This afternoon, all the delegates met outside the Council Hall for a sightseeing tour. Well, I say all the delegates; the Portuguese delegates were still having lunch. Fernanda appeared at the restaurant door and called out ‘Don’t worry!’ and although what I’m sure she meant was, ‘Don’t worry! We’ll follow you in a bit!’, her listeners, most of whom have English as a second, third, or un-understandable language, heard this quite literally as ‘Don’t worry! We’re fine!’ As nobody had been worrying about them, just getting impatient for their appearance, this caused a little international indignation; we, the people waiting, should have had the opportunity to say ‘Don’t worry!’ to them, the people who should have been concerned about holding us up. It has now become something of a catchphrase.
After the obligatory group photo by the statue, followed by the same photo being taken on another eight cameras, the sightseeing tour began. We now know lots about Trnava.
- First recorded as a settlement in 1238
- Known as ‘Little Rome’ because of the number of churches (and also because it was the seat of an archbishop)
- Had a university, then lost it, now has one again
- The city had lots of privileges, so its inhabitants built a city wall to make it clear where the privileges were
- Large tower built to give a good view over the plains and, therefore, some warning of approaching Turks
- Was at one point the second city of the Hungarian empire
- The king’s crown was hidden here during a revolt. We know where it was hidden because there is a crown carved on top of the building. Which is a bit of a rubbish way of hiding something, when you think about it.
- There is a painting of the Virgin Mary in the church of St Nicholas which has wept tears and blood three times in the city’s history. The city’s inhabitants walked around the walls of the city carrying the painting, and this dispelled the plague.
- The church of St John the Baptist was one of seven churches built by Nicolas Esterhazi in order to throw off a curse put on his family after he had seven labourers executed.
- Home of the Dobro (resophonic – no, I’ve no idea) guitar
- Currently home to 77,000 people, about 19,000 of whom are students.
During our sightseeing tour, we saw the outside of two synagogues (there was a significant Jewish presence in the city for a time because of its importance as a trading centre) and the inside of two churches. I love visiting churches and these were splendid, especially the church of St John the Baptist, which has the most enormous, and beautifully carved, altar. But the church of St Nicholas was good, too – it had frescoes depicting scenes from both the old and new Testaments and I didn’t need the wording to be able to recognise them.
At the end of our tour we climbed the 430 steps to the top of the town tower for views over the city and the plains towards the Little Carpathian Mountains. And I suddenly realised I had strayed into Ankh-Morpork; I would not have been at all surprised to have seen two witches flying over to the city from the mountains, or a string of clacks towers. The architecture in the city contributed to this feeling – there was lots of baroque (which our guide pronounced as ‘barrack’, but eventually I worked out what he meant), but lots of other styles too, particularly gothic.
We had hoped for a coffee break between coming down the tower and going over to the city walls, but we had a schedule to keep to. So our refreshment resolved itself into ice-creams from a little shop between Trinity Square and the city walls (only 40 cents a scoop! I think I chose coffee, although I still wasn’t certain when I’d finished eating it). At the city walls we were met by four young men and a young woman in medieval costume. Two of the young men demonstrated sword-fighting – first the sort you see in films, which is all thrust and parry and carefully choreographed, and then the real sort, which basically involves conking your opponent on the head and skipping the sword-fighting bit. There was quite a bit of concern from the ladies in the audience when one of the head-conking incidents resulted in some blood on the young man’s forehead, quickly followed by something of a stampede to hand him a tissue and mop him up. Tsk.
In the tower (the one in the city wall, not the one we’d already been up) we all squeezed into the ground floor, and looked obediently at the herbs, spices and jugs set out to make it look a bit like a medieval kitchen. Then we all trooped upstairs to the weapons room. All the swords and helmets were replicas and this meant, as the young man told us cheerfully, we could touch them as much as we liked. Quite a lot of us, with thoughts of bare feet in sandals, sharp swords, and risk assessments, weren’t terribly keen on this, but we passed the swords carefully around the tightly-packed group, and tried to find helmets to fit each other. And when one of the actors put on one particular helmet, I knew I was in Ankh-Morpork, because new recruit Sam Vimes from Night Watch was standing right there in front of me.
After not chopping anybody’s toes off in the weapons room, we went upstairs to the aristocrats’ bedroom, where there were a couple of seats for the lucky ones, and a bed at which we all looked longingly (we had done a lot of walking). There were also tapestries on the walls, small-scale replicas of an apparently vary famous set of tapestries which were used in the Gryffindor common room in the Harry Potter films. There were six tapestries, representing the five senses, and something else which is the subject of some debate (but possibly the Sixth Sense). I liked this room. I think the actors (I’m calling them actors but I have no idea if they were or not – I suspect they were history students – and the living history they presented seemed to be a hobby rather than a career) – where was I? Oh, yes, I think the actors were a little disappointed we didn’t ask more questions. I suppose I could have asked if they’d ever seen The Princess Bride or A Knight’s Tale (or indeed read any Terry Pratchett) but I felt this wasn’t the sort of question they were hoping for.
We all piled back down the tower and here there was a request for yet another group photo, this time with the actors. There are some things which cross all language barriers, and boredom with group photographs is one of them – there is one delegate who feels exactly the same about these as I do, and I know this even though she has no English and I have no Polish, just from the way we catch each other’s eye and shrug faintly whenever the time comes. And also because, like me, when the photos appear to have finished, she stays put. We both know that in fact there will be at least half a dozen more – something which most of the other delegates don’t seem to have twigged yet, judging by the way they start moving away prematurely.
After the photos there was the now standard debate about what time in the morning we need to be ready, a debate which as usual left some people certain we needed to be outside the hotel at 9.30, while others were convinced it was 9.45. Once this was resolved, we were free to walk back to the hotel. The walk involved passing a number of bars and cafes.
‘I really, really want a cup of tea,’ I said.
So we stopped at the Cafe Chocolat. This specialises in tea. It has a separate Tea Menu. There were seven of us, and three of us wanted tea: one English Breakfast, and two Earl Grey. This caused our waitress considerable confusion and there was a little delay while we waited for the drinks.
And then suddenly I was being presented with what apparently passes for a cup of tea in Slovakia. I was expecting (because this was, after all, English Breakfast Tea) a proper little tea pot and a wee jug of milk and a cup and saucer and maybe some sugar lumps. What I got was a glass of hot water, a small tub of honey, and a box labelled ‘English Breakfast Tea’. When I opened the box it contained a sachet of net curtain with some tealeaves inside. It seems tea is a do-it-yourself job here, and my job was to swish the net curtain around in the hot water. And then drink it, with no milk. I ate the honey with the teaspoon. It was nice. And the tea was nice. It just wasn’t tea. I now completely understand why Arthur Dent ended up on something of a quest around the universe. A cup of tea is such a simple thing, and yet it has suddenly become an unobtainable dream on a par with the lottery jackpot or everlasting youth.
But apart from that, I really liked Trnava.
If you want to see photos, the best place to go (apart from just googling images) is West Haddon school website. The photos won’t be on there yet but should go up sometime tomorrow.