Making the most of Presov time in East Slovakia

IMG-20180813-WA0002

A free weekend upon us and a long one at that, I began to toy with idea of seeing East Slovakia again. It had been a while since we’d seen each other, so toy no further – I went ahead and booked myself on the midnight sleeper train out of Olomouc.

I am big fan of a train with a bed – last September I had met up with my Wales away companion, Glen ,for 14hr trip from Bucharest to Chisinau to watch our international team. This time it also includes a Wales side: the u19s were/are playing in the Slovakia Cup – any opportunity to watch Wales in Central Europe and I am there.. this time with Trnava-dwelling Matt LostBoyo.

The six hour journey ended early. Difficulty sleeping and a bit of early morning research gave me the option of disembarking at Poprad station and getting a 5,30 bus to Spissky Podhradie, a pretty town sitting beneath the beautiful Spissky Hrad, the 6th largest castle on the planet and a world heritage site.

IMG-20180813-WA0001

Everything was going according to plan, the SAD bus took me on 50 minute journey right to the foot of the hill I needed to hike. The only hiccup was that I knew I would be the only soul up there so early in the morning, and I was unsure whether the castle keeper (do they still exist?) would let me in. Undeterred, I began the climb and as I reached the top I saw the gates open – result. Of course, my excitement of having the whole place to myself was short-lived as I was greeted by the angriest Slovak in the history of Slovakia…
“What are you doing here?” she barked at me.
I walked a bit further pretending not to hear/understand her.
She raised her voice a bit more, probably waking the sleepy village below. At this point she took my arm and lead me back to gate, pointing aggressively at a sign with the opening hours. I wonder if that’s how it worked with the castle back in the 12th century.
“We’d love to commence battle now, but unfortunately the castle is closed until 9.00am. Could you come back a bit later?” pointing the attacking army in the direction of the nearest cafe…

I went into charm offensive – actually replace that with begging. I begged her to let me in for 10 minutes to have a look around and to take some photos. “Mrs Castle keeper, I have travelled overnight just to see this castle. Please, 10 minutes just to get a view from the tower…” Another couple of minutes of explaining my need to get in and suddenly I saw a chink in her armour.
“Ahh, you are not Czech?”
“No, I am from Wales”.
“Come on in, would you like a cup of tea?” Well, she didn’t offer me a cuppa, I made that bit up, but not being from a neighbouring country had gained me access to a castle well worthy of making it into UNESCO. She did follow me around for the entire tour, but I got a “hello” in English when we said goodbye.

IMG-20180813-WA0006

Whenever I am lucky enough to visit the region, I always try and fit in as much as possible. However, if I described the trip in detail, you would nod off before I got to the end of the first day. What I can tell you is that when you are next over here, go to Levoca. It’s a beautiful town with both Gothic and renaissance architecture dominating the main square.

IMG-20180813-WA0005

My first game of the weekend was a relegation battle between Tatran Presov and ZP Sport Podbrezova in the top flight. I had hoped the game would be played in the (I think) oldest stadium in Slovakia, but Presov are currently exiled 40 miles away in Poprad at the newest stadium in Slovakia. Disappointed, well not that much, I had lunch in Kezmarok and spent a couple of prematch hours in Poprad’s two breweries, which are both within walking distance from each other on the main drag. Now, at this point I don’t want to be critical, but it’s been noticeable that on previous trips to the region the customer service, although friendly, has been incredibly slow. I discussed this with a friend of mine recently and she described it as relaxed. My tip is, if you are in a rush, order your food and drink and get the bill. It’s not a rant, it’s an observation, honest. And I am sure we will review one of the breweries in the next month or so.

To the game… well, the quality was poor. The highlight of the game was the stadium, the backdrop is stunning and I often caught myself gazing at the High Tatra mountains rather than watching two teams struggle to play the game. Podbrezova took the lead in the 21st minute. However, I can’t really tell you whether it was against the run of play as there wasn’t much “play” to speak of. The handful of Tatran ultras banged their drum, sang a few songs to try and raise the performance of their team, but I can not recall the side creating a single chance until the 90th minute when they equalised through their substitute, a lanky defender named Maduka Udeh. Thrown up front as very much a last throw of the dice, Udeh somehow got on the end of a cross to head home with his first touch of the ball. The ref, probably aware I had a train to catch, blew his whistle not too long after. I swear he gave me a nod to say “take the train and head east, my friend” – And head east I did.

IMG-20180813-WA0004

I spent the evening in Kosice – the largest town in the East and with one of the largest central drags in Europe. Hlavna Ulica (translation “the main street”) is a bustle of activity with the people of Kosice taking up residence in many of the street bars, restaurants and cafes. I decided to take a left at the cathedral and find Golem, one of the three breweries in the city. Worth a visit, if you are ever in the area.

Sad to stay, I didn’t get much of chance to explore the city… the lack of sleep on the overnight train and possibly one too many beers meant I was in bed just a few minutes after midnight. A great day out.

IMG-20180813-WA0003

 

Putting the ‘Bar’ in Bardejov – Travels in Eastern Slovakia, Part 1

Bardejov

Bardejov

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.

Bardejov town square

Bardejov town square

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.

No Klobasa No Party

No Klobasa No Party

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.

Partizan Bardejov

Partizan Bardejov

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.

Prešov

Prešov

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.

Moldava

FK Bodva

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…

FC Tatran

FC Tatran

 

"Follow your heart"

“Follow your heart”