2) Touring Slovakia – The West
Touring the west
Bratislava – the picturesque coronation capital
The main gateway to Slovakia is its capital city Bratislava in the south-western corner of the country. You can enter the capital by land on car or train, by air or by the river. Many tourists come to Vienna and from there they move to Bratislava. There are two ways – the highway and the old state road number 9. The highway is very easy, you just follow the road signs directing you to Bratislava and then you exit the Vienna-Budapest highway towards Bratislava (A6). After a few dozens of kilometers you reach the border and enter the Slovak Republic and after a few kilometers you come to Bratislava. By the old road no.9 you go through several picteresque villages and little towns, but thia road is comfortbale and well maintained – it is wide and in excellent condition. You enter Slovakia via the old border crossing „Berg“ and you almost immediately enter Bratislava.
By train you can come from Vienna (or Prague or Budapest) to the Bratislava main station. It is not the best place to arrive to and Slovaks themselves are ashamed of the old station. It is dirty, ugly, undersized, full of homeless people and coming there is a return to the shabby communist 1970s. The city council has had many plans to rebuild it but it seems that it either takes its time with it, has no money or is simly not competent to do it. Luckily, right behind the train station starts the modern (and lovely) Bratislava, formely known as Pressburg (in German), Pozsony (in Hungarian) or Prešporok (in Slovak) – the current name came into being only after the founding of the first Czechoslovak Republic (1918).
You can also put your foot on the Slovak soil from a plane. Bratislava airport – not really used and known in the past – is booming and more and more flights are coming and leaving year by year. Ryanair made Bratislava its base in Central Europe and provides many cheap flights to various destinations around Europe – London, Dublin, Milan, Malaga, Brussels etc. Slovaks in this part of their country are actually lucky – they can choose from two options – they can fly from Bratislava or from nearby Vienna airport which is really close and all major carriers fly from there to the whole world.
Landing in Bratislava is cool but you might end up waiting forever for your luggage. Not that there are many flights at the same time, it is simply a lousy service, I guess. In Vienna – with much more incoming flights – you get your luggage much faster. Another thing is the connection to the city center. Do not dare to take a local taxi – they will charge you up to 50 euro if you are stupid enough to pay it. Even 20 euro is too much. Ask for the taxameter or offer them 10 euro. If the drivers (speculants trying to make money out of „stupid“ tourists) refuse to take you, get a bus – number 61 – if you can purchase a ticket (not always a rule if you do not have euro coins for the ticket machine). The bus takes you all the way to the main train station and that is actually the city center. So take the bus in any case, I´d say. It costs only 1 euro something. Once in the center, you can start enjoying this lovely little capital which has not even half million inhabitants.
The best places to see are, naturally, in the Old Town. The castle, which dominates the town together with the “UFO” bridge, offers a beautiful view on the old town itself, but also on the Austrian side of the border and the communist era barracks built on the other side of the Danube in Petržalka (cca. 130.000 people live there). St. Martin´s Cathedral is naturally beautiful (kings of Hungary were coronated here from 16th to 19th century), too and the Jewish museum is a valuable piece to visit (see the link above). The nightlife is great, there are many pubs and clubs with lots of young locals (and tourists, especially in summer) and the gentlemen might be interested in the fact that Slovak girls really belong to the most beautiful creatures in the galaxy.
Little inland Miami Beach
From Bratislava you can turn east. Just a few kilometers on the main state highway connecting western, northern and eastern Slovakia, you´ll arrive to the little town of Senec with circa 17.000 inhabitants but with a great and lovely lake around which a whole holiday resort has been built. It looks like an inland Miami Beach. To some extent, of course (they do not have that many bad boys here 😉 ). Senec is thus a place where the summer season is the best part of the year. The town swells to around 30.000 people and you can hear various languagues in the streets and on the lakeside, ranging from brother Czech language through German to Danish or Dutch. Naturally, most of the tourist are Czechs as Senec has been a popular destination for them since the good ol´ times of Czechoslovakia.
It is worth to come here for a few day if you come to Slovakia in late sping or during the summer season. There are plenty of pubs and restauranrs at the lakeside, you can camp here or live in a nice hotel. The accomodation is neat and the prices are reasonable, the beaches and camps are clean. Plus you have solid night clubs here full of tourists and locals as well and people are nice. Not to mention the cheap beer and good food if you are a Westerner. Slovakia is a cheap place and the service is more than fine. If you are penny-keeper, it might look expensive to you compared to other CEE countries but come on – a beer for 1,20€ is a cheap beer! Oh, and there is a Aquathermal if you have kids and do not want to risk swimming in the lake. This place is open all year long.
If you want to go the town and explore something from the past, you might find interesting the local museum in a mansion which is called „Turkish House“ here. It was built in 16th cnentury and was used for meetings of the local authorities and because it was in the times of Turkish attacks on Central Europe, it somehow got its name from them. Except for the mansion you can find a fine baroque style Catholic church of St. Nicolaus (baroque inside, from outside it looks older and more gothic, I´d say) which was built in 14th century and rebuilt in the later centuries. A fine piece of art, really.
Wine is fine in Slovakia!
Leaving Senec behind, you can go north to the winery town of Pezinok. Slovakia, especially the south-western parts around Small Carpathians and the Danube basin along the southern border, is really good at wine-making. Increasing number of Slovaks and also foreigners are finding out this fact and the tradition of wine-making in Slovakia. Naturally, in commie times the wine-making was perceived as something belonging to the hostile bourgeoisie class and it deteriorated into a state-owned wine making business which was not really good. Thankfully, after the 1989 Velvet revolution which sent the commie dictatorship and the Soviet occupation to hell, the wine-making became again a business of wine-makers and „wine families“ re-emerged. In Pezinok and nearby little towns of Modra, Vinosady or Svätý Jur included. Big firms are also present and the production is booming. All wine is made of local grapes, you can see the endless vineyards on the slopes of Small Carpathians and in the Danube basine.
Wine is fine in Slovakia. True story.
Plus, every May and November there are so called „Wine cellars tours“ where you can buy a 50€ ticket and tour around 200 open wineries and wine cellars across the south-western Slovakia, ranging from Bratislava vineyards all the way to the northern part of the Small Carpathians (and along its slopes naturally). These events are extremly popular and every year in late May or mid-November you meet thousands of people travelling around the little towns and villages tasting wine, buying it, having fun… The wine-makers are also selling local products like jams, liver patés, sausages, mustards and so on and so on. A big business, but a great event at the same time. If you happen to come to Slovakia in mid-November (or late May), make sure to taste the so called „young“ wine on these tours. A fantastic experience, especially the autumn one. The short foggy days in the Carpathians make this event very special and memorable.