A pleasant mining town in the middle of Slovakia, 240 km, 3 ½ hours by bus from Bratislava acted as our host for a very relaxing weekend away.
The medieval mining town found fame the first time in the 14th century and is now a tourist attraction which UNESCO declared a world heritage site in 1972. It comes complete with epic views, tea houses, pensions, one hostel and steep picturesque cobbled streets.
Due to said steep cobbled streets, the bus drops you off a good mile out of the centre. By the time we’d lonely planet-mapped our way to the hostel we were well in need of a good sit-down. The journey here had been hassle free, making a seamless change in Ziar nad Hronom onto a local bus for the last 40 km, which wound up and down and meandered through hilly forest land with breath taking views before plonking us in the not-so-picturesque industrial part of town.
Arriving at the hostel there was a green post-it note addressed to me from Barbora, who runs Hostel6 telling me she was out the back gardening and to come and find her when we’d arrived. Her and Bucci, her dog, greeted me warmly, equally covered in mud and happy to welcome their new guests. After dealing with keys, dropping bags off and Barbora saying “Pay me when you want” we headed back down the cobbled streets with her map, towards much needed caffeine fix at “Crazy Lady” coffee shop – that’s a translation by the way. Time passes quickly in these places and afternoon swiftly becomes evening when you are pacing the streets of a town as charming as this: eager to turn every corner and look down every street. Alas we realised that by the time we’d done all the outside things in the sunshine all the indoor attractions had closed. Still, we had managed a walk around the old castle as an art festival was packing up its things and then hiked up to the new castle to admire more spectacular views, after visiting a wooden Bethlehem moving model and worked up a good appetite for bryndzové halušky, one of Slovakia’s national dishes. Hard to describe, but, the “Bethlehem is a small room with a miniature carved moving Bethlehem scene. I say miniature and I mean it takes up 3 walls of the room and details every type of worker and activity related to the nativity scene.
I had previously tried and disliked bryndzové halušky in Bratislava, likening it to overcooked macaroni cheese with very strong cheese sauce. Horrified by this description, Barbora sent us to a pension where I must try it again, because “this is where we make the cheese”. I am pleased I gave it another shot as this was a truly different culinary experience, which I had with venison, at a ridiculously cheap price. This didn’t seem right until I sat down and thought about the number of Bambis there are jumping around central Slovakia and was heartened by the fact that what was on my plate would have been running round a forest days before, not living in a factory. At least I hope so and please do NOT feel free to correct me on this one.
The next morning, after a later night than planned (wine at 1.50€/glass) we spent the morning (afternoon) on the terrace of a tea house which boasted 100 different types of tea. Again epic views over the town as we enjoyed a truly relaxing hour before heading to the bus station ( this time by taxi!) en route to our booking at Sklene Teplice – one of Slovakia’s many, very cheap, mineral water spas.
This was possibly the best 7.50€ I’ve ever spent. The whole village is basically a spa complex, with its selling point as the only cave bath in Slovakia. The description was slightly deceiving I have to say, as I was really hoping we would literally be crawling into a cave to have a bath! The Lonely Planet increased my disappointment by promoting it as a Splunking Spa, so when I stepped into a tiled pool, with one wall as part of a cave, I deemed rather less primitive than imagined. We entered the building, which was half cave, half modern spa. The assistant took our tickets and said something incomprehensible and to my surprise didn’t speak a word of English. She managed to relay instructions by mime and being good teachers we managed to communicate equally. Then pointing took over mime as some instructions were written in English. We showered and entered the “cave”. I say it like this as it only had one wall of cave, in which 42 C of calcium and magnesium rich water was running down and filling the pool. 20minutes was recommended but 42 degrees in a confined space meant I lasted a little less than recommended. The assistant showed us silently into the “relaxation” room, where we were wrapped in blankets, laid down and left to listen to relaxing music and enjoy a large fish tank on one wall of the cave. 20 minutes later we found ourselves sitting on massage chairs that I kid you not massaged everything from your head to your bottom, and your hands to your feet for 20 minutes. Feeling fully refreshed and satisfied on exit food was whole heartedly enjoyed before waiting for the bus in the sunshine to take us home…
So…. 24 hours in…how does it feel?
Well, it so rarely fits the pictures you had in your head and this is like none of the images I conjured up of a fairy-tale-like city with a rising castle and crispy air and smiling people and either a wintery snow covered landscape or a crisp deep blue sky.
Yes, I DO live in the “eastern block”, as in I live in a place that from first glance you would assume to be a NASTY council estate. Petrˇzalka. Yes, grey tower blocks, litter and badly parked cars. I live on the 13th floor of a building whose entrance would make you not really wish to proceed.
The journey into the centre is pretty ugly until you actually get to the bus stop in the centre where there are some nicer looking buildings. The tram is pretty nasty looking, often with graffiti or advertising cleaning products. Not the quaint rickety wooden tram you picture trundling along cobbled streets.
The weather has been grey, damp and misty, so hasn’t painted the city in the prettiest light.
The “school”, as in the primary school where I am teaching is on another of these delightful housing estates, again where at first glance you wouldn’t want your child walking there alone. BUT on entering, you are encapsulated by the most charming environment: decorated beautifully and delightfully inviting for children. You are instructed to wear slippers in the primary area, or cover your shoes, and although the paint wasn’t painted in perfectly straight lines, the rooms are bright and colourful and a wonderful atmosphere for the children.
Of course I must mention TESCO. It IS the world here. It’s not just a supermarket. It’s like El Corte Ingles in the centre with a floor for toiletries , another for clothes and an acre for the actual supermarket. In my “local” one, a hypermarket, I could buy iceskates, a treadmill, a double bed or just a packet of stock cubes. I could also sit down in the café and check my email, pop next door to pizza hut, or even have myself a haircut.
I remain optimistic. I arrived open-minded and I am determined to leave knowledgeable of the culture, surrounding countries and of course a better teacher.
Oh and I have a Kindergarten class times 2 tomorrow. Three Year olds!