Bratislava and Pieštany

Date: May 28th to June 5th, 2023

In the summer of 2023, I took a "mini sabbatical" and spent a little over 5 weeks in Europe. This is the first part of this extensive trip report. I started with a week in Slovakia, where I got to visit my family and also attended a Slovak space technology conference. Next I headed to Bulgaria, where I spent few days at my mom's place, before embarking with her on a 9 night Mediterranean cruise out of Istanbul. You will find those pictures under MSC Med Cruise. Next, Sandra met me in Istanbul, and after sightseeing there, we headed back to Bulgaria to show her the Lozenets apartment. We then flew to Rome. Those pictures are found under Istanbul, Bulgaria, Rome.


I flew into Vienna (as usual), where Petra came to pick me up. This was bit of an adventure as I did not recognize her at first. She lost a ton of weight since the last time I saw here (and it's not like she ever much to lose). I saw somebody who looked possibly like her, but was so much skinnier that I did not think it was Petra, plus that person did not react when I tried calling Petra on messanger (seems she was dealing with some work emails and did not notice the incoming call). We next headed to her apartment in Bratislava's Petržalka district. But the first stop was a a near-by beer garden for beer and food.

The next few days were spent visiting Bratislava, and just hanging out with Petra, Fero, and my niece and nephew Sofinka and Ferko. They are all very athletic and much of this involved shuffling between various dance, karate, or gymnastics events. Besides spending time with family, I also did quite a bit of working, primarily focusing on wrapping up my second textbook by utilizing 3 out of 4 different Bratislava Regus locations. I also attended a conference on the emerging Slovak space sector called Emerging Space. The conference was held at the Slovak Technological University (STU) Faculty of Electrical engineering and Informatics (FEI). I also caught up with some old time friends, including my elementary school classmate Michal, and Marek from Washington, D.C.

Family portraits (the girl in a red skirt is one of Sofia's friends).
I also met up with some old friends: Mišo from elementary school and Marek from D.C. Slovak meetup.
I attended Emerging Space conference at the Slovak Technological University (STU)

I also did my usual sightseeing running. Running in Bratislava, especially in the summer, is quite nice. The sunrise is before 5 am, and by 6 am, it is so bright out that it feels like noon back in Los Angeles. Except that the city is deserted. I passed by the famous landmarks, such as the Čumil statue in the old town, with absolutely nobody around. The outside brightness gave the run a really eerie vibe, since it felt like as if I have entered some post-apocalyptical city that saw its entire population vanish. Below are some pictures from the 10 mile loop. Unfortunately, I was not able to get into the castle as the gate doesn't open until after 8am.

Route of my 10.4 mile Bratislava run.
Pictures from my run, including in front of Slovakia's first skyscraper, and the totally deserted old town (at 6am).
View from the castle garden, later from the bike path along the Danube, and also one of the many poppies growing everywhere.
My father came to Bratislava on Thursday, June 1st, which happened to be the International Children's Day (MDD in Slovak). I wanted to take him on a sightseeing boat ride on the Danube, but, the departure we wanted to do was fully booked by the city of Bratislava to offer free rides to kids and their parents to celebrate the holiday. Well, I didn't think we qualified, but my dad inquired, and me technically also being a child got us onboard. This was my first time doing this sightseeing boat tripe but it is definitely worth it, even if you have to pay for it. Later I also took my dad to the food court in the new Nivy shopping center. Few years back, this was the site of the old central bus station. Now the bus station is underground and above it is a very nice modern shopping mall that even sports a jogging path (apparently sponsored by Strava) on its roof. Here he got to try his first ever Ramen. We have good ramen spots in LA, but I very much liked the one found in this food court.
Free sightseeing boat ride on the Danube for International Children's Day.
Walking track on top of the new Nivy shopping center, where you can also find amazing ramen at the food court.


The next morning, my dad and I traveled from Bratislava to a town called Pieštany. This town, located about 50 minutes north on the D1 highway, has been a popular spa destination since the Middle ages. The town itself is located on the western bank of the Váh river. In the middle of the river is a small island that houses several spa resorts due to a naturally occurring hot spring that produces mud with supposedly healing properties. The hotels located on the island range from the luxurious Thermia Palace resort to more medically-oriented establishments such as Pro Patria where we stayed due to the lower cost. One curiosity of Slovak health care system is that it is completely commonplace for a doctor to prescribe a weeklong stay at a spa for various medical conditions, including stress or post-surgery rehabilitation. Staying at Pro Patria was quite interesting as it feels more like a hospital. The workers wore hospital garbs, and most other guests were clearly suffering from ailments, including various leg and arm deformities. In fact, the symbol of Piestany is a 'cripple' breaking his crutches, as it is believed that the mud can help peopel recover their mobility. I am not so sure about this (although hot water can definitely do its wonders), but soaking in hot water is indeed very relaxing. Pieštany is otherwise a very nice town. The weekend we came also coincided with their annual "opening day" used to mark the start of another seasons. It was filled with parades, vendors, and outdoor concert of a famous band called Vidiek.

Thermia Palace and me trying the stinky 'eggy' mineral water.
Of course, we also visited the Napoleon spa.
Having some (non-alcoholic) beers in old town, and later checking out Vidiek concert.
Opening day parade on the spa island. I also went for a run along a poplar-lined circuit path.
We also ate bunch of cakes, including inside the Thermia palace and at the near by patisserie Elizabeth.

But the main reason we headed here is that I recently purchased a small 44m2 "studio-plus" apartment in a new construction Pinia located along the eastern bank of the river. The river here turns into a large lake called Sĺňava that is popular for sailing, kayaking, and sunbathing. There is even a wake boarding resort next door. As of this writing (early 2024), the building is fully constructed and permitted for occupancy and I am in the process of setting up the interior. Apartments in Slovak new constructions (called novostavby) are usually delivered as a "naked apartment" (holobyt) and it is then up to the owner to complete it. The benefit is that you can customize it as you like, but the downside is both the extra time required to make it usable and also the extra cost. This is a fairly major undertaking as you receive just the walls, and still need to put in the ceiling light fixtures, install and paint the drywall, run electrical and plumbing connections, and then build the bathroom, kitchen, as well as any other attached furniture. I am in the thick of it now, but hoping to have the apartment ready for use by the late summer 2024. The eventual goal is to make it available to our extended family as a vacation home.

Pinia apartment building under construction and the view from the river path connecting to the spa island.
Views from inside my lake-facing unit. A lot of work remains to get it finished!

Banská Bystrica

From Pieštany we next traveled to my home town of Banská Bystrica. Another interesting coincidence was that we arrived the day of the city marathon. I think I will try to run it one day! We got to see the runners completing their race in the evening, on our way back from my dad's cabin, since for some strange reason this race is run in the evening. Then, it was the customary visit to my dad's pub, which he owned since around 1990. He finally managed to sell it at the end of 2023, and we are all hoping he will finally have more free time in his retirement. Then Sunday I hoped on a bus back to Bratislava, where I spent another night with Petra, and then it was time to head to the Bratislava airport for a short (and very cheap!) June 5th Ryanair flight to Burgas, Bulgaria, to start the second part of my journey.

Bryndzove halusky - Slovak national dish - at a roadside traditional `Koliba' restaurant.
My hometown downtown, it hasn't changed much since my childhood. Also at my dad'd pub which he finally managed to sell later this year!
Back in Bratislava, catching a cheap Raynair flight to Burgas, Bulgaria.

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