Lost in…Prievidza

Baník Prievidza 0-0 Zlaté Moravce II

Futbalový štadión Prievidza / 3. Liga – West / 24th March 2018

Fairytales are usually set in magical kingdoms of make-believe – not usually in the depths of central Slovakia. But head just a few kilometers north of the town of Prievidza to the village of Bojnice and you will find arguably Slovakia’s most glittering landmark: Bojnice Castle – very much a fairytale castle that could be a suitable home for any Disney prince or princess.

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Bojnice Castle. A beauty.

Many travel guidebooks for Slovakia will use the beauty of Bojnice Castle as their front cover image in their first ploy to entice people to visit the Slovak Republic. Undoubtedly, this image alone would be enough to at least grab people’s attention. As mentioned before on these pages, Slovakia loves its castles and apparently has more castles per person than any other country in the world (it seems other countries contend this claim though). This is largely thanks to Slovakia being repeatedly raided and invaded over the centuries, which also means many of the castles are now left in states of ruin. Another reason why many of the castles are in a crumbling state is largely thanks to the communists, who had little care for them and left them to fall into disrepair. However, it seemed even the communist leaders were enchanted by Bojnice Castle and kept it in great condition, as it became used as a place for weekend getaways or a place for conferences. I’d delayed my own visit to Bojnice for far too long and so finally, as spring was slowly coming to life, I decided to combine my trip to Bojnice with watching a game of football at the far less majestic environs of FC Baník Prievidza.

Prievidza is about 100km away from Trnava and is located towards central Slovakia. There was one direct train there from Trnava at 7.10am and so I arrived there at about 9.30am. As the train rolled into town, I could see Bojnice Castle in the near distance and it was a beautiful, incongruous blip on the landscape. The romantic presence of the castle was completely out-of-sync with the fairly grim-looking industrial town I was now entering. More on Prievidza later.

I began the 30 minute walk out of Prievidza and up to Bojnice with particularly exciting scenes unfolding when I found a petrol station selling Starbucks coffee en route (sadly for Starbucks-loving me, Starbucks is a rarity in Slovakia). A literal walk in the park led me to the streets leading into Bojnice, which I entered via a welcoming stony archway.

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Bojnice Castle.

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Bojnice Castle.

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Bojnice Castle.

I expected Bojnice to be a fairly dormant village with the castle being the epicentre, but for such a small place it packs a hell of a lot in. Bojnice has Slovakia’s oldest zoo, a few spas and is just generally rather beautiful. It really did surprise me. But I was here for Slovakia’s most well-visited castle and that’s where I bee-lined towards.

Just by looking at photos of the castle beforehand, I knew that Bojnice Castle would be stunning, but it was actually more beautiful than I expected. Unlike any other castle I had been to in Slovakia, it just seemed to glisten and as mentioned earlier, a lot of effort had clearly gone into maintaining and preserving the place. The castle is apparently famous for its ‘ghost nights’, but I couldn’t imagine anything haunting or even slightly gloomy happening here. I completed a lap of the castle grounds, where there were all sorts of stalls selling tacky tourist stuff, and it was on this lap I spotted a sign declaring that there was a brewery bar nearby and it’d be opening at 11am. A look at the time told me I’d timed the end of my walk perfectly.

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The street to Panský pivovar Bojnice.

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Panský pivovar Bojnice.

Down a little street in the shadow of the castle, I found the Panský pivovar Bojnice. I walked in only 5 minutes after opening time and so was unsurprisingly the only customer in there, although this didn’t last long, as by midday many of the tables were filled. It was easy to see why. The place really was a lovely, little brewery bar with a pleasant atmosphere and another big addition to the rapidly growing list of ‘Why Bojnice is cool’. Service was quick and the beer excellent too; although starting my day with a 7.5% beer was maybe a bad choice, as I could feel the very tasty Gróf IPA go straight to my head. I was sad to leave the bar, but I felt I should go and see more of Prievidza. This was a bad move.

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Brewery bar.

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Waiting for pivo whilst listening to Ace of Base.

Half an hour after leaving Bojnice, I arrived back into Prievidza and the contrast was stark. Whereas Bojnice was a quaint, charming town with plenty going on, Prievidza was certainly none of these things. To be quite frank, Prievidza is a bit grim.

The politically heavy Slovak band Karpina summed up Prievidza rather concisely in their song Prievidza (sang to the tune of Rammstein’s Amerika), where they sang “Najväčsia diera je Prievidza” – translated: “The largest hole is Prievidza.” There is nothing eye-catching or stimulating about the town itself with the centre being made up of bland, grey communist buildings with the odd pretty church thrown in for good measure. It seemed that the only lively part of town was the main square where kids skateboarded around in a rather glum manner and locals navigated their way around the most basic and most sad-looking market I’ve ever seen. There was less than 2 hours until kick-off, so I decided to take refuge in a bar in the centre. However, this proved impossible as it seemed even the shitty, little local bars were shut up for the weekend. After a lap of the town in search of even a glimmer of something positive (I did find Vegan restaurant, which is very, very rare for Slovakia), I gave up and headed back towards the train station where I’d seen some life in a nearby bar earlier.

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The main square.

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Tried to make the place look at least a little nice…

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…but then I’d see sights like this.

A quick pit stop in a typical Slovak bar and then I decided to head for the floodlights of the ground, which I could see protruding into the sky from further down the train track. A 5 minute walk along a footpath alongside the railway track and I was soon outside Prievidza’s footballing base. After being underwhelmed with Prievidza, to put it very lightly, I can at least say that the football ground is magnificent.

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Track side walk to the ground.

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Around the corner from the ground.

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Floodlight porn.

The ground is squeezed between the train track and a tower block estate giving the ground that typical, very communist Slovak football ground backdrop. The floodlights are wonderfully old school too – which will always get you top marks on this blog. The ground is made up of just one large main stand that runs alongside the whole of one side of the pitch. This is a rather unorthodox structure too with its wavy roof and rusting exterior, giving it a downtrodden sort of charm.

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Entering the ground.

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No shits given about that intimidating exclamation mark.

Gaining entry for the afternoon’s 3.Liga game cost a mere €1 and there was plenty to enjoy prematch too with a choice of an outdoor bar, an indoor bar with adjoining conservatory areas and also a barbecue area already firing up ready to serve the day’s klobása. I opted for a beer indoors for now as the clear, blue skies above now started to pose a slight chill too.

There was a respectable turnout at the ground and it was good to see many spectators wearing club colours too, as seeing club merchandise in the lower leagues of Slovakia is rare.

Today was a day of seesawing from good to bad, good to bad: Bojnice had been good; Prievidza has been bad. The football stadium was good; the game of football I was about to watch was very bad. There have been many contenders for worst game I’ve watched in Slovakia and I’m sure some were so dull that I’d forgotten them, but this definitely ranks as a bad one.

Baník were taking on Zlaté Moravce II and it was easy to see why many of the away team players were part of Zlaté Moravce’s second team. Zlaté Moravce are one of the weaker teams in the Slovak top flight, but fair to say that none of the players in the II team looked capable of breaking into the mainteam. They were crap, although Baník were only slightly better. The Prievidza area has produced Slovak national team stars such as Martin Škrtel (from nearby Handlová) and former AC Milan midfielder Juraj Kucka (actually born in Bojnice), who now plays for Trabzonspor. There was no sign of any future talent on show today.

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Match action.

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A small band of Ultras watch on.

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Match action.

To be fair, the game started fairly end-to-end with the home no.10 being particularly good fun to watch as he marauded down the left-wing. There was one excellent slaloming run featuring nutmegs, but nothing came of it. And that was the story of the half really. There were half chances but nothing came of anything. Initially, I was sure there’d be goals though, as the away goalie looked especially dodgy.

Half-time: Baník Prievidza 0-0 Zlaté Moravce II.

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Rusty.

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Klobása scenes.

The interval was my cue to head to the grill in the corner of the ground, which was run by  a man who looked like the Slovak Danny Baker. It was a solid klobása effort.

The second half was even worse than the first and it became apparent by the hour mark that I would be witnessing a 0-0 today.

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Second half from the stand.

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Tower blocks and floodlights.

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Match action.

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Final minutes.

As the clock ticked down towards 90, I began to edge closer to the exit, praying for this game to be over. I asked one local would he mind taking a photo of me with the ground in the background and he did so obligingly, before demonstrating his very good English. He asked the usual questions of where I was from? Where did I work? etc. before the inevitable “Why are you in Prievidza today?” I explained I wanted to visit the castle, but as a groundhopper I was mainly here for the football. He looked at me with sympathy and began apologiing for the football on offer today at his local team. He said to make up for it, I should join him at the local basketball club an hour later, as apparently Prievidza had a big semi-final game. I’m sure anything would have been better than this game of football, but I had a train to catch at 17:33 and I really didn’t fancy spending the night in Prievidza.

Full-time: Baník Prievidza 0-0 Zlaté Moravce II.

I’d never been so happy for a game of football to be over with.

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My trip back to Trnava would be more arduous as there were no direct trains back, so a one hour wait in Lužianky would be needed to change trains and then a quicker change in Leopoldov. I decided I’d need train beers, so I headed to a crappy bar by the station where I picked up two bottles of Topvar. And whilst I was there, I thought I may as well have a beer in the bar too. I got to do a spot of fish watching as I drunk, thanks to one of the walls being mostly made up of a large fish tank.

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One final Topvar in Prievidza.

As I boarded the train, I decided now might be a good time to google where Lužianky actually is as it is a town completely unfamiliar to me; it was a name that I can’t remember coming up even once on my travels. It turns out that it is a small village on the outskirts of Nitra. Great…

I didn’t expect to find a lot in Lužianky when I arrived there for my hour stop over and I was right; I wouldn’t see anything there really as the whole village seemed to be engulfed in complete darkness. The train station was devoid of light too. That was until a door opened in a small building outside the station and a small glimpse of light creeped out, as well as the sound of some loud music. I chanced it and ended up in what must be one of the grimmest bars I’ve been in in Slovakia. It was quite busy though and quite good fun with many of the locals watching the ice hockey on the TV as they sipped away at the tasteless Corgoň beer. I made it out of there alive anyway.

As I arrived back into Trnava, I decided I had had a proper fun day. Yes, I know I moaned about Prievidza itself and the football on offer, but that’s all part of the fun at times. One thing I would say to anyone visiting Slovakia is that they should definitely get themselves over to Bojnice Castle. A truly stunning spectacle.

Highlights: Bojnice, Bojnice Castle, Panský pivovar Bojnice, great ground.

Low Points: Prievidza is shit, crap game.

See all my photos from Prievidza and Bojnice here.

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