Buying Hiking Maps and Apps (Outdoors)

There it is: one of the classic billboard shots for Slovakia’s hiking: the strange twisting path through the wooded chasms of Slovenský Raj, or the Slovak Paradise. Chances are that if you come to this country, want to see the best of it and have time to do so then you’re going to be doing some hiking: either in the afore-mentioned National Park or up in the High Tatras, most likely.

And you should not – ever – take to the trails in Slovakia’s national parks without a map. Out in Slovakia’s wilds it’s not a couple of hills with some nice restaurant waiting on the other side: it’s wild, guys – as in Scottish Northwest Highlands wild and then some. And it is very easy to lose your orientation with all those trees everywhere!

So: maps. The green-coloured 1: 25,000 and 1: 50,000 VKÚ Harmanec maps are what I have found best. They are the ideal level of detail and come in plastic cases. I find the most comprehensive selection is in Bratislava’s Martinus bookstore, and there’s a branch with a nice cafe on Obchodná right by Poštová tram stop in the centre. Panta Rhei also have maps. They’ll always have the Malé Karpaty (those hills just outside Bratislava) and the main national parks in stock.

Hiking map for the hills and forests around Bratislava

Hiking map for the hills and forests around Bratislava

And, a discovery I made the other day: there’s now a Slovak Hiking app out (search for Turisticka Mapa in your app store, the creator is Daniel Tekel). It’s basically a close-up map of the country with hiking paths highlighted and other detail faded out slightly. As long as you are going along a marked trail (most good hiking in Slovakia is along marked trails anyway) it’s pretty accurate – although at the admission of the creator, not all close-up terrain detail is shown, so if you do accidentally stray off the marked trail you may have probs. But it is a good back-up resource and with a blue dot to indicate if you are, indeed, where you think you are, you probably won’t go too wrong. The app is free; additional features such as tracking your route cost an extra 69 pence.

ArtForum’s Slovak Movies (Film)

Just a shout-out, really, this post: Bratislava is full of these labyrinthine old streets that, in and around the Old Town and Castle area, secrete serendipitous bars, cafes, galleries and shops.

On a cool, crisp night last night we were wandering in the streets just below the castle and chanced upon a place we’d seen before but not ever entered: the ArtForum, a bookshop-cum-cafe which is actually represented in a few of the larger towns across Slovakia.

The main point of the ArtForum is in its great collection of proudly avant-garde Czech and Slovak writing, Slovak music and Slovak film.

Here you’ll find editions of Samo Chalupka poetry or Milan Kundera novels that you just won’t find elsewhere. It also has, of course, a great selection of international authors represented. It’s also one of the few places in Bratislava that sells records (the city is just waking up to the fact that they’re popular again). Plus there’s a little cafe at one end selling good jams and wine as well as coffee and cake.

But it’s the film selection that was actually most interesting for me. Here is perhaps the best array of Slovak and old Czechoslovak movies anywhere in the city centre, for actually purchasing at least. There are all the classics by Slovakia’s most renowned director, Jakubisko, like The Millennium Bee, Báthory and Perinbaba (which although well known in Slovakia are, for most outsiders, an eyeopening introductions to the wonders of Slovak cinema). Then there was one of my personal favourite Slovak movies, Ruzove Sný (Pink Dreams) which is a groundbreaking portrayal of how the Roma are viewed in Slovakia. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. My girlfriend got very excited about Panna Zázračica (which we bought; it’s an adaptation of a book by Dominic Tatarka who is one of Slovakia’s most important 20th century writers). Oh, and they have copies of The Wolf Mountains, the Slovak wildlife documentary I’ve been raving about recently, as well.

But for anyone trying to understand a little bit more about Slovak cinema, this is the place to begin trying.

MAP

Plus check out ArtForum’s other locations in Žilina and Košice

brat1

ArtForum’s Slovak Movie Selection

Bratislava street by night

Bratislava street by night

Just a shout-out, really, this post: Bratislava is full of these labyrinthine old streets that, in and around the Old Town and Castle area, secrete serendipitous bars, cafes, galleries and shops.

On a cool, crisp night last night we were wandering in the streets just below the castle and chanced upon a place we’d seen before but not ever entered: the ArtForum, a bookshop-cum-cafe which is actually represented in a few of the larger towns across Slovakia.

The main point of the ArtForum is in its great collection of proudly avant-garde literature, music and film. Here you’ll find editions of Samo Chalupka poetry or Milan Kundera novels that you just won’t find elsewhere. It also has, of course, a great selection of international authors represented. It’s also one of the few places in Bratislava that sells records (the city is just waking up to the fact that they’re popular again). Plus there’s a little cafe at one end selling good jams and wine as well as coffee and cake.

But it’s the film selection that was actually most interesting for me. Here is perhaps the best array of Slovak and old Czechoslovak movies anywhere in the city centre, for actually purchasing at least. There are all the classics by Slovakia’s most renowned director, Jakubisko, like The Millennium Bee, Báthory and Perinbaba (which although well known in Slovakia are, for most outsiders, an eyeopening introductions to the wonders of Slovak cinema). Then there was one of my personal favourite Slovak movies, Ruzove Sný (Pink Dreams) which is a groundbreaking portrayal of how the Roma are viewed in Slovakia. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. My girlfriend got very excited about Panna Zázračica (which we bought; it’s an adaptation of a book by Dominic Tatarka who is one of Slovakia’s most important 20th century writers). Oh, and they have copies of The Wolf Mountains, the Slovak wildlife documentary I’ve been raving about recently, as well.

But for anyone trying to understand a little bit more about Slovak cinema, this is the place to begin trying.

Around Bratislava – the North: The Mestské Lesy (Local City Forest)

IT IS BY NO MEANS the first time I have raved about, nor the last time I will write about, Bratislava’s Mestské Lesy: the wonderful forest that rises up above the city on its northern side. If people ask me what’s so great about living in Bratislava, this is one of the first things I say. A wild tract of hilly forest that begins right on the edge of the city (only a few km from the Old Town) and continues – well – pretty much all the way across Slovakia, actually.

The most popular part of the forest is around the Kamzik, or TV Mast, that sticks up like a sore thumb out of the greenery that frames Bratislava’s northern edge. But venture beyond this, or indeed approach the forest from another entrance, and you’ll have it much more to yourself. What’s exciting, in a nutshell, about the gorgeous deciduous and conifer woods here is that they continue, unfettered, beyond the limits of the city forest into the Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) which feed into the Carpathians themselves. Embark on a walk here and you know that nature stretches before you, should you be game, right the way into Romania, and with literally a handful of roads to cross during that time.

As blog followers know, I lived for three years+ in Rača, a large neighbourhood in Bratislava’s northeast, so my main entry point into the forest was always via Pekná Cesta. From the tram stop (on the No.3 or No.5 line out to Rača you walk straight up the “nice road” (as Pekná Cesta translates into English) passing two supermarkets and then following straight uphill out of the city. After 30 minutes’ walk or a few minutes’ drive you reach a car park with some barbecue grills, a small, invariably closed booth selling warm soft drinks, the nexus of several mapped-out running routes and, most importantly, the start of an intriguing forest-themed hiking adventure.

I was lucky enough to live on the fringes of this forest and go for runs in the lower echelons (and the vineyards below them) all the time but on my first serious hiking exploration – as it happened, on the 6th of January, Monday, Traja Králi or Three Kings’ Day as it is known in Slovakia – myself and my girlfriend were for several days prior in the frame of mind for a longer adventure… a much longer adventure. The day we chose was beautiful, with temperatures reaching 12 degrees C (when we started out I didn’t even need to wear a coat) and Bratislava folk were out for a spot of post-Christmas fresh air. It was an amazing advert for the city, with the smoke of venison wafting over from the barbecues, young families merrily embarking on the myriad trails and Bratislava’s large contingent of hardcore cyclists toiling up on the steep climbs out of the car park into the forest…

…In this part of the forest there are no refreshments (in fact there’s probably scope for some enterprising young individual to open a cafe/ restaurant like the abundance there are around Kamzik) but that’s hardly the point: you are getting straight out into a forest wilderness here where (seriously) there are wild pigs and bears abroad after night fall (either of which could easily kill people, meaning the wildlife here is nothing to be taken lightly. The Czechs (probably because they come more often to Slovakia than any other nation but also because they’re Czechs) have a reputation here for coming to Slovakia’s wildernesses, setting off into the blue yonder and getting into difficulties because they underestimate just how wild it is here.

It all adds an extra sense of adventure to any hike you do (provided you come prepared and aren’t out after dark). And isolated as it becomes in these forests, you are always accompanied by great signage, good noticeboards indicating where on the forest map you are and as already inferred, shelters/fire pits for typical Slovak opekačka (cooking meat on an outdoor fire in the woods, basically). It’s not for nothing hiking is one of Englishmaninslovakia’s top things about living in Slovakia.

This time out, we didn’t come prepared. Or rather, we didn’t realise how long the circuit we did would take. There we were, enjoying the sun slowly sinking over the treetops and then we were suddenly thinking: “ah, yes, when that goes down fully it will be dark – and isn’t that the hour when those wild pigs emerge?” I tried planning one of my legendary shortcuts back to the starting point. It would have been an amazing moment for a shortcut of mine to pay off. But it didn’t. We had to backtrack. By now it was getting seriously dusky. We couldn’t read our map (the green 1: 25000 Malé Karpaty Juh – available in all good bookstores; see our post on buying hiking apps & maps for more if you want a good map on either local hiking or hiking in Slovakia generally). The mythical stories of those wild pigs and bears seemed much closer.

Then a serendipitous short, portly bearded man (oh, such a classic Slovak, and with that absolutely essential hiking companion – a huge hip flask of the very, very strong stuff) tramped by and asked us if we were lost. It turned out we weren’t so off-the-beaten-path after all and he was able to direct us back to Pekna Cestá. Because despite all this tree-coated wilderness, we were only a few kilometres from the edge of Bratislava.

The man bid us farewell, and when he had guided us to the edge of recognisable territory, he turned off on some darker, far wilder looking path that was going in the opposite direction to civilisation.

“Where are you going now?” we cried, for it was almost pitch black by this point.

“Oh, I’ve got another 1 1/2 hours of walking yet” he replied. “I’m going to Marianka.”

Marianka, famous for being Slovakia’s main pilgrimage site, was a good 10km off. And indeed this man was a pilgrim. He was going to pray to the Panna Mária  (Virgin Mary); he did it every year on Traja Králi and, in the true style of pilgrims of old, by foot through these very forests. He took a long swig of strong-smelling alcohol. Whether that was a good idea if he was going to be contending with wild pigs and bears, I am sure he knew best.

NB: to the best of my knowledge, the forests around Bratislava contain no bears (there’s plenty in the High Tatras and Eastern Slovakia) but lots of wild pigs.

THREE TIPS FOR MESTSKÉ LESY HIKES!

On the blue trail from here to the edge of the city forest somewhere near Malinovsky Vrch (the point where it borders the Malé Karpaty proper) a number of exciting hikes are possible…

1: In fact, you could easily embark on what would be one of the classic Mestské Lesy hikes, on blue and red trails, from the Pekná Cesta car park: on all the way to Pajštún Castle (a total of 4.5 to 5 hours’  hiking) via Pánova Lúka and Drači Hrádok (thus encompassing three of our very favourite hiking destinations near Bratislava). Beyond Pajštún, should you so choose, you can continue hiking into the Malé Karpaty in Western Slovakia).

2: For something a little easier (and more or less what we did on the above mentioned day), follow blue to begin with from the car park and then, where the trail heads off on a more minor path, circle back (staying on the metalled lane) to a ruined sanatorium where a beautiful and rarely-used trail then climbs back up through woods, and eventually descends again to join the blue trail at a noticeboard/firepit on Pekná Cesta about a km uphill from the starting point. It’s an excellent round-trip foray into these woods, with loads of smaller tracks branching off to explore.

3: Our third featured possibility for hiking from Pekná Cesta is indeed our top recommended Bratislava Mestské Lesy hike, the Pilgrimage to Marianka.

OUR FAVOURITE RANDOM LITTLE PLACES TO GO IN THE MESTSKÉ LESY:

Pánova Lúka – An idyllic, verdant little meadow a 3-hour hike from Central Bratislava via Kamzik. A great place for Slovak opycačka (barbecue) or a game of frisbee! MAP (although you need a better hiking map to find the place). It’s off the red Štefanokova Magistrala trail (stage two) before Biely Križ…

The Yellow Trail from Pekna Cesta – A beautiful stretch of woodland close to the city, and part of our Pilgrimage Trail to Marianka path.

Drači Hrádok – This is a very ruined castle (only a few stones left) but the ruins themselves are in a forgotten little pocket of woods below Pajštún Castle. MAP It’s at the end of the yellow trail down from Pajštún Castle, just east of Borinka (and still a steep climb uphill from there).

MAP LINK 

GETTING THERE: For the part of the Mestské Lesy we’re talking about here, hop on Trams No.3 or 5 in the city centre and head out to Pekná Cesta, a 20 minute tram ride three stops beyond Bratislava Vinohrady train station.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Walk any further on the paths described and you’re well and truly in the Small Carpathians. 12km north of Pekná Cesta (and accessible via the Pekná Cesta road through the forest) just passed Marianka is, indeed, Pajštún Castle.

Panta Rhei And Café Dias (Central Bratislava Branch): Good Coffee, Great Books

Café Dias, next to Panta Rhei Bookstore

Café Dias, next to Panta Rhei Bookstore – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Wifi: Alright.

I’m always a bit dubious of cafes in, or affiliated with, bookstores. So it was with some trepidation that I snuffed out Café Dias the other night after a spot of Christmas shopping. Would it be another dreary collaboration of the Borders-Starbucks or Paperchase-Caffé Nero ilk, full of depressed, angry people so utterly out of keeping with what a bookish cafe should be like?

Not a bit of it. Café Dias might rather grandly advertise itself as a place where “Great Adventures Live Forever” but in the waste ground of good, welcoming places to eat/drink at this end of town between Obchodná and Hodžovo Námestie, it’s a nice find.

Not that locals think of it as a “find” – Panta Rhei, the bookstore adjoining the cafe, is hardly a secret. It’s a massive bookstore. It is a way above-average bookstore, actually, with a really great selection, American Christmas classics on repeat right now and my favourite bit: a wonderful craft and design section of the DIY variety. They also have a decent selection of cards (in a country where card-giving is not the standard practice it is in the UK) and gorgeous notebooks (I love browsing various shops’ notebook selections).

But back to the cafe. No one would ever think Dias would be so good, being surrounded by that fierce, vigorous brand of commerce which can all too often turn outlets into piles of direness. Yet there it is: cosy, tribal-themed décor, big wide windows from which to spectate on the scurrying passers-by heading to the Billa supermarket in the snow (currently a sweet old 15cm deep), and, of course the most important, innovative food and drink.

Café Dias Food and Drink

After a careful scrutiny of the cake section (there was fruity cheesecakes and a zesty apple tart which I also ended up trying), I opted for the chocolatiest option – chocolate sponge topped by a couple of layers of lighter, creamier chocolate mouse and a fruity dark chic topping (I like chocolate) and a mulled wine. The only problem with this was that I didn’t sample the coffee, which a friend had recommended me as excellent – the same one as introduced me to the now lamentably-closed Prešporák actually but I can’t reveal my sources :) – but I did smell it, and it smelt good. What Dias has is a selection of plantation brews from the likes of Guatemala, Indonesia, Peru and the rest of the world’s coffee kingdoms-on-high – and each one comes with a tempting description and general tips on appreciating coffee: for a reasonable 2 to 5.35 euros.

The service was, well, courteous but on the slow side. I had to beg to be allowed to pay the bill. As I was waiting, I found out that the cafe takes its name from Portuguese explorer Bartholemeu Dias, the first-known man to sail round the coast of Africa. Café Dias might not quite take you to a place as strange and new as that. But in an absence of other enticing eateries in this neck of the woods, its well worth the voyage here (and the wait for the table).

It should be noted that the Café Dias-Panta Rhei double act is not unique to this part of the city centre. Elsewhere in Bratislava, in the big shopping centres of Aurpark and Avion,  as well as in other city shopping centres in the likes of Piešťany, Nitra, Žilina and Košice, a Panta Rhei along with a Café Dias sitting plumb in the corner of it, will be found. But these are shopping centres. And whilst they seem pretty popular places to eat in Slovakia, they are vacuums as far as atmosphere goes. This store – call it the flagship Café Dias-Panta Rhei combo – is a bit different. It has personality. A more-or-less guaranteed delightful book- or stationery purchase. And great people-watching ops whilst you peruse afore-mentioned purchase over that coffee and cake…

An adventure that lasts forever? A pleasant diversion from the daily grind that seems set to stay a fixture in Bratislava’s Old Town, for sure…

MAP LINK

LOCATION: – Vysoká 2, by (indeed, on the ground floor of) the Austria Trend Hotel (seen on the map), and attached to Panta Rhei. It’s right outside the other side of the underpass when you’re coming from Hodžovo Nam.

OPENING: – 8am-10pm

BEST TIME TO VISIT: – Late morning or early lunch, for a good coffee and cake after a book purchase.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: On the next street, Drevená, 100 metres southwest, is Bratislava’s best brewpub, Bratislavský Mestiansky Pivovar

LAST UPDATED: April 2017