These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Spišská Nová Ves

Fantastic city and citizenry

 photo: Chris Togneri

The good folks of Spišská Nová Ves like their superlatives, no matter how trifling. Like this one: the Main Square, locals like to boast, is the largest ‘lentil-shaped square’ in Slovakia. For those wondering what something that is lentil-shaped might look like, it simply means that the square’s lines are curved, not straight, so it’s more like an eye than a rectangle.

In the middle of this giant soup ingredient square is another superlative: the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Encircled by trees, it has Slovakia’s tallest church tower at 87 metres.

There’s more: Spišská Nová Ves neighbours the biggest village in Slovakia (Smižany, population 7,000), is seven kilometres away from the world’s tallest wooden altar (in Levoča), 15 kilometres away from central Europe’s largest castle ruin (Spišský hrad), and a day’s hike away from Slovakia’s biggest ice cave (Dobšinská), which was the first cave in Europe to be fitted with electrical lighting. Furthermore, the cave is found in the national park (Slovenský raj) locals often triumph as the ‘most beautiful place in Slovakia’.

Having lived here for nearly a year now, I’ve come up with my own superlative: Spišská Nová Ves is the most enjoyable Slovak city to live in. This is, of course, a highly subjective view. And I’ll understand if you think I’m being presumptuous as I have only lived in two Slovak cities (Spišská Nová Ves and Bratislava).

But I stand by my statement. The thing is, I just cannot believe that I will ever again be this satisfied with the city in which I live. Spišská Nová Ves has it all: a beautiful Old Town rich with charming historical buildings; a compact city plan where everything is within walking distance; endless hiking opportunities in Slovenský raj (plus, the High Tatras are only 30 minutes away by train); a relaxed lifestyle that places a premium on being outdoors; neighbourly and accommodating locals; a coherent ethnic mix of Roma and Slovaks; a distinct lack of skinheads; affordable prices... you see my point.

I have been smitten with this city since moving here in September 2001. The locals received me with a warmth that still amazes me, a far cry from the treatment I sometimes received in Bratislava. Three years ago, for example, I asked the editor of a capital city newspaper for the phone number of a Slovak NHL star. He eyed me suspiciously, leaving my request awkwardly unanswered, then wheezed out a cloud of smoke, snubbed out his smouldering cigar and folded his hands across his bulging belly. “Anything is possible,” he grunted while tugging at his walrus moustache. “For the right price.”

Three weeks after moving to Spišská Nová Ves, however, I showed up unannounced at the doorstep of a local newspaper hoping for an interview with the editor-in-chief. She ushered me into her office, served coffee and began quizzing me on my intentions, apparently finding it odd - yet flattering - that an American journalist would be seeking her out. She quickly agreed to an interview later that day.

Bottles of wine awaited my return. It was a staff member’s name day, cause for celebration before (and during) the interview. What followed was a festive three-hour affair during which I got off fewer questions than I was asked. “Where are you from? How do you like Slovakia? Why aren’t you married yet? You don’t have a girlfriend?! Ježiš Mária!”

Then a group of locals I did not know led me on a hike after hearing that I was fond of mountains. While sharing a beer afterwards, it struck me that I had already made more friends in four weeks here than I did in nearly four years in Bratislava. Like Laco, who explains the intricacies of the Spiš dialect while teaching me everything about darts except how to beat him. Or Tomáš, a former journalist who for two hours explained the history and current affairs of the Spiš region after I had asked him to help me brainstorm story ideas. Even my landlord, who insisted I stay with his family after the September 11 attacks on the US so I would not be alone at such an emotional time. I could go on and on.

But I won’t. For I am now sitting in my flat in Spišská Nová Ves, and writing this has given me the urge to be out there. So I am going to take some photos now, and then I’ll bike over to the Legenda pub where there will surely be a large group of friends sitting on the outside patio. And they will greet me with the kind of warmth that suggests that my absence had been the only thing keeping them from them having the time of their lives.

What a place. What a fantastic city and citizenry. When I leave this country, I am certain that the only regret I will have about my Slovak experience is that I did not move here sooner.

- Chris Togneri

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2002.

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