Bratislava, Kuchyna, Trencin, Zvolen

JUNE 2001

When I was serving as a pianist in the US Air Forces in Europe Band (Germany: 2000-2002), we were invited to tour Slovakia and perform several outdoor concerts. Going by what I had seen on TV, I was a little nervous and did not know what to expect. Well, almost immediately, I was very pleasantly surprised by the nice people, beautiful scenery, and cities that were a perfect blend of old and new.

In 1918, the Slovaks joined the closely related Czechs to form Czechoslovakia.  Following World War II, Czechoslovakia became a Communist nation within Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe.  Soviet influence collapsed in 1989, and Czechoslovakia was once again a free nation.  The Slovaks and the Czechs agreed to separate peacefully on January 1st, 1993.  Slovakia has experienced more difficulty than the Czech Republic in developing a modern market economy, but is progressing rapidly.

Slovakia (left) is located on the western border of Ukraine (right). The two countries share appx 50 miles of border.
Poland is to the north, Austria and Czech Republic are to the west, and Hungary is to the south.


JUNE 2001

Slovakia has a population of about 5 ½ million people.   It is about twice the size of New Hampshire.  The economy is strongly supported by the natural resources of the region, including coal, iron, copper, and manganese.  In the past, neighboring countries have used Slovakia mainly for producing raw materials for manufacturing.  This means the factories producing most of the pollution are located here, and the low-cost raw materials are sent to other countries which in turn produce high-tech items for greater profit.  Efforts are being made to turn Slovakia into a manufacturing country, so it can share in the profits of technology.

We flew into Vienna, Austria and picked up our rental cars (2 new Volvos) and drove the 150 miles to Bratislava, Slovakia. Here, we are at the border getting ready to enter Slovakia.

A view of Bratislava, Slovakia, from the Novy most Bridge tower.
The Danube river is in the foreground. (It’s not blue!)
Our hotel is the first building on the right.
The Novy most Bridge over the GREEN Danube River. The photo before this one
was taken from the circular dining area at the top of the bridge tower.
No swimming is allowed in the river because of unexploded bombs from World War II.

Bratislava Castle as viewed from the Novy Most Bridge.

The Main Square in Bratislava.  Our band performed here one day.

Later that day, we performed at the town square. We were the first United States military band to perform in Slovakia since the Iron Curtain fell. Very friendly and welcoming crowd!

One of the highlights of the week was working with the Slovakian military dance troupe.  These men and women performed after us at each concert, and were GREAT!!!  A superb small orchestra of traditional instruments accompanied them in a very carefully planned sequence of song and dance. It was also a pleasure and honor to get to know many of the Slovakian military men (the women are all civilians).  

Slovakian Dance Troupe

Part of the Slovakian Dance Troupe Orchestra

Slovakian Dance Troupe Orchestra

Slovakian Dance Troupe

Slovakian Dance Troupe
Afterwards, I got to meet a few of the dancers. Strictly for international relations. Yup!

We were fortunate to travel with the Slovakian Dance Troupe the next few days and enjoyed watching their very professional presentations. All of the members were very friendly and made us feel welcome in their county.

After the concert, we had one day off to explore the historic old city of Bratislava.

St Martins Cathedral, one of many magnificent churches in Bratislava.

Another view of St Martins Cathedral.

Church and Convent of St Elisabeth in Old Town Bratislava.

Inside the Church and Convent of St Elisabeth in Old Town Bratislava.

Ceiling of Church and Convent of St Elisabeth in Old Town Bratislava.

Walking around the Old Town section of Bratislava – Many interesting store fronts. This is a pharmacy.

Many Old-World craftsmen still at work.
Bratislava is a wonderful mix of old and new.
In the main square, each town had a measuring rod for the unit of measurement, the “arm”. Of course, every town’s stick was different.  Here, Jerry (our guitarist),
compares his arm’s length to that of the marks on the rod.

Here is a photo of the Novy Most Bridge from the opposite side of the Danube River. I rode the elevator up to the circular observation deck.

This gentleman was dressed in his finest suit to take me on the elevator to the top observation deck of the Novy Most Bridge.

View of Bratislava from the Novy Most Bridge observation deck. The Danube River is in the foreground. It is not blue, but dark green. Swimming is not allowed since there is still unexploded ordnance from WWII.

Next, I headed down to walk around Bratislava. Lots of outdoor cafes and vendors.

Bratislava Opera House. Very impressive!!
The fountain in front of the Bratislava Opera House.

Following in the footsteps of Mozart. He performed here when he was 6 years old. I waited until I was 40+.

Franz Liszt also performed in Bratislava, at the age of 9. Quite a musical town!

Hey, a piano bar with local beer.  I’ve found my retirement job!

Lot’s of choices for places to quench your thirst!

And many more after this one…..

How about a direct flight to Moscow on Aeroflot (the official Russian airline)? No, thanks!

Storefront art. (New)

Storefront art. (Old)

Bratislava Jewish Memorial – engraving on granite. In the 1930s, there were approximately 15,000 Jews in Bratislava – about 10% of the population. Many came from Germany hoping to escape persecution, but most were murdered during the Holocaust.


Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava.

In the town square is this fountain.
I guess the little boys discourage folks from drinking out of the fountain.
More interesting art in the town square. Watch you step!!

Close-up of the “Manhole Man.”

Nearby is his friend, the “Top Hat Man.”

This old abandoned building on the outskirts of town was decorated by artists.

Close-up of decorated building.

Sign advertising local cafe near the town square. RIP probably translates into something different than I know, but I still think I will pass. LOL

“Radnicka” – I wonder if this is a redneck bar?

Walking around and enjoying the outdoor cafes and shops.

More cafes at every turn in the street.

Trolleys every few minutes provide quick, easy, and CHEAP rides all over town.


The next morning, we were off to Kuchyna to meet the Slovakian Dance Troupe and perform a concert outdoors at a Slovakian Air Base.

These guys were lined up for beer at 6:00 am. 
Gets the day off to a good start!

The Slovakian Dance Troupe is here!

The Slovakian Dance Troupe went out into the audience for “volunteers” to join them.

For a final number, the Slovakian Dance Troupe joined us for the most interesting presentation of
“Who Let The Dogs Out?” I ever performed!! Music crosses all cultural lines.

And, of course, I had a little more “International Relations” work to do. Tough job!!
After the concert, I had time to walk around and meet these Slovakian Air Force
men and their truck for refueling airplanes.

They also have these really cool vehicles for moving the airplanes around.
I think it would make a great off-road vehicle, except the top speed is probably about 15 MPH.

A quick peek inside.


The next day, I had the morning off, so I took a little drive out into south-west Slovakia. My rental car (a nice Volvo S60) had unlimited miles, and I paid for the gas myself. The first town I headed out to was Solosnica.

My rental car for the week – a nice Volvo S-60.

There are miles and miles of these small roads throughout the farmland in Slovakia.

Welcome to Solosnica, Slovakia!

Old farms and old churches in Solosnica.

On the outskirts of Solosnica, I look back on this beautiful view of a rapeseed field with the town in the distance. Look closely at the trees on the left and you can see my retirement home. (See next photo) Rapeseed is very popular in Europe, and is used for cooking oil, biodiesel, lubricant, and animal feed.

My retirement dream home. What a view!

One evening, our host took us on a walk around a popular lake in the area.
This restaurant was nestled back in the woods along the trail.

The trail-side restaurant was appropriately named – “Buffet of the Mosquitos”.


The next day, we loaded the cars and headed north about 75 miles to Trencin to perform a concert.

Driving through southwest Slovakia on our way to Trencin.
It reminded me so much of West Virginia.

Interesting churches, castles, and other scenery along the way.

Approaching Trencin. It looks like parts of West Virginia.

As we get closer to Trencin, this castle comes into view.

The castle is a popular landmark in Trencin.

After our concert, we met with a group of Slovakian military members. The young lady on the right served as a translator. She was quite popular with the young single guys in our band.

I gave this young Slovakian airman/soldier one of my band career badges (it’s the silver badge above his left shirt pocket).  He thought that was incredibly cool.  I’m sure he still has it.


Next, we headed to the town of Zvolen, located almost in the middle of Slovakia. It is appx 140 miles to Ukraine at this point.

Central Slovakia – Beautiful countryside!!

Enjoying the Slovakian scenery on our way to Zvolen for our last concert.

Zvolen, Slovakia.  We stayed at the Hotel Bien. It is nestled in the woods about
6-8 miles from the town of Zvolen.

At the Hotel Bien, we had some of the best food on the trip. 
As the décor suggests, this is a popular hunting and fishing lodge.
Not surprisingly, the pheasant soup and shark filet were delicious.

These two sisters were the daughters of the owner, and spoke English very well.
They helped us with the menu at dinner, and answered a lot of questions about Zvolen.

Lots of interesting decorations around the lodge.


Zvolen, Slovakia.  It could be Main Street on just about any small Midwestern town.

I decided to hang out with the locals on a park bench in Zvolen.

Interesting old church in Zvolen. Lots of OLD history here!

Enjoying a local soda while we set up for the outdoor concert.

The Slovakian Dance Troupe joined us once again. Unfortunately, we had to cut the concert short due to rain.
After a brief break for a little drizzle, we continued with the concert.

Slovakian Chief Warrant Officer Jaro Hrivnak was our host for this concert.
Very nice guy!

Group photo with our band (to the left) and the Slovakian Military Dance Troupe.

After our concert in Zvolen, we were treated to a very nice reception and
were given small gifts by local politicians and high-level Slovakian military officials.

After the formalities, the toasts started.  Slovakian liquor is HARD stuff!
I had just a few drops on my tongue to taste it, and it brought tears to my eyes.
These guys were drinking it like water. 

A 6-course reception.

During the reception, we were entertained by a member of the
Dance Troupe Orchestra in traditional  Slovakian clothing.

Our Audio Technician, Danny Hall, was offered the opportunity to try on a traditional Slovakian outfit. Danny was a quiet guy and was a perfect example of, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

Earlier in the day, I had given Chief Warrant Officer Jaro Hrivnak one of my US Air Force Band career badges. 
That evening, at the reception, he presented me with a set of Slovakian Warrant Officer shoulder boards. 
What an honor!!  It is such a good feeling to know the two people who were on opposite sides
 of the Iron Curtain for half a century can meet and be best of friends.

For More Information on Slovakia and Bratislava, click on:

Hope you liked Slovakia.

(I sure did!!)