Slovakia Trip Report, Part 1

Old Oct 3rd, 2017, 08:31 AM
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Slovakia Trip Report, Part 1

Not much has been written about Slovakia and I think it is greatly underrated. Had only five days available, so I visited Kosice and then to the High Tatra Mountains. Did not stop in the capital Bratislava as I figured that since I have already been to both Vienna and Budapest, Bratislava would be a similar but smaller reprise of those cities. A couple of Slovaks I talked with agreed.

This part of Slovakia is mostly rural and very picturesque, with plains and rolling hills building up to the High Tatra Mountains, lots of lakes and streams, lots of horses and dairy herds, small villages with old wooden churches, etc., visible from the train. I observed many bicyclists in the area. I was told that driving in the region is fairly easy and main roads good. Many UNESCO world heritage sites are in eastern Slovakia, but I did not have time to see them (scattered and easiest by car).

Slovaks are generally very friendly and most know a little English but not fluently. Most signs in the country are (surprisingly) bilingual in Slovak and English. They consider themselves part of Central Europe and you will cause offense if you refer to Slovakia (or any of their neighboring countries) as “Eastern European” due to the negative association it makes with Russia.

I traveled solo so used mostly train service rather than renting a car. Slovak trains are clean, comfortable, and punctual. Unfortunately you can only purchase domestic tickets on line from the U.S. with Slovak Rail (ZSSK). If you want to cross the border to Vienna or Budapest on ZSSK, you need to buy the tickets in country. There is also a good bus service for areas not served by rail; buy tickets directly from the driver when boarding. There are several different bus companies using the same bus stop, so interpreting the bus schedules can be challenge as they are in Slovak only. Your hotel may be able to get info on line for you.

The country uses the Euro and prices are much lower than, say, Austria or Germany, reflecting the lower cost of living. The Slovak economy is doing well and I saw lots of road and bridge construction. Well worth the time to come to Slovakia and surprisingly easy to get around.
End of Part 1.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2017, 08:52 AM
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Thanks for the info. You are right, there isn't much out there about Slovakia so this is very helpful. Thanks
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Old Oct 3rd, 2017, 09:10 AM
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We did the opposite of you - went only to Bratislava (on a very short winter trip after spending a week in Budapest). We stayed in the old historic center of the city and fell in love. I wish we had stayed longer. One of the most magical places I've ever been in Europe. Yes, it is reminscent of Vienna (not so much Budapest), but it is also unique. There are myriad political issues there, including a strong anti-gay sentiment, but that seemed to be changing. The food was wonderful, the Irish coffees at the old ornate cafés outstanding, the stores full of fascinating crafts and artwork...all enticing. Most people spoke some English, but we got by better with German. The train ride from Budapest went through some gorgeous countryside, and we were impressed that the café car was staffed by women with chef's outfits and toques and served very good food (for train food). We are very much looking forward to going back for a longer stay.
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Old Oct 4th, 2017, 01:28 PM
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Day 32 Puente la Reina

The drive from LaGuardia to Puente La Reina is pretty straightforward. We mostly stayed on the N roads, which followed the Camino. Saw a good number of walkers. Passed a few cute stone villages. Watched as the Camino went along the road and then would cut through fields for a while and reappear on the road. Slightly hilly, mostly wheat fields and vineyards. The route goes through Logorno and a few other sizeable towns, which are easily passed in a car but walking through them didn’t look like fun. One very picturesque stone village, Sansol sits just where the Camino leaves the road and goes off into hayfields.

We found parking in Puente La Reina with no problem and walked through the town. First thing we noticed was that 90% of the people were dressed in white with red trim. At first I thought they were going to Pamplona but then we realized there were so many of them it had to be local (not to mention that the Pamplona festival had been over for more than a week). We finally found sings saying their festival was the 25-29th (And it was the 27th ) They appear to have a tiny bull ring right in the main square – don’t know if it’s permanent or not but there was sand and pretty substantial walls and bleachers. Then we noticed there were large gates closing off the side streets (so the bulls must run through the main street to the main square). But the main street was currently full of restaurant tables and people eating and drinking (despite it being 11am). Everyone in white and red, even babies and grandpas. As we were leaving town there was the beginning of a parade.

The bridge is lovely, reflected perfectly in the river. There’s a little church near the bridge, a large church in the middle of the main street, and another, the Church of the Crucifixion at the far end of town, next to the Pilgrim Hostal and the Pilgrim monument. That church has a backpack and walking staff right under the crucifix in the front of the church.

Olite

Then we headed for Olite. A couple km past town I spotted a round stone church in the middle of a cornfield and we pulled off – there was a parking lot and a few people. It was just lovely, was actually hexagonal with a kind of round cloister all around it. Unfortunately it was closed but it was great to just walk around it. It’s the Church of Saint Mary of Eunate, a 12th century Romanesque church with links to the Knights Templar. Its octagonal plan and the fact that it is not located in a present-day village but in the countryside contribute to its enigmatic nature. I was just staying ‘why is this not in a guide book’ and then as we were leaving a tour bus pulled in. Guess it’s in Spanish guidebooks. While there were lots of great things I saw on this trip, my extensive research meant that there were few surprises, so the fact that I just ‘spotted’ this one added to the experience.

Found Olite no problem, found hotel with parking lot behind it just as my directions, reviews had said.
Hotel Merindad is literally just inside the wall to the old town. Beautiful old stone building, lovely reception/sitting area. Room was quite large and very nice, beautiful furniture, nice tile in the bathroom, AC, TV, free Wi-Fi, little terrace with a drop dead view of the castle and the surrounding vineyards.

Went out to explore, the town is very tidy, beautifully kept, all stone buildings, tower with arched entrances, the Parador, just a few steps from our hotel, is in a small square with the church beside it, then beside that the castle. Main square in town is at other end of castle. Every just lovely. Hot and sunny. So nice.

The castle is quite amazing. 3.50€ (they could get away with 5 times that). It’s extremely well restored, almost too much, at first you think it’s Disney-esque. But it’s a real 14th century castle and some of the inside rooms, while unfurnished, are very representative of a castle of that age. There are tiny courtyards with gardens and ivy. But the most amazing thing is the ramparts and towers of which there are many – they go on and on and on. There are about a dozen towers you can climb (fitbit said about 30 flights) – all stone spiral staircases. And with each tower the view got better and better. Like a fairytale. Even DH was impressed and went around fantasying about what would be vantage points for taking out medieval enemies with a bow and arrow. And the best view turns out to be from behind – just past the hotel – the view from terrace of our hotel is great.

The church next to/incorporated into the castle has a lovely tiny cloister ruin just outside the main entrance (very unusual, most cloisters are hidden behind walls accessible only from inside the church, not right outside in front). The carving over the door is amazing and still has remnants of paint. In addition to the usual collection of saints there is a 3-D sculpture of the Virgin and baby and a lot of other things – animals, people, flowers, scrolls, gargoyles. Really beautiful and interesting.
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Old Oct 4th, 2017, 01:29 PM
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Sorry about that - obviously wrong thread.
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Old Oct 9th, 2017, 03:54 AM
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Nice report with good practical information.

What countries comprise Eastern Europe? I'm never sure about this.
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Old Oct 9th, 2017, 09:05 PM
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There is no standard definition of Eastern Europe, but certainly Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine (although Ukraine is struggling with that). Most of the former eastern bloc countries during the Cold War era want to disassociate themselves from Russia, so they classify themselves today as Central European, Baltic, or Balkan countries.
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Old Mar 25th, 2018, 04:23 AM
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Originally Posted by garybear View Post
Not much has been written about Slovakia and I think it is greatly underrated. Had only five days available, so I visited Kosice and then to the High Tatra Mountains. Did not stop in the capital Bratislava as I figured that since I have already been to both Vienna and Budapest, Bratislava would be a similar but smaller reprise of those cities. A couple of Slovaks I talked with agreed.

This part of Slovakia is mostly rural and very picturesque, with plains and rolling hills building up to the High Tatra Mountains, lots of lakes and streams, lots of horses and dairy herds, small villages with old wooden churches, etc., visible from the train. I observed many bicyclists in the area. I was told that driving in the region is fairly easy and main roads good. Many UNESCO world heritage sites are in eastern Slovakia, but I did not have time to see them (scattered and easiest by car).

Slovaks are generally very friendly and most know a little English but not fluently. Most signs in the country are (surprisingly) bilingual in Slovak and English. They consider themselves part of Central Europe and you will cause offense if you refer to Slovakia (or any of their neighboring countries) as “Eastern European” due to the negative association it makes with Russia.

I traveled solo so used mostly train service rather than renting a car. Slovak trains are clean, comfortable, and punctual. Unfortunately you can only purchase domestic tickets on line from the U.S. with Slovak Rail (ZSSK). If you want to cross the border to Vienna or Budapest on ZSSK, you need to buy the tickets in country. There is also a good bus service for areas not served by rail; buy tickets directly from the driver when boarding. There are several different bus companies using the same bus stop, so interpreting the bus schedules can be challenge as they are in Slovak only. Your hotel may be able to get info on line for you.

The country uses the Euro and prices are much lower than, say, Austria or Germany, reflecting the lower cost of living. The Slovak economy is doing well and I saw lots of road and bridge construction. Well worth the time to come to Slovakia and surprisingly easy to get around.
End of Part 1.
You can by train tickets from Praque to Bratislava or Kosice by https://www.regiojet.com/ or https://www.leoexpress.com/en too.
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