Archive for the ‘Slovakia’ Category

Košice 2

Monday, 7 June 2010

There is a sizeable Romany (gypsy) community in Košice. The only other city where I have seen gypsies was Uzhhorod, Ukraine (not far from here), and only a very few. They are more noticeable here. They tend to have darker skin than the rest of the population (reflecting their origins in India centuries ago). You see groups of them in the parks and near the railway station. I haven’t seen any of them drinking alcohol, or being any nuisance, except the occasional mother with baby asking for money. A fellow traveller told me there is an area of town where they predominate. He called it a “ghetto”. Romany are generally on the lowest rung of social status in Eastern Europe generally and here in Slovakia. They face discrimination privately and in dealing with government (which the government denies). There is a controversy about the education of Romany children. A majority go to “special” schools for the intellectually disabled, or Romany only schools or classes, where they can only expect to achieve a very basic standard of literacy and numeracy, at best. There is even a radical heavy-handed proposal that they compulsorily attend boarding schools. Echoes of the “stolen generation” of aborigines in Australia come to mind. In another city in Slovakia, residents of a middle class suburb erected a wall between themselves and a neighbouring Romany community. The parallel with Australian aborigines seems evident. For one thing, the problem is similarly complex, deeply rooted in culture and history. As someone once said, for every complex problem, there is always a simple solution, and it’s always wrong. In my opinion, the way forward for both the Romany and the Australian indigenous community must have something to do with respect, both the general community acknowledging and respecting the minority culture and conversely their own self-respect. But how to kick-start that virtuous cycle, I have no idea.


On the short walk from the train station to the centre of town, was this bridge I call the Crochet Bridge (for obvious reasons).


In the main (pedestrian) street, a Gothic cathedral (St Elizabeth), and St Michael’s chapel only metres away from it, both 14th century.

In Hlavna square, there is also the Urban Tower (originally 14th c., rebuilt 1970s), an old bell and a Plague Column.


The Plague Column is surrounded by statues. Is the last guy holding a soccer ball!? I know the World Cup is about to start, but…


On one side of Hlavna square is the 1899 State Theatre, and in the middle is a musical fountain. The music is synchronised with the fountain’s sprays and alternates between canned “easy listening” and the chimes from a mechanical bell contraption.


I climbed the clock tower for a better view.


I was interested to have a look at the building with the dome. I later checked it out at ground level.

The building appeared to be disused. I could see neither a cross, crescent or star of David. Instead, on the top of the dome was what looked like a lyre or harp. I have no idea what the building is.

On Sunday there was a bit of activity around the two churches. In the morning there were a lot of young girls dresssed in white (confirmation ceremony??) and in the afternoon a religious procession which proceeded from outside the Urban Tower to outside St Michael’s to inside St. Elizabeth’s.


There were below-ground archaeological excavations of the town walls and bridges across the moat, accessible the main street.


I was amused when the waitress at the pizza cafe I ate at, beamed when I opened my mouth, trying to order something in a mixture of Slovak and English. Later she asked me where I was from and informed me that I had a “yummy” accent …

I finished the night with a brew in a lcal bar.  The beer (poured for me) had a massive head, that quickly settled down.


See you next time in Prague.


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Sunday, 6 June 2010

My hostel in Košice doesn´t have internet so I have to use MacInternet, in Kate´s phrase, so I won´t upload pics yet. It was a bit of a trial getting here. Apparently the constant rain has caused the worst floods in a century or so I´m told and part of the train line was affected. The replacement bus , which turned out to be the normal local bus, was still picking up passengers though we were squashed in like sardines. It had to detour down side roads to get to where another train was waiting for us. Fortunately, I met an Australian couple on the train — who sailed their yacht to Europe, I´ll tell you about that another time — to chat to and share the experience with.

I have also discovered a little hitch in my travel plans. I was hoping to travel from Košice to Krakow or Warsaw, but at the bus and train stations I was told firmly that there were absolutely no direct buses or trains from here to Poland. There is a train service to Krakow and Warsaw that doesn´t begin for another week. Hence I am readjusting my thinking. I now intend to travel on Tuesday to Prague. Instead of a ´loop´ back to Budapest, this expedition is turning into something more like a zig-zag. Oh well, the unexpected is all part of the fun.

Talk again soon — hopefully from Prague.

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Poprad 2

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Last night I went to see a movie at Kino Tatran at the city square. The cinema was modern and comfortable, seating about 320. Just the one screen, no multiplexes here that I could see. Yesterday being 1 March, their March program was just out. It looked interesting. It featured the usual blockbusters (Avatar) along with what seemed to be more art-house type movies (French, Danish, Korean…) perhaps because the cinema seems to be the venue for screenings by the Poprad Film Club. I passed by about 6pm which was perfect to get a bite to eat and then catch the 7.30pm session. The movie playing (one night only) was “Wilbur wants to kill himself”, a 2002 Danish/French/Swedish/British production. I tried to get information about what language it would be in (Slovak subtitles a given) but was unsuccessful. However I thought there was a good chance it would be in English, and so it proved, sort of. Anyway the ticket price here is only 2.50 euros (less than 4 aussie dollars), so no big risk. I say “sort of” because the movie is set in Scotland and all the characters have thick Scottish accents (including the very Chinese looking waiter in a Chinese restaurant). I think I missed some dialogue because of that while the audience obviously didn’t judging by the audible reactions. Not quite all the characters spoke the Scots brogue. Mads Mikkelson had a part. I saw Mads in Melbourne a couple of years ago when he attended a Q&A session for a couple of Danish movies he had roles in. The movie was a drama with a lot of dark comedy. I enjoyed it. Fitted in with my melancholy theme nicely and I don’t seem to have been doing too well with that lately.

Today I went for a walk, firstly past Aqua City which is a huge water park here, heated by thermal and solar power. I didn’t go in. I think I will wait to get into hot water for when I return to Budapest and visit one of the bath houses. I continued on to Spisska Sabota – Sabota means Saturday apparently because about 700 years ago thats when market day was – which was a village dating from the 13th century, but now has become a suburb of Poprad. It had a nice little square with church, clock tower and old burghers’ houses (one of them now the town museum) built in the 1770s. But this time the column to the Virgin Mary was erected in 2006! Nothing to do with plague (or even swine flu) as far as I am aware.  I had a rateher disorienting experience when I walked from the old town square for about ť minutes and came across a new housing estate with a stunning view of the High Tatras. One of my favourite bands in Melbourne is called New Estate and Mia Schoen who is in the band is also an artist who paints  – among other things – new estates, back in Melbourne, you know, Paterson Lakes, Caroline Springs… I must tell Mia about this experience.

Tomorrow I catch a bus to Poland (Zakopane on the other side of the High Tatras and soon after that to Krakow , the city my friend Andrew has visited and highly recommends). I have enjoyed my time in Slovakia…the land between the Danube River and the High Tatra mountains, full of towns that time forgot, and other travel brochure cliches. Until the next time I can get a hold of the internet I’ll leave you with some pics.

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Tatranská Lomnica

Sunday, 28 Feb 2010

I am up in the High Tatras. These mountains, only 26 km long, with 32 valleys and many lakes, straddle  Slovakia and Poland. They are not the Himalayas, or even the Swiss Alps, but they look pretty impressive nevertheless. The highest peaks are around 2600m, including one – Lomnesticky štit that  I hoped to go up to today. Unfortunately, the cable cars are not operating at the moment because of high wind. I am going back down to Poprad tomorrow, but I might be able to come back on a day trip if the wind dies down.

I arrived here yesterday afternoon. When I got off at the station I tried to look around for information about where the Penzion K+K might be – I had made an internet booking. The K+K means Kaiserlich und Koniglich – Imperial and Royal – and refers to the period from 1867 to 1918 when the Habsburg Dynasty was simultaneously a Kingdom – of the Hungarian part which included Croatia, northern Serbia, most of Slovakia, and Transylvania, part of current Romania. The Imperial part consisted of Austria and other assorted bits and pieces like Bohemia –  including Prague, Galicia and Lodomeria – including Krakow and Lviv currently in Poland and Ukraine respectively.

I eventually found out it was about 4km out of town, so I set off walking down the road. I had made a good decision by persuading my hotel in Poprad to store  my backpack and big book bag for a couple of days, and I only brought a day pack and shoulder bag with me.

The Penzion was delightful. Run by a young woman, Jaroslava, with help from her 2 teenagers, son and daughter. I had the evening meal there last night. I chose the Bryndzove pirohy  – must be the equivalent of the Polish pirogy that Kate mentioned. It was really nice. Similar to the Bryndzove halušky I have had previously but better. Both seem to be potato pasta filled with sheep´s cheese, with crunchy bacon sprinkled on top.  The pirohy seemed more like ravioli and lighter than the stodgy halušky which were more like gnocchi. It wasn´t smothered with a cheese sauce so I chose a tartare sauce, probably meant to go with the trout which was also on the menu, and a salad. Seemed to work well. Washed down with Pilsner Urquell they had on tap. I saw in the fridge they had a Slovak ´šariš tmave´ dark ale which I haven´t tried yet, so I might have that tonight.

The previous night I walked down to central Poprad, the city square or namestie, where I went into a pasta-pizza place called Cafe Crazy a.k.a Crazy. I started to have doubts about the authenticity of the Italian recipes when I spotted a risotto with chicken and banana. Thez also had a lot of dishes with “peace”. Zou will have worked out what that meant alreadz. I thought it was a hippy thing. I am a little slow on the uptake. I chose a vegetarian pizza instead. It was OK. They had bottled Hoegaarden “red ale” on the menu which I was intrigued by but they were all out. So I had 0.5l of the standard Hoegaarden – the one with orange zest and coriander – on tap, served in a big Hoegaarden glass.

Some pics.

Starý Smokovec. Previous pic, my last night in Banská Bystrica

Update – Monday, 1 Mar 2010

The wind had abated enough for the 4 person cable cars to operate up to two-thirds of the waz to the top – Skalnate Pleso. It was still too windy for the 15 person gondola to go to the top of Lomnicky štit. never mind –  that last leg was the most expensive anyway – 20 euros.

Thought for the day:

Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to things that happen to you. Sanity means tying it to your own actions. – “Meditations”, Marcus Aurelius. Book 6, 51.

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Poprad 1

Friday 26 Feb 2010
I am in Poprad-Tatry at the foot of the High Tatra mountains. I arrived by bus from Banska Bystrica yesterday evening. After about an hour into the 2 hour trip, we started climbing some winding roads, and the snow which had just about all melted in BB after mild Spring-like weather was again in evidence in the fields and forests by the roadside. When I arrived at the bus station at Poprad, I tried to get a taxi to take me to the Tatra Hotel where I had made a booking. He gave me a funny look and pointed to an 8-story building about 50 metres away.  And there it was. The bus station is also right next door to the railway station, conveniently  for my next move to stay up in the mountains for the weekend.
Today (Friday) I went for a trip on the electric railway (100 years old – it was completed before WW1) to the 1st main snow resort town of Stary Smokovec. This is where I will change trains tomorrow to go to the town of Tatranska Lomnica where I will stay Sat and Sun night. While I was in SS I had a walk around. Unfortunately it was very misty so there wasn’t much of a view. Hopefully the weather will clear at some stage in the next few days so I can get some good pics.
I walked the short distance to the funicular railway goes from SS up to Hrebienok (1280m). There is supposed to be a great view (weather permitting) and nice hiking trails (in the summer). I will do that trip tomorrow or Sunday. Then when I am in TL, there is a large gondola (seats about 15 I think). That stops at a spot from where you can take a fast ride down by scooter, luge or modified skate-board (I  don’t think I’ll be game enough to do that – just watching tobogganers in the City Park in Budapest was hair-raising enough for me). Or you can keep going up and reach the winter sports area, restaurant and lake at Skalnate Pleso. (I am quoting all this from my LP guide). Then you can switch to a 4-person cable car which goes up to the 2643m summit of Lomnicky Stit. I can’t wait!
I think I am stacking on some weight. I had lunch at a cafe in SS, and it was what is becoming a standard Slovak meal for me. Fried cheese and chips, washed down with a local dark ale. My calorie counting friend Zahid, back in Melbourne, would be able to tell me exactly how many calories that would be.
Some pics now. Hopefully the ones I take at the weekend will be more spectacular…

Until we meet again.

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I had a good “big day out ” again  today, though with a little bit of drama at the end. Things started well. After a leisurely breakfast at my hotel (Narodny dom) – cooked to order, plus extensive buffet, inclusive in the price – I walked 15 mins to the bus station. As I deduced from the website, a direct bus to Banská Štiavnica (hereafter BS) left at 11.00am, right on time, from the correct Bay (10) for the 1 hr 10 min trip. It stopped briefly about half way, in the town of Zvolen. The website said there would be a return direct service at 5.50pm. However, when I turned up early to wait at the stop after my day in BS, the expected bus never arrived. After about 15 minutes I started to get a bit nervous. I checked the timetable at the stop and it said there was a bus to Zvolen due at 6.35pm. That appeared to be the last one for the night headed in the right direction. It was dark by this time, and getting colder, but I was well rugged up so I decided to wait. I was all alone at first (except for some youths skylarking across the road), so I was feeling slightly apprehensive and vulnerable. I thought about possible scenarios. At worst I would have to spend the night in BS. Plenty of pensions (guest houses) around, the nearest about 200 m up the hill. Lucky I had a torch in my shoulder bag. That would just mean the extra expense of one night’s accommodation, wasting the room back at my hotel in BB. Next best would be if I could get to Zvolen, but not to BB. That would be OK because I could see another town the next day, before returning to BB, but still an aditional expense. The best would be if I could get to Zvolen, then change buses to BB. The last (best) scenario actually happened, thanks to some nice people I met at the bus stop just before the bus to Zvolen really did arrive. With some sign language and broken Slovak/English (Slinglish?) they managed to get me sorted and I made it back to BB about 8pm. All’s well that ends well!

As far as BS is concerned, it is a lovely little town, but very hilly. I think I am gradually starting to develop some of the sure-footed instincts of a mountain goat. There was plenty of ice and snow lying on the footpaths. The ice is worse than the snow. I find I have to really concentrate and watch where I’m putting my feet to avoid slipping and sliding all overt he place. At times I even have to backtrack and plot a different route. Ice on level ground is one thing, but ice on a slope is very tricky.

Finally, back in BB I found I had worked up an appetite, so I headed straight for Pizzeria Evijo near my hotel and ordered a mushroom pizza, and a Slovak dark beer (Zlatý Bažant –  tmavé which means Golden Pheasant – dark). Here is a mystery. Of the 4 bottled beers they had on the menu at the pizza joint (all Zlatý Bažant), they were all the same price (1.30 euros) – the dark (0.5l), a non-alcoholic (0.5l), and both sizes (0.3l and 0.5l) of the svetlé (light, a pilsner style). I confirmed those prices with the waitress. How weird.

Now for some pics.

Another Marian Plague Column. A book I brought with me, “Black Sea, The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism” by Neal Ascherson, informs me that the Black Death,  or pneumonic plague, came to Europe in 1347 via the Genoese colony of Kaffa in the Crimea on the Black Sea, having travelled clear across Asia, from Manchuria or Korea, via the Silk Routes. Within a few years it had reduced The European population by a third or more. The last 9 pics are of the Stary Zamok or Old Castle. It dates from the early 13th c. so by ‘Old’ we are talking 800 years! It was first built as a Romanesque basilica to the Virgin Mary, then it was rebuilt after fire and earthquake in the 15th c. as a Gothic church. In the 16th c. it was rebuilt as afortress, together with fortifications around the town as a defence against the Turks. A baroque bell tower was added in 1770.

I had a coffee in Banská Štiavnica at one of the most unusual coffee houses I have been in.

It was full of quirky antiques including what looks like a 1930s radio –

…and it had this incredible room below a huge skylight…

The Latin motto is: “Ut Quimus Aiunt Quando Ut Volumus Non Licet”. I looked it up. It is from Terence and it means: “When we cannot act as we wish, we must act as we can”.  Which reminds me of a graffito I saw on Burggasse in Vienna: “Mundus vult decipi” (the world wants to be deceived).

I think I’ll have a rest day tomorrow, before my next move on Thursday to Poprad, gateway to the High Tatras!. The High Tatras straddle Slovakia and Poland and form part of the Carpathian mountain range which continues on to the Ukraine. The Carpathians has such a mythical and mystical sound to me, something like the Misty Mountains out of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings!

Good night one and all…

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Monday, 22 Feb 2010

I had a nice day out today. I wanted to go check out the town of Banská Štiavnica, recommended by LP as “a medieval wonder frozen in time”, but I just noticed that most of their attractions, museums and castles, are closed on Mondays. I will try to go there tomorrow. So I looked at a map and picked at random another nearby town. I settled on Brezno (about 60km away). I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to get to places by public transport, but I am cautious too. I wouldn’t like the idea of getting stuck overnight in some dump of a place. But it’s also a trap to be too cautious and miss out on worthwhile chance experiences. Modern technology makes things pretty easy though. LP has a website for up-to-date bus and train timetables all over Slovakia. Things worked out well. I went by bus at mid-day, spent four hours in Brezno and just got back on a relaxing 1 hour train journey. I was careful however, not to get Brezno (Slovakia) confused with Březno in the Czech Republic!

Here are some pics of the Town Square (Námestie) and nearby buildings, including another “Marian Column”, in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for delivering the town from the plague.

I visited the Museum (entrance fee 1 euro). It had about a dozen rooms with mostly 19th century memorabilia (when this area was part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire) concerning the town and neighbouring district,and the daily lives of the inhabitants, including clothes, logging and carpentry, metalwork, pottery, agriculture and livestock (especially sheep and milk and cheese production!) etc.

Another day trip tomorrow, perhaps…

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