Slovakia's Oldest City x2

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Flag of Slovakia  , Nitriansky,
Friday, August 6, 2010

I picked up my fourth (third planned) and final rental car today. This one already had around 3400km on it, so alas, I am neither the first nor second driver, but it's still pretty new. I took the bus to the airport to get the car, more for the challenge of proving I could and the fun of getting to use the bus website again than because of the cab price, although saving money is always good. The trip went smoothly, except for the little catch that it was pouring rain, but I was determined to go cab-less.

The only time the rain was really a problem was at the airport. The Bratislava airport recently added a new terminal, but closed-off one of the old terminals so that you can't go through the airport building itself to change terminals. At least, you can't if you haven't gone through security. This meant I had to walk out in the rain to get to the terminal with the rental cars, which was of course the farthest from the terminal I had been dropped off at.

There was more poor design to come. The rental car lot was diagonally across the airport parking lot from the rental car counters. It was literally as far away as you could be and still be on the airport grounds, and of course there was no cover. Then finally, whoever parked the rental car decided to back all the way into the space, so I had to stand in the muddy landscaping to put my bags in the trunk. Note to rental car people, if someone is picking a rental car up at the airport, they will probably need to get into the trunk to put their bags away before they do anything else with the car. It wasn't a big deal for me because I was wearing my hiking boots, but the driver's side of the car is now already covered with mud.

I didn't really have a plan for today. When I was mapping things out a few months ago, I thought I would go to Devin Castle, but I had already been there with my friend. The only other item I had on my itinerary was Trnava, and I had crossed that off the list while planning for some reason. I mentally uncrossed it and headed out. When I got to Trnava, it was still pouring rain, and I almost didn't stop. I did pause for a snack, however, and that gave the rain time to abate, so I decided to get out and explore the town after all.

Trnava called itself "Little Rome" and had a small old-town surrounded by Communist era block-housing, similar to Bratislava. There were a few unusual church spires and a central square with clock-tower for me to see. Some sources claimed Trnava was Slovakia's oldest city. The town itself just claimed to be "among the oldest". The height of its importance was during the Turkish occupation of Hungary, when the seat of the Hungarian church moved from Esztergom to Trnava.

The town reminded me of Szentendre, a smaller town within day-trip distance of the capital without anything really outstanding and covered in graffiti, but Trnava wasn't trying as hard to sell itself as a tourist destination, so in this case it was okay. Also, it's architecture was much better than Szentendre, so I feel a little bad lumping them together. Trnava also had two synagogues to go along with its many churches. There was an Orthodox synagogue that was closed to the public and the somewhat sad unrestored shell of a Status Quo synagogue that had been filled in with an art exhibition. (Status Quo was a third, smaller branch of Hungarian Judaism that attempted to continue the version of the religion that existed before the split into Orthodox and Neolog Judaism.)

Leaving the town, I started to head to my next hotel, although it was only around noon at that point. Along the way, I saw a castle or church looming in the distance and decided to head to it. The structure turned out to be a church that was built inside an old castle wall above the city of Nitra. Both the church and the wall were under renovation, so I wasn't able to see as much of those as I would have liked, but there was a small diocesan museum across from the church.

Nitra claimed to be the oldest town in Slovakia, and also compared itself to Rome due to its location among seven hills. Whether or not it was the absolute oldest, it was certainly a key player in the region during the Early Middle Ages as the seat of early native Slovakian rulers, which was important to Slovak nationalism as for most of the rest of history their area was part of a foreign kingdom.

Nitra it was also an early center of Christianity in the area. Sts. Cyril and Methodius were sent to Nitra, where they developed the Glagolithic script, predecessor of modern Cyrillic. The Diocesan Museum had an informative display on their mission.

According to the museum, initially the prince of Great Moravia sent to Rome requesting help in disseminating Christian teachings amongst his people. For some reason, missionaries from the pope never arrived, so he turned to the Byzantines instead, who were more than happy for the opportunity to spread their influence to the north. Constantinople sent Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Eventually, news of their work reached Rome (due to a dispute with Frankish clergy) where the pope welcomed the brothers with open arms .

They sought and got permission to write the Bible using what we now call Old Church Slavonic and the Glagolithic script. There were reproductions of several letters and proclamations from the pope praising their use of the language and declaring it as a fourth acceptable language for Biblical transmission. I assumed the others were Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The Slovakian museum was quite proud of this as it wasn't until the 20th century that the Catholic Church allowed other languages to be used.

After that welcome detour, the final leg of the drive found me leaving the highway onto a secondary road. The road condition was good considering the type of road it was, better than in Hungary, probably like what I'd expect in rural Texas. It was a twisty, windy road through forested hills that reminded me a lot of Slovenia. The area was apparently a former (and maybe current?) mining region as the route threaded through numerous mining villages and past old ore processing facilities.

My destination was the former mining powerhouse of Banská Štiavnica, which was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In addition to the town itself, there were a few mining museums attached to formerly working mines in the area.

Just as I was stepping into the hotel after unloading my car, it began to pour, so I haven't seen much of the town yet, but I did drive by some promising churches and town buildings. The rain was falling straight down as I could actually hear it hitting trees on the hillside across from the hotel and moving towards me, but not yet feel anything, just before it reached the hotel door.

Occasionally, weather or planning caused me to end my day early. Like today when there's lightning. I'll usually stick-out rain, but I prefer not to be out when there's electricity involved. When that happens, I find myself watching TV. Slovenia and Croatia were usually good about having English channels, but in Hungary and Slovakia, often my only options were shows dubbed into the local language.

Sometimes there would be a sports channel I could watch, but one of my favorite pastimes was making up dialog for Spanish soap operas. There was one featuring 25-year-old "high schoolers" that looked particularly absurd. The dress code at the school was loose to say the least. The students found creative ways to stylishly sport their uniforms that would make Japanese school girls jealous. One of the faculty walked around in a shirt split vertically down the middle, and in yesterday's episode managed to scandalize one of the other adults by teaching the girls how to conga (or at least that's what it looked like to me).

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