Many years ago, in deepest, darkest Slovakia, there was a small village named Dejov. As the village grew, the demand for proprietors of fine alcohol grew with it, and thus, as the village developed in to a town, the authorities deemed it necessary to re-christen the town ‘Bardejov’, fittingly representing the ever-growing number of watering holes appearing therein.
No doubt the council website doesn’t tell quite the same story, but go and read it, if you fancy, and tell us which history you think is best. For us, Bardejov would hold the key to our weekend as it was to be the first stop on our Great Eastern Slovakian Mystery tour, covering what felt like most of the East in two days. First though, we had the small matter of actually getting there to contend with. We began our journey, as we often try to do, with two pints of Policka, gratefully consuming them on this occasion in the smokey basement atmosphere of Brno’s ‘U Sedlaka’. From here we hopped on the bus at 11.30 in the evening, hoping to sleep through most of the 7 hour journey to Košice. Ralph went out like a light, while I sat staring in to the back of my eyelids and worshiping every cigarette and piss break we made, before mercifully arriving in Košice around 6.30am.
Passing for a second time through Prešov we eventually arrived in Bardejov, full of energy and aching joints, mercilessly hunting down breakfast. As hungry and as knackered as we were, emerging on to Bardejov’s UNESCO-listed central square at 9 in the morning was simply breathtaking. The early morning sun was shining and slowly illuminating the beautiful Gothic and Renaissance buildings that surround the historic town hall and church of Sv. Aegidius (or St. Giles), casting a glow over the small, square gardens that welcome you to every shop door.
After picking up a panini and a coffee in a local cafe, we hung out for a while with the ageing worshipers who were getting ready to bash the doors in as time was ticking on in every respect. We weren’t there for the big man though, we wanted to storm that tower. Precisely because we weren’t intending put our hands together, the smiling overseer of this pillar of Godliness thought it proper we should put our hands in our pockets instead, and without fuss we happily passed him a full four euro for the two of us. We walked around the church quickly (it looking much like any other) to get our money’s worth and then went in search of the door to that tower. Having some trouble finding it we went back to the kind servant of our lord, and asked where it was. ‘Ah you want the tower.’ He replied, omnipotently ‘that’s another two euros each’. We looked at each other, and looked to the sky, but there you have it – ripped off by a man of the cloth.
We ascended the narrow, winding staircase that spun us in circles to finally burst forth among the heavens that rested over the glowing town of Bardejov for which, it has to be said, was a view worth more than euros (but don’t tell them that because if you have anything worth more than money, they’ll take it). The descent was a little more difficult (we’re not allowed to talk about that, I am told), but we finally rested on mortal ground once more and headed off to more familiar surroundings at Partizan Bardejov, where we enjoyed the view for a few moments before tasting the first beer of the day – a refreshing Šariš.
Time was against us, and so we headed back towards the bus station, marveling at the number of bars here for a relatively small town. We had time to try just one more, sitting outside in the midday sun with a Czech Bakalář. Ralph noticed that the sign hanging above the door was signaling that the place was also a hairdressers, so naturally asked for two beers and a haircut, please. The staff, already bemused by our arrival looked at him with complete confusion, asking him to repeat his absurd request. There are now at least two Bardejovians who think it’s common to get a beer and a haircut in your local British boozer.
“Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late”, said Shakespeare, apparently. Whatever the case it is a sentiment that Ralph lives by and thus why we found ourselves literally running through Prešov. I was told this town was boring, but my glimpse of it was – busy town, lots of people, lots of pubs, first brewery – Prešovský (not bad beer, good staff), second brewery – Mariannus (dull atmosphere, average beer), Tatran Prešov (stadium), bus, breath, bus, Moldava nad Bodvou, breath.
We stopped here in Moldava nad Bodvou long enough to grab another Šariš in a sports bar, but our main reason for stopping in the run-down town was football. FK Bodva were hosting Košice II in the Slovak 3rd league. Now, Ralph is convinced that if you speak Czech with a Scottish accent then you’re basically speaking Slovak and so made hilarious use of it at every communicative opportunity, and I am forced to admit it seemed to work, so much so that the ticket sellers at the gate believed he was Slovak – or at the very least, Czech (I’ve since tried this theory in the Czech Republic and no one can understand me, so maybe its true). His accent can’t work miracles though as we discovered when we tried to buy some food, a klobasa of course, and the response of the teenage girls in the kiosk was that of laughter, as they looked down the menu to see if they even sold them. We just waved the embarrassment away and thought we’d save ourselves for later. An entertaining game ended in a 1-3 home defeat with Moldava’s number 23 looking particularly impressive. The sun had lowered behind the hills at this point and left us feeling the cold. We sped off again to the bus station and made our way to Košice, where we would be staying in the Penzion Grand.
It was evening by the time we arrived in Košice, strolling along the bustling main street and past the striking St. Elisabeth Cathedral. We stopped off for a quick beer in a half decent cafe whose name escapes me now, before moving on to the originally named Mama Mia restaurant for a decent pizza but disappointing last pint – a uninspired Krušovice. Four towns and a multitude of beers conquered, we struggled to the hotel to sleep the days excitement off in anticipation of breakfast in Košice, and yet more of Eastern Slovakia to be explored…