Like many towns in Central and Eastern Europe, Košice blends its manicured historic streets with its gritty suburbs. The area around the train station feels run down, pretty much like all stations, with a backdrop of concrete towers lining up on the hill and grungy looking store signs. We had been travelling from Budapest since 6.30am, up since 5am, and to top all of that off I had a broken toe to contend with as I hobbled along trying to find the McDonalds our Airbnb host told us to meet him in. On the map, everything seemed further than it was, but within minutes, the City Park came into view, with the green roof turrets of a villa I never managed to figure out what it was used for.
Our host found us, informing us that the flat we rented had a leak in the pipes, but he gave us a replacement flat, which was nearby. Despite being Slovakia’s second city, it soon became apparent that everything is nearby in Košice.
“So what do you recommend doing in Košice?” my friend asked.
“Nothing really,” our host said with a shrug, “drink coffee and walk?”
That filled us with optimism, but at least I didn’t feel like I had a bucket list of places to visit as I hobbled along trying not to put my weight down on the left side of my foot.
The apartment had its charm, with an art nouveau stair rail of flowers where flakes of paint in red and green still could be seen clinging to the wrought iron. The interior of the flat followed that unwritten Airbnb rental “airspace” aesthetic with exposed brick, wooden beams, industrial features and IKEA furniture, but it was nice enough.
Within 1o minutes of dropping off our bags, our next two days felt like something out of Groundhog Day. Košice is a beautiful city. The main boulevard Hlavná begins breaks like a river around a concentrated island of historic monuments, such as its gothic cathedral and the theatre, with green, leafy parkland filling in the spaces in between. But after our first few hours in Košice, we realise it’s a city to saunter in and watch the world go by rather than rush and tick things off the list. For me that was fine, as my foot went from feeling awkward but OK to pulsing in pain, and it also meant within hours we found our homes away from home.
Our first port of call was somewhere to eat, especially having been up since the crack of dawn with nothing but a few savoury scones in our possession. A friend recommended Republika Východu, which translates as the Republic of the East. It fit the industrial “airspace” aesthetic any trendy place adheres to these days, but it also boasts a menu that caters to every taste and dietary need without compromising on quality. For breakfast, its power-packed juices, avocado toast, and eggs benedict were a hit with our little coterie, and asking for a large coffee ended up being a caffeinated soup that undid the damage from getting up at 5am. The restaurant even came with its own manifesto proudly proclaiming Eastern Slovakia‘s hypothetical independence from Bratislava and Western Slovakia (we hadn’t realised there was any rivalry, but I suppose it’s not too dissimilar from the UK or US north-south division) in between the page offering Slovak dumplings or the tasty salads. We loved the restaurant so much, it became pretty much our main place for breakfast and dinner.
After wandering fuelling up we took to the streets to see what Košice had to offer. Architecturally it’s a striking city, mixing up colourful houses with art nouveau accents, grand boulevards, narrow cobbled streets with creative hubs, design boutiques (most of which seem closed on the weekend). The perfectly manicured streets and curious hubs certainly fit the profile of having been a Cultural Capital in 2013, but it seemed like on the weekend much of the city shuts down.
We ambled up to Tabačka Kulturfabrik, a converted tobacco factory turned into an alternative cultural centre with a restaurant and bar, but this Saturday some mysterious event took place that cost €12 per person to even enter the premises, so we opted to return on the even sleepier Sunday. Inside, it’s a complex adorned with street art, hidden courtyards and more industrial architecture. It seems like a place that has the potential to be a hipster happening spot, but we picked the worst weekend to visit as not much was happening (asides from the €12 event, which maybe was rad, but we didn’t want to stick around all day).
But it was on the way back we found our favourite building – the Hotel Slavia – an art nouveau wonder with frescoes on the façade and elegant details. On the inside, Kaviareň Slávia continued its art nouveau theme, where on first impressions it seemed like a place that was out of our budget. Only a cup of tea, we thought, let’s treat ourselves. Reclining into the leather armchair, I managed to rest my now painful foot and had no plans on moving. The menu proved to be much cheaper than we anticipated and splurged on cocktails and cakes feeling totally free we had nothing more to see or do apart from having a nap and rinse and repeat the above.
Travelling to Košice with an injury certainly taught me a different aspect to travel – the art of slowing down. Sometimes, it’s so easy to get caught up in trying to see and do as much as possible you don’t appreciate the small thing. Our evening in Košice – trying Slovak dumplings in Republika Východu with local craft beer before sauntering to Kaviareň Slávia for some cocktails, where we sat, enjoyed life and discussing global issues and existential angst. While these are things you can do at home, getting away for a clean break and without the pressure of having to go – eat – do can be the most relaxing thing. Košice is a great city if you want a break, to immerse yourself in architecture and take it easy without any pressure – and being completely flat and compact, was also good for someone injured like me.