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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

24 April 2017

Rampaging badgers

Levoca from above

Levoca from above

3 April 2017

Today was a classic car touring day, and the weather remained warm and sunny for it. It’s worth noting that we’re being ridiculously lucky. The normal average temperature in Slovakia at the end of March is 9 degrees, and the spring weather is as wet and changeable as it is in England. So we’ve had 20 degrees and endless sunshine.

We started by driving up a little road behind Levoca. There’s a church on a wooded hill above the town, and I’d seen a photo of it with the Tatras as a backdrop and thought it would be cool to get the same shot. But the sneaky devils had composited it – the mountains are far too distant to make a proper backdrop for the church! Still, it was a nice quiet spot with a good view down on Levoca, so I’m glad we went. Then after a cake in a nearby cafe (we weren’t touching that U Leva breakfast again!) we left Levoca and headed north.

Hrad Lubovna in the trees

Hrad Lubovna in the trees

First stop, the town of Stara Lubovna where we encountered our first and only traffic jam. I’ve no idea what was going on, as the roads elsewhere in Slovakia are amiably quiet, but luckily we got to turn off up to the castle that overlooks the town. This was a really good medieval ruin, more compact and more complete than Spis Castle, and we also had it completely and utterly to ourselves (apart from the workmen rebuilding the toilet block). There were some good perilous spiral stairs to clamber up, and dank underground passages that were dangerously dark until I realised I’d left my sunglasses on. Very different atmosphere from Spis, being surrounded by woodlands. The woods in Slovakia gave a generally odd feel to the season. It felt like autumn. I think it’s because the trees were bare, but the dry leaves still lay in umber drifts on the woodland floor. Whereas back home in spring the leaves are mostly grey and beginning to return to the earth, and green growth – be it grass or bluebells or nettles – is already starting to reappear.

Badger rampage

Badger rampage

We went back to join the traffic jam, but escaped it for lunch at a hokey local folk restaurant called Koliba. The food here was excellent, just exactly the typical hearty eastern European grub you’d expect. I had pirogis with smokey bacon, Maureen had a savoury fluffy pancake thing with stew.

Our other stops were for a couple of the famous wooden churches of the region. The second one, at Hervartov, is UNESCO listed and probably the oldest one standing, dating back to the 16th century. Neither of them were open to visitors, so with the renowned church of Levoca also being closed on a Sunday and the one in Kezmarok likewise closed, we’ve not managed to set foot in a Slovakian church.

Generally the Slovakian countryside is bucolic and beautiful. We even saw two badgers in broad daylight, rampaging across the corner of a field. Although in a handful of places we were surprised to suddenly be driving past what I can only describe as shanty villages, with tiny houses built makeshift out of breeze blocks and bits of corrugated iron and plastic for roofing, plastic sheeting and little open fires everywhere. The people looked like itinerant workers and I wonder if they all come from a particular region or ethnic group?

Hervartov wooden church

Hervartov wooden church

We found ourselves back in Kosice for one more night, in a neat but uninspiring hotel near the airport. Needn’t have worried about an airport hotel, it was only fifteen minutes drive from the centre of the city. So we went back into town for our last supper, enjoying the quietly warm Monday evening and finally settling on a smokey beer hall called Camelot that boasted a very meaty menu; I had venison goulash. It was good but not amazing, and the oddest thing was that the place only sold one beer – the rather basic Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic that pops up sometimes back home. This was disappointing, as my favourite tipple had quickly become the very smooth and flavoursome dark Saris beer, brewed locally, and I was looking forward to one more glass. It was not to be.

Slovakia was great. Castles, mountains, countryside, badgers and neat little cities. And it’s a 6am plane tomorrow, so I’ll call this the end of the blog.

Levoca, quiet but pretty

Levoca, quiet but pretty

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