Written 8th june
We had the best day today (yes another one!) and we have also discovered that we are not so crazy after all! Well we might be crazy but there are others like us who are at least as crazy :) hurrah
But more on that in a bit.
An easy driving day through the green rolling hills of south east Slovakia brought us to Spisska Novi Ves, with its quiet overnight industrial estate, which is the main jump off point for Slovensky Raj National Park aka Slovakia Paradise.
The tourist office was extremely helpful in terms of maps and one day hiking suggestions so armed with new leaflets and info, we headed off to the park entrance at Cingov.
The lonely planet describes Slovensky Raj as 'a paradise for the passionately outdoorsy' - well I am quite passionate about living outdoors in my little van at least! - with talked about hikes with 'technical aids', whatever that meant, and gorges, log bridges and ladders alongside waterfalls - sounds like fun!
The pictures at the park entrance looked encouraging,
although we had no idea if our route would take us to these exciting looking things, and off we set.
So a gentle stoll along the blue path following the river though the Hornad gorge and over various types of bridges, with a few metal rungs and sections of chain handrails where the rocks were more rock-like than path-like and a bit slippery but all nice and easy so far...
and then we came to the first of the metal grate steps which hang precariously out over nothing but sheer cliff or rushing water...
Several sections of that - some more securely fixed into the cliff than others! And others with water cascading down the cliff face over them -
some wooden bridges and walkways in various sates of disrepair
Which is where it got seriously fun...
Until we reached our first sheer cliff face, a waterfall and the ladder of welded angle iron which climbs up beside it.
This is what we came for!
Three ladders, another flight of grate steps and countless scrambled over trees later, we popped out at the top in the peaceful Kastorisko meadow.
Feeling mighty pleased with ourselves, and not a little bit hot and sticky after a six hour hike, we had just finished having a bit of a wash in the carpark when we heard voices walking round the van outside and popped our now clean heads out to find Meli and Rafael, who were inspecting the daisies and Bulgarian and Romanian road tax stickers and trying to work out whether there was any one in or not
And guess what? They are also van dwellers, riding in fine style in an orange and white VW T3, affectionately referred to as Bussli.
They are a little bit younger than us, and their van younger still (1983) but like us, they have quit their jobs, bought a van and set off on the road for nine months.
And, from the stories we swapped, it is absolutely amazing the we haven't met on the road before.
It transpires that they left home in Switzerland on 1st April - coincidentally, the same day we made our little foray into Switzerland to try and escape the rain in Como - and fled east to escape the rain, landing straight up in Ljubljana. They too went down through Slovenia and Croatia but then were able to drive through Montenegro and Albania - both fine, especially Albania was really friendly, and no problems so just goes to show, I should have been braver with car insurance last year! - and crossed in to Greece a few days before we did. They only went to Meteora and northern greece before being scared off by petrol prices into Bulgaria and so spent longer in Bulgaria, including Sofia and going to the Black Sea, but, like us, went to Rila Monastery and were also a week too early for the Rose festival in KXXX so must have been in central Bulgaria about the same time. And up into Romania, Dracula's castle and on to Hungary, where they spent time in Budapest and horse riding on the Great Plain before our paths crossed here in Slovakia! How cool is that!
They too are heading north, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, although not as quickly as us, they are meeting Meli's parents in Riga in 18th July (although that is exactly to the day, when we were possibly going to meet my parents in Riga before we changed our plans to include midnight sun at Nordkapp, a plan which means we have to be c1000 miles further north by then...) and are not planning to go as far north as us anyway before turning south, denmark, france, spain, portugal and back to 'real life' in January.
Being only a couple of months in, they are still staying in campsites fairly regularly - they'll soon get out of that expensive habit, we haven't been in a campsite since Rome the first time in mid march! - but like us, they have a solar shower they use regularly in laybys (although they have gone through with the 'shower curtain strung from the bike rack' idea which I toyed with right at the start before getting distracted onto more immediate needs like engine rebuilds and other mechanical fixes).
And we were able to swap food for recommendations for france, spain and portugal. So happy camping all round.
We had to pack up and head off after dinner - we were completely out of caravan and laptop battery and anyway, having had our day in the park, didn't want to get charged for parking again - so left them with the map and hiking route recommendations - Meli had been told that the trails were difficult and not suitable for 'normal' people... We both agreed that we are not, in any way, 'normal'... :) - taking with us their recommendations for Spis castle the Tatras. We hope they had as good a day as we did!
So, here we are, just outside Levoca, full of good food, with good recommendations for the next couple of days and happy in the knowledge that we are not alone in the world - excellent!