Sunday, February 05, 2006

Adventure in Slovakia

For the past week, I have been having an adventure in Slovakia with my partner. I had made a decision some months back to agree to go and see her home town in Slovakia and also meet her family. It turned out to be quite a trip.

You know how you have thoughts that something might go wrong, well me and Z both talked about it before I left that something might go wrong and that instead of me arriving 3 hours before she does, I would arrive either at the same time or after her, well lo and behold I arrived 2 hours after she did, and not for the reasons we thought either. We both thought I would be delayed in Stansted for some reason like snow at the airport her or in Poprad. In the end it was down to a problem with the plane, which meant instead of landing at Poprad-Tatry, I was in Kosice which is a good 2 hours coach ride away, not exactly the star to the trip I had in mind.

I had to wake up at 4am on the Saturday, to ensure I was able to check in on time, especially as the tube decided it would be a good idea to have engineering works, thus extending the travel time, thankfully I got to Stansted in time, and we actually took off on time as well, which surprised me.

With the flight leaving at 9am, I thought yep, I will be there at 12.30 as expected, oh no, not this time. At 12pm, they told us on the flight that there was a problem at Poprad-Tatry airport, which I later found out was false, it was a problem with a compressor on the plane, which meant we weren’t able to land at Poprad-Tatry, but would be flying on to Kosice. I am guessing they don’t have the maintenance crews at Poprad, so that is why we flew on.

This left me obviously with concerns, cause I don’t speak any Slovak, except for the bare basics, to say hello and please, thank you, not much use when trying to find out what has to be done and where to go. So in my own style I asked the stewardess to explain the situation, just about got the gist that there was a problem at Poprad, but we would fly on to Kosice and then there would be a transfer, yikes, a transfer and they don’t generally speak English, so feeling a tad stuffed. I hadn’t a need to worry, my partners family had phoned the airline to say that I was on it and that they would need to make it very clear as to what needs to be done, because I am profoundly deaf, and don’t understand Slovak.

What was funny, was when the plane was to begin the descent, one of the stewardesses asked me to take out my hearing aids. She said I need to take them off, pointing to my ears, and I have gold ear moulds, I said I need them, she was you need to take them off, I was like, I have to wear them I can’t hear otherwise, it was only then it dawned on me, she thought they were headphones for a stereo, and explaining that they were hearing aids, she was so apologetic. Poor girl, she was so embarrassed, had no idea that they could be hearing aids. I never thought that would happen.

Well we land at Kosice and when they open the door, bearing in mind this is a single building airport, very small airport, looks like an ex-military base with the military planes there, they ask for me, which was really nice, that was when I found out they knew the situation.

Once I got through passport control which took all of what 2 seconds, as it is so small, and the baggage carousel was right next to it as well as the exit for the airport, basically an enlarged shed. I had to figure out what to do, where to go, how long to wait, etc. Trying to converse with some of the staff was a waste of time, they enjoyed laughing at me trying to work out the situation, they didn’t really speak English and I didn’t Slovak, not a good thing, thankfully I found the right person, and they ensured I got the coach which took nearly 3 hours to turn up.

The coach journey gave me a view of Slovakia I never expected to experience whilst there. All the way through the countryside, through villages, towns, etc and then eventually 5 hours later or so than expected I arrived at Poprad-Tatry, hoping that Z would be there, no such luck, I was feeling so tired and dejected, I had been up for 12 hours plus travelling, not feeling too great. Thankfully Z and her parents turned up about 5/10 minutes later so it wasn’t too bad, but I was just dead on my feet from that, and I was thinking mmm, please tell me the rest of the week will be a little more relaxing.

That first night I had proper Slovak food – sauerkraut, with soup, not bad, it was quite nice, a little salty, but Slovak food tends to be saltier than I am certainly used to. I also met her sister and family as well that night. Trying to understand what they were saying was difficult, because I don’t understand the language and Z had to do a lot of translation between me and her family, though we did try hard all of us to find a way to get some of it across.

Poprad is a nice place, a slower pace of life than London, and more snow than I can ever remember seeing in all of my life in London. The last time I think I saw that much snow was when I was 6 or 7 years old, that is over 25 years ago, so you can imagine how I saw it. It was cold as well, and typically I didn’t prepare well enough for the cold and the snow, just my luck.

The first day we were there, we did a lot of walking around, with Z showing me parts of the town, I managed to land on my behind at least 2/3 times, of course wearing the wrong shoes for the environment, thankfully though I had a good coat to keep me warm, even with it losing the feathers at a rate of knots, by the end of the week, I look like a chicken…. Being Slovakia they had a local ice rink and it was very good luck that the Sunday was the day it was partly open to the locals for a couple of hours. I explained to Z that I couldn’t really ice skate, not that she believed me, because I said I wasn’t really any good at badminton and she feels I am. It was only after landing on my butt for umpteenth time that she believed me. I certainly stood out, that is for sure, the locals know how to ice skate, Z could, and I was the foreigner who was all over the shop, getting knocked, pushed about by the locals, and I was like a mobile chicane, holding everyone up. By the end of 2 hours I was shattered, tired and a little sore from falling all over the place, as well as trying to figure out how to keep balance. I most definitely need more practice, not that there is that much chance in London with our weather.
As Z said at least I tried and by the end I didn’t fall quite as often as at the beginning and I was getting somewhere, but nowhere near as good as Z.

The second day we decided to go to a place called Aquacity - Aquacity
We did the Vital package, 3 hours of relaxing, with steam rooms, saunas, snow cave - Aquacity Vital World

It was really nice to go, it cost 500sk each, which is about £10, might not sound a lot, but for the locals that is when the average wage is about 7000sk a month. Most of the people who were there, were from abroad – Poles, Russians, Czechs, Ukraine, etc. Sadly they lack decent manners, that is for sure. I am not one for saying bad about other nations, but they had no manners at all, lording it up and thinking they ran the place.

If you ever do find yourself in Poprad, you must go to Aquacity, I came out after the 3 hours feeling so light, and fresh, it was so fantastic, a much recommended place to visit. I couldn’t handle the snow cave, way too cold, but some could.

We also later in the week went to the High Tatras, with the intention of sledging; it was something that Z had done before when younger. We went to a place called Strbske Pleso. There were a lot of tourists there, many for snowboarding and many for skiing as well. It seems the runs that used to be useable for the sledging are no longer available as they are now ski runs instead, which was a big shame, as we had both hoped to have a good time up there sledging. It seems the area has given itself over to the ski and snowboard people and thus making money out of them for it. Fantastic views and you have to be careful of those who go very fast on their skis and boards.

There is also a lovely lake up there, and we thought we would go and have a look at it, a really breathtaking view, but the lake was covered in snow, and deep snow too as we found as we crossed it. Neither of us expected it to be so deep and no matter how we tried to find the right part to cross, it was more a trek than a simple crossing. We were only up there a couple of hours, as we did all we could do. The train to take us up there was so modern and clean, not like the horrible things that we find on London underground.

We also went out another night to a proper Slovak restaurant, and the food was fantastic, I really enjoyed it. The restaurant we went to had pictures of ice hockey stars, and there was an Ottawa senators game shirts, which I hadn’t expected to see. Ice hockey is big in Slovakia, very big, with plenty of snow and ice that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was.

Another thing I found to be a surprise was the fact that there a quite a few tescos in Slovakia, hypermarket tescos, generally more expensive than the local supermarkets, but I go away from London and there is Tesco, and they have roller blading staff in there as well, such a neat idea, who knows why we don’t have in London, so much easier to get things. Probably fail here as people don’t know how to use roller blades that well here compared to them it seems.

What was a really nice thing was there was none of the big fast food chains in Poprad, I know they exist in other cities in Slovakia, but not in Poprad, they said no to them being there, and it is so nice not to see McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc in Poprad, so I got the chance to experience more of the real Slovakia, without the intrusion of the big fast food chains.

The locals are also quite friendly, none of the usual stuff you suffer in London, although though if you are crossing the road, you best find a way to not get killed, they don’t seem to understand pedestrian crossings and the traffic lights go green whilst you are part of the way across, they give you maybe 5 seconds at most to cross the road, and that isn’t even feasible for the likes of me and I am reasonably fit.

I got to enjoy the local food quite a few times, with Z’s parents and sister giving me food and plenty of it, they serve big portions, boy I felt bloated a number of times as well. I managed to lose weight though, which I always end up doing when travelling, no idea why, other than my stomach feels funny for days before it settles and then it isn’t too bad, but the food is really nice. I am hoping that Z is able to bring home some of recipes, some we can have some of the food here, as it was really nice.

My time there felt not long enough, it was cold enough, and I did a lot of walking, remembering to walk on ice patches carefully, and not something common here. I found her family to be very nice and despite the language barrier, we all tried to find some commonality that allowed us to try and communicate.

I am looking forward to the chance to see Poprad in the summer, as it is even nicer apparently and the views I saw were amazing, the mountains dwarfing the town, whilst it doesn’t seem anything special to them, for me it is an amazing landscape, one which sadly suffered a catastrophe the other year where they lost the majority of the pinewood forest that covered a large part of the mountain. It looks quite naked now, with so much of it gone - High Tatras catastrophe

It isn’t expensive to go to at the moment, though with Poprad growing very fast and more tourists turning up, I imagine sooner rather than later it will be a place that gets more and more expensive to visit. So go now rather than later, although it did help me a lot by having a local guide me around, helping with translations as well.


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