We have now left the High Tatras and are making our way back to the western edge of Slovakia and the capital Bratislava. The plan is that we will arrive in the late afternoon – at 16:07 to be precise – and stay on a floating hotel on the Danube called the Botel (boat – hotel – get it?). It’s more than just a plan as it is actually booked, as of course is our flight back to the UK tomorrow evening. We are scheduled to arrive at Stansted at around 11pm on Monday. Exploring Bratislava is what will fill the bits in between and more about that later. As I type, the snow is gradually receding and the mountains losing their grandeur and we will soon be passing through the fairly non-descript lowlands of western Slovakia. This gives me a little time to fill in the details of yesterday’s trip to the eastern town of Kosice.
It was an unplanned part of our week in Slovakia. Sioned-Mair Richards suggested we visit Slovakia’s second city via Twitter (@Efrogwraid) and as we had exhausted the options for walking in the unseasonably deep snow of the High Tatras, it seemed like a good idea. A little bit of online research told me that it is one of the two European Cities of Culture 2013 (the other one being Marseille if you were wondering) so that was a good start. Wikipedia added that the town’s main claim to fame is the large steel works that is the main employer. Mmm… Having recently visited Sheffield and having been somewhat surprised by what I found, I was willing to give Kosice the benefit of the doubt.
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (although despite what some have said, I quite like mine…) and you certainly shouldn’t judge a town by its train station (although as I did point out to my two travelling companions, Huddersfield train station in West Yorkshire may be an exception to this rule – Google it). Back to Kosice. In fairness the train station is in the middle of being rebuilt but as it currently stands it must rank amongst Slovakia’s most uninspiring edifices. The drab square in front of the station does nothing to enhance your feelings on arrival of ‘they made this a capital of culture?’. We worked out that by walking across the park on the other side of the square that we should hit the town centre within minutes and the horrors of the station would be forgotten and this was indeed the case. In fact, the park was also undergoing a significant facelift – new benches, bandstand, renovated buildings – and it was beginning to feel as though we had arrived at the party a little on the early side. Continuing our walk away from the station, within minutes we were in the heart of the town and what a heart it was. What a contrast with the station & its square!
Kosice is built around the St. Elisabeth cathedral. Imagine a long, thin eye with the cathedral sitting in the centre of the pupil. Two almost-pedestrianised cobbled streets run along the two longer sides of the building and meet approximately 500 metres at either end of this central area called the Hlavná ulica. The land between the cobbled streets is filled with gardens, statues & on one side the entrance to an underground viewing gallery for some archaeological ruins. The sides of this slit-like main ‘square’ are lined with an eclectic mixture of grand buildings dating from various points between the 16th & early 20th centuries. Most are coloured in the pastel shades of a Dulux paint catalogue (apple green, Tuscan red etc…) and the effect is stunning. In fact I did wonder to what extent the colours were regulated by the city authorities as too much yellow or green or blue in one particular place would somewhat ruin the effect. Every so often a short tunnel would allow glimpses away from the central slit but for the first part of the afternoon we wandered around the main area taking in a couple of outdoors shops (see the picture of one such place in the previous post; it had the stock of any ‘normal’ sized branch of Blacks or Cotswold Leisure crammed into a tiny thin space more suitable for a café or newsagents) and lunch in a traditional restaurant (yes, more soup & gnocchi kind of sustenance).
Apart from the restaurants, all the shops closed at 1pm and didn’t reopen on a Saturday afternoon with the exception of a large branch of Tescos on one end of the strip and a smart modern mall on the other end of town which gave the local youths somewhere to hang out, snog each other & try to look cool in a Slovak kind of way. We actually did the same for a while (but managed to avoid the kissing). The smaller lanes leading away from the main square drew our attention for the remainder of the afternoon and we paused to examine oddities and curiosities that dotted our erratic path. The whole afternoon was spent a leisurely pace divided by two and as we made our way back to the station for our train, I did think that in summer 2014 on a day when the sun is shining, the park facelift is complete & the railway station rebuilt, this won’t make a good destination, it will be a great one. As for the remainder of 2013 don’t forget that it’s a capital of culture!
For a selection of photos from Kosice, see the previous post. Next up: Bratislava!