It’s never a good sign when you arrive at a bus teriminal and you’re the only ones who get off. But that was the case when we arrived in Banska Bystrica, a town located in central Slovakia. I’ll be honest. I’d chosen Banksa Bystrica as it was sort of half way between Krakow and Budapest, our next stop. When I told Veronica this after getting off the bus, I wish I’d been less honest.
With a name derived from the Slovak words Banská meaning mine and the name of the local river Bystrica meaning swift stream, on arriving I started thinking that maybe I should’ve done some more research before a decision was made to stop off for the next three days. What we’ve learnt, though, is that first impressions can be very misleading. Traipsing back into Námestie SNP (SNP Square) the next day, we were greeted with as lovely a town square as any we’ve met to date.
Once the clouds and Soviets had cleared, of course.
Once we’d marvelled at the lovely town square buildings we wandered around the back of the square to what is called the Banska Bystrica Town Castle. Now, I’m not much of a castle expert, but this one seemed to be a few turrets short to be calling itself a castle. Built to protect the income generated from copper and silver mining for the royal treasury, it was built slowly over the 13th to 15th century and used to include earth ramparts, palisades, bastions and a water dike. While there’s not a lot of those in evidence today it still was a perfectly regal place in which to have the morning latte.
Tucked in behind the “castle” is the lovely 14th century AD Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Well worth visiting for the sculptures outside, if you time it right, you can also visit inside just before or just after mass.
Once done with the central square, it is also worth checking out the outdoor exhibits that form part of the SNP (Slovak National Uprising) Museum, which is where the second largest anti-fascist uprising in Europe broke out on August 29, 1944. While we didn’t go inside to the museum proper, the open-air museum still has enough of interest to warrant a visit.
Surprisingly, Banska Bystrica is also home to quite a number of pretty cool cafes. We managed to find one called Spezax Cafe, situated just off the main square, which, to the kids delight, did selficinos. Even better, the guy who was doing them was quite happy to change the coffee for hot chocolate instead. Very cool. Only a little bit more expensive than a normal coffee, the gimick is well worth the cost as an add on experience.
All that was required was to send a selfie (existing one from the camera roll or take one on the spot) and send through to the barista, who whips it up within a minutes. All pretty simple, really.
One of the other reasons we dropped into Banska Bystrica was to see the wooden articular church of Hronsek, situated about 10 kilometres away. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the 8 metre tall Lutheran church was only allowed to be built in this catholic country under very strict conditions. Under terms 25 and 26 of the Sopron Articles, the church had to built entirely of wood without using a single iron nail and construction had to be completed within one year. Furthermore, the main entrance was not allowed to face the street and it was not allowed to have an attached bell tower. Miraculously, all these articles were adhered to and the church was completed in 1726, with seating for 1100 people.
While the wooden church is impressive, mostly due to the conditions it was built under, there was no one around to provide access, which seems pretty much the norm. It’s one of those circumstances where you’re left scratching your head thinking that there’s an oppportunity being missed here to properly promote this in order to drive tourist traffic through the area. That said, maybe its better this way.
Hronsek has a couple of other sights worth quickly looking over before disappearing. The first is just across the road from the church, Hronsek Castle. Obviously taking a leaf from Banska’s book, the castle in Hronsek isn’t really a castle either but instead a chataeu that, with a bit of refurbishment, would be quite an attraction. As it stands, it was a quick photo click before moving on.
Further up the road and just around the corner is Hronsek’s Water Castle. This one at least looked like it might be getting some much needed TLC. With fourteen years of work and €5 million worth of restoration work, the oldest building in Hronsek built in the 14th century AD still didn’t look open when I visited but here’s hoping that it won’t need another fourteen years of work before visitors are able to see for themselves its past glory.
Hronsek is easily accessible from Banska Bystrica by rail. The train station was also in pretty bad nick and you simply had to wait beside the train tracks for the train to stop before boarding. Somewhat encouragingly, there were a whole lot of concrete blocks assembled nearby which were being used to complete a new platform, so here’s hoping that plans are afoot to tart the place up a bit.
From a pretty rocky start when arriving in Banksa Bystrica, we found the place and its environs to be a nice place to stop off. It’s hard competing with the power hitters of Prague, Krakow and next to be visited Budapest, but the town has its own charm and we ended up being more than happy with our decision to spend a few days taking in what it had to offer. We were definitely more excited about what was next coming up though, the city of Budapest in Hungary.