After a spectacular New Year’s in Banská Bystrica, we set off on a whirlwind, couchsurfing adventure through Slovakia. Our goal was to spend about a week making our way over to the Ukrainian border, the next country on our list. We’ve done a bit of couchsurfing here and there, but in Slovakia we definitely had the best luck finding hosts so far. Maybe it was just the right season, who knows, but we immediately found some great people that happily took us in along the way. So here we go!
From Banská Bystrica we caught a train to Prievidza, where our first hosts picked us up and took us to their nearby village of Nitrianske Rudno. We arrived at their home to a full house, the whole family was visiting for the holidays and we were lucky enough that they still took us in! Mario and his family were incredibly welcoming and generous, introducing us to Slovakian foods and traditions. One of my favourites was korbáčik, this delicious string cheese that had been produced right there in the village.
On our first day, Mario and his brother-in-law, Lubomir, offered to take us to see Bojnice Castle. Bojnice Castle is old, first written records date back to 1113, and it has been seized, bought, and passed along to numerous groups and families over the centuries. The castle eventually fell into a period of stagnation, and when Count Jan Frantisek Palfi obtained it in 1852 he decided to renovate it in a more romantic style. He drew inspiration from French Gothic castles and early Italian Renaissance architecture to design his dream castle. Tragically, Count Palfi never saw the construction to completion before his death. As Count Palfi was a bachelor with no heirs, the castle was bickered over and changed hands a few more times before it finally became part of the Slovak National Museum.
This might be my favourite castle we have seen to date. The tour took us through rooms of incredible beauty, unlike any we had seen before, though some did remind me of the nature/Art Nouveau elements we found in Scandinavia. The walls I loved especially, each covered with rich colours and elaborate vine and floral designs. The castle was indeed beautiful and romantic. Encircled by a small lake filled with birds, the castle sits on a hill looking over the city (as all castles seem to do). The pale, peach-coloured stone walls and towers are topped with light, turquoise roofs, all huddled together into a cosy, rounded complex of buildings. My architecture lingo is a bit limited so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After our amazing tour through Bojnice Castle, we were hungry! Mario and Lubomir took us up to a ski lodge for some traditional Slovakian bryndzové halušky. Delicious, but very heavy, it’s potato dumplings topped with bryndza sheep cheese and “bacon”. I put bacon in quotations because it’s a bit different from North American bacon as it’s actually just fried pieces of pork fat without (or with very little) meat. I had to waddle carefully out the door when we finished.
The night had just begun. Lubomir was very knowledgeable about local wines and cheeses and was generous enough to show us Tokaj, a very sweet, dessert wine with a dramatic history. The Slovak region of Tokaj was part of a much larger, historic wine region in the Kingdom of Hungary. With the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, the Tokaj wine region remained a part of Hungary with only 3% of the area remaining in Slovakia. The debate over Slovakia’s right to use the name “Tokaj” on their wines raged for nearly 50 years, before finally an agreement was reached. Slovakia could use “of Tokaj” on their wines providing they adhered to Hungarian quality control regulations. As you can tell, wines and their legacies are taken very, very seriously in Europe. The wine itself was delicious, reminding me a bit of a plum wine but also of an ice wine, with a lovely, golden colour.
After we bid farewell to our wonderful hosts we were off on a bus to our second, Slovakian couchsurfing host in Trenčín. Martin worked in IT and had moved back home to Trenčín after working a few years in Bratislava. He took us on a lovely walking tour of Trenčín, showing us the pretty downtown square and a Roman inscription hidden behind a hotel! The inscription is said to be the most important, epigraphic Roman monument in Central Europe. The Tatra hotel allows people to wander up to a viewing area to see the inscription carved into castle rock, providing a translation as well:
EXERCITUS QVI LAV
GARICIONE SEDIT MIL(ites)
L(egionis) II DCCCLV
(Marcus Valerrius) MAXIMIANUS LEG(atus) LEG
(ionis) II AD)iutricis) CVR(avit) F(aciendum)”
“To the victory of emperors, dedicated by 855 soldiers of II
Legion of an army stationed in Laugaricio.
Made to order of Marcus Valerius Maximianus, a legate of the Second Auxiliary legion.”
Unfortunately for us the castle which we had travelled to Trenčín to see was closed that day for “de-icing”… Despite the fact that it was above zero and everything was dry as a bone… Oh well. At least we had some lovely views of it from the downtown. Later that evening we went out with Martin and his girlfriend for drinks at a local brewery. After a carousel sampling of the beers they brewed we staggered out and found that it had started to snow. Maybe those castle “de-icers” (or whatever you’d call them) knew what they were talking about after all.
Slovakia has been home to our best couchsurfing experiences so far, filled with incredibly generous hosts, great wine, lively discussions, and beautiful sights. Thank you for the wonderful time, guys! The next day we would be off for one last stop on our couchsurfing adventure, and it was going to be a busy one. We had our sights set on a last blitz of medieval towns and castles, but it looked as though some dark clouds were rolling in…