Some breakups are painful – “Breaking up is hard to do“… There are the famous breakups; John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Ike and Tina Turner, Shaq and Kobe. The Germans blew up the bridge connecting Sturovo and Esztergom on
their way out-of-town. It was a painful breakup caused by a bunch of sore losers with a truck load of dynamite. The split, for the next 56 years, remained. The connection between the two cities became a boat ride. In 2001 the EU, Slovakia, and Hungary invested to rebuild the bridge linking these two small towns – “Reunited and it feels so good“. This small pair of villages, on the Danube shore between Bratislava and Budapest, are a lovely day trip from either capital city or a nice stop over when travelling between the two.
We grabbed the international train linking Prague with Belgrade. It makes only a few stops fortuitously including Bratislava and Sturovo. Less than 90 minutes after leaving Bratislava, we arrive. The town of Sturovo is a 30 minute walk from the train station – 30 minutes of doubt on a busy, dusty road thru a desolate countryside.
Don’t despair. You are in for a treat. A line of taxis meet the incoming trains. In hindsight, I’d probably hop one into town. If you elect to walk, turn left and follow the road straight ahead.
A peaceful, tree-lined pedestrianized square rimmed with cafes and restaurants comprises the bulk of tiny Sturovo. A few of the restaurants appear interesting but we didn’t stop. You can’t go wrong with a beer in Slovakia. If you hoofed it into town, grab a seat in the shade, enjoy a beer and a view, and catch your breath.
It’s a panoramic scene across the Danube to Esztergom – once the capital of Hungary – the massive Esztergom Basilica, and the adjoining Danube banks blanketed in a verdant hillside. The medieval town of Esztergom is nestled into the elbow of the Danube Bend. Take a minute to relax and enjoy the view. On the very hot late April day of our visit, the breeze is welcome. We don’t rush to cross the river. That said, most of the attractions are in the fairly small area surrounding the castle hill and cathedral in Esztergom. I don’t recommend dallying too long.
The bridge, which gracefully connects the two towns, combines art and function with its minty green curved iron rails and sculpted floral highlights. It tucks nicely into the hilly setting. Cars, pedestrians, and bikers share it with ease. Given the Hungarian currency is the forint (vs. the Slovak currency which is the Euro), there are a few currency exchange booths on the Slovak border tended to by the local women. I brought some forints with me – and most places in Esztergom accept Euro or credit cards. I recommend crossing without exchanging your currency. Hiking up to the hill, peeking into the cathedral, and wandering are all free.
The basilica is the largest cathedral in Hungary and stands among the ruins on the ancient castle hill. Before heading up, we stop at Csulok Csarda for a leisurely lunch.
It’s on the back side of the castle hill from the Danube. Though the town appears large and confusing on the map, it’s actually a tight, small, walkable village with the key sites in close proximity. Wander next to the canal and thru the quiet streets until you reach the more happening far side of the hill. The restaurant is classically Hungarian. The recommended “calf with noodles” is delicious if you can ignore the tragic name. The noodles are spatzle – not the long and flat noodles of home. In Hungary I drink wine – often white – particularly when it’s melting hot. The white Hungarian dry riesling refreshes on a very hot late April day. We’ve put off the hike up, up, up to the cathedral quite long enough. Off we go.
The walk up is easier than it looks. The basilica is massive – lovely inside. Admission is free except to the crypt and watch tower. You can wander around and relax in the shade enjoying the 360 degree views of the Slovak
and Hungarian countryside. We listen to a very young girl and her older brother belting out a series of show tunes on their accordions. They are an amazing duo, more sobering if you consider how they are spending their beautiful Sunday afternoon.
When you’ve rested up and tire of the view, wander the stairs down to the “water town” (Vizivaros). The stone steps are a bit hard to find and appear to be descending into a basement on the left side of the cafe. The steps cut thru the stone city wall and down the hill to road below. Here is a nice restaurant with a vine-covered back terrace. We peek in but don’t stop.Our next train option is in one hour. The alternative two hours later. We make our way back to the station. It’s across the bridge and uphill from Sturovo. There are no taxis in sight. Since we’re walkers, we set off on foot arriving two bottles of water later, 10 minutes before the train.
My feet feel as though they have been beaten with a hammer. Ten miles of cobblestone walking can do that. But the day, the surprising beauty of the towns, strengthens our resolve to cover more weekend day trips from Bratislava. Two pages of day trip ideas await us.
I cried when Dean Martin surprised Jerry Lewis on the MDA telethon. They hadn’t spoken in 20 years. The rift lasted too long.
It was a lovely day. Sturovo and Esztergom are a beautiful couple. I’m a sucker for reconciliations.
Categories: Central/Eastern Europe