Ohhh Slovakia...

Trip Start Jun 29, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Slovakia  , Bratislava,
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

 

 

Well it's not been tooo long since the last blog, but gosh have a fair few things happened! Read what you will, at your own leisurely rate, it's all good, I swear! ... pictures will be arriving shortly!

 

So after a day of cancelled buses and a failed day trip from Prague, we decided to just leave to Slovakia. Our aim was to go trekking in the High Tatras, setting up our base camp in Tatranska Strba. We chose a bus that arrived in the nearest big town, Poprad, fairly late in the evening. We knew arriving at 9:30 was a risky strategy, as it wasn't even the town we wanted to stay in, but we somehow felt our time was up in Prague, so we jumped on it anyway. Driving through the Czech Republic, but more so Slovakia we were constantly impressed by it's beauty. Rolling green hills and mountains, castles hidden in the green like a sort of romantic 'Where's Wally'. The houses, with their steep triangular roofes, often wooden were what I expected from Slovakian houses, not that I had realised before. They are never boring in their colours, with the facade painted a variety of warming pastel colours. These beautiful houses cover the countryside past the motorway like some sort of pointillist fauvist painting.

 

We eventually arrived in Poprad and managed to find a train to Tatranska Strba at eleven o'clock. After stumbling across what must have been the best restaurant in Poprad we got on the train, with a beautiful vintage-feel carriage all to ourselves. We peeked out at the approaching mountains, warmly lit by the full moon. As we passed progressively smaller and smaller villages, we wondered whether this was a good idea, arriving so late, but concluded that we felt safe in each others company and that "we always find a way!".

 

Well after getting off the train at the wrong stop (kindly rectified by the conductor) we managed to make it to our destination. But with no map and no one around we failed in finding our campsite. What we did succeed in though was finding a fantastic field to pitch our tent in. Raised higher than the road, on what seemed like a meadow, tucked behind some trees we set up our tent in our first wild-camping spot. I moved the foodstuff 40 meters from the tent in an effort to reassure Cat that we were safe from Slovakian bears. Initially I felt quite nervous, not from the wildlife or any serious danger, but more that someone might get annoyed that we were on their land. Though, with a population of just 5.5 million, Slovakia has plenty of space. That was the best night sleep I have had yet, sleeping right through till the late morning sun. As we woke and opened the tent, we found ourselves in the most beautiful meadow. Wild flowers growing everywhere, a sea of butterflies and even wild strawberries growing! If we hadn't of needed a shower so much, we would never have checked into our campsite!

 

After a successful transition to the campsite and a well deserved breakfast, we followed some vague directions, "five minutes through the forest", we found a small clearing for the station of the cog railway which headed up the mountain. After about twenty minutes a small rumble gave away the approaching train and we boarded it up to the town of Strbske Pleso, where we followed a walk around the lake and stumbled across a chair-ift up the mountain. Despite the rain, Cat and I laughed all the way up the mountain as we sat in shorts on a chairlift in the rain to the top of snow-capped mountains. Although definitely cold, we were warmed by the awesome views and after a small wander around we headed into a restaurant at the end of the chairlift for a hot drink. Some fantastic Slovakian dance music came on and we had a small shoulder dance whilst drinking our coffees with cream. Perhaps it was the dancing, but after a couple of minutes we heard the three bartenders call us over "hey, girls!". Obligingly, we went over, shared a good conversation and some Slovakian vodka shots to warm us up. The three bartenders worked at the top of the mountain, where they stayed overnight every other week and they rather feebly tried to convince us to stay up the mountain with them and the vodka. In shorts, warmed only by the vodka, we thought it a better idea to leave our new found friends and head back down on the last chair-lift of the day.

 

The next day we hopped back on the forest cog train to hike through the mountains, which was as beautiful as we had expected. We wondered off the track at one point and found a gorgeous river peppered with large rocks. We sat on a rock in the middle of the river in the middle of a pine forest, and ate our fruit lunch feeling fantastically peaceful and serene

 

The High Tatras was such a beautiful introduction into Slovakia that we decided to visit another national park before heading to the capital. We managed to hitch a ride back to Poprad, and then jumped on a bus to Podlesok, which is hardly a village and really just a campsite seated at the start of many of the hiking trails through Slovenky Raj National Park. We thought Slovakian weather had been strange in the High Tatras, sunny one hour, thunder storms the next, but Podlesok was something else. Completely unpredictable and when it rained it poured and when it shone, it blazed. Perhaps its our English skills, but we never once got caught in the torrential downpours. One evening we were having a beer in the covered terrace of a restaurant. It had been sunny an hour before, and out of nowhere hail started pelting down over the village. Then rain, a three minute incredibly strong wind that set car alarms off and blew everything in sight, I think it may well have been a tornado. A thunder storm above our heads, and three other storms to be seen in different directions. Amazed and slightly concerned, our thoughts turned to the Banshee 300, which, like a little trooper withstood with ease the strongest onslaught yet! After half an hour it passed, and as we walked back to our tent we could see the stars clearly with not a cloud in sight.

 

The next day we were blessed with sunshine for our grueling eight hour hike. Firstly up the track known as Sucha Bela. The name gives no indication as to what you are in for. Wooden horizontal ladders across rivers, which look like any of the rungs might brake. Shaky metal platforms around rock faces 20 meters above the river. Slippy metal ladders 30 meters up with a waterfall to its side and rocks all around. It was truly exhilarating, but we saw a fair few people turn back. It was definitely not for the faint hearted. As the Sucha Bell track came to a close we found ourselves high up with a beautiful panoramic view across Slovakia. So clear that we could see back to the High Tatras where we had been a day before. Next we followed a yellow and then red trail, until a 40 minute screw up left us stuck at the worlds most confusing trekking junction. We finally made our way onto the three hour blue track back to Podlesok as the sun started to approach the tips of the mountains, preparing for its nightly slumber. We hurriedly darted across dodgy wooden rope bridges, using tree roots as foot holds up steep slopes, and loose metal chains to hold onto as we stood on tiny metal platforms jutting their way around the rock face above the murky river, which had seemed so clean several hours and several kilometers before. We finally made it back, just in time for the next thunderstorm to darken the town and give a refreshing coolness to the air.

 

Slovensky Raj and the High Tatras are incredibly beautiful national parks which are so easy to reach. As the camping options are so good, I'd encourage anyone who loves a good hike to catch a bus over there, you won't regret it. As lovely as they were though, we felt we were in need of the city, and some good cafe options, having been confined to essentially one restaurant the entire time. With the day stretched ahead of us, we decided we would attempt to hitchhike from this tiny village to the capital, Bratislava. We spotted a car ready to leave the campsite and wandered over to see where they were going. With our first hitch so successful we felt like luck was on our side today. We made it to Spisske Tomasovce where we ate some fantastic pancakes, and then managed to hitch another lift to Poprad. After 40 minutes without success we wondered if we might just be stuck in Poprad. We had a good spot by a gas station, where people could pullover, but after a rather difficult conversation with a wonderful helpful slovakian women we managed to work out a better location. Another 20 minutes and finally, Ludos, a fantastic Slovakian who spoke a little English, on his way to Zilina, gave us a lift. He took a detour off his route to show us some of his favourite childhood slovakian sights; a beautiful castle and then a forest which we said held the story of the "Slovakian Robin Hood". Once in Zilina he drove around for another 15 minutes helping us pick the best spot to hitchhike from, and sent us on our way with some traditional Slovakian cheese. We thouroughly enjoyed our ride with Ludos, and after an exchange of emails, perhaps one day he'll read this!

 

Another success from Zilina to the outskirts of Bratislava, we managed to hitch in a lorry of a Polish man on his way to Italy. Although we spoke all the wrong languages (he spoke Polish, Slovak, Russian and Italian, I speak French and Cat knows some Spanish) we managed to share a ridiculous amount of laughs on the way to Bratislava. Arriving at the outskirts of Bratislava at a gas station, we got a final lift to a tram station on the outskirts. We resigned ourselves to staying in a hostel tonight, as it was far to late to find our campsite located somewhere outside of central Bratislava. Amazingly, out of all the tram stops, and all the trams servicing that stop we managed to take the one going to Zlate Piesky, which was in the address of our campsite. Having been so lucky all day we decided that it might still be in our favour, and after following our instincts through night-time Bratislava we managed at almost midnight, to begin setting up our tent. We sat by the lake, drinking beer and watching the lights dance across the water feeling still astounded that we had managed to hitchhike all the way out of a small village, over 350 kilometers and found our campsite, just outside of Bratislava.

 

After a well-deserved nights sleep, we wondered into the ruggedly beautiful Bratislava. We'd finally found the cafe galore we had wanted and we have spent the day drifting between cafes, bars and shops, in this underrated capital. The Slovakian mountains allowed us to adjust into stress free travelling, seeing beautiful sights at their best, the only question that remains is where to go next. It's my birthday in two days ( :-D ) and we're wondering; Vienna or Budapest?!    
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Comments

sebs
sebs on

Wonderful Blog, reading it feels like I was almost there with you.
Hope you will be reachable by skype on your Birthday & we get to speak to you both soon.
Love Mum XXX

Liam on

Well, if the weather in Slovakia is unpredictable, unfortunately this English weather is painfully predictable, I literally don't know how there is still rain in the sky. Your blog, however, is like a little ray of sunshine poking through the gloom. Need it be a choice between Vienna and Budapest? x

Rachel Law on

Fantastic blog Bernie, it sounds like you are both having a fantastic time. XxX

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