Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 15 – Piestany to Esztergom

A small spattering of showers did not spoil the day. Mike & Derek were out by 8 am for their ‘hands in burning hot mud’ spa (7 Euros each) and were back by 9 am. After a cheese/toast & jam/ tea/fruit breakfast we headed back to the square for coffee when it started to rain. Saying goodbye to the gaudy apartment we had no regrets as we headed out on the drive to Esztergom.

The drive was through farmland, forests and small Slovakian towns. It is much like Czech but seems poorer, and certainly not as affluent as the Austrian countryside. As we approached the twin towns of Sturovo, Slovakia and Esztergom, Hungary the giant basilica on the hill greeted us. You could see it for miles along with its palace and fort. Crossing the Danube, we left Slovakia and headed to our final country, Hungary. Esztergom was the capital of Hungary from the 10th to mid 13th centuries which is apparent from the extravagance of the basilica.

We found our accommodation no problem and our hostess greeted us at the gate with private parking leading to the courtyard. We started our orientation tour there, framed by ivy crowding every wall and the fort and castle cliff wall rising behind the house. Next to the private wine cellar with foosball room, stocked cellar, and room with table and antique cabinet where we later played cards. Finally to the house with its 2 full baths, massive bedrooms and well supplied kitchen with nespresso maker and large common sitting/dining area. All very spacious, light and very tastefully decorated – a refreshing change! We are all very sorry that we are only here for 1 night :-(.

For dinner I jumped at the chance for Chicken Paprikas and spaetzle which brought back wonderful memories of my childhood friend Michele who would cook it for her Hungarian father. Mike had his favourite port knuckle with wine sauerkraut and potatoes w. onions. We all shared a smoked ox-tongue appetizer and of course a couple beers to complement. And our waiter was more than happy to help out with the photo taking…by filling in for Michael!

In an attempt to walk it off, we headed up to the castle to take a peek. We started by taking the ‘outside’ route which was interesting but lead us to a locked back entry. So retracing our steps we headed back up the hill to the main entrance. There were many statues in interesting poses and styles, but no indication of what or who they were.

The light spattering of rain enabled a beautiful bright rainbow. We were almost alone for our exploring until peak sunset when massive tour groups suddenly appeared for the moment. That was our signal to head out.

After a bank machine visit for local currency we returned to our own castle for wine and cards and enjoyed the amazing space. Mike headed out in the dark of night to try to get some star shots from our courtyard – but the castle lighting was too bright, so no luck.

And then to bed where we encountered the only negative of the accommodation – the mattress left something to be desired. So one night may do just fine after all.

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 13/14 –Bratislava to Piestany

Having raved about Zeppelin, Marketa was keen to check out their chestnut sweets. So Monday morning we headed back for coffee and cake breakfast. This time we pared it back to one chestnut crescent for the 4 of us to share along with our coffees.

Mike & I headed back to pack up and clean up while D&M headed back to Roberts to pick up their bags and the car. After a bit of a delay we reconnected at the edge of the Stare Mesto (old city) near the US embassy – the only one caged and surrounded by armed guards! We were off to spa town of Piestany for some self indulgence.

We took a drive thru the ‘high’ part of Bratislava with its gorgeous mansions and views to match overlooking the river, city, and castle. En route to Piestany we stopped in Modra where we bought a piece of handmade pottery off a local at his workshop. We were on the hunt for halusky but after 3 failed attempts at finding a restaurant (closed on Monday….), we ended up back in Modra where we found a good cheap lunch. Mike splurged with sauerkraut soup and ribs (excellent), and the rest of us had the daily soup and pork dish special – a real deal at 5.8 Euro.

Our Piestany abode was decorated in what is best described as ‘Arte Grotesque’, or possibly ‘Arte Remnant’. The previous Arab owners seemed to enjoy gaudy in every shade of red with black and gold, including a full wall mural of Dubai. But there was lots of space which functioned well.

The spas in Piestany are mostly on the island section of town. We managed to get a same day 5:15 pm appt for the 4 of us at Spa Irma. Men and women are separate. So Marketa and I headed to our change room where you undress and wrap in a sheet to head to the first ‘mirror’ pool. Calm, clear, mineral water at 39C. We soaked there along with 3 other women for about 10 minutes in the mandatory silence. Unfortunately the boys on the other side were chatting annoyingly and we were forced to scold them. Next we were moved along to the even hotter mud pool with its bottom layer of several inches of rich mineral mud. We served ourselves mud facials as well as neck and shoulders. I took turns alternating my knees out of the water to allow the ‘healing muds’ to infuse my joints. Finally we headed to the beds where you are wrapped in dry warm sheets to rest before a final cleansing shower. A great way to spend 1 hour and 15 Euros.

We followed the spa with a walk to the end of the esplanade on the island. I experienced my first encounter with a female ginko tree – quite a stink and a very messy and slippery fruit.

Derek & Marketa supplied and prepared dinner of wild mushrooms, peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil with pasta and a side of fried green tomatoes. We finished off the borcak and then some white wine from the same vineyard. Very enjoyable.

After an exhausting evening for Marketa trying to learn euchre (it is quite complex when learning from scratch!), we all slept in. Marketa headed to the local shops and picked up yogurt, cheese, bread, apples, jams and tea which we shared for breakfast before heading out for coffee along the quaint main street.

We spent the day looking for bookings at the other spas, but they were all quite booked up. Back at Spa Irma, Marketa managed to get a Thai shoulder and neck appt, and I a Thai foot massage. The boys wanted a hand treatment, which they only managed to get for 8:30 the next morning. All else failing, we all decided to go back for another round of Irma spa cycle. No complaints 🙂

We headed to Slovensky Dvor for dinner where we finally found halusky (grated potato dumplings) with Bryndza cheese and bacon. We also tried fried cheese and the potato dumpling with sauerkraut. Dessert was poppy seed dumpling and chocolate brownie with raspberry (unfortunately they were out of chestnut cake). With beers, coffees, shots, and a kefir like drink, it was a great deal at 60 Euro all in for the 4 of us.

Back for more euchre to help ingrain it into Marketa’s memory. Tomorrow morn would see an earlier rise for the boys to get their hand treatment and to fill our water jug with stinky, but supposedly curing, sulphur spa water.

Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 12 –Bratislava

Cake for breakfast? Absolutely when on vacation in Slovakia! What better way to energize for a full day ahead? Thanks again to Michael and Google we found Zeppelin – a charming bakery and coffee shop run by an equally charming lady. Michael had chocolate, I the walnut creme and we shared traditional poppy seed and walnut cookies with our breakfast coffees. A bit of a splurge at 20Euro but worth every cent.

We walked to the palace but found it was closed to the public. We toured the lovely grounds and gardens then ventured to a nearby neighbourhood. It housed a mix of renovated and run down buildings with every corner capturing our interest. Even gargoyles taking selfies ;-). Bratislava has quite a mix of architectures all jumbled together – more of a mix than in Czech from what we have seen.

We also passed the Czech embassy where flowers and candles were laid out for Karel Gott – a famous singer who died earlier in the week. Apparently Prague was overrun with people and flowers for the funeral.

We stopped for our second coffee at Tesla where we found some interesting ideas. They had recipes for mixed drinks made with Tatratea. One with tea, another with wine. Note to self to follow up when we get home to find new creative ways to enjoy!

Next was a walk over the Danube on the most SNP, aka UFO bridge, where the pedestrian walkway ran under the highway. Across the river is the lookout tower which is shaped like a UFO – but we didn’t go up. The walkway was apparently the primary focus of the cleaning staff in Bratislava. The workers were cleaning off the graffiti which appeared overnight – an endless job I expect.

Then off to the EURO mall – the largest on the Danube – which the river cruise ships seemed to appreciate. A mall is mall nowadays – many of the stores identical to Canadian malls – but with different merchandise and higher prices. We met up with Derek & Marketa as planned about 2:15 pm. On the walk back to their car we passed the Church of St. Elizabeth – or better known as the Blue Church, a very nice chance happening! After a quick stop at our apt, we headed for a much awaited dinner. But not before sampling the burcak D&M brought; they had bought it from a friend of Marketas. Burcak is a very fresh wine only available for a short time – and we lucked out on our timing.

Once again we ate far too much – but we couldn’t resist! Gurmansky Grob was our destination for a royal goose feast. We had soup with goose neck, carrots & parsnips and noodles. Next goose liver with apples and bread and a pickle plate. Then the main attraction of goose with red cabbage and potato crepes – all with beers and a shot of slivovitz (pear). Finally all topped off with poppy-seed strudel. We rolled out much heavier – although our wallets were much lighter after a 205 Euro dinner!

We decided that Derek & Marketa would stay at our apt to allow Derek to have a couple of drinks with us (0 tolerance for drink driving here). So we dropped the car their intended sleep spot and walked back to our place for the night where the burcak was waiting patiently for us.


Austria/Slovakia/Hungary – Day 11 – Salzburg to Bratislava

We headed early to the train station for our trip to Vienna and then on to Bratislava where we had a rare day to ourselves. By chance we ran into Dan at the station and so were able to wish him a happy 60th in person. They were headed to Vienna to hook up with Natalie & Duncan, but on a different train.

We arrived in Bratislava to much nicer weather, but to discover that our Austrian SIM card doesn’t work here for data, but we can at least phone. So we managed to contact our airBnB host and arranged to meet him at the apartment following a taxi ride from the train station. We had expected about 10 Euro for the trip, but it was 20 which seems a lot for what could have been a 25 minute walk – so no tip this time.

Our James Bond 007 apt was in a great location and very ‘IKEA’lly perfect with several James Bond accessories (nothing as exciting as a dart gun pen, but several pieces of art). Everything was brand new and the apt seems designed straight out of the catalogue. And I can’t help mentioning … the flat iron was the best I’ve ever used – a Remington – may need to try to find one back home!

We walked up to the Bratislavský Hrad (castle) which offered marvelous views of the city. It is the site of significant buildings dating back to about 700 AD, Celtic/Roman times, and has had very many changes over the centuries. The first actual hrad was probably built in the late 1200’s.

We paid to enter the castle but there were only limited exhibits open and many rooms had not been staged. The best was that of the Slovak painter Martin Benka who died in 1971 at the age of 80. His early painting style was reminiscent of the Group of 7, but then his work evolved and you could clearly see the Russian influence during / post WWII. We had hoped for the furniture exhibit, but alas it was not open.

Next off to St. Nicholas church which was associated with the hrad. It was shockingly small and very run down with a group of youth hanging out in the yard smoking and drinking. Much more impressive was the nearby St. Martin Cathedral.

Once back at our apt with wifi we connected with Derek & Marketa to plan our meeting the next day and then we 2 headed for a pub dinner at Mestianski Pivovar. Michael had his beloved pig knuckle, I had Moravian Sparrow (pork pieces with creamed spinach – actually very good) both with potato dumplings. We shared a starter of grilled local cheese and had 2 beers each – turns out eating out here is not the absolute bargain we had hope for, but still not outrageous.

Off to Bratislava

Since my plane leaves early Saturday, Derek and I are heading to Bratislava for the night so that the morning drive is much shorter.  We got up a little later then usual and had a more relaxed morning before heading south.  Derek had looked into the Venus of Dolni Vestonice which is a small female clay figure that was created some 29,000 years ago.  We got to the small town of Dolni Vestonice to discover that things are pretty much closed for the winter.  After a very quick stop we headed a long the lake towards Pavlov.  We stopped shortly after leaving town when we came across the location of the Venus find.  A plaque described the 1925 find and other subsequent finds.  Everything is now covered up and its back to the farmers field.  Much like the Viking finds in New Foundland.  We continued through Pavlov (again with a very quick stop) and headed to the first of two Lichtenstein castles.  The first was in the town of Mikulov.  The land was given to the Lichtenstein family in 1250.  The town is very small and probably was only there to serve the castle.  After a little searching Derek and I would a open restaurant to have lunch.  I had the schnitzel and Derek goulash.  It is quite surprising to see such a large castle that was only rarely used by the family.  Again because of winter most of the town was closed.  So we definitely did not have to fight the crowds.  After a look around the outside of the castle we headed to Mikulov’s twin in the town of Lednice.  This again is a Lichtenstein castle.  It is in much better condition then the previous castle.  The Lednice castle was quite spectacular.  Even in the early spring the gardens are impressive.  There is a large variety of trees, many of them very old.  They are numbered for identification.     Some of the largest oak trees I have ever seen where on this property.  Attached to the castle was a very large and operational greenhouse.  It was open so Derek and I went for a tour.  Inside the greenhouse was a tropical paradise,  (see pictures).

By now it was getting late so we headed to Bratislava.  Just before the boarder Derek and I ran into a large traffic jam consisting mostly of large 18 wheelers.  It took us over an hour to cross the boarder.  We later found out that it was some dispute between truckers at the Hungarian boarders that caused our backup.  Once we checked into our hotel in Bratislava we headed by foot into town.  Derek lived in Bratislava for a little while so I thought he new his was around town.  We tried to find a number of restaurants but got quickly lost.  After quite a bit of walking out in the cold we decided to stop for a quick beer.    We found a small quaint place down a side street that was perfect for a couple of cold ones.  I used my tablet to do some restaurant searching and found one that was highly rated.  Derek said that he could find the place.  He did not disappoint.  The place was very large and very busy.  Wow.  I had pork ribs and Derek duck.  Both were excellent.  The beer was great as usual.  After dinner we headed back for an early trip to Wein.  Thanks again Derek for being a perfect host.