On the attack… the Manchester United of tomorrow?

Spectator Sports in Slovakia: Poprad & the Manchester United Connection

Slovakia is better known for its ice hockey than football when it comes to spectator sports. Whilst the national ice hockey side have, for many years, vied with the world’s best, the football achievements are less well known. The Slovak national football team is one of the youngest national football teams in the world, having split from the Czechoslovakia national football team after the dissolution of the unified state in 1993. Slovakia now maintains its own national side that has completed in all major professional tournaments since dissolution. Slovakia has now qualified for two major international tournaments, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2016.

Every October half term for the last six years, Manchester United’s Youth Team (MUYT) has travelled to the High Tatras city of Poprad to train and play against local opposition. And it’s very easy to see why.

Besides the AquaCity resort complex is a magnificent new football stadium, designated as a Slovak National Training Centre (NTC) and undoubtedly one of the best places to play football in Europe.

The development is a continual process and within the next 12 months an additional grass and an artificially surfaced, all weather training pitch will be added. The NTC is where you can watch the Manchester United football’s stars of tomorrow train and play some of Slovakia’s Premier League and other overseas teams for a fraction of the price it would cost at Old Trafford. Since they first visited Poprad in 2010, 19 MUYT players have progressed to the first team and many more, despite not making it with Manchester United, have played for other English premier league teams. Players like Marcus Rashford, now one of soccer’s most talked-about young strikers (especially since his selection for this summer’s Uefa Euro 2016, have been former participants in the AquaCity training programme (there is a Hall of Fame board inside AquaCity with a list of the stars who have played here).

So there’s no longer any denying Slovakia’s link with high-profile football, nor that catching it up here in the Slovak mountains must be one of the sport’s best bargains: Standard tickets cost €1 whilst VIP seats set you back a mere €3 ! (the jagged mountain backdrop is a darned sight more spectacular than the Manchester skyline too!).

The stadium...

The stadium…

But it’s not just the players. The stadium, too, beautifully styled on Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge, is the only one of its kind in the world, as the pitch is geothermally heated – and in a really neat way. The waters that heat AquaCity originate in a huge subterranean lake where the natural water temperature is 50 degrees centigrade. However, before the stadium’s construction, the spa complex had a problem: to cool the waters sufficiently for returning into the earth at the correct temperature so as not to damage ecosystems. Running the water around the stadium (by now it’s cooled to an average 15 degrees) reduces the temperature to exactly the right amount to return it to Mother Nature whilst ensuring one of the planet’s lushest playing surfaces. At least, that was Manchester United’s opinion…

AquaCity, as well as offering annually some of football’s best “been there and seen it first” moments, also – it should be noted – has one of Slovakia’s very best spas, and this in a country very well known for them! More on this HERE

A Quick Guide to the Other Content We Have on Poprad

Places to Go: Poprad’s funky contemporary art gallery in an old power station

Places to Go: Poprad’s lavish Aqua Park

Places to Go: Nine reasons to linger in Poprad

Places to Go/Getting Around: Taking the Mountain Railway into the High Tatras from Poprad

Places to Stay: A cool travel-friendly B&B in Spišská Sobota, Poprad

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s trendy burger joint

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s dignified Café La Fée

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s Coolest Wine Bar

Places to Eat & Drink: Poprad’s gourmet chocolatier

Arts & Culture: Dedicated traditional Czech & Slovak music radio station now based in Poprad

Getting Around: London to Poprad Flights

Getting Around: The Poprad to Ždiar to Zakopane (Poland) bus

Top Ten Medieval Towns in Slovakia

 

Poprad has undeniably one of the best backdrops of any city in Eastern Europe.

Poprad has undeniably one of the best backdrops of any city in Eastern Europe.

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Around Bratislava – Nové Mesto, Ružinov and the Southeast: On Cemeteries & Communist-esque Cafeterias

Martinský Cintorín in Ružinov

Martinský Cintorín in Ružinov – image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

I was in Ružinov for a work meeting. I was quite excited. This was not because I was expecting anything particularly amazing from this large neighbourhood of Bratislava, the southeastern extension of Nové Mesto (New Town) just east of the city centre’s Staré Mesto (on this site we generally refer to it as the Old Town). It was because I am always excited by new things, and this was Englishmaninslovakia’s first chance to really scout out the area.

On first appearances, Ružinov appears largely industrial. Lots of Bratislava’s major businesses are based here, including the Slovak Tourist Board with whom I had the appointment – plus most of the large financial companies which make Bratislava’s economy tick. The neighbourhood’s streets are very wide, there’s a lot of traffic and a lot of rather big impassive multinational company facades (the flip side is quite a few green spaces, including a couple of cemeteries and lakes which are good enough for a jog or dog walk). The neighbourhood’s very name, actually, refers to the many rose gardens which were supposedly once hereabouts (where are you now, rose gardens?)

But I’m not going to wax lyrical about Ružinov because Englishmaninslovakia neither likes to deceive nor indeed tempt travellers away unnecessarily from a city centre which is far more charming. However it does contain two exceptional attributes, and one of them was right in the building I happened to be visiting, at Doktora Vladimira. Clementisa 10: namely the exceptional cafeteria of Apores.

What I whimsically call Communist-style cafeterias are still, 21 years on, an important part of Slovak eating culture. Picture a canteen, perhaps like one where you once had school dinners. Picture fixed formica tables, and cheap set-price lunches, and invariably surly old women ladling something unidentifiable and colourless out of a vat, and, perhaps most intense of all, water that comes with different colourings, including a garish pink. These canteens or cafeterias are perhaps not so prevalent as they once were, but they are still ubiquitous and still, I would argue – for better or for worse – an interesting cultural phenomenon for the outsider to behold. But what is almost always true about them is that the food is, well, school canteen style food. It’s not renowned for its presentation or succulent taste.

But this cafeteria was clearly cut from a different cloth. Perhaps you could even say it was a sign of how, slowly, Ružinov itself is changing. There were four gluten-free options, including delicious roasted veg, for which I opted. There were tasty soups. There was serendipitous, really decent espresso, which always cheers me up. There was a view onto the nearby park (so none of those starkly strip-lit canteen images that probably come to mind). Apores was a traditional Slovak cafeteria with a touch of city sophistication.

Because Ružinov, these days, does have a touch of city sophistication (alongside all that rawness!). The cool city hangouts are spreading out from the centre (it started with the revamped ice hockey stadium and the pretty chic eateries around Slovanet, just back across the other side of Bajkalská, which marks the conventional city centre-Ružinov divide). Watch this space. Ružinov is becoming an increasingly trendy place to go out, as evidenced by such chic hipster places as the Film Club Nostalgia, a cinema-cafe-bar

For now, however, rest easy: a good cafe serving strong espresso will hardly get tourists flocking. Nor, indeed, will one of the city’s main cemeteries, Ružinov’s Martinský Cintorín. I checked it out afterwards: a leafy spot where a few famous people in Slovakia are buried (Jozef Budský, for example, a Czech actor who helped to raise the standard of professional theatre in Slovakia no end). Nor, quite probably, will the nearby presence of Miletičova, the city’s largest fresh produce market (best day is Saturday; for an excellent post on the market visit this blog).

But should work take you out to the Ružinov area, it’s not quite the industrial wasteland it first seems.

Oh, and the colourful candle holders in the bottom right of the picture? They are part of Slovakia’s most touching traditions, and get lit up at night to remember the cemetery’s incumbents – particularly on November 1st when cemeteries country-wide are mysteriously-flickering seas of candlelight… the ceremony is known as Dušičky

MAP LINK:

GETTING THERE: Tram 8 or 9 from Trnavské Mýto will take you there – see our list of key Bratislava transport routes for more.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Ružinov it’s only a couple of Km the other side of the admittedly ugly Slovnaft complex onto some of the Englishman in Slovakia’s favourite Forgotten banks of the Danube locations (there are a few around Bratislava, see the post for more)