Last Thursday, I begrudgingly woke up at 6:00 to let six strange men into my flat. A cacophony of drilling and hammering resonated throughout my apartment building for most of the day as the boisterous group of repairmen changed all of the water pipes, depriving me of a working toilet. Despite the inconvenience of it all, I found this all-day affair rather amusing. My flat is a clown car in terms of size, and most of these men were much too tall and muscular.
When they finally left around 20:00, I experienced some serious introvert overload. Itching for solitude beneath the sun, I resolved to spend Saturday outside and alone.
Off to the woods I went, a plethora of snacks and sunscreen packed safely away in my trusty backpack.
Železná studienka, a massive park in Bratislava that bleeds into the Small Carpathians, served as my starting point, to which I traveled via an old retro tram.
This communist-era mode of transport screeched and rattled, an awesome start to my journey back to simpler times. The dapper-hat-clad driver seemed to thoroughly enjoy his job as well, his enthusiasm an unexpected source of inspiration for my impromptu gallivant in the woods.
From Železná studienka, I picked a direction, in this case off to the left, and just started walking, no solid plan in mind. The night before, I have found a little castle icon floating high about the park’s entrance on Maps.Me, an offline map app that has served me well in my years of solo travel.
I googled this castle, named Pajštún, and found several positive reviews of the ruins deep-set in the forest. Pictures of the castle were sparse, however, and when I discovered it would be a four-hour hike just to get to this mysterious landmark, I decided against it. An aimless wondering through my favorite park would suffice.
However, typical to an Anna-style adventure, I changed my mind twenty minutes into the hike, somewhere between carrot stick four and five.
It no longer mattered how far away it was. I would worry about getting home after reaching the far-off castle.
During my epic journey to Pajštún Castle, I walked through several small villages, past gorgeous English-style gardens, and around some far-off campsites where the smell of charcoal grills was tantalizing at first, torturous soon after. I should have spread my snack breaks out more.
The long stretches deep in the forest were glorious and emptied me of any residual stress from earlier in the week. Though long, the hike itself was not too laborious; Eighty percent of it was on level ground, the trail wide and soft.
It had been ages since I had gone on a proper hike – the kind that leads deep into the forest where loquacious birds gossip loudly but remain unseen. My legs were sore days after and I have to say it was an amazing feeling to attribute that dull pain to a full day of hiking rather than a full day of sitting at a computer.
Nature gives us almost everything we could possibly need – clean streams of spring water to fill empty bottles with, sturdy trunks to stretch overworked muscles against, babbling brooks to soak blistered heels in. It’s a neglected reprieve from the world we have manufactured – the one that makes it far too easy to waste an afternoon watching old X-factor audition reels on YouTube.It has never been more vital than it is today to flee deep into the forest, phone and computer rightfully abandoned at home.
The last 600 meters or so to Pajštun were the hardest. Although close to four hours of walking is a tiresome activity regardless of the trail’s grade, I had been spoiled by the level path, and the sudden incline to the ruins, tangled in the gigantic roots of nearby trees, was a bit of a shock.
More shocking was my initial meeting with Pajštún. At the top of the trail, I came across a large tree with a small sign indicating that I had made it to the castle. I couldn’t see it at first through the thicket of lush green leaves, but after a few steps, it stood proudly in front.
Talk about remarkable!
Pajštún Castle, dating back to the 13th century, once protected the Kingdom of Hungary on the northwestern border. It reached its peak of grandeur centuries later when it came under the ownership of the affluent and powerful Pálffy family during the 16th century.
The glorious fortress partially collapsed after being struck by lightning in the mid-1700s. Pajštún recovered substantially, only to be destroyed by Napoleon’s troops in 1810 while France was at war with the Austro-Hungarian empire. Nevertheless, I think Pajštún got the last laugh. Napoleon is immortalized with a small statue in Bratislava’s main square while the ruins of Pajštún still tower with beauty and elegance on the outskirts of the city.
To put it rather ineloquently, Pajštún Castle is killer cool! Seriously, whoever declared Devin Castle the most impressive of castles in the Bratislava region ought to make the trip to unassuming, unbelievable Pajštún. On particularly sunny days, you can even spot the majestic ridges of the Austrian Alps.
My journey home was perhaps less eventful than that of the castle’s numerous invaders. I walked slowly, tired and mentally refreshed, caving in when I came across a tiny bus station 45 minutes away from my starting point. My legs appreciated the break, and they pulled me like a forceful magnet to my bed when I made it home around dinner time. I collapsed and reveled in this simple type of happiness: the urge to scour YouTube had subsided, but the pull of the woods had never been stronger.
Take a walk in the woods,