Spisska Sobota, Slovakia

This is from a letter in the early 2000s We drove from Bratislava to Kosice and made some stops on the way.  I wanted to visit a little town named Spisska Subota, or “Spis Saturday.”  (Slovakia also has a town named “Upper Wednesday.”  I have not been able to find “Lower Wednesday” or even “Wednesday.”  Ever practical, Suzi says the towns were probably named because those were the days they had their markets.)   Subota, is best known for its Whirlpool white goods factory.  We stayed there with the boys several years ago while visiting a station in nearby Poprad.  Subota … Continue reading Spisska Sobota, Slovakia

Slovak Whimsey

One of the most delightful things about living or visiting Slovakia are the surprises you find.  Whimsical statues celebrate men in manholes, a paparazzi may poke a lens from around a corner.  There are street performers who delight.  Two Hot Chocolate shops, one in Bratislava and one in Poprad,  were decorated by Children’s Theater set designers.  OK, so the plaque commemorating the first witch burning is not some whimsical, but it was a surprise. Continue reading Slovak Whimsey

Presov, Slovakia (Slovakia’s Candy Land.)

On Saturday we went to Presov and discovered the old town square hosting the city’s folk festival.  There was lots of traditional singing and dancing and all sorts of craftspeople, weavers, musical instrument makers, metal workers and carvers demonstrating along with falconers in the long town square.  It was a mixed crowd, with blonde Slavs and dark Roma enjoying the music and dancing of both groups.  Preshov has the reputation of a gray industrial town in the far east of Slovakia.  But the Slovak Spectator has described the town center as “candyland” because of its bright colors and intricate decoration.  … Continue reading Presov, Slovakia (Slovakia’s Candy Land.)

The Valley of Death (Dukla Pass), Slovakia

This is from a June 2003 letter: There’s a valley on the Slovak-Polish border that’s been a constant battle-ground, so much so that its official name is Dolina smrti, the Valley of Death.  The Dukla pass is where the Poles and the Habsburgs and then the Russians and Habsburgs fought during the 18th and 19th centuries.  In the twentieth century, during the First World War, more than 1.8 million people died in Eastern Slovakia, mostly in battles in this area.  In the Second World War there was a two-month battle between the Germans and the Red Army in which, on … Continue reading The Valley of Death (Dukla Pass), Slovakia

Levoca, Slovakia

In Eastern Slovakia there are many fine old towns, often settled by German craftsman and guildsman brought in by various emperors to jump start the economy.  They are still working towns.  One of the most beautiful, Levoča, which is noted for its fine wood carvings, has gothic and baroque buildings still lived in.  It has a museum dedicated to the alter carvings of Master Pavol.  The main street has grocers and hardware stores vying with ice cream stands, coffee shops and “souveniry” stands.  It is kind of the way Bratislava was when we lived here.  But I wonder for how … Continue reading Levoca, Slovakia

The Kosice Bride Industry

This is from a June 2008 letter. On Saturday afternoon at one most of the stores in downtown Kosice close and the town gets down to the real business of a June Saturday afternoon, manufacturing brides.  St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral is running an assembly line.  Earlier in the week I wondered why there were so many catholic churches in old town Kosice.  On Saturday afternoon I didn’t need to ask.  Wedding bells and organ music sang from each of them.  Following the ceremonies the newly minted brides (and grooms) strolled the streets of the old town almost always followed by some … Continue reading The Kosice Bride Industry

Devin Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia

This is from a letter written in June 1999.  I was musing on the Celtic revival in Central Europe.  Devin Castle was an old Celtic fortification that became Roman, then Slavic, than Austrian.  The Hungarians may also have been involved.  It is just outside Bratislava where the Morava River joins the Danube at the Austrian border. According to some histories the Celts formed as a culture at the spot where the Danube cuts through the Small Carpathian Mountains, exposing veins of copper.  That would be at Bratislava.  The site of Devin Castle was occupied by Proto-Celts in the 5th millennium … Continue reading Devin Castle, Bratislava, Slovakia

Čičmany, Slovakia

Čičmany is not a UN heritage site but it should be.  There are wooden houses painted with different geometric designs and animal figures.  They were originally designed to ward off evil spirits.  The fact that the town mostly survived fire and the Second World War is a testament that the designs (as well as the many images of the Blessed Virgin) just may work.  I like the interplay of Pagan and Catholic.  The town is off the main road but tries to be accommodating to those of us who find it.  There is a charming plaque in several languages, in … Continue reading Čičmany, Slovakia

Bratislava, River Town.

Bratislava is a river town.  In season we watched the cruise boats going between the Black Sea and the North Sea along the Danube and Rhine.  Sometimes they stopped in Bratislava, sometimes they sailed by heading to Vienna or Budapest, their loss.  We also watched freight boats and noted flags from the Ukraine to the Netherlands and all the countries in between.  During the NATO bombing of Serbia much of the traffic stopped.  That hurt the port of Bratislava and, down river, in Budapest, the boats rafted up waiting for the river to clear. One of the pictures is a … Continue reading Bratislava, River Town.

Bratislava, Our Neighborhood.

We lived in an old German neighborhood with houses and mansions owned by German Merchants.  Our apartment building was in the garden of an old mansion.  It was built to house doctors.  We rented from a couple, both of whom were doctors.  We got good medical care along with the rent.  Each month when the landlord came to collect the rent and have coffee she inquired about our health and, several times, arranged visits to their clinic.  There is a picture of the balcony off the children’s room in the flat. (It is the lead pic on this page.) We … Continue reading Bratislava, Our Neighborhood.

Blava Modern

Bratislava is mostly known for its old buildings, or 19th century Empire or Art Nouveau, but there are some modern buildings as well.  The SNP bridge, with its space age pretensions is a controversial symbol of Bratislava.  To build it the approaches ripped through the old town taking out the Jewish quarter.  However, 40 years after it was built it has become an accepted symbol of the city.  The New Bridge, (which is what the SNP bridge used to be called, (It is officially the Apollo Bridge) is a graceful arch over the Danube. Many old buildings have been given … Continue reading Blava Modern

Bojince, Slovakia

This is from a May 2002 letter. Another specter is haunting Europe, at least central Slovakia.  Every year between May 1 and VE Day the town of Bojnice hosts the “Scary ghost festival.”  The town has a fine castle, re-built in the French Renaissance style in the 19th century on the foundations of a 13th century keep by a nobleman who had overly romantic notions of what a castle should look like.  Every year the town haunts the castle, this year with vampires, not a normal Slovak feature, as well as scary ghosts.  This is a Halloween in May type … Continue reading Bojince, Slovakia

Blava Nouveau

Bratislava has many fine Art Nouveau and Austrian Secession buildings.  There are several pictures in this gallery of the Blue Church.  Next to it is a school building built by the same architect.  The school had not been painted and maintained as well as the church, but you can see they are a two of a piece.  The Roland Café in the main square in the Old Town across from Old City Hall is a fine example of the form.  I have included a full front to show it in context and several shots of detail on the building.  These … Continue reading Blava Nouveau

Banska Stiavinica, Slovakia

The city of Banska Stiavinica, an empire mining town, is a world heritage site.  The legend is that a shepherd saw two salamanders, one silver and one gold.  He watched them crawl under a rock and discovered the mother lode.  The town’s symbol is a shovel, pick and two salamanders.  Empress Maria Theresa founded the School of Mines here, it was the first technical university in the world.  The town mostly is in need of restoration.  This actually makes it seem more “real.” Continue reading Banska Stiavinica, Slovakia

Kosice, Slovakia

In Eastern Slovakia there are three shakers on the table, sometimes labeled “black,” “white” and “red;” salt, pepper and paprika.  This region mixes cultures as well as spices.  The towns were settled by German (Saxon) craftsmen, ruled by Hungarian nobles, administered by Austrian bureaucrats, Slovaks and Ukrainians did the farming and Roma handled the transport.  Kosice, Slovakia’s “Second City,”  is the business center of Eastern Slovakia.   It is also a mix of all of those cultures.  Kosice is a wonderfully restored old city that has a beggar as its mascot.  The “Golden Beggar” sat on the main square for … Continue reading Kosice, Slovakia