Friday, 11 June 2010

Rude awakenings

 [again, pics to follow]

Written 11th June

We got woken up early in Levoca, by a digger which decided that 7am was the only possible time it could spend 10 minutes scraping mud off the road right near our little layby.  Having succeeded in waking us up to the point of no return, it then disappeared off elsewhere - rubbish.

So we headed into town with grand plans for the day with our virtuously early start...  Which we then completely sabotaged with one coffee and three hours of internet in a café - oh well :)

UNESCO-listed Levoca is pretty, a mediaeval walled city full of pastel coloured houses in grid pattern typical streets

and a fine pointy spired gothic church in the centre. 

We weren't expecting the square full of teenagers enthusiastically playing basketball to the thumpy beat of a live DJ at 9am but there you go...

We were going to head up to Marianska hora, the church high on the hill above town which is a popular pilgrimage spot in July, but the road was closed to vehicles so headed on to Spiss castle, also on the UNESCO list.

Covering 4.2ha, Spis Castle is one of the largest in Europe and was presumably built (although I am guessing based on the little bit of history I have resd in the lp) by the Magyars (hungarians) after they had been driven out of Hungary by the Ottomans and Slovakia became the frontier between the two powers.

Meli and Rafael had been there the day before and said it was one of the best castles they had been to - like us, they have ticked off a lot of UNESCO listed things on their travels, we are all wondering quite what the criteria are as from the sheer number of site, the bar can't be that high, we were wondering whether we could get Jules and Bussli certified and could then charge people to visit...;) - with a good audio guide, but we weren't in the mood for a ruined castle visit, so stopped for lunch in a layby with a fine castle view then headed instead for Kezmarok in search of churches.

And churches we found. 

The Old Evangelical Church is an early 18th wooden church - so same age as some of the ones we saw in Romania but totally different.  It was built at a time when the Protestants in Slovakia were suffering under heavy persecution (presumably from the catholics but it didn't say) and were only allowed to build churches in designated places and only out of the cheapest material.  So, like the romanian churches, it is built completely out of wood with no nails, but unlike them, it does its best not to look wooden.  I prefer the romanian ones if I'm honest.  But the inside was spectacular - all carved and painted with a blue cloudy sky ceiling, a fantastic altar and illustrated panels showing saints and bible stories round the ceiling and balconies - fabulous.  But no pictures allowed - they want to sell you €6 worth of picture cd - so you'll just have to take my word for it. 

And then next door to the 19th century New Evangelical Church.  A pink and green mosque-like confection with a starkly plain and cream interior in contrast to the ornate, dark painted wood of next door.  And yes, more UNESCO-ness... :)

Sights done for the day, off to the mountains

where we decided we were too late for mountain walking so settled into a discrete off road layby, high up near Strbske Pleso.

Another hiking day yesterday.  On the bikes up to Popradska Pleso in the morning - well would have been on the bikes but my gears stopped working properly so I wore myself out in the wrong gear whilst trying to change down on a slope so ended up walking (well that's my excuse anyway,

and Will couldn't make it change down either so not just me being out of practice!)

but the lake was pretty, if busy, and the ride back down was well worth the effort to get up, no peddling required - wheeeeeeeee!

back on the road for great views of Slovensky Raj

And later on, an hour and a bit's trek up from Stary Smokovec, first on the path by the side of the funicular to Hrebienok and then on to Obrovsky Vodopad (the Big Waterfall)

All very lovely although we should have taken the bikes again for the long smooth road down.   There is also an enteprising company at the top of the funicular who will rent you a scooter so you can wizz back down if you don't have a bike of your own...

And if you're herewith only one day, I would say go to Slovensky Raj in preference to the lower trails on the Tatras - much less crowded (we saw 4 people) and so much more fun!

We had originally planned to go up on the cable car to Lomnicky Stit the highest peak in the Tatras, but at a whapping lp indicated €32 each, that was sadly not to be.  Oh well, maybe the one on the polish side will be more reasonable...

We had also hoped to go out for dinner, our last chance for a Slovakian meal out, but sadly at 8:30pm, the restaurant recommended by lp (and all the others in that town) were closed with no indication as to whether they had been open at all :(  it is that awkward, not-quite-hiking-but-definitely-not-skiing season and this place is definitely geared mainly to tourists.  Oh well, not to worry although with all this hiking, we really felt we'd earnt it!

So special rice and the last half a glass of the Melnik pink in a large quiet layby near the polish border instead - not so bad really then :)  

But another unwelcome early morning - honestly, if I wanted to be awake at 7am I would get myself a job to go to... ;) - when two polish truck drivers decided that our layby was just the place to pull over, and right by our window was the only place in the whole vast expanse of gravel was the only place to chat.  VERY LOUDLY :(

So, blinking in the bright sunlight, not with it and feeling somewhere between hungover and jetlagged (probably just dehydrated from the walking to be honest, it is very hot here)

we crossed the border - only marked going back into Slovakia - 

and are just starting to approach something like normality after two coffees each in Zakopane.

Poland here we come! (well, in a bit anyway :)

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