July 27, 2008

Slovakia Redeemed
Dlhá Lúka, Slovakia

Even though yesterday was a trying, tiring day, we weren't yet ready to throw in the towel on Slovakia. That would've been unnecessarily brash. And by the end of today, we were both very glad we didn't.


It's a town directly north of Košice—where we probably should've headed from Poprad in the first place.

Before passing out last night, Tatiana told me her dream was to spend some time in a small town in the countryside. Not wanting to deviate too far away from Košice (which we'd would ultimately transit back through to go into the Hungarian wine country), I selected a small town along the road to Poland. I'd read somewhere sported a pleasant town square, and felt confident there'd be accommodations for the Polish tourists driving down from the north—hopefully something outside of the city.

It was quite an ordeal with the bus driver as we boarded our transport out of Košice. He was flustered by my lack of Slovak, while the radio station he was turned into (at full volume) sounded like it was playing 'Stalin's Picks for Communist Worker Class: Extreme Patriotism Edition' on repeat.

Believe it or not, Slovakia is in my top four countries in the world for good radio stations, though.

We were both charged extra for carrying backpacks onto the bus (even though they didn't occupy a seat), and then denied a small refund when I presented our student cards. Remembering to present these things when I pay for transport is something I'm really going to have to remember, as I've never traveled with a student ID before. So far, we haven't been able to put them to use.

The $6/person ride was just a bit over an hour to Bardejov, and simply bursting with gorgeous agricultural countryside. I was happy I'd put on shorts—the first time I've worn them since leaving Miami—as the bus was sweltering.

Lovely Lucia

Easily the best tourist information office experience I've ever had was because of Lucia. Much like Košice, Bardejov's information center off the town square sports a listing of local hotels, and lodging available in private homes.

No vacancy, no vacancy, no vacancy—room hunting on a Sunday was proving difficult as she continued to call the "budget" accommodation options for us. I had her start asking about openings for tomorrow as well, thinking we might take a higher priced room for the night, then relocate, but that approach didn't yield as better results.

Now mind you, the list isn't that long, and after about a half an hour or so of calling and discussing bussing options—or the lack thereof on Sundays—to certain homes on the outskirts of town, I was getting a little concerned.

Tatiana was a mess after the travel since Zakopane, and needed to unload the baby and get in a shower ASAP. I was ready to take the $38/night option just to get her spirits back, when we struck an excellent hit on our final phone call of the afternoon.

Dlhá Lúka

The small village of Dlhá Lúka is about three miles north of Bardejov, and exactly what we've been looking for. There can't be more than a couple hundred people living here, narrowly populated along the banks of a shallow stream. I doubt any visitor to the region ever pays much attention to Dlhá Lúka as they quickly throttle to or from Bardejov, but the town and the surrounding area is one of the most peaceful and enjoyable settings I've ever traveled in without a beach.

With transport timetables to and from the village provided by Lucia, we snacked on simple sandwiches whilst waiting for the city bus to pass.

What we didn't need was another mess with tickets, but one ensued as the jolly, quirky driver kept punching buttons and dispensing receipts for the tickets we were suppose to pay. Lucia had failed to mention that we'd be charged 40% of a normal 10Sk ($0.50) ticket for every backpack we brought on board, and 1Sk for the baby. Jesus, I hate getting nickel and dimed that like.

The driver had printed out four 2Sk receipts for our baggage—on a city bus, no less—and thinking that he was charging for four bags, instead of two, we began this wildly entertaining discussion about the price of a backpack, and the best stop to get off at to reach our destination (a residential home in Dlhá Lúka).

Jolly Bardejov bus driver

I discovered that the old fellow could—like me—speak some basic German. Tatiana sat back and watched as the driver and I tried to figure things out with smiles on our faces—he speaking a mixture of Slovak and German, with me speaking an odd mixture of German and Spanish (my brain involuntarily inserting Spanish words where I couldn't recall the German translation). It was most entertaining.

The good news was that Dlhá Lúka was the end of the line, and Tatiana and I both laughed as the driver shut off the bus in front of the village bar, jumped out, and asked for help locating our accommodations (and translating the 8Sk owed for our bags). We were the only ones left on the transport, so I popped out and met Robert, a local kid working at the bar that also happens to speak half-decent English.

He asked where I was from at the end of our conversation, and I replied "The USA."

"Whoa." was his wide-eyed reply.

In a land full of tourists from the EU and the UK, being from the USA seems to make me a pretty cool oddity in these parts.

A solid handshake and a pat on the back to the driver, and we'd arrived at Mária's (which happened to be right on the path of the bus, headed back into town). I rang the doorbell, and she answered after a spell, looking like I'd woken her from a nap.

She took a look at me, then Tatiana over my shoulder, and started shaking her head—no, no, no. …Shit.

I held up the information paper and said "Mária? Information office called." (motioning a phone sign with my free hand). She muttered something in Slovak, and then caught a look at Aidric, asleep in the harness on Tatiana's chest. She then got this "awww, poor thing" look on her face, and showed us around back to the guest entrance of her three-story duplex.

We still don't know if she changed her mind about renting her room out (and then did a 180° because of Aidric—who she's simply crazy about), or if she thought we were another couple asking for the room when she was holding it for us (a couple with a baby).

Kitchen, bathroom with lots of hot water, perfect weather, a private backyard with grass for Aidric to play on, and apples on the trees for us to make him food with—we're really in love with the area. The only thing missing is a double bed (we're in a small room with a pair of bunk beds), and wireless Internet (I easily broke the encryption of the only useable Wi-Fi signal, but it just connects to someone's photo server, not a broadband connection).

After cleaning up, we walked around town and had a sunset picnic next to the stream with the rest of our sandwich stuff, and an inexpensive bottle of French wine I bought in Košice.

Our spirits high as we put Aidric to sleep that night, I asked Tatiana a question: "Wanna stay out here for a few weeks? Maybe find out about an apartment?"

She smiled and nodded. Dlhá Lúka is indeed a good place.


The United States


August 1st, 2008

Great pics, Craig!

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