July 28, 2008

Bardejov: World's Best Town Square?
Dlhá Lúka, Slovakia

I'm quite smitten with Bardejov's Radincné Nám—its main town square. I think it just might be the best I've ever spent time in.

I've passed through many beautiful city squares before—always pleasure for me, an American raised in cities and suburbs without such traditional gathering places—and Bardejov's is no exception. It's cute, welcoming, and well balanced.

But the visuals of Bardejov's town square aren't what set it apart—it's the atmosphere.

This is a heavily touristed location in the middle of the peak season, but hardly anyone's ever in the square. There's always a bench free, or an open spot in the shade of a tree—perfect for watching the small numbers of people casually ebb and flow in and out of the square.

It's incredibly clean, with small trash receptacles on every lamppost.

Small restaurants have little patios setup in the square, but there aren't any tacky souvenir stands or gimmicky eyesores being peddled to visitors.

Building with sundial

The basilica is old and attractive, the buildings maintained without looking phony, and the expertly chiseled stone of the town hall (turned museum) was actually the first Renaissance building built in Slovakia.

But above all these things, two attributes stand apart as truly excellent: Free wireless Internet access that's among the fastest I've experienced abroad (as fast as the Miami Beach public library), and no one bothering you.

That's right. In the hours that I've spent in the town square, not a single person has ever approached me for a shoeshine (with my sandals on), or with a sales pitch for food or worthless crap. There's not a single beggar anywhere in sight, or a panhandling artist to be seen. Even the number of pigeons is low.

Never before have I sat in such a place, so peacefully, without being bothered. It's a relaxing oasis of civilization in the heart of a tourist attraction, and that's what makes this place so special.

About the only thing that's missing is a fountain.

More Favors From Lucia

The square is also equipped with Lucia, the most competent tourist information office staffer I've encountered.

I dropped by and asked the very well-traveled woman if she wouldn't mind translating some English into Slovak for me (as we're so enjoying our time in Dlhá Lúka that we'd love to stay longer, but are having communication problems with the homeowner).

She didn't mind helping, and said she actually rather enjoyed the change of pace—she spends most of her days in July answering the same questions over and over again. 90% of the tourists are only there for a few hours, simply passing through the town, and 2/3 of all tourists are from Poland.

Laptop batteries depleted and translation in hand, we left Bardejov's town square as we always do: Smiling.

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