A new year, a new country
Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
We had Ania's grandparent's little Tico for the four days, which gave us a bit more flexibility with what we could see. Setting off from Opole at about 7am, we found ourselves in the Czech Republic soon after 9am, and that's where the fun began. My experience of driving in the Czech Republic had been limited to narrow winding country roads, but this part of country was heavily industrialised, and we found ourselves on the wrong road on about 4 occasions
Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia had all recently joined the Schengen zone, and as a result some time since September the border posts had all been closed. For the first time I found myself traveling between countries without having to show my passport, which certainly sped things up a little. The drive south into Slovakia was quite scenic, with some interesting villages by the side of the road, and soon after midday we found ourselves in Zilina, the largest city in the North West of the country.
We spent a few hours in Zilina, wandering around taking photos before finding a small cellar restaurant with squeaky floors to have some lunch in. Zilina was attractive enough, surrounded by hills and with some arcaded burghers' houses and baroque architecture in the market square. The place certainly wasn't buzzing with energy though. In fact, it was very much the opposite, with only a few people out and about. It was definitely in the minus temperatures, and once we emerged from our warm cellar restaurant we made our way straight back to the car.
It was another half an hour before we reached Terchova. We were a little concerned when we arrived as our Pension was directly opposite the town's cemetery, but fortunately that wall had no windows, and instead we found ourselves with a nice view of the town. The mountains weren't visible due to heavy cloud cover, but we kept our fingers crossed they would clear the following day. Nevertheless, we emerged from our pension and went for a walk around the quaint town. The canal was completely iced over, but the place had nice atmosphere, with the church in the centre of town. Surprisingly, we found a little Italian restaurant specialising in wood fired pizzas, which turned out to be the best I'd eaten in Central Europe. Ania and I spent more than two hours in here with a few pints, and a complementary shot of vodka. Slovakian service was certainly a little friendlier than Polish!
The following day greeted us with relatively clear skies, and our plan was to head into the Mala Fatra National Park. Given the tires on the Tico, and the icy mountain roads we decided to walk the 7km along the road to Chata Vratna. This proved to be a good idea, as it gave us more of an opportunity to take in the stunning mountain scenery and snow. The highlight was undoubtedly Tiesnavy, a slot through pinnacled limestone crags which was the gateway to the National Park
Chata Vratna was approximately 794m above sea level, but there was a chairlift rising a further 750m to Snilovske Sedlo, the saddle between the peaks of Chleb (1647m) and Velky Krivan, the highest mountain in the range at 1709m. It wasn't cheap for two return tickets, but we hadn't walked 7km for nothing. The clouds were starting to gather, but we still had a fantastic view over the Vratna valley as we rose. Incredibly enough, there were a handful of purists making the hike up the steep slope with their skis and snowboards! Upon reaching the top it was a further 40 minute hike to the summit of Velky Krivan, and that was our destination. At one point we were afforded with a spectacular view over the other side of the ridge, down into the Chko Velka Fatra National park. The sun shining on the clouds in the valley was utterly stunning.
The hike to Velky Krivan wasn't too difficult, but we found ourselves blinded by the cloud near the summit, following only footprints and painted poles
The heavens opened overnight, and we woke on the last morning of the year to more snow than I think I'd ever seen! We didn't want to spend the day inside though, so we decided to get back in the car and take it slowly out to Oravsky Podzamok, a small town some 30km further east. A remarkably preserved medieval castle was situated here. It was a breathtaking scene, situated on an impossibly narrow blade of rock. We were disappointed to find we'd made it on one of a handful of days when it was closed to the public, but we still enjoyed wandering around and savouring the atmosphere. Unfortunately my camera had an accident before we reached the best view, from a bridge over a river running below the castle. It's a scene, much like the Mnajdra Temple in Malta, that will just have to remain in my memory. It was without a doubt the most spectacular castle I'd ever seen, and as we had a coffee in the small town below I read that it was used in the 1922 classic vampire film Nosferatu. They certainly picked a great location.
We saw in the New Year from our small room, with a great view of the amateur firework display in the centre of the town. Every household must have spent their monthly paycheck on fireworks, as the skies were lit up continuously for more than half an hour. It was a fantastic place to reflect on the year that was, one in which I didn't spend a single day at home. Whilst I wasn't particular excited about the year ahead, I new it had a lot in store, and as I drove us back to Poland I was glad in the knowledge I'd seen it in from an absolutely beautiful corner of central Europe.