It is now 2019, and while the year has been off to a slow start in regards to travels, this past weekend finally put me on the road for the first time this year – and in the coming few months many more trips will follow!
My first trip in 2019 was a small weekend get-away to Slovakia.
I had about 48 hours away in total, and managed to see the main sights of the capital Bratislava, and had a day of driving around the countryside seeing old castles and adorable mountain villages etc.
First stop, Vienna
By the blessing of discount airline WizzAir, it was possible for me to hitch a cheap direct flight from my nearest airport, Billund, to Vienna. But instead of staying in Vienna I decided I’d rather go to Slovakia, which is located right next door, a mere 40 minutes bus-trip away from Vienna Airport. Bratislava is cheaper, and somewhat less known which both appealed to me. So Slovakia it was.
After waiting about 15 minutes a Flixbus arrived and drove me off through a bare landscape of fields and windmills onwards to Slovakia and Bratislava. The capital is almost right on the border with Austria, so it didn’t take long until fields was replaced by a sprawling urban-scape. It was in the early afternoon as we arrived, and soon I was dropped off at the Most (Bridge) Busstop, one of the main hubs in the city. The stop is right below the UFO-bridge, so called because atop the pylons of the bridge is a big UFO-shaped viewing-platform/bar. The bridge is one of many that crosses the Danube river that runs straight through the city.
I went directly up to the UFO viewing platform, which gives a great view of the city-core, with the old-city, cathedral and castle all on a line. It is a great view from up there, and even though a ticket up to the viewing platform costs 7,5 euros its worth it for one of the best views in Bratislava.
After the first look of the city, I went back down, heading towards my hostel a few kms north, near the citys central station. Passing through the old city on the way, taking a few extra stretches exploring the beautiful old buildings. The old city is flooded with tourists, even at this time of year out of season. The old city and the immediate vicinity is also host to endless amounts of bars and restaurants and adult entertainment places. There’s a good reason why “Bar-tislava” and “Party-slava” are some much used nicknames for the city.
Before long it started to rain a bit, which was a problem as I hadn’t brought any rain-protection gear, since the weather forecast had promised dry weather the entire stay, and I only carried a small backpack anyways, so no room. I also only had the one pair of pants I was wearing. So it was slightly inconvenient.
I quickly made my way to my hostel, and set up in my room a bit, preparing to head out again for some dinner at a restaurant a friend had recommended to me.
It was still raining as I went out, even more so than before. So the 1 km trip to the Slovak Pub restaurant was performed as a bunch of small runs running from cover to cover, waiting out some of the worst rain. Eventually I made it to the restaurant, just slightly wet. I ordered one of the traditional staple dishes called Bryndzove halusky, consisting of potato dumplings with sheep cheese and bacon sprinkled on top. Along with this dish I had the local brand of cola, called “Kofola”. It is more in the style of a lemonade than regular soda, and I didn’t particularly like it, but it is more popular than Coca Cola in the country. The food however was delicious!
After getting my fill of delicious food, I ventured back out, attempting to find a store selling a umbrella, but failing to do so just gave up and walked on in the rain.
I walked through the old town, making my way up to the Bratislava fortress. The whole complex of the fortress is open until midnight and you can just stroll around within the gardens and grounds for free, without much supervision, which is a really neat thing. Especially on such a night with poor weather – I essentially had the whole place for myself which was great. I got series of good photos and quickly moved on – it was still raining too much for my liking.
The next stop was the Slavin memorial monument, on another hill a few kms away from the fortress. It is the monument to the victims of world war 2, and it is very grand and solemn. Being located on top of a hill, it also provides a great view over the city. The way up there goes through some very steep inclined hills, it is quite the walk!
As I got up there, the rain pretty much had completely stopped which was very welcome.
I took in the monument, snapped a couple of pictures and enjoyed the view over the city for a while before heading back to my hostel to crash. It was already around 10 pm at this point, and I would have to get up early the next day to go to the airport to pick up a rental car, and go for a full day of driving around the country side! Very exciting!
Rental car adventures in Slovakia
My hostel being located right next to the central station made it very easy to get to the airport, as there’s a constant stream of busses moving back and forth between the 2. You buy a public transport ticket valid (from stamp-in) for either 15 or 30 minutes, which is plenty to go everywhere within the city. You can also buy day-passes. The 30 minute ticket cost 0.90 euro, so the public transport is rather cheap here.
Arriving in the airport, I was handed over my rental car and set off! I booked my rental car through the Budget company, clocking in at just 20 euros for renting a automatic transmission car for the full day (8am to 10pm). This is not the first time I’ve had rental car adventures, my first try was in Oman last year. Read more about that here!
The highways in western Slovakia are in good shape, and are currently being expanded from 2 to 3 lanes in each direction, but it is mostly very nearby Bratislava that they’re done with the expansion yet. Being a saturday, and it being quite cloudy and even a little rainy again, the traffic was light and it was no problem getting around. You have to pay a high-way toll, but that was included in my rental deal.
The first destination of the day would be Cachtice castle, or rather the ruins of the Cachtice castle, as it now lay mostly destroyed. This castle is special because it is related to the infamous countess Elizabeth Bathory who is famous for being excessively cruel and evil, killing and torturing people in the most vile and gruesome ways. The ruins does have a small intact basement where a few torture instruments has been put up. But otherwise the main attraction here is the view. The castle is located up on a hill in a isolated area covered my smaller mountains and forests, and with a small village, Visnove, below the hill. Many hiking paths starts/ends here.
The way out to Cachtice mostly followed the highway, but when approaching the destination, I was directed off the highway and out across a small road that turned into a path made up of big concrete slabs going across a field. It felt very suspicious but eventually I reached a small city, the actually city of Cachtice, which has a small tourist industry based on everything related to the castle, but also having a cute little church and houses. I had a small mishap here however, as my GPS didn’t lead me unto the main signed street out to the castle ruins, but told me to drive out of town and follow a path made up of wheel-tracks in a muddy field. Instead of turning on my critical thinking, I set out on this path, which would clearly only have been suitable for a 4×4, and didn’t even appear to actually lead out to the castle at all. It didn’t take long until my car almost got stuck in the mud, but I miraculously managed to get myself free with some reverse driving, and quickly made my way back to the town center, doing a second check with Google maps, which lead me on the correct way up to the castle.
This was a really poor decision, and I’m really lucky that I didn’t end up getting completely stuck. It also wasted quite a bit of valuable time. Oh well, too bad!
After having spent some time at the castle, and walking a little around in the surrounding area, I drove onwards. Quickly joining onto the highways again. One more thing that is great about driving along the Slovak highways is that there is a plethora of castles located near the highways that you get a good view of. Some of them are more preserved than others. But Slovakia is definitely a good country for seeing castles.
My next stop was the small traditional village of Cicmany which lies nestled inside the mountains at the very outskirts of the low Tatras. The way to this village goes through several picturesque mountain villages and a lot of small very curvy mountain and forest roads, which was an absolute joy to drive through. I stopped multiple times along the way to take pictures. As I neared Cicmany, snow started appearing not just on the mountain tops, but also on the ground around me. It was very nice, even if too cold for what I was prepared for.
Cicmany is unique since it has an abundance of traditional houses made from wood (although they were rebuilt in the early 20th century after the originals were destroyed in a great fire in 1921. The wood houses are painted in a dark-brown/black tone and are all decorated with white ornamental symbols unique to this region. The place is also surrounded by ski-slopes which does bring a few tourists, but mostly locals. My visit was in between the ski season (granted one ski-slope was still operational and had people using it at the time I was there!) and the spring/summer season, so the town was mostly dead, but there was still one little restaurant open. I settled down there and had lunch consisting of a big platter of cheese, bacon, sausage, vegetables and more. It was very delicious indeed. The village mainly consists of 1 main road where all the houses are placed along, some of them are now functioning as museums, but since it was off-season they were all closed unfortunately. The town also hosts regular houses, as well as a small church and a little monastery where a few nuns were walking around.
After having walked around the town I got in the car and drove on, through more mountainous roads and several other small villages. Before long I reached a cozy little place called Kostolna Ves, which lies next to a lake called Nitrianske Rudno. From the lake side opposite Kostolna Ves you get a great view of this little village, with pretty houses and a beautiful church spire sticking up in front of a mountainscape, and the lake in the foreground. It was a very photographic spot, that I hadn’t planned on beforehand, so a lucky coincidence! The lake is apparently also a dam and has a big drainage system that looked pretty cool. See the pictures below.
Driving onwards to the next stop, Bojnice, I drove through yet another small village when suddenly a policeman jumped out from behind a house signaling me to stop. It is the first time ever I have been stopped by police, anywhere. Naturally I was a little afraid that I had done something wrong. The guy was polite and explained to me in broken english that it was a alcohol control, and he had me blow into a alco-meter. Since all I had been drinking all day and yesterday was the non-alcoholic Kofola, I was cleared no problem and was on my merry way. A fun little anecdote nevertheless.
At around 3:20pm I finally reached the major town of Bojnice. The destination here was the Bojnice castle, which unlike the Cachtice castle is extremely well preserved and looks astonishing. It almost has the appearance of Hogwarts, or at the very least just something out of the Harry Potter universe in general. Unfortunately the castle itself was closed that day so I could only walk around the castle grounds, but not go inside. I wouldn’t have had the time anyways. The city of Bojnice itself is, as I said, one of the larger towns of country, but I didn’t go into the city itself.
From Bojnice I had orignally planned to continue onto the UNESCO village of Vlkolinec in the low Tatra mountains, but by the time i departed Bojnice it was already past 4pm, and it would be a almost 2 hour drive to Vlkolinec, and from Vlkolinec another almost 3 hours back to Bratislava, so that would be a big addition of time. So I decided to skip Vlkolinec, and go on to the last castle of the day, indeed the last stop of the day before returning to Bratislava.
The final castle was to be Reviste Castle. It is yet another ruin, and it is probably one of the lesser known ones. I only stumbled across it by chance while looking up the route from Bratislava to Vlkolinec prior to the trip (I had originally planned to do the trip in reverse), and saw that the road would take me past this castle, and looking at the pictures from the castle drew me in. It is located near a tiny little village not far off from the highway. The castle is located up on a hill and you have to go on a small hike first to reach it. The hike goes through a little forest valley with a river and everything, and it is a nice little walk. The castle has amazing views of the river valley that stretches out below it, and that the highway also crosses straight through. The castle ruins are undergoing restoration, but you can still just climb all over them. Watching the sunset (granted it was entirely cloudy, so more like watching the sky darken) from the castle ruins, and the landscape fall into darkness was a great finish to this day.
From Reviste I set out back to Bratislava, having a few gas station stops along the way, both to refuel, get some drinks and food and just stretch my legs a big. It was still a 2 hour drive from Reviste back. I arrived back at the airport to drop off the car at 9pm, so the 14 hour rental was put to good use (13 hours spent), driving about 450 kms throughout the Slovak country side.
Catching a bus back to the central station, I went straight to my new hostel (my first hostel wasn’t available for both nights), which was also located near the central station. I would need to get up early the next morning to walk to the Central Bus station to catch the bus to Vienna Airport for my flight home at 11:15am, so I went to sleep fairly quickly.
The next morning i woke up at 6:50, packed my stuff and set out for the bus station 30 minutes away. The city had been covered in a thick cover of fog giving a quite eerie atmosphere to the dead, empty streets on this early sunday morning. But it was also strangely tranquil to walk through this empty town.
At the bus station I decided to check in for my flight, but lo and behold online check-in closed 3 hours prior to the flight, and I was 5 minutes too late for that, so I would have to pay to check-in at the airport instead. Too bad. I bought a container of yogurt and had that for breakfast while waiting for the bus. I also saw a vending machine for cheese and dairy products at the station. Quite unusual. Before long I was back at Vienna Airport, and had paid a staggering 35 euros to be able to check in. Auch. What a end to the trip.
All in all, this quick glimpse into Slovakia was terrific. Despite only spending a very short time in Bratislava itself it really seemed like a cozy city, and I would definitely love to return and explore further some day. The countryside is also extremely pleasant. The nature is stunning, and the small villages are so picturesque and beautiful. Castles are everywhere, and it is just fantastic. I can strongly recommend going to this country!