I doubt if we will find them in Florida.
Other trips into the forest by Ivan's parents would be to find Zhilava or nettles, the prickly leaves that are common in Middle Eastern cooking and can leave the pickers with scratched up arms and hands. Ivan, his parents, and I would go into the woods on separate occasions and with gloves, pick tons of Zhilava which would be laid out on plastic sheeting in the Anders' yard and dried out for tea which was good for stomach aches.
More on herbing and mushrooming in Slovakia in my next entry!
Written by Wildcat Dianne on 06 Oct, 2007
Trencin, Slovakia is one of the oldest cities in Slovakia, if not Europe, too. Physical evidence of Trencin dates from c. 38,000 B.C., but the first written history of Trencin doesn't appear in books until the late 12th century. On one of the…Read More
Trencin, Slovakia is one of the oldest cities in Slovakia, if not Europe, too. Physical evidence of Trencin dates from c. 38,000 B.C., but the first written history of Trencin doesn't appear in books until the late 12th century. On one of the Castle rocks, there is a Roman inscription from 179 A.D. dating from wars between the Roman Empire and the Germanic Quadi tribe and shows one that the Romans settled as far as Slovakia during this time. It was known by the Greek name of Leukaristos and has been known by several other names during centuries of foreign rule. Under Austrian and German rule, Trencin was known as Trentschin, and the Hungarians called Trencin Trencsen.
After the 12th century, Trencin became the administrative center of Trencin County, and Trenciansky Hrad (The Castle) was built during this time. From 1302-1321, Trencin was under the rule of Matus Csak, a powerful nobleman, who defied King Charles' rule with his large court and own foreign policy.
During the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th Century, Trencin was a center of the Counter-Reformation and several Catholic sects settled here and founded churches here. In the early 18th Century, Trencin was decimated by war, fire, and the Black Plague and went under a huge restoration and reconstruction. Most of the buildings in Trencin today date from this time.
Trencin flourished during the 19th century when the railroad was built through the city to take people to Bratislava and points beyond. The Industrial Revolution brought textile, food, and machine industries to Trencin and became a center of industry and culture.
In 1939, Trencin became part of the Slovak Puppet Government under the control of Monsignor Josef Tiso, and was the capital of Trencin County. The Puppet Government ran Trencin until August 1944, when the Slovak National Uprising began. After the Uprising was squashed by the Nazis in October, Trencin fell under German occupation, and the Gestapo and SD established a prison camp and headquarters here.
Trencin was liberated by Soviet and Romanian troops on 10 April 1945, about a month before World War II ended, and thus began over 40 years of Communist rule in Trencin and Slovakia, but years of restoration by the people of Trencin kept the city in its original shape. In 1989, the Velvet Revolution hit Czechoslovakia and freed the country from Communist rule. In 1990, Trencin became the County seat for the Trencin Region and District, and in 1993, the Velvet Divorce that split Czechoslovakia into two separate nations brought Trencin to Slovakia.
Written by Wildcat Dianne on 08 Jul, 2007
Out of all of the places I have visited in my lifetime of travels, the place that fascinates me the most and earns a return visit is the haunted ruins of Hrad Cachtice in Western Slovakia. My first Cachtice journal for Igougo in 2002 was…Read More
Out of all of the places I have visited in my lifetime of travels, the place that fascinates me the most and earns a return visit is the haunted ruins of Hrad Cachtice in Western Slovakia. My first Cachtice journal for Igougo in 2002 was about my first trip to these awesome ruins in September 2001.
I returned to Slovakia for a longer stay with my friend Ivan in April 2002, and after being there two months, I was jonesing for a return visit to this mysterious and chilling place that was the sight of so much intrigue and violence during the 16th and early 17th centuries. So, I begged my friend Ivan to go back to Cachtice on his next day off.
It was a cloudy Friday morning when Ivan and I departed from his home in Borovce, Slovakia, for Cachtice. The first time around, Ivan's brother Bohus drove us to Cachtice in his old Skoda, but this time around, we took our bikes to Cachtice.
Cachtice is a village located about 20 miles north of Ivan's home in Borovce. It took about 90 minutes to get to Cachtice, and by then, it was starting to drizzle. Lovely, I thought. But we were so close to the castle and could see it from downtown Cachtice that I could almost smell it! I convinced Ivan even though the rain was coming down harder since we started our adventure to go up the steep hill to the castle.
So off we went to Hrad Cachtice. The rain kept falling and falling, and Ivan and I were getting soaked by the rain. But we kept peddling. Ivan thought I was nuts for wanting to continue the trip, but I wasn't about to give up, and about 30 minutes later, we were at the castle ruins. Countess Alzbeta Bathory's old stomping grounds were even more beautiful this time than they were the first time I was there, and I swear you could hear the screams of the young women who were allegedly killed for their blood for Alzbeta to bathe in or drink to retain her youth.
Ivan and I walked to the tower where Alzbeta Bathory spent her last years locked up as a prisoner of the Thurzo family for her deeds. One could hear Alzbeta's screams to be let out of her tower prison. It was very chilling from me, and that wasn't because of the rain that was now coming down in buckets.
After taking more pictures and looking around Hrad Cachtice, Ivan and I decided to head back down the hill to Cachtice's museum and something to eat. After touring the museum (see entry in first journal), we stopped at this little cafe in Cachtice that served hot soup and bread for a pittance. Ivan ordered a hearty and spicy stew with some bread and Topolcancy beer. There were several locals in the restaurant on their lunch breaks or having a drink, and there was one patron who looked like he was already three sheets to the wind with his red eyes and drunken look, and it was only noon.
The soup was thick and spicy and full of some kind of meat or mushroom. Usually I would ask what kind of meat was in the soup being a semi-vegetarian, but I was too hungry to give a flying rat's butt and ate heartily.
Bellies full, Ivan and I gathered our bikes and courage for the long rainy ride back to his parents' place in Borovce. After taking shelter under a bus stop shelter to let some of the hard rain pass, we were on our way. It took another 90 minute ride back to his parents' place, and by then, Ivan and I were soaked to the skin, and I could hear the squeaky, squishing noise of my sopped sneakers as I walked inside. Ivan and I changed into dry clothing and put our shoes somewhere to dry and took a long nap. It took four days for my sneakers to dry, but fighting the rain and bad weather, I look back on the trip as well worth the time and wet clothes and sneakers. All that to get a Hrad Cachtice fix!
Written by UK Flower Girl on 05 Dec, 2005
Wooden Protestant Articular Church open 9-12 and 2-5 daily May-SeptemberNew Evangelical Church open open 9-12am and 2-5pm daily, May-SeptemberAfter our morning on the mountains, we were looking for some culture or history. We drove east of Tatranská Lomnica through some little villages and then north…Read More
Wooden Protestant Articular Church open 9-12 and 2-5 daily May-SeptemberNew Evangelical Church open open 9-12am and 2-5pm daily, May-SeptemberAfter our morning on the mountains, we were looking for some culture or history. We drove east of Tatranská Lomnica through some little villages and then north to the Polish border for a quick lunch. We didn’t find anything very interesting in that area so we drove back south and ended up in Kězmarok, a town not too far east of where we started that day. My guidebook suggested stopping here to see some of the churches the town has to offer. We visited two: the New Protestant (or Evangelical) Church and the Wooden Protestant Articular Church next door. To our surprise, there was another church being built across the street from here. These two buildings offered us a stark contrast: one church was stark white and boring outside but one of the most colourful churches I have ever seen on the inside. The other church had amazing colour and shape outside, but the inside was bland on the inside.As we drove into town it was pretty clear where we were headed as we could see the tower on the reddish mosque-looking building from a distance. We found a free place to park and walked over to the churches. It is a reddish-coral colour with greenish and yellow accents. I expected the inside to be lavishly decorated. The inside was rather dull in contrast to the deep colour outside. The building isn’t as large on the inside as it looks from the outside, either. We visited the New Evangelical Church first. In order to view both of the churches, you must be shown around by a guide. It really isn’t as formal as it sounds; it was a little old lady guiding us and we were the only ones in the church. The ticket you purchase here is also used to see the Wooden Protestant Articular Church next door at no additional cost. We had to take a German tour of the church. Fortunately, she had an English sheet we could sit down and read before delving into more detail in German. Tom understood much more than I. He translated some of the bits I missed... what he could understand anyway. This pseudo-Moorish church was built in 1894 and was to be build somewhere in the Far East. Citizens of Kězmarok were in need of a new plan for their church and the architect Teophil Hansen from Vienna donated this plan free of charge as long as plans were carried out to his specifications. It houses the mausoleum of Imre Thököly who fought with Ferenc Rákóczi against the Hapsburg takeover of Hungary.Three notable things to see in this church: columns, windows and the mausoleum.Black marble columns stand at the back of the church capped with a contrasting series of arches. Look for the small stained-glass windows that were brought here from a synagogue. The windows were made for the synagogue and then didn’t fit when they went to put them in. Lastly, the most important part of the church seems to be the mausoleum of Imre Thököly. It acts as a sort of shrine with wreaths, ribbons, flowers and a flag.From here, we visited the plain white church next door, the Wooden Protestant Articular Church. Such Protestant "articular" churches were erected during the period of the counter-reformation in the 18th century. However, a limit of two per royal city was imposed. They had to be built outside the city walls and were not allowed to have bells or a steeple. This church in Kězmarok was built with financial help from Sweden and Denmark. It is said that Swedish sailors helped construct it, which explains the upturned boat shape of the roof and the round windows in the lower part of the building.
The church was made totally of wood (well, 99% as the Vestry is made of stone, part of a former Inn) and had no foundations; even the nails are made of wood. I was truly in awe when I walked through the door. Yew and lime are two of the types of wood used to build the church. Brightly coloured paintings surround you as you wander around exploring. Even the ceiling is painted to be a mock sky with clouds and Biblical figures. Be sure to schedule some extra time here because you will want to just sit and admire the beauty.
This church also had an English guide for you to read as you wandered around the church…and remember your ticket from next door gets you into this church for no extra fee. Kězmarok has several other churches to visit such as the Gothic Basilica of the Holy Cross, St. Michael’s and St. Elizabeth’s. Stop at the Gothic-Renaissance Town Hall, the Castle, and the Old Town for a perfect day of sightseeing.