A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Strečno and Terchová

End of August 2021, I am on the road, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: BratislavaTrnava NitraŽilina – Strečno and Terchová – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

It is raining, when I leave “my” Central Hotel at Žilina after a quiet night. I am heading north-east to the Mala Fatra mountains. After a few kilometers, I notice a signboard pointing to Strečno. I turn right and follow the signs.

 

The mysterious Strečno castle in the mist

After some more kilometers another signpost points upwards and says: “panoramic view of the Strečno castle“. A narrow road takes me up into the hills. I reach a large parking area, leave my car here, walk to the panoramic view point and here it is, the Strečno castle surrounded by mist. 

The fortification is located 12km east of Žilina and was first mentioned in 1316. To beat the resistance of the locals, the Habsburgian emperor Leopold I destroyed Strečno in 1698. It was reconstructed after 1990 and opened as a museum in 1995.  

The Strečno castle sits on a steep cliff above the river Vah…

… and the village.

The viewpoint has been carefully set up…

… with a small restaurant, where I have a coffee break.

Kids must love this place with all the kitschy stuff and the playgrounds.

There is even a (plastic) cow on a rusty van. Well, I imagine crowds of families with kids spending a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon here.

After this wonderful break, I continue my way to Terchová.

 

Pozor – zebra na ceste

Pozor means “watch out” and “na ceste” means “on the road”. 

Well, there is not exactly a “zebra” here. Just a pedestrian crossing. I do like this Slovakian humour.  

Nearby is this small hotel. I admire the adventurous cabling. 

 

Terchová – a mountain resort that venerates Jánošik born here

Juraj Jánošik was the Robin Hood of Slovakia (he is also venerated in Poland). The museum tells his story. 

Born in 1688, he participated in insurrections. When his father was killed by Habsburgian tax collectors for not having paid his taxes in time, Jánošik started to rob noblemen and merchants distributing the goods to the poor. He is said never to have applied violence. He was arrested and executed in 1711, though a good lawyer defended him claiming that he had never committed a murder and was driven by the wish to help the poor in the mountains (Müller, p. 220).

Terchová is a mountain resort that invites to hike in the area, even in the rain.

A wooden lookout is located above the village.

I return to my car and continue my way to Dolny Kubin.

 

Crossing the Mala Fatra

To cross the mountain range of the Mala Fatra, my car has to climb up to a pass. I look back, where Terchová is located between green meadows and soft hills.

Then I look westwards in the direction of Dolny Kubin. 

I understand that touching… 

… this wonderful stone will bring me luck. I do wish to continue my tour safely and to enjoy wonderful days with my friends in Poland.

The nearby farm invites children to meet their animals. Nice.

The Mala Fatra seems to be a welcoming region inviting to relax and hike following the tracks of Jánošik, the local Robin Hood.

 

To recapitulate: This is my route through Slovakia

Today, I drive from Žilina to Dolny Kubin with two stop overs to see the castle Strečno and Jánošik’s village Terchová.

 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Trenčianske Teplice and Žilina

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, next in Slovakia: BratislavaTrnavaNitra – Žilina – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

Now I have a lunch stop at Trenčianske Teplice and then I stay overnight in Žilina. 

 

Lunch stop at Trenčianske Teplice

My friends have told me about Trenčianske Teplice, a health resort in the Strážovské Vrchy mountains. I cross the mountains and reach the shady valley of the Teplička that later flows into the Váh river. The village Trenčianske Teplice is a health resort with larger and smaller hotels and spas, surrounded by hills that promise nice hiking. 

I park my car near the church.

I stroll through the wide pedestrian area. I am hungry, it is lunch time.

At Zuzi’s, I eat Bryndzové Halušky, the national dish of Slovakia. It is potato dumplings (a bit like gnocchi) with sheep cheese and bacon. It tastes interesting and after the meal, I am no longer hungry. However, I would not eat Bryndzové Halušky too often… my apologies, Stefan. 

Trenčianske Teplice is surely a  nice place to stay – I would love to hike in the surrounding hills (well, I am not the spa type of person). 

I enter my parking ticket – and the parking meter asks me to pay 50 Euros for about two hours. I cancel, ask in the restaurant nearby, the young waitor accompanies me and shows me the right button to press. Now I have to pay 50 cents. Much better. Thank you!

I leave Trenčianske Teplice and follow the Váh valley on the highway that connects Bratislava with Žilina. Near Žilina, the valley gets narrower. To reach the exit “Juh” (south), I have to drive through endless tunnels and have to cross one bridge after the next, until I reach the city.

 

One night at Žilina with some time to stroll through the city centre

I have booked a room in the hotel Central Park on Sad SNP. I oscillate quite a bit, until I find the entry to the dead end street and to the hotel. Now I understand – “SNP Sad” means “SNP garden”. My hotel Central Park borders the “railway garden” or “railway park”  and is located on a dead end street. All very promising for a quiet night. 

I walk through the park and reach the Andrej Hlinku square, where some political propaganda about Europe is going on.

Above the square is the Trinity Cathedral, located on the hill. It is under restoration. It is dark inside, I cannot see anything. 

The statues of Methodius and Cyril with their orthodox cross greet me on the way up to the Cathedral. The Byzantine cross has decorated the coat of arms of Žilina since 1378, as I read on Wikipedia.

The gem of the pedestrian city centre is the Maria square. 

The statue of Maria dominates it.

Restaurants invite to sit down and have a drink or dinner. People enjoy walking around and sitting on the benches. I feel like in a Mediterranean country, though it is pretty chilly now. 

The pretty old town hall is still in use. The coat of arms decorates the roof. 

The church of St. Paul the Apostle is being renovated as well. 

Small streets lead away from the Maria square and invite me to stroll around.

Some interesting Art Nouveau houses on the way. 

Nearby I find the New Synagogue, which is now a cultural centre. It was built in 1928-31.

Why all is so much renovation work going on in Žilina? Later I find the answer: Žilina has been nominated for European Capital of Culture in 2026. This may be the reason. In 2026, the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Saint Paul church have to demonstrate that the city is worth the honour. Perhaps I should return in 2026 to explore these churches and to visit more sights at Žilina; I now read about the Romanesque Church of Saint Stephen the King from the early 13th century that is decorated with frescoes.  

I have dinner on the Maria square and return to my Central Park Hotel. It is quiet and I sleep well. An excellent choice!

 

A look at the map

From Nitra to Žilina I drove about 180km, along the Nitra river,across the Strážovské Vrchy mountains (which is a pleonasm, as “vrchy” means peaks or mountains) and then along the Váh river.

SourceElevation map of Slovakia

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Nitra

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: BratislavaTrnava – Nitra – Žilina – Terchová – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

Nitra is my next destination. It was here that during the Great Moravian Empire, Cyril and Methodius translated the bible to the Slavic language in the late 9th century. Their successors were expelled later and introduced the Slavic bible in Macedonia and Bulgaria. Cyril and Methodius are venerated in Slovakia, though the country is a Roman catholic country today. The orthodox cross is on the coat of arms of Slovakia.

I had selected the hotel 11 because of the terrace with the view of the castle hill. Coming from Trnava, I settle and first have a coffee on the hotel terrace, enjoying the great view of the castle hill with the cathedral, the religious centre of Nitra.

 

Overview of my tour as a Swiss butterfly through Slovakia

Source: Elevation map of Slovakia

 

The historic castle hill of Nitra with St. Emmeram Cathedral

I climb up the castle hill using the Samova street and crossing the Pribina square with the Pribina statue and the beautiful baroque palaces.

Pribina is the first known ruler at Nitra that is of Slavic origin (around 860). 

Passing the monument reminding of Cyryl and Methodius, I reach the Maria column that parallels the belfry of the cathedral.

Graceful angels are surrounding Maria.

The cathedral is behind the fortification wall. 

Inside the cathedral, I climb up the stairs – and I notice this new kind of holy water. 

Yes, we go through a pandemic right now and disinfectants are important.

The cathedral consists out of three churches. At the highest point is the Baroque church.

I like the trompe-oeuil painting with the people at the window. 

In the lower church, this beautiful Gothic fresco of the death and coronation of the Virgin Mary has been uncovered during the restoration works of 2005-2014. 

On the opposite side of the fresco, I admire the representation of the deposition from the cross and the burial of Christ (Johannes Pernegger, 1622).

The third church hides behind the Gothic church. It is of Romanesque style, from the 12th century.

I look back at the cathedral from outside.

Behind the fortification walls, I find a bar with this beautiful view of the city and the mountain Zobor.

 

Strolling around in the pedestrian area in the lower city centre

Nitra has set up its pedestrian area with care. You can shop here and restaurants invite to sit down.

This Renaissance Revival building from around 1880 was the town hall and is now the regional museum. 

Nitra is proud of its singing clock. My Müller guidebook says that the melody plays at midday, but I heard it several times in the late afternoon, while having dinner.

Near the pedestrian area, I visit the Synagogue built around 1910 combining Moorish, Byzantine and Jugendstil elements. 

I enter and admire the solemn atmosphere with the cushions on the floor that invite to pray. 

On the way to my hotel, I come across the Baroque Ladislaus church that is part of the Piarist monastery. The Piarists founded their catholic order in the early 17th century to teach children and youth. 

 

The warm summer evening on the terrace with the footballer’s wine and the view of the castle hill

I return to my hotel 11 to enjoy the warm summer evening on their terrace. At the reception bar, I select a wine from Hamšík winery. Hamšík is THE football player of Slovakia. While playing football in Italy, he learnt about wine and wineries and now, he sells his wine that is famous in Slovakia. What a great plan for his future, when he will no longer be a football star.

With my glass of wine I sit on the balcony of the hotel 11 and enjoy the view of the castle at twilight…

… and then at night. 

I stay here until midnight. I know, this is the last warm summer evening… rain is announced for the night. The ugly summer 2021 that I have experienced in Basel will catch up with me again now.

 

Drazovce – the pretty church Saint Michael north of Nitra on a hill

After a good breakfast at my hotel 11, I buy some Slovakian wine in the shop nearby. Then I leave the city in search of the small Romanesque church Saint Michael from the early 12th century at Drazovce. It turns out to be difficult to find the village and the church.

First, my GPS takes me south to another place called also Drazovce. I notice that after a few kilometers and return to Nitra. My GPS now guides me north on the express way to Drazovce-Nitra. However, the exit to Drazovce is closed due to construction work. It takes me quite some time to find the detour to the village. I park my car in the village, follow a small foot path and find this chapel full of atmosphere. It was worth the effort!

From here, I have a magnificent view south, to Nitra with the Castle hill and the Cathedral.

Before I drive north towards Teplice, I stop to take another photo of this marvellous church above the rock. 

Thank you, my Müller guidebook, for having pointed me to the chapel Saint Michael.

Perhaps I will return to Nitra one day to visit the castle hill with the cathedral once more, to climb the mountain Zobor and to taste wines at the vineyards around Nitra. 

 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Trnava

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: Bratislava – Trnava – Nitra – Zilina – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

This blog is about Trnava.

I leave Bratislava on Sunday morning. On the motorway, it takes me about 45 minutes to Trnava.

I am interested in this small city of about 70’000 inhabitants, because for centuries it was the Christian centre of the Hungarian kingdom, from 1541 to 1820; actually the Turks had occupied most of Hungary and what was left of Hungary at that time was about the area of Slovakia.

Furthermore Trnava has a nice pedestrian area and the city wall has been well preserved. 

I park my car near St. James church (belonging to the Franciscan monastery). It is Sunday and parking is free.

The loudspeaker transmits the service to the street; some guests listen to it outside the church. 

The Trinity Square is the focal point of Trnava city centre. It is dominated by the Renaissance town hall belfry from 1574. 

The Trinity church that gives it name to the square, is in the street nearby. It is a baroque church from 1729.

In addition, the elegant theatre built in 1831 borders the Trinity Square. It is the oldest theatre in Slovakia.

Numerous restaurants invite to sit down and enjoy the warm Sunday morning. The concrete block belongs to a shopping mall, not really my taste.

Pretty two storey houses and some palaces line the pedestrian streets. Here I am looking back at the Trinity Square and St. James church.

Turning 180 degrees, I can see Saint Nicolas church, the main church of Trnava, between the carefully restored palaces. 

Also here, the service is transmitted outside.

Once the service has finished, I enter Saint Nicolas church with its gothic appearance.

Saint Nicolas church was built in 1440 and served as the cathedral of the Hungarian archbishopric of Esztergom.

Behind Saint Nicolas church, the city wall has been restored with care and the park invites to sit down in the sun.

Amidst the beautifully restored houses, some are sorely decaying.

Not far from here I find Baroque Saint John’s Basilika, the church of the university of Trnava, built in the 17th century. 

There is a Jewish centre with the Synagogue and a coffee place.

Trnava is a welcoming small city that I enjoyed to discover.

To round off my walk in Trnava, I have lunch in the restaurant right across Saint Nicolas church – salad with chicken – and then continue my way to Nitra. 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018

A Swiss butterfly in Slovakia: Bratislava

End of August 2021, I am on the road again, to Berlin via Slovakia and Poland. My route: Munich, in Slovakia: Bratislava – Nitra – Zilena – Dolny Kubin, then in Poland: Wilkowisko – Cracow – Szlarska Poreba – Wroclaw, and finally Berlin. 

After a wonderful day with my long year friend(almost sixty years) in Munich, I continue my way to Bratislava. On Friday night, August 20th, I park my car under the Opera in the city centre. Nearby, I have booked a room in the hotel Art William at Laurinska street. The hotel hides in the yellow building with the arcades – a lady speaking Russian (and enjoying it) helps me to find the entry.

The hotel  was good for sleeping quietly, as the windows open to a courtyard. However, I  had to live with the somewhat sloppy service (breakfast out  of plastic boxes, room not cleaned up). 

 

After having arrived in the evening, I explore the city centre, a pretty and busy pedestrian area

Leaving my hotel, I find myself in the middle of the pedestrian area of Bratislava. 

The Ulica Ursulinska is the first street branching off from Laurinska. 

Here this shop invites me to buy flowers.

At the end of Laurinska, the “man at work” attracts tourists to make selfies. What a wonderful humour. 

There are many more such statues in the city centre.

Beautiful palaces line the streets such as the Rokoko Mirbach palace near the main square.

The Hviezdoslavovo námestie borders the pedestrian area. The memorial commemorates the poet and literature translator Hviezdoslav (1849-1921) who helped shape the Slovak language.

The square looks more like an alley. The people enjoy the warm summer evening under the trees. Many restaurants are inviting for coffee with cake or for dinner.

Now I am in Ulica Kapitulska and look into Farska, towards Kostol Pvysenia Svateho Kriza (Resurrection Church). I like the two lizards.

Night falls. I am at the main square (Hlavné Námestie) with the old city hall (the tower is from the 13th century). Just next to the city hall is the baroque church of the Jesuits. The Maximilian fountain (also called Roland fountain) has been constructed in 1572 by order of Maximilian II, king of Hungary.  

It is getting dark. The warm summer evening invites people to sit sit outside, which makes me believe that I am somewhere in Italy. 

In the dark, the network of streets confuse me. I discover this view of the city hall tower “from behind”. 

Then I find Saint George adorning this elegant courtyard.

Back in Ursulinska, I have a cold drink in a cosy courtyard. 

 

Back in the city centre by daylight

In the morning and at daylight, I return to the city hall approaching it from “behind” through the courtyard.

From here the city hall tower can also be seen. Some open air performance seems to take place.

Across the city hall is this art nouveau building; I took the photo with the Maximilian fountain in the foreground.

Also on the main square, Napoleon leans over the bench, cross-armed. Another one of the charming statues.

Michael’s gate is under restoration. The gate originates from the 14th century and was renovated by Maria Theresa in the 18th century. It is the only gate of the Bratislava fortification wall that remains today. 

 

Saint Martin’s Cathedral

Saint Martin’s Cathedral is bordering the city centre. The expressway, built in the 1970’s, cuts brutally between the old city centre and the castle hill. The relatively modest church was the place, where 18 kings of Hungary were crowned in three centuries, and therefore a copy of Stephan’s crown tops the belfry.  

The neighbourhood of Saint Martin’s Cathedral was the Jewish quarter with the Synagogue, all destroyed, when the expressway was built. The exhibition commemorates the former Jewish settlement. 

The church has an unostentatious appearance inside. As a protestant (used to unostentatious churches) I would say, the atmosphere invites to meditate.

The statue of  Saint Martin had once been part of the altar from the 17th century. The altar, including Saint Martin, was removed, when the cathedral was purified from baroque elements to appear in gothic style again. Later, the beautiful Saint Martin, dressed like a Hungarian hussar, returned to the church. He is cutting his coat to give half of it to the beggar.

 

Climbing the castle hill

A tunnel allows to get to the castle hill. It is separated from the old town by the express way that leads to the hanging bridge with the “Ufo”, which is topped by the restaurant high above the Danube and above the busy traffic.  

The entrance to the castle area is open.

From the terrace, I enjoy the view of the city centre of Bratislava with Saint Martins Cathedral and the Danube. You can see well, how the express way cuts into the heart of Bratislava.

The castle hill has an old tradition. It had been used by the Romans. It withstood all attacks during medieval times and was restored by Maria Theresa for her son-in-law Albert von Sachsen-Teschen. Then the castle decayed. It was restored again after 1945, to the appearance of the 17th century.

Behind the castle, the well-groomed baroque garden invites to sit down.

Another option for a rest are the “castle” chairs below the castle.

I leave out all the museums offered inside the castle to avoid being exposed to Covid. 

I find a cosy coffee place near the statue of the witch and then return to the city centre.

 

The Grassalkovich palace is where the president resides

To the north of the city centre, the Grassalkovich palace has been beautifully restored to become the seat of Slovakia’s president.  

The park behind the palace is open to the public.

Maria Theresia is venerated here. Majestically she rides the horse.

 

The Elisabeth church, also called blue church: Joyful Jugendstil

My guidebook proposes to visit the Elisabeth church or “blue church” to the east of the city centre. 

Built around 1910, it is a fine example of the Hungarian Jugendstil. 

It is not the only Jugendstil building in Bratislava, but it is said to be the most beautiful example – and I like it.

 

Good-bye Bratislava

After a delicious dinner with an excellent local Slovak wine of Miro Fondrk, I end my day in this small court yard in Ursulinska drinking a fruit juice made out of lemon and kiwi.

Stefan, your home town is marvellous! You must have missed it, after having left it in 1968. Great that you can visit it again.

 

Some background information about the history of Slovakia

Until 470 A.D.: Celts, Romans and Huns

  • 100 B.C.: Bratislava is a Celtic settlement at the so called amber trade route.
  • Until 370 A.D.: The Romans have temporary settlements in the area.
  • Until 455: The Huns invade the area.

Until 10th century: The Slavs arrive, are then ruled by the Avars, become independent (king Samo, Nitrava) and then part of the Great Moravia State. It is now that Cyril and Methodius, requested by Moravia from Byzantium, translate the Bible to Slavic. (Though Slovakia is a Roman catholic country today, the orthodox cross is part of the coat of arms. In addition Cyril and Methodius are venerated in the country).

  • 5th century: In the migration period, the Slavs arrive. There was a fortress at Bratislava.
  • 6th century: The Avars arrive and subdue the Slavs.
  • 623/24: The Slavs stand up, guided by the Franconian merchant Samo. Samo becomes king of the Slavs and rules until 658/58. After his death, there are no reported chronicles.
  • Around 800: Two major empires, Nitrava and Moravia, are reported.
  • 833: Moravia subdues Nitrava. The Great Moravian State is a Christian Empire that reports into Franconia and then reaches out to Byzantium. 
  • 864: Byzantium sends the brothers Cyril and Methodius to Nitra. They translate the Bible to Slavic to make it accessible for the population. The Pope approves Slavic for liturgy, along with Greek and Latin. Cyril dies in Rome and Methodius is appointed as the Moravian archbishop (870-885). After his death, the priests sticking to the Slavic liturgy are expelled. They move to Macedonia (Clement) and Bulgaria (here supported by tsar Boris I). 
  • The Great Moravian State exists until 906.

906-1918 Today’s Slovakia is part of Hungary and, after the defeat of Corvinus by the Turks, it is what remains from Hungary, inherited by Habsburg that step by step reconquers Hungary from the Turks

  • Around 900: The Hungarians immigrate and, in 906, conquer, what is Slovakia today.
  • 1241: The Mongolians invade and attack the fortress of Bratislava. It withstands their attacks. 
  • 13th century: Jews and Germans settle.
  • 1521: Slovakia switches to the protestant religion (and will move back to the catholic belief in the 17th century).
  • 1526: The Hungarian king Corvinus is defeated by the Turks.
  • 1536: The area of Slovakia is more or less all that remains from Hungary. By inheritance it belongs to the Habsburgians that make Bratislava the capital of Hungary. 
  • 1563-1830: The coronation of the (Habsburgian) kings takes place in Saint Martin’s church at Bratislava.
  • 18th century: Maria Theresa enjoys residing in Bratislava and promotes the city. Palaces in the city centre tell us about this. 
  • 1731: Emperor Joseph II moves the Hungarian capital back to Budapest and Bratislava is now a “suburb” of Vienna. 
  • The Slovak self confidence continues to exist. Several times, the Slovaks rise against the Habsburgians – without success. In 1787, Antony Bernolák creates a unified Slovak script. However, the Hungarian upper class enforces Hungarian as official language, also for schools. In September 1848 there is a major Slovak uprisin. 

1918-1992: For 70 years, Slovakia is part of Czechoslovakia, though being independent during the Second World War

  • 1918 Czechoslovakia is founded with Prague as the capital. Though part of this country, Bratislava feels more related to Austria or Hungary.
  • 1939-1945 Slovakia is independent, guided by president Josef Tiso.
  • 1945 Czechoslovakia is established by brutal force and Slovakia becomes a federative republic.
  • 1948 Slovakia loses the status as a federative republic.
  • 1990 Slovakia becomes a federative republic again within Czechoslovakia.

1992 – today: Since almost 30 years, Slovakia has been independent with the capital Bratislava. 

  • 1992 Slovakia becomes an independent state. 
  • 2004 Slovakia joins the Nato and the European Union.
  • 2009 Slovakia introduces the Euro.

 

Sources:

  • André Micklitza, ” Slowakei”, Michael Müller Verlag 2019
  • Frieder Monzer, “Slowakei”, Trescher Verlag 2018
  • Wikipedia entries about Slovakia, Great Moravia, and the Glagolitic Script