by Arvind Bhatt
Posted on 25th June, 2016
We had the opportunity to visit Slovakia in late September, 2015. Initially we had no idea what was up for us. We started from south Poland, Zakopane, and then hiked to the beautiful Morskie Oko lake. After a long and tiring trek, we took a cab which dropped us to Lysa Polana.
That was our first stint into Slovakia. While we crossed the bridge from Poland to Slovakia, it was a moment of epiphany. Trust me, for someone from India, where we have excessively guarded borders with our neighbors, crossing international borders like a walk over a small bridge is liberating.
This is where we crossed to Slovakia from Lysa Polana(Poland)
After a short wait across the bridge into Slovakian territory, we hopped onto a bus to Poprad. A friend had adviced me about her stay in Zdiar, and a small hostel called Ginger Monkey. After travelling to Austria and Switzerland, we were happy to see the ticket prices. As we cruised towards Zdiar and beautiful meadows in the evening sun and an almost empty bus. our stop arrived and the bus driver eased into Zdiar's bus stop. We get down and this is what we see.
Knowing nothing about the place, nor the language, I somehow managed to call another friend of mine and get the contact of Ginger Monkey Hostel. The host was a cheerful lady but we had some bad news, the hostel was full. But she asked us to come over anyway. While we walk on the silent and serene roads of Zdiar, across the fuel station and towards the church, this is what we saw.
We reached the hostel, and were greeted by two cheerful dogs, wally a Pomeranian, and Django, a Lab. The host made sure that we can stay overnight and made a some arrangements for us at the nearby Pensions. This is where we would stay. A hammock looking across the Tatras. Who wouldn't love that?
We spent that night chatting with the hostess and even cooked some Indian Pakodas for her, which she apparently loved! I can't stop telling much about how beautiful Zdiar was. Its not just about nature, it was about the people and the intent to help others and not just being commercial which made us glad. Food was inexpensive in Zdiar, but yum!
The early mornings from our cottage:
A walk on the hills:
More sheep friends:
The next day, we took a local bus to the Beliyanska Caves. This place is about 20 minutes from Zdiar on the way to Poprad. Once you get down the bus, there is a small hike to reach the cave entrance. Groups were let in batches into the caves. There is a well maintained waiting area outside the entrance. I felt the entrance fee was a bit pricey.
The Beliyanska are stalagcites and stalagmite caves formed from millions of years of limestone deposition. It is a cold damp journey into the caves past the steel doors leading to the damp and mildly lit alleys. We got to see some beautiful stalgcites and stalagmites formed by salt deposits and water and look like inverted icecream cones. The standing areas are very well cave-lit, and the guides took a lot of interest and explained us everything. Nature can be so beautiful on the inside too. You must really appreciate the infrastructure that is setup to keep tourists comfortable and ah! the attention to detail.
The below picture is sometime in October during the begin of Autumn
We were enchanted and thrilled to experience the beautiful caves hidden amidst the mountains. After a cold damp journey into the caves and an hour later, we energized ourselves with a cup of coffee from the vending machine in the corner. Our destination was Strebsky Pleso on a local bus this time. Strebsky Pleso is one of the popular lakes in the foot of Tatra mountains. We got down at Stary Smokovec and took the local trains that chugged along the peripheral of Tatra mountains on the Slovakian side. The whole region is called Poprad Tatry.
Once we reach Strebsky Pleso, the lake was a short walk from the rail station. Apparently more activities happen in the winters than summers or late summers. Strebsky Pleso is a lake created by the melting glaciers from the Tatras. We could see a skiing structure (which isn't used in summer) and the peaceful lake by its side. A short walk along the lake was peaceful and satisfying.
We found a small local hotel a short walk beyond the lake. The place was warm and cozy with soft Slovakian music playing. Three hungry guys enter the hotel. We ordered some good food. I am very glad that food in Slovakia isn't that expensive, at-least not as much as Austria or Switzerland or any other part of western Europe.
We loved it. The mayonnaise, salad, soups, and beer.
Some Pictures from Slovak rail utility equipment:
After the satisfying day, from there we took a train back to Poprad, and another bus to our abode in Zdiar, the ginger monkey.
The next day, We bid goodbye to wally, django, the quiet cat and our sweet hostess and took a bus to Poprad. Our destination this time was the ruins of the Spiš Castle situated on the eastern part of Slovakia. After two buses, the bus reaches Spišské Podhradie.
This was on the way to Spis castle. Flat lands, green meadows and purple colored road grills.
As we reach the Spisske Podhradie Podhradie bus stop, what strikes us about this place is that it is different to western Slovakia. A small laid-back town with few people going around, mostly college kids. A hillock with a castle overlooking the town. Although we didn't have much time to spend here, we walked towards the hillock to the castle, crossing the little unused railway station.
And this is while walking towards the Spis Castle
While we had no idea about what to find here, it was enchanting to know about the 12th century medieval castle and the history behind it. It has been well preserved. We saw some medieval torture devices, artillery, history, the royal kitchen and walked around the majestic, but now silently standing giant structure bracing the test of time. You can read more about the castle in this wiki link Spiš Castle
After a tiring day filled with travel and walking around, we were still amazed at this beautiful place. So we continued to walk around enjoying the little town Spišské Podhradie for a while.
Later in the day, we found a bus towards Poprad and from there hopped onto a train to Bratislava, bidding goodbye to beautiful eastern Slovakia, the Tatra mountains and the silent, peaceful people of the region. I'd love to come here once again. Slovakia is mesmerizing. There are a lot of places we weren't able to visit like Banska Stavanica, Slovak Paradise national park and a lot more. I've not written much on Bratislava, as my co-authors already have a lot to say on Bratislava. We wish we had hired a car, and we could cover longer distances in shorter time. That's a learning.
There is one important thing we observed while travelling around Slovakia. The language. Slovakian seems much similar to our ancestral language Sanskrit. We felt that when travelling and listening to people speak. When I returned to India, and did a bit of reading on it, it seems unreal but infact it is true! . This video will give a fair idea, about what I am talking about.
We found out that Slovakians haven't met a lot of people from my country but for people in Bratislava. Also, we realized that we share ancient bonds with the Slovaks, I'd be glad to have Slovak friends to discuss about our cultures more, and understand each other. I'l look forward to someone, who can guide me more into Slovakia during my next visit.
Till then, Cau! Vel'a stastia!
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Slovakia, Zdiar, Beliyanska Caves, Strebsky Pleso, Stary Smokovec, Spis Castle, Bratislava