Edit Blog Post
Published: October 2nd 2014
Lower Tatras Trout Stream
You'll need to be wearing some major waders to fish this section.
I'm standing in front of a tiny 4-table restaurant. The peeled log walls are candy-glazed with amber shellac. A civil defense loudspeaker, loosely screwed onto a corner of the roof, cranks out silly Slovakian Polka music that sounds like a Benny Hill soundtrack. In front of the cabin is a chicken-wire aviary. A couple of peacocks stretch their fans. On the ground inside the cage are a dozen flop-eared bunnies. They are all the same pepper-grey color. Huddled tightly together like trembling Tribbles under a withering Polka assault. Looks like a cake pan of furry biscuits ready for the oven. They're not here for show. Slovakians love bunny casserole.
In the back, next to a churning, granite-clogged river are a few cable-spool tables. Chairs chain-sawed out of thick logs. Seats covered with wet AstroTurf. Two of the tables are populated by road workers who smoke cigarettes, text and throw back large glasses of golden Pilsner. A smiling woman in black, cat-woman glasses takes our lunch order. It's some of the best food we've ever eaten.
We blew out of suddenly rainy Bratislava on the morning train. Six seat compartment. We had but one room-mate and she slept the entire
We stumbled onto this place. It's called 'Spufnicky'. Wonderful, Carbo-laden food. $8 for the works for two people. Bunnies out front.
way. Smooth ride along the Vah river as we climbed toward the Tatras Mountains. The Tatras are a small range just south of the Carpathians. Poland is an hour's drive north. It was gray and wet out. Fat rain drops striped our compartment window. Outside, expansive grain fields and fruit orchards. The Vah is a wide river. Flat as a pancake and as colorless as the day's sky. A steep slope appears on our right and suddenly we're in the Tatras. Blanketed with pine but in this weather everything looks flat and drab. Karen catches up on her journal. I listen to Bon Jovi. We're 'out here' again.
The trip takes 4 hours and costs us $31 US total. Domestic trains are inexpensive but cross a border into a neighboring country and the fares skyrocket. The one hour chug from Vienna to Bratislava ran us $40 US. We get off the train in Liptovsky Mikula. It's a hot tourist destination with the Slovaks. Big ski area. National parks, cave systems and tortuous miles of formidable hiking trails. The train station is a tiny affair. Bus station out front along with a few taxis. Drivers kill time in-between fares shooting
the bull with each other. To ask for a ride seems an intrusion. An old man tosses a worn tennis ball to two small boys outside a cafe. The ball fly's my way and I fumble the catch. A nearby Kiosk sells dusty handy-crafts at inflated prices. The clerk sits inside, flipping through a newspaper.
We're booked into the 'Ajda' hotel. In Slovakia a 'J' is actually an 'I' so it's the Aida hotel. Pronounce it any way you want to but no taxi driver will understand what the hell you're saying so just write it down and show it to them and they'll exclaim in Slovak, "Oh yeah!" and you'll get there. There is little English spoken here but the Slovakians have a long history of German occupation. They speak basic Deutsch.
The hotel turns out to be GREAT. Very private. Teak furniture in sunny rooms. The resident manager lives in an apartment next to the dining room. Good guy. Looks like a university professor but smart. Hotel is $42 a night with breakfast served between 7 AM and 10 AM. Lodging sits on a fast moving river. At night, white-bellied otters work the gravel bottomed eddy's
KJ In The Lower Tatras
Long walks through the woods along churning mountain rivers. The Tatras have much to offer the athletically inclined.
snagging small trout.
It's a little town. Central square lined with good quality shops. Prices here are very low so KJ and I kill the morning shopping for clothing. Kids in yellow rubber boots play in a fountain at the center of the cobblestone square. Their Mothers implore them to stop splashing but they won't or can't. They're kids after all. St. George's Church sits in a corner of the square. At night, locals gather on the front steps to talk and laugh. The town has a good vibe. Small stylish cafe's like the 'Central Perk'. The food is excellent. Slovak restaurants ('Liptovska Izba' was our favorite) serve traditional fare like schnitzel, potato pancakes, local trout, fresh cheeses and roast pork in portions big enough to serve two. Local beers on tap for less than a buck. They're big on meat here. Mostly pork and chicken. Beef comes a bit pricier. Hot stews and soups along with baskets of heavy breads. Crispy-skinned, sausages that give a juicy pop when you stick a fork in them. Sides of kraut and thick horseradish mustard's. It's enough to make a Cardiologist break down and cry.
The bus from the train station
In some places along the streams the soft-green moss layers were over a foot thick.
to the Jasna ski resort departs every hour on the half beginning at 8:30 AM. The fare is a buck. The road runs south and climbs out of the Vah valley and up to the Lower Tatras for 18 kilometers. We meet a young man named Martin. 21-years old. Speaks excellent English. He's in town for a conference. From him we learn a version of Slovakian economic growth since independence. He's matter-of-fact in his observations and sees a bright future for his country now that foreign investors have taken a keen interest in things here.
The road gets steeper. On our left a hard-charging river fills the air with powdery white mist. It is cold. The mountain water is just above freezing. Large pines bridge the banks where the rapids have toppled them. The ground is covered in foot-thick brilliant green moss and large ferns that droop with moisture. We see local couples hunting mushrooms with Little Red Riding-Hood baskets hanging from their arms. Small traditional guesthouses proliferate along the way but as we approach the end of the line we see that they are being replaced by modern, 100-Room resorts girdled with large parking lots. Martin smiles.
Hotel Aida Breakfast Room
Wonderful Liptovsky country hotel on an otter populated river.
The ski resort is at the end of the line. The name is Jasna Nizke Tatry. Big A-Frame hotels. Conference center which Martin heads off to after bidding us farewell. A relay of ski lifts take paying customers to the mountain peak. There aren't many people here. It must be another story when the snows begin. Half-way up we find ourselves enveloped in clouds and freezing air. Visibility is about 20-feet. At the top we find an abandoned 200-room hotel and a restaurant serving cafeteria food and lukewarm tea. We had packed a lunch but this was no place to dine what with numb fingers and fogged eyeglasses.
We headed back down into sunlight. Blew off another bus ride and walked the road we had ridden up. Ate our meal in a log, roadside hut overlooking a valley filled with 40-foot tall, candelabra limbed Norwegian Spruce. Found a path through the forest that hugged a white granite cliff. The air was full of pine. It smelled like Christmas. From within the rock you could hear dark rivers carving stone. The mossy ground vibrated under our feet. Lord of the Rings buzz. We passed the entrances to large cavern systems,
The water was so cold that the ambient temperature along the banks was a good 10 degrees lower.
one of which was 30-kilometers long. The cliff was pocked with dry caves from its base to its top. This area has been populated by man for millennia. Neolithic. Clan of the cave bear. Probably doesn't look any different now than it did when we all wore pelts and banged rocks together.
It was ten degrees colder near the gravel bottomed river. A multitude of strange fungi grew along the banks. Big shrooms and morels in whites, yellows and leathery browns. Above us we saw stiff granite-dome fingers poking up through the forest. We crossed over trail junctions that led you up cascading streams. Chains bolted to rock were provided to help you lift yourself through wood and water. Karen and I have been to a number of national parks in the States but this was different. Wonderfully different because we were alone here. No park rangers or crowds jostling for pictures. No admission fees or traffic. Just the forest and the river and you. Amazing piece of nature.
We planned on three days and ended up staying in Liptovsky for six. We were walking into town one night when it began to rain. We ducked into a
Liptovsky Flower Market
Great little village with friendly people and some of the best food we'd eaten in Eastern Europe.
Laser-Tag operation next to the road to see if we could get somebody to call us a cab. Inside we found a teenaged girl behind the counter. The place was empty. She brightened when she heard us speak. She had just completed a year as an exchange student in upstate New York. Loved it. Loved everything about it. Sitting behind the counter of a customer-less business on a rainy night in Slovakia probably had her loving it more than she ever imagined she would. We had lunch together the following day. Listened to her discuss her life and aspirations and in the end she reconfirmed our belief that the commonalities of people, no matter where they dwell, far outweigh their differences. It's all good out here.
We're in Hammamet, Tunisia now with our friend Claus. Beautiful place and sunny and WARM! Approaching winter in Europe was starting to get to us but it's all good now. Fresh vegetables again. Good food and probably the most inexpensive place we have visited on this trip. It's crazy. Spending money is a chore here. I've got a short one to write on Berlin before I cover this place. We go to
Dozens of different varieties like this leathery one. We saw lots of Slovakians with big collection baskets harvesting the fungi.
Morocco on Sunday. We've come full circle. Time to get back to Chefchouen, rooftop BBQ's and laughter.
Tot: 2.516s; Tpl: 0.118s; cc: 11; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0292s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb