March 8, 2018
A small country with a five million population, Slovakia is like a central European crossroads, land-locked between Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. Economically junior to its larger neighbours it offers history and mountains and its capital Bratislava is a great place to start.
The main station, Bratislava Hlavná Stanica, was built in 1850 and had a most unusual feature – a ‘vínovod’ (wine transport system) with gravity flow tubing connecting freight trains to the empty (soon to be full) barrels in the nearby aristocratic Palugyay family’s wine cellars. Alas, it’s no more, but perhaps something our wine suppliers could try to reinvent!
Transformed by a 1960s eclectic refurbishment, today’s station welcomes passengers with an unusual mix of austerity and warmth, with buzzing cafés and shops set amid its sombre socialist murals and booking office windows.
There is an hourly service to Vienna and a number of international trains operate to neighbouring countries and onward into Germany, as well as a seasonal service to Serbia and Croatia.
Following a pause in services in 2016, Intercity trains are operating again, provided by ZSS (Železničná spoločnosť Slovensko). The route across the country takes in the main stops of Žilina, Poprad – Tatry and Košice, where Wagon Slovakia Košice, has its catering logistics centre.
The journey takes about four and a half hours and Wagon Slovakia’s onboard teams provide sit-down restaurant meals, café bar takeaway snacks and trolley services throughout. The kitchen and café bar is located in a coach towards the back of the train, with seating for the restaurant facing towards First Class and the less formal café seating facing Second Class.
The restaurant and café menus offer a large choice, much of it Slovak cuisine and at exceptional value. Hot breakfast was baked ham with scrambled eggs and onions or omelette for only €3.60 Lunches started with beef broth and liver dumplings, followed by chicken stroganoff, pork cutlet or pork schnitzel for about €6 or salmon steak under €10.
Salads were also offered, but my favourite was the delicately named ‘flour meal’ of traditional Slovak patties filled with Bryndza cheese with bacon and sour cream, followed by wonderfully light Marlenka honey dessert. French pancakes, drizzled with chocolate with whipped cream came a very tempting second. Locally-produced wine or beer were also served – my choice was Zlatý Bažant, a golden beer also available in dark, light and non-alcoholic versions. It is the most widely exported Slovak beer and known as Golden Pheasant in the US and Canada. The perfect way to end our journey.