Hrebienok covered in snow
The Old Town as seen from UFO Restaurant
UFO Restaurant stands 80m above SNP Bridge
The road that separates the Old Town and Danube River
A trekker braving the cold and gradient to reach Hrebienok

The snow-covered landscape at one of Slovakia’s popular ski resorts thrills Zalina Mohd Som

JUST 15 minutes after leaving Budapest Railway for Bratislava, the train ride takes us through a scenic countryside covered in snow. Not so thick, just a few centimetres. We could see tyre tracks on the ground. In certain areas, it snows lightly.

As we travel further from the capital of Hungary, the snow gets thicker. Farms and hills are thickly covered with it. The snowfall gets even heavier.

“Do you think there’ll be snow in Bratislava?” I ask my colleagues Liza and Iwan, across the seat from me. Enver, our tour leader from Czech Republic, gives a nod.

Four of us are among the eight-member Pressmen from Southeast Asia on a media familiarisation trip tofour countries in Central Europe. We have just finished the first leg of our tour of Hungary. After Slovakia, we’re heading to Poland and the Czech Republic.

“It’ll be even thicker and colder in the mountains,” says Enver.

On the second day in Bratislava, we will be heading to the High Tatras to visit the country’s favourite ski resort.

Excited at the prospect of a winter wonderland in the mountains, we stay awake throughout the 2.5-hour journey. The sight of a snow-covered landscape puts us at the edge of our seats.

At certain scenic points, we – ok, only Liza and I – squeal like teenage girls. Iwan, of course, maintains his cool by hiding behind his dSLR camera.

“You girls will have more fun in the snow at High Tatras,” Enver says.

SNOW IN BRATISLAVA

Bratislava Railway Station is a bit more chaotic than the one we left about three hours ago. The cold air and wet, messy walkway don’t help to ease the confusion as we follow our local guide Slava to the waiting coach.

“Winter came early. Two days earlier than expected and we were not ready for such a snowfall. It was quite bad that it caused a traffic congestion,” she says in one breath, “and tomorrow, it’ll be snowing when we do our city tour”. I can’t help but grin.

That night, Slava takes us for a quick tour of the city’s Old Town. A preview, she says. We can’t see much but I can say it’s not as big as other old European towns. Even its Main Square is small.

During the day, the colours of the low rise buildings in the Old Town pop up against the gloomy winter sky. It’s cold with light snow but the walk on the paved streets of the Old Town is a pleasant one, thanks to the beautiful eye-catching buildings.

“The Old Town may be small but it has a number of squares, each with its own event, all held at the same time,” adds Slava.

There are five squares – Main Square, Franciscan Square, Primatial Square, Hodža's Square and Hviezdoslav's Square. But we only manage to walk throughthe Main Square andHviezdoslav's Square.

The Main Squarewas the city’s main market place which acted as the place for public gatherings and official ceremonies. It’s no wonder that the Old Town Hall was built as its main landmark.

Though not big, the Main Square, which was built in an almost square dimension, is said to be the most enchanting square, thanks to the towering Old Town Hall tower, quaint buildings and Renaissance-style fountain.

The open Franciscan Square is a contrast to the Main Square. Located down the street from the Main Square, Hviezdoslav's Square takes on the title as the city’s most beautiful and liveliest square.

From the charming Slovak National Theatre building, we walk along a tree-lined boulevard to St Martin's Cathedral, the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava. It is especially known for being the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830.

Then it snows. Luckily for us, it’s almost time for lunch. After a quick visit at the majestic cathedral, we walk across the neighbouring SNP Bridge to its other end on the banks of Danube River.

Said to be the most characteristic building in the city, the bridge was built from 1967-1972 as a cable-stayed bridge with one pylon. On top of the 80m tall pylon is UFO Restaurant which, of course, looks like a flying saucer from afar.

The beautiful lunch with a 360-degree view of Bratislava officially ends the tour of the city. We then board a coach for High Tatras, the snow-covered mountain range!

HIGH ON TATRAS

Our anticipation at stepping on the snow-covered High Tatras is put on hold as we make a detour to Hronsek, a small village a two-hour drive from Bratislava famous for a Unesco-listed wooden articular church.

Though it’s a quick visit to the all-wood, no-nail church, it’s already dark when we make our way to AquaCity in Poprad, a small city at the foot of Tatras Mountain.

But it’s pitch dark when we reach the hotel. The only sight of snowis in the driveway. But the falling snow lessens the disappointment.

The view of colourful rooftops partly covered in snow from my balcony greets me in the morning. With clear blue skies and a glorious sun, I know it will be a beautiful day on the mountain.

As planned, we leave the hotel early and head to Hrebienok, a popular ski resort at 1,285m above sea level, above Old Smokovec in the southern slope of Slavkovsky Peak.

Well, we get what we’ve been dreaming of – snow! Raising our excitement is the five-minute funicular ride from the Old Smokovec. Parallel to the funicular line is a nature trail for those who prefer to walk up to the ski resort.

Since we don’t know how to ski and it’ll be a short visit, there’s nothing much for us to do up there. There’s nothing much to see either. There’s only a building that houses a restaurant and restrooms.

But weseesnoweverywhere. Like kids again, we play in the snow and makea snowman. This is of course after we have taken loads of photos – for work and social media.

From Hrebienok, we head to another popular ski resort Štrbské Pleso, the highest ski resort in Slovakia, located between 1,360m and1,825m at Tatras Mountains.

The Tatras is a boundary mountain range that marks the Slovak-Polish frontier. It is often referred to as the miniature Alps for it has everything the Alps have except for glaciers.

Luxury hotels and history aside, winter at the Tatras is simply magical!

FAST FACTS

SLOVAKIA is a relatively small country in Central Europe. It is slightly bigger than Pahang, the biggest state in the Peninsular Malaysia. Pahang is 35,840 sq km in size, while Slovakia is 49,035 sq km.

The size of Slovakia puts it at the 129th largest country in the world by area while its 5.5 million people make it the 116th largest country in the world by population.

Slovakia is a new kid on block when comes to tourism. Nevertheless, it is fast to catch up. Armed with the catchy slogan “Travel in Slovakia – Good Idea”, the country offers 21 tourist regions.

Popular tourist sites include its capital Bratislava and its surroundings, the grand Tatras Mountains, magnificent ruins of Spiš Castle (one of the largest castles in the world), Slovak folklore in Orava and Liptov and national park, Slovak Paradise.

How to get there

Bratislava Airport is the country’s biggest airport, located 12km from the city centre. However, most visitors don’t fly to the country as the land route – road or train - is quite reliable.

In fact, visitors coming from Vienna, the capital of Austria, can even take a 75-minute boat ride on the Danube River.

DID YOU KNOW?

1. It’s small in size, but Slovakia is big in surprises.

It has the world’s highest number of castles and chateaux per capita. Just imagine for a country with a population slightly lesser than Singapore, Slovakia has a collection of 180 castles and 425 chateaux spread over land as big as Pahang. The star among them is the medieval Spiš Castle, a Unesco site that also belongs in the group of largest castles in the Central Europe.

2. Big in nature

If numbers matter, this small country has more than 6,000 caves (so far!), 1,300 mineral water and thermal springs, nine national parks and 14 protected landscape areas.

3. The only capital in the world which borders two countries

Its capital, Bratislava, sits between Austria and Hungary, which makes it the only one capital in the world that borders two independent countries.

Making it even more interesting, Bratislava and Vienna is only 60km away from each other. This makes them the closest capitals in the world. Bratislava is 200km away from Hungarian capital, Budapest. These three capitals are connected by the famous Danube River.

4. The highest wooden altar in the world

The Church of St James which is located in the historic centre of the medieval town of Levoca is home to the highest wooden altar in the world. The 18.6m high and 6m-wide altar was made without the use of a single nail! The town centre is a Unesco World Heritage site.

5. Home to some of the world’s most beautiful women

While beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, the travel portal U City Guides puts Slovakia among top three countries with the most beautiful women in the world. It even argues that the country can be especially proud of the grace the Slovak blondes are born with.

Source: blog.timeforslovakia.com

czar-lina@nst.com.my

Pictures by Zalina Mohd Som

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