Low Tatras

Sabbatical in Slovakia

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Language learning
  3. Social activities
  4. Training
  5. Hiking
  6. Bratislava
  7. Slovakia beyond the capital
  8. Conclusion
  9. Resources

1. Introduction

This page replaces and summarizes the blog-posts of my Slovakia series that I had written during my four months sabbatical in Slovakia (between February and June 2019).

In the paragraphs 2-5 I want to elaborate on the various projects I was pursuing during that time.

Afterwards I will illustrate the capital Bratislava and in paragraph 7 further places in Slovakia.

In this paragraph I first want to discuss an important question: why did I choose Slovakia for a career break?

I’d had a fairly great number of reasons:

  • first and foremost, I always wanted to learn a Slavic language fully-committed and full-time
  • I was pretty familiar with the capital Bratislava, for my former girlfriend worked in one of the city’s night-clubs and in 2017 I visited her whenever time allowed me to do so
  • in mountainous Slovakia one can do a great variety of outdoor activities (hiking in particular)
  • trips to the capitals Vienna/Austria or Budapest/Hungary are neither time consuming nor expensive
  • though a capital, living expenses are comparatively low
  • the most relevant industry in Slovakia is automotive; though not my first priority, there was yet the prospect of making valuable new business-contacts as well as expanding my professional horizon about the industry

May this article serve as a kind of inspiration and source of ideas for your own career-break.

2. Language learning

2.1 Language school

Unfortunately my regular language classes at the Comenius University in Bratislava didn’t last very long and ceased abruptly.

Comenius University in Bratislava (main building), Šafárikovo námestie
Comenius University in Bratislava (main building), Šafárikovo námestie

After two months of a scheduled five months course, I found myself as the sole remaining A1-student: the other participants had chosen to take private lessons, were compelled to fly back to their home country overseas or quit completely. And one single student was self-evidently insufficient to keep a course alive.

Hence the better part of my time in Slovakia I studied solely auto-didactic, with the help of my friend Martina, or through language exchange events (see paragraph 3.3).

2.2 Czech and Slovak

Unsurprisingly, the Czech language and the Slovak language are very similar. These two countries shared a long and sometimes painful history in the state of Czechoslovakia which lasted from 1918 until 1992.

Slovak is slightly influenced by Hungarian, whereas foreign words are not as common in Czech as in Slovak (e.g. říjenoktóber).

The alphabet is slightly different, too. In Czech there exists ř and ě (r and e with háček), which do not exist in Slovak (but in Slovak there exists the in Czech unknown ä).

Furthermore, the Slovak language doesn’t possess a seventh grammatical case, the vocative case.

The grammar in Slovak is more regular in general, and is considered easier than Czech by most students.

Basically it is no problem for (especially elder) Czech people to understand Slovak (and vice versa), since either language belongs to the West Slavic language family (as well as Polish).

English: How are you?

  • Slovak: Ako sa máš?
  • Czech: Jak se máš?
  • Polish: Jak się masz?

2.3 Introductory examples

If you are not interested as to details of the Slovak language, please skip the remainder of paragraph 2.

Below you can see a couple of examples to get a first impression about the characteristics of a Slavic language however.

The adjectives in Slovak depend on the speaker’s gender:

  • (Ja) som boly lenivý (I was lazy, if the speaker is masculine gender)
  • (Ja) som bola lenivá (I was lazy, if the speaker is feminine gender)

The plural forms are formulated differently dependent on the exact quantity of the item:

  • Jedna hodina (one hour)
  • Štyri hodiny (four hours)
  • Deväť hodín (ten hours)

In Slovak there is a fifth and a sixth grammatical case, the latter is called  instrumental case (the keyword here is swith):

  • Káva s mliekom (coffee with milk – mlieko)
  • Čaj s cukrom (tea with sugar – cukor)

2.4 Declination and endings

Slovak is also considered easier than Polish where there is for example the genitive case in negation forms:

  • Polish: Mam czas (I have time); Nie mam czasu (I have no time)
  • Slovak: Mám čas (I have time); Nemám čas (I have no time)

Declination is an aggregate of grammatical rules for adjectives and substantives (not to confuse with conjugation for verbs1). Gender, grammatical number and grammatical case are the parameters for these rules.

For nouns this manifests itself in adding specific suffixes to the word (e.g. autobus – autobusov; nominative, singular – genitive, plural).

In Slovak there exist no articles (but three genders like in German)2, so you don’t have to incorporate both articles and substantives into a declination scheme.

Here an illustration for an accusative sentence structure:

  • English: I eat the fish
  • German: Ich esse den Fisch (der Fisch – the fish)
  • Slovak: Jem rybu (ryba – fish)

The declination of adjectives is different compared to German as well:

  • English: The tree is green; A green tree; The green tree
  • German: Der Baum ist grün; Ein grüner Baum; Der grüne Baum
  • Slovak: Strom je zelený; Zelený strom; (Ten) zelený strom

In comparison with Polish, Slovak adapted more foreign words to their vocabulary.

Examples
  • English: football, juice, november, bottle, chauffeur
  • Slovak: futbal, džús, november, fľaša (German: Flasche), šofér
  • Polish: piłka nożna, sok, listopad, butelka, kierowca

1 conjugation and declination are subsumed under the technical term inflection

2 there exist demonstrative pronouns ten-ta-to, but those are no articles in the actual sense; if you count “masculine, living” as a separate gender, then there are four genders in Slovak

2.5 The grammatical aspect

Very alien to English and German speakers is the existence of the grammatical aspect3 in Slavic languages.

In Slovak, any verb (with few exceptions) belongs to one specific aspect category: imperfective or perfective (nedokonavý vid alebo dokonavý vid).

In principle, there exist always two different verbs for a basically identical activity (example otvárať/otvoriť, see below).

For a particular action (or state), the aspect addresses time (more precisely the extension of time) and temporal course, expressed by a particular verb.

Imperfective aspect verbs describe often habitual or ongoing activities with internal structure, whereas perfective aspect verbs describe finished activities.

From this follows that a perfective aspect verb has no future form, because the present tense form is already the future form. But perfective aspect verbs can be used in the past tense, and then they have a similar meaning than imperfective aspect verbs in the past tense.

3 this is a rather complex subject; if you have a deeper interest in it I suggest reading the related wikipedia-article

Examples
  • otvárať (to open) – imperfective aspect verb (infinitive)
  • otvoriť (to open) – perfective aspect verb (infinitive)

Present tense

  • otváram – I open (habitual activity) / I am opening (ongoing)

Future tense

  • budem otvárať – I will open / I will be opening
  • otvorím – I will open (finished)

Past tense

  • som otváral – I opened / I was opening
  • som otvoril – I opened (finished)
The past tense

In Slovak, the future and the past tense forms are comparatively easy to comprehend.

For the past tense you need solely one auxiliary verb – to be (byť); it is not like e.g. in French (in the Passé composé4) that you need either to have (avoir) or to be (être).

4 there exist further past tense forms in French

Examples

I went away

  • Slovak: (ja) som odišiel
  • French: je suis parti

I ate

  • Slovak: (ja) som jedol
  • French: j’ai mangé

The future tense also uses solely the future form of to be (byť).

3. Social activities

3.1 Fellow students

I got along pretty well with the fellow language students, so we went out in Staré Mesto (Old Town) on occasion for drinking beer, playing table-top soccer, and discussing the immanent question why one actually wants to acquire such a difficult language like Slovak (we agreed on that spouses and girlfriends are the main reason in most cases).

And we visited Austria’s capital Vienna (Wien) of course, which is by train or by car just one hour away from Bratislava.

Vienna, Innere Stadt
Vienna (Wien) is just fifty kilometers away from Bratislava; to my right Chris

Ricardo from Brazil has been living in Slovakia for five years, was preparing for a medicine course at the university in Bratislava and aspired for a Slovak citizenship in the near future.

Chris made the long journey from Canada to live with his Slovak girlfriend. Unfortunately he was permitted to stay only for one month since he was not an EU-citizen.

3.2 Nightclubs and bars

I am quite familiar with the nightlife in Bratislava, but I also tried out a couple of nightclubs and bars I hadn’t visited so far.

The Subclub in the castle hill of the Bratislava Castle is one example.

Here they play a great variety of electronic music that makes your ears ring. I would therefore not recommend this location unless you are a big fan of “Drum and Bass”, or when your date wants to go there.

Worth a visit is the Masquerade club in Ventúrska street, though you have a poor male-to-female ratio in such locations most of the time.

And the bars in Pánska and Michalská street are very good places to meet and date some of the pretty Slovak women in general (according to rumors).

3.3 Language events

As a surrogate for the language course at the university I participated in language events at least twice a week. The capital is very international (because the country is comparatively small), so it is not hard to track down these kinds of events (you can look up some suggestions in paragraph 9).

And I found a new friend in Martina who wanted to work in Vienna and was therefore eager to learn German. So we met every week at my apartment where she taught me a lot of Slovak grammar, and as a trade-off I provided some guidance to improve her skills in German.

3.4 Ice Hockey World Championship

The Ice Hockey World Championship in Bratislava and Košice (the second largest city in Slovakia) offered also a convenient opportunity to socialize and to create new contacts with locals.

Watching hockey matches with friends really suggested itself, for the Fanzone was only a few paces away from my apartment (Trnavské mýto).

Bratislava Fanzone during the Ice Hockey World Championship
Bratislava Fanzone during the Ice Hockey World Championship

Unfortunately the Slovak team didn’t make it to the quarter-finals. Crucial was a last minute loss, ironically against Germany (end result 2-3).

So I did my best to give at least moral support to my Slovak friends.

Winner of the 2019 tournament was Finland, who won the Championship last time in 2011 (also in Slovakia).

4. Training

4.1 Running

I love running and did it almost every day.

My habitual running lap was alongside the Danube, and then across the Starý Most back to the Bratislava Castle.

Bratislava, photo taken from the Starý Most; on the left the Castle
Bratislava, photo taken from the Starý Most; on the left the Castle

The most tiring part was running up the stairs of the Castle hill, what I accomplished in Rocky-style on my way back to my apartment.

4.2 Acroyoga

Acroyoga is a mix of Acrobatic, Yoga and Thai massage.

For me it was a combination of a social activity, trying something new and exhausting my body.

The classes were held either in the Lotus Yoga studio in Kuzmányho street or in the workout academy in Devínska Nová Ves.

In Bratislava there are some excellent Yoga teachers. If you are interested in this mix of Yoga and acrobatic exercises, I highly recommend this activity.

4.3 The gym

Though I never was in terrible shape, there had been periods when I looked into the mirror and had to admit that there exist two or three surplus kilos on my body (as a consequence of bad eating habits during work hours).

So I showed up daily in the “fit up” gym (Námestie SNP) to get rid of those kilos, or transform them into muscles.

Gym progress
Gym progress

If you are massively overweight, losing three kilograms is easy.

If you are close to your ideal weight, this is tough. You have to optimize almost everything, but most important is your diet.

I guess I was somewhat successful with this project.

5. Hiking

5.1 Low Tatras (Nízke Tatry)

The Low Tatras mountain range holds the largest national park area of all mountain ranges in Slovakia (the national park covers two thirds of the 1.250 square kilometers of the Nízke Tatry), and is accessible throughout the year for hiking, skiing or other outdoor activities5.

The highest summits scratch the height of 2000 meters AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level, every height stated below is AMSL), and two of these peaks I ascended during my very first hiking tour in this region in the month of April.

5 in contrast to the High Tatras mountain range farther north, which is in large parts accessible in the summer season only

Blue hiking tour (April 1 – April 4)

1st day: Liptovský Hrádok

The train station in Liptovský Hrádok (7.500 inhabitants) and a small pension near Liptovský Peter (1.400 inhabitants), both towns lying close to each other at the northern foothills of the Low Tatras, were my very first destinations on a clear and chilly April 1.

Reaching these places from Bratislava via railway is no big deal (you have to change trains in Liptovský Mikuláš), and the train ride itself is not really expensive (around fifteen Euros).

River Belá in Liptovský Hrádok (637 meters), near Liptovský Peter
River Belá in Liptovský Hrádok (637 meters), near Liptovský Peter

Admittedly, I had just a vague idea what to expect and hardly more than a sketchy plan regarding a tour scheduled for about one week:

Hiking from Liptovský Hrádok southwards to the Čertovica mountain pass, and from there across the main ridge of the Low Tatras to Donovaly, which is situated in the very west in the border region to the Great Fatra (the wide Revúca valley).

2nd day: Čertovica mountain pass

Marching to the Čertovica mountain pass, located around twenty-five kilometers in the south from my actual starting point in Dovalovo, was my task on the second day.

From a mountaineer’s perspective, the pass represents one stage of a far more extensive several days hiking tour from Telgárt at the south-eastern edge of the Low Tatras to Donovaly across the entire Low Tatras main mountain ridge (or vice versa, see red pictograms on the map above).

During my hike I passed through the small villages Malužiná, Vyšná Boca and Nižná Boca, which appeared like mere ghost towns on this cold April afternoon. Along my way a lot of cute little cabins caught my eye, appearing also quite abandoned. Evidently summer lodgings that were waiting for their temporary residents.

At the mountain pass on 1232 meters that I reached after around six hours, I was fortunate to spend my night in the comfortable refuge Domček Horskej Služby.

The innkeeper Marek was super hospitable and more than happy to share his Slovak spirits and his kettle with his only guest.

Near the Čertovica mountain pass, early morning in the Low Tatras
Near the Čertovica mountain pass, early morning in the Low Tatras
3rd day: Chata generála Milana Rastislava Štefánika

Getting to the refuge Chata generála Milana Rastislava Štefánika (1740 meters) at the foot of the Ďumbier mountain was a time consuming enterprise because of the thick layers of snow on almost the whole trail.

But it was worth the trouble since they provided rich food there, comfortable beds (I had a whole room with a dozen beds for myself), and a fire spot where I could warm up my feet and dry my clothing.

During my supper I made a little small-talk with the only other outdoor enthusiast around in the spacious refuge on this day, an experienced man approximately my age who told me some interesting details about the vast cave systems (jaskyňe) in the Low Tatras deep below the surface.

Aside from expanding my knowledge about the underworld of the Low Tatras and resting, I made preparations for the ascents to Ďumbier and Chopok the following morning.

4th day: Ďumbier and Chopok

Ďumbier (2043 meters) is the highest, Chopok (2024 meters) is the third highest peak in the Low Tatras (the second highest is Štiavnica with 2025 meters). These two peaks are very close to each other, so you can easily manage to climb either in one day.

The pictures may give an impression about the weather conditions on the transition between winter and summer season. It was snowy, extremely windy, the visibility was barely more than fifty meters, and I sunk deeply into the soft snow with every step.

Snowy Ďumbier (2043 meters), April 4
Snowy Ďumbier (2043 meters), April 4
Slovak Cross on the Ďumbier
Slovak Cross on the Ďumbier

So pushing for the summits was not easy at all.

Fortunately I was able to do it after “a deal of labor, slips, and knocks”, thanks to a pair of borrowed crampons in particular. Yet I was obliged to abandon the tour after this endeavor and to descend the mountain ridge towards Liptovský Mikuláš instead of sticking to my original (anyway vague) plan.

At the end of the day, the weather conditions were just too harsh for me.

5th day: Banská Bystrica

On the fifth day I went by train to Banská Bystrica in Central Slovakia (see paragraph 7).

Green hiking tour (May 25)

Liptovský Mikuláš

I made my next tour in mid May. This time I set off in Liptovský Mikuláš, a popular tourist destination with 30.000 inhabitants.

Liptovský Mikuláš, view southwards towards the Low Tatras (in the foreground the river Váh)
Liptovský Mikuláš, view southwards towards the Low Tatras (in the foreground the river Váh)
Poludnica

From Liptovský Mikuláš you can ascend Poludnica (1540 meters) in about three hours. The actual tour starts in ľanovo (on 653 meters), three kilometers southwards the train station where there is a blue-marked path to the peak.

The Low Tatras, May 25
The Low Tatras, May 25

The mountain itself is named after a Slavic mythical character.

In the west of Liptovský Mikuláš lies the Liptovská Mara, a locally well-known barrier lake.

From the peak you have a delightful view onto the valley, the surrounding country and the barrier lake.

View from Poludnica onto the Liptovská Mara and Liptovský Mikuláš
View from Poludnica onto the Liptovská Mara and Liptovský Mikuláš

I descended eastwards on a yellow marked path to Rakytovica (1070 meters), and then to Opalisko before heading back to my starting and end point, respectively.

Orange hiking tour (June 1)

Ostré

In 1944, fierce battles took place in the surroundings of Ružomberok, a medium sized city (some 27.000 inhabitants) situated in the border region of Great Fatra and Low Tatras (Revúca valley).

Notably grim and merciless was the fighting between the German Wehrmacht and the Slovak resistance around Ostré, a hill about seven kilometers south-eastwards of the city center.

A small monument on the peak is a testimony to this historic event.

The author sitting next to the SNP memorial, June 1st
The author sitting next to the SNP memorial, June 1st

The tour on the whole is therefore not only a physical exercise but expands one’s horizon too.

A rough estimate is around three hours for getting onto Ostré (1086 meters) from the stanica in Ružomberok.

Instead of marching back to the train station the same way it is possible to prolong the tour to the Brankovský vodopád cascade five kilometers further in the south, and then closing the circle by walking north alongside the Revúca river.

5.2 Little Carpathians (Malé Karpaty)

The Little Carpathians are a mountain range that sprawls over approximately 650 square kilometers (protected area) with a length of hundred-odd kilometers, from the capital Bratislava to the town of Nové Mesto nad Váhom6 near the Czech border.

You will encounter no really high elevation in this terrain (the highest mountain is Záruby with about 770 meters), so this mountain range is basically a suitable destination for a hiking or cycling day-trip with smaller children.

Starting point: Bratislava Železná studienka
Starting point: Bratislava Železná studienka

I hiked from Bratislava Železná studienka northwards to Svätý Jur, which took me about five hours, including breaks.

It is a nice tour, with the only downer that you’ll find not very often good observation points because of the comparatively dense forest along the way.

Forest in the Little Carpathians, April 28
Forest in the Little Carpathians, April 28

Svätý Jur is a rather small town with 5.000 inhabitants. Similar to Pezinok there is a long winemaking tradition, and you’ll see vineyards on almost every prominent elevation.

6 the Little Carpathians are themselves part of the Carpathian Mountains, a huge mountain massif that extends aside from Slovakia, Czechia and Poland over further countries in Eastern Europe; The Low Tatras mountain range belong to the Carpathian mountains system too

6. Bratislava

Bratislava (German: Pressburg, Hungarian: Pozsony) is the capital of Slovakia with about 430.000 inhabitants, situated at the Danube (Slovak: Dunaj, German: Donau, Hungarian: Duna) very close to the Hungarian and Austrian border.

Bratislava, view onto the Danube and the Most SNP
Bratislava, view onto the Danube and the Most SNP

In the following paragraphs I want to illustrate a selection of the most important sights of the city, which had been my residence for over four months.

6.1 Bratislavský hrad (Bratislava Castle)

The Bratislava Castle, built upon a rocky elevation close to the Danube dominates the skyline of the capital.

It is the most popular sight in Bratislava, and owing to its exposed location even visible from Austria.

Bratislavský hrad at night
Bratislavský hrad at night

The Castle, which boasts a history of over one thousand years, was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1811. It remained in a ruinous state for 150 years until it was eventually rebuilt in the late 1960s.

The Bratislavský hrad, which is depicted on the Slovak 10-, 20- and 50- Euro cent coins, houses a museum this day.

6.2 Slavín monument and military cemetery

The memorial monument was built after the 2nd World War to commemorate and honor the Soviet soldiers who died for the liberation of Slovakia.

On the military cemetery the remains of almost seven thousand soldiers are buried.

Graves on the military cemetery, Bratislava in the background
Graves on the military cemetery, Bratislava in the background

I spotted runners near Slavín occasionally, and it is a good idea actually to make exercises around this place since the monument is built on a rather steep hill.

6.3 Hrad Devín

In the north-west of Bratislava, in the immediate neigborhood to the Austrian border and the confluence of the rivers Morava and Danube (in the Devín- and adjoining the yet to present Devínska Nová Ves borough) an elevation with the remains of the Devín Castle (Burg Theben) commands a far-reaching view in all directions.

Devín, the opposite bank of the river belongs to Austria
Devín, the opposite bank of the river belongs to Austria

Once a refuge for members of the Hungarian and Austrian nobility, it became military obsolete in the course of the 16th and 17th century, and was eventually blown up by French soldiers during the Coalition Wars at the beginning of the 19th century.

The Devínska Kobyla (Sandberg) three kilometers northwards of Devín offers a great view towards the ruins of the fortress, the cliff where it is built upon, and the two rivers.

The Devínska Kobyla itself belongs to the Little Carpathians mountain range.

6.4 Michalská brána and former city fortification

Bratislava was once protected by town walls and fortification systems, similar to other European cities of importance in the medieval age.

Most of this defense system was razed at the end of the 18th century.

Solely the Michalská brána (Michael’s Gate) in Michalská street and a few segments of the wall have survived to this day.

Medieval fortification (Mestské hradby), Staromestská
Medieval fortification (Mestské hradby), Staromestská

Alongside the south front of the St Martin’s Cathedral runs the Panska street. In this street the Vydrická brána, another razed city-gate, was located.

There were two further major city-gates which did not survive: the Rybárska brána (located in the street of the same name), and the Laurinská brána (located in Laurinská street).

6.5 St Martin’s Cathedral

The Roman Catholic St Martin’s Cathedral (named after Martin of Tours), built in the 15th century, is the biggest and best-known ecclesiastical edifice in the city.

St Martin's Cathedral, Panska street
St Martin’s Cathedral, Panska street

The Cathedral played an important role in the history of the Kingdom of Hungary, in which Bratislava was an integral part of for several centuries.

It is located close to the Most SNP, and due to this proximity to the bridge and the exposure to the vibrations caused by the traffic volume, the structure of the church is (slowly but steadily) deteriorating.

6.6 Most SNP

The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising (Most Slovenského národného povstania) is the most eye-catching and the best known among the five Danube bridges in the capital.

Most SNP Bratislava
Most SNP Bratislava

The nový most (new bridge) was built in 1972 (as the second Danube bridge in Bratislava), and is named after the National Uprising in 1944 against the German occupying forces.

In the nicknamed “UFO” at the top end of the two structural elements a restaurant can be visited, and from the observation deck you have a good panorama view of the city.

6.7 Starý Most (Old Bridge)

The Old Bridge was the very first across the Danube in Bratislava. It connects like the other four Danube bridges the boroughs Petržalka and Staré Mesto.

Starý Most at night, view to the Apollo bridge downstream
Starý Most at night, view to the Apollo bridge downstream

Originally erected at the end of the 19th century, it underwent thorough reconstruction in 2016 due to the bridge’s deteriorating state.

Since then, it can solely be used by pedestrians, cyclists, and the Električka (tramway).

6.8 Stará radnica (Old Town Hall)

The Old Town Hall lies in the center of Bratislava and can barely be missed. The town hall was built in the 14th century and served its purpose until the 19th century.

Old Town Hall in Staré Mesto
Old Town Hall in Staré Mesto

The tower is accessible (you have a nice view of the whole Old Town from there), and part of the City Museum where the history of Bratislava is illustrated.

If you have some morbid sense of humor, I can recommend the exhibition about medieval torture instruments in the cellar of the museum.

6.9 Grassalkovich Palace

The Grassalkovich Palace (Grasalkovičov palác) in Staré Mesto is the residence of the president of Slovakia.

Grasalkovičov palác
Grasalkovičov palác

Built in the 18th century, this spacious ensemble was in ensuing decades one main scenery for upper-class events in Bratislava, before it became the office for political leaders after the 1st World War (which is it still to this day).

6.10 Budova Slovenského rozhlasu

An eye-catching piece of architecture from the late communist epoch is the Slovak Radio Building in Staré Mesto, completed in 1983.

It resembles an inverted pyramid and is considered as one of the ugliest buildings in the world.

Slovenský rozhlas (Mýtna street)
Slovenský rozhlas (Mýtna street)

6.11 Noteworthy boroughs apart from Staré Mesto

6.11.1 Petržalka

The borough of Petržalka (German: Engerau) represents a southern district of Bratislava, with the Danube as northern and eastern boundary.

This part of the city changed hands many times in the course of the 20th century.

Belonging to the Kingdom of Hungary for centuries, it became a part of the new Czechoslovakian state in 1920 after the 1st World War.

One year before the outbreak of the 2nd World War, and then until 1945 it was annexed by the German Empire (“Münchner Abkommen”).

After the 2nd World War it was part of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (ČSSR), and belongs to Slovakia since the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

Colorful “Paneláky” stemming from the communist era are the most conspicuous feature of the 21st century Petržalka, and so there exists plenty of comparatively cheap living space for newcomers.

One quarter of the population of Bratislava has its homes in Petržalka.

6.11.2 Devínska Nová Ves

In the north-western Devínska Nová Ves borough the car manufacturer Volkswagen runs its large production facilities. The cars which were produced here as at 2018 are the Audi Q7 and Q8, the VW Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne.

This borough has around 16.000 inhabitants, and here half of my Yoga-classes took place (see above).

7. Slovakia beyond the capital

In addition to the already illustrated towns in and around the Low Tatras, you find in the following descriptions about places in Slovakia where I had the opportunity for a short stay.

Those places are marked red on the map below.

7.1 Komárno

Over the south-west of Slovakia extends the Danubian Lowland, where also runs the long border to Hungary.

In this border area, at the confluence of Vah and the eponymous Danube that meanders through the whole Lowland, lies the city of Komárno.

Komárno, Elisabeth Bridge (Hungarian border)
Komárno, Elisabeth Bridge (Hungarian border)

Noteworthy sights in Komárno (35.000 inhabitants) are the large fortification structure close the city center, the Danube museum, and naturally the Danube itself.

Unfortunately, the abandoned dockyard and the harbor facilities obstruct the view from the center towards the broad river, but the Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet-híd) is not really far off.

Due to the proximity to Hungary and being a settlement in the Kingdom of Hungary for centuries, a substantial number of people of Hungarian descent live in Komárno who a part of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.

The Slovakian city has with the town of Komárom (about 19.000 inhabitants) even a Hungarian pendant at the opposite bank of the Danube.

Unsurprisingly, the Hungarian minority speaks mostly Hungarian and not Slovak in their everyday lives.

The Hungarian language: quick digression

We’ll merely take a short glance at Hungarian because I have very limited knowledge about the language, and also little ambitions to acquire it more deeply.

But I can elaborate one of the many peculiarities I’ve learned recently: words can contain a great deal of syllables.

The reason for this is that Hungarian words are compound words, comprising a word-base, and several slots for prefixes and suffixes (affixes).

Let me give you an example: űrhajós means astronaut in Hungarian.

űr is the base and means room. hajó means boat. s is a descriptive suffix. These (in this case three) components forge a word such as astronaut.

When you face Slovak directly with Hungarian, the difference in word-length and structure is kind of obvious.

A bilingual caption in the Danube Museum in Komárno
A bilingual caption in the Danube Museum in Komárno

7.2 Pezinok

The town of Pezinok (20.000 inhabitants) twenty kilometers north-east of Bratislava is lying in the Little Carpathian Mountains within a famous winegrowing area7, and so you can purchase Slovak wine at all but every corner.

German settlers played a decisive role in the history of Slovakia and in the region of Pezinok in particular (the German name of the town is Boesing), where they worked mainly as craftsmen, loggers or miners.

Worth a visit is the Small Carpathian Museum, where there is an exhibition about Slovak wines on the ground floor, and where you can take a look at ancient barrels and a collection of archaic winegrower’s equipment in a disused wine cellar.

7 the most important of a total of six winegrowing areas in Slovakia

7.3 Banská Bystrica

Banská Bystrica is an old mining town and the most important city in Central Slovakia (Banskobystrický kraj).

It is an intriguing place. My friend Martina considers it even as the country’s most beautiful city.

City Castle in Banská Bystrica
City Castle in Banská Bystrica

Banská Bystrica and the encircling mountain ranges were the main theater for military operations during the Slovak National Uprising in 1944, and you’ll encounter the acronym SNP (Slovenské Národné Povstanie) almost everywhere in Slovakia.

The town has originally been founded by German settlers in the 13th century, an era where mining (primarily copper, but also silver and gold mining) was the major source of income in this region and specific know-how and manpower was urgently needed.

7.4 Trnava

Trnava is a medium-sized city with 70.000 inhabitants fifty-odd kilometers north-east of Bratislava.

Being the Christian center of the Kingdom of Hungary for a very long period of time, the city possesses a considerable amount of ecclesiastical buildings within the well-preserved medieval city walls.

Trnava escaped devastation during the 2nd World War, so fortunately no rebuild measures were necessary in the aftermath of the Svetová Vojna (World War).

Noteworthy sights (among many others) are the City Tower, the Square of the Holy Trinity, and the Saint Nicolas’ Church.

8. Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this wordy article about my sabbatical in Eastern Europe.

In retrospect, it was a pretty successful period.

Not only my Slovak skills improved significantly (which was not such a big deal since I started on square one), but I made scores of new friends in Slovakia.

Lucia, for example, who worked in a bookshop in Banská Bystrica. This pleasant young girl gave me many valuable insider-tips for further hiking tours in the Tatra and Fatra mountain ranges.

Renaud, a neighbor who became later my best buddy, was a priceless help as I locked myself out of my apartment on a cold February night.

Or Natalia from one of the language regular’s tables, a polyglot who speaks half a dozen of languages fluently (or more? I don’t really know) what did not fail to impress me anew every time we met.

Slovakia has become my second home. And I can’t wait to get back to my friends there as soon as possible.

9. Resources

9.1 Language Learning and jobs

9.2 Hiking (Low Tatras)

9.3 Acroyoga and training

Featured image: Low Tatras mountain range

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