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Slovakia

Great cities of Central Europe: Rustic Slovakia

I had chosen an unusual stop for the first night of our return to Slovakia. It was either a farm, or a B&B, or a retreat. I couldn't quite tell. But there was a pool, and animals, and I hoped it would be fun for the kids. The farm was just over the border from Hungary, close to the tiny village of Hrušov. We had some trouble finding it, so our host Jan instructed us to drive into town and immediately found us there. He led us about a mile down a bumpy dirt road to the farm, which was set on a grassy hillside with no other sign of civilization in sight. Jan had designed and built the farm himself just a short while earlier and we were among the first guests. Our villa was beautiful and modern, and there were fruits and plants growing everywhere. There was a very modern pool, a sauna, a little playground, and lots of pets and farm animals for the kids to feed and play with. It was a tiny paradise in the middle of rural Slovakia. Jan lived there with his girlfriend and the two of them worked tirelessly around the clock to manage the plants and animals, as well as cater to their guests and socialize. I have no idea how they did it.

Our only mistake was in not loading up on food before we arrived. There was only a pizza restaurant in the village and they weren't delivering. Fortunately we had some fruits and vegetables and snacks, and Jan provided us with a hunk of meat and some other supplies so Mei Ling was able to put together a satisfying dinner.

The kids swam in the pool and played with the dogs and fed the animals. Breakfast the next morning came courtesy of Jan. Unfortunately I had to decline his offer to show us around hidden castles and other secrets of the Slovakian countryside as we had an important stop on the way to our next overnight destination. The kids had a couple of hours to play and all too soon we were bidding goodbye to Jan, Tina, and the farm.
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My Lonely Planet devoted considerably less space to Slovakia than to its neighbors, but I was determined to have some experiences that would allow us to see what made the country unique. The medieval town of Banská Štiavnica was an obvious choice, offering preserved 16th century buildings and castles. We enjoyed our walk there, although the castles didn't seem to be worth the trouble of an internal viewing.
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The best part of the stop in Banská Štiavnica ended up being lunch at 4sochy Cafe, which we found on TripAdvisor. Despite appearing to be a cafe or wine bar with a limited menu at first glance, it turned out to be a very high end gourmet restaurant with delicious and complex French cuisine. It proved to be the best restaurant meal of the entire road trip.
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Our overnight stop was Trenčín, a larger city near the Czech border with a good-sized pedestrian old town and a fortress-like castle perched on a steep hill above everything. We arrived too late to do anything except walk into the old town and grab dinner at a Japanese restaurant. In the morning it was raining briskly so we had lunch in a restaurant that was almost entirely underground with a very local vibe. When we got out it was still raining and it was clearly not going to be possible to make the climb up to the castle. We decided to drive on to Krakow with our tails between our legs. Trenčín was the only stop of the trip that ended up being a near-complete loss.
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Slovakia had one last pleasant experience for us on the way out, the relatively modern Bojnice Castle. Slovakia's answer to Neuschwanstein has been rebuilt and renovated numerous times over the last thousand years, and is surrounded by a lush park. It was still raining, but not oppressively, and the moisture seemed to enhance the fairytale quality of the castle and its verdant surroundings.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 06:28 Archived in Slovakia Comments (0)

Great cities of Central Europe: Bratislava

When I conceived of this road trip through the great cities of Europe, Bratislava was hardly even an afterthought. I knew little about the city except that it was the capital of Slovakia, a country I knew almost nothing about in its own right. However, given that it was directly between two of the major cities on our itinerary, it was an obvious place to investigate further. Once I read a little about what the city had to offer, I decided it was worth a two day stopover. This ended up being a fortunate decision since we arrived too late on the first night to do anything except give the kids a bath and go to bed.
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I had chosen our location to be close to the Trhovisko Mileticova outdoor market rather than the old town. The market proved to be quite large with a nice variety of produce and a good selection of food stalls and restaurants. Surprisingly, there was a substantial Asian presence in the market and we got a huge lunch at a very popular Vietnamese restaurant.
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We drove slightly outside of Bratislava to see the clifftop Devin Castle at the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers.. There was a winding paved path to the top of the cliff so we didn't have to struggle to reach the castle. The upper part of the castle was closed but there was still plenty to explore and great views of the Danube and the little village in the valley below us.
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The well-known sights of Bratislava are concentrated in a small area downtown by the river, much of which consists of a walled pedestrian old town. Here we found all the tourists of which there had been no sign in our residential Airbnb area or the market, including lots of large Asian tour groups. I asked Mei Ling why she thought Bratislava would be a popular destination for Chinese in particular, and she replied that it was probably sold as a cheap alternative to Western European capitals.
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Just outside of the old town we found the Grassalkovich Palace, which is the current presidential residence, and the Blue Church of St. Elizabeth. The sky-colored early 20th century church looks like it wouldn't be out of place in Miami Beach.
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Dinner was al fresco at Modrá Hviezda, on the steep cobblestone road leading up to Bratislava Castle just west of the old town. The food wasn't spectacular, but the kids were so well-behaved that other people at the restaurant actually came over to congratulate us. On the way back down, it was clear that the road was a popular hangout spot for young expats. Bratislava might not be a well-known city now, but in ten years people may think of it as the next Budapest.
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We went back to the Trhovisko market the next morning, where we had a more conventional Slovakian lunch. There was no English spoken so I had to make use of my limited Slovakian online translator and guesswork, but I think we did quite well. We noticed that the most popular item at the market seemed to be acai berries, which were being sold briskly from tubs and bins by multiple vendors. I was never able to figure out the reason for their popularity in that particular spot.
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Our last stop before leaving town was Bratislava Castle, which we hadn't had time to visit the previous day. We had no particular desire for a tour of the interior so we spent a little time looking at the outside of the castle and the views over the Danube, and then we took off for Hungary. We were eager to see Budapest.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 11:31 Archived in Slovakia Comments (0)

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