Archive for the ‘Slovakia’ Category

Observations of Slovakia & Czech

20 July 2012

There is a lot of local cycling in Slovakia and Czech Republic. In the towns and villages there are people of all ages, including children, adolescents, adults and aged people all getting around on bikes. There are bike racks at shops, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, churches (yesterday we saw a church with parking for at least 100 bikes). Bike racks are placed every 20m or so along main streets, not very good ones by Australian standards, but good enough. People here jump on a bike to go somewhere in the same way that we would jump into a car. And the places they want to get to are an easy cycling distance. The bikes are old clunkers, folders with single hinge in frame, some with high riser handle bars, generally nothing special, but fulfil their purpose.

There is quite a lot of medium-rise housing in the kind of buildings that would be vociferously opposed in most Australian cities. The housing blocks are usually painted in a variety of colours and they look attractive and well maintained. It would be interesting to find out how people here feel about living in them.

The amount of domestic fruit and vegetable growing is astonishing. In villages almost every house has an extensive garden that is planted with a variety of vegetables and fruit trees, all looking neat and well tended as well as incredibly productive. It is common to see people working in their gardens.

Towns and cities have a lot of public space and pedestrian areas that attract people and give a sense of life and activity. Obviously it is summer and the weather and long daylight hours encourage people to be out, but the physical form of the towns seems to play a big part.

Smoking is permitted inside restaurants. Once we have plain cigarette packaging and have stamped out smoking in Australia, people will be able to come to Czech, Slovakia and Poland for smoking tours. To be fair though we do often see people smoking outside – eg a shop proprietor will smoke on the door step and just blow smoke on the customers as they come in.

The valley of the Vah

19 July 2012

Hotel Majovey, our place of residence last night, used to be the place where ‘unpleasant people’ were taken during bad times in Slovakia, not so long ago either. Fortunately the ghosts of this sad history have been banished by Veronika, the proprietor who has created a fine establishment.

Today we followed the Vah which flows south through a wide valley to meet the Danube at Komarno. Wide valleys are good places for freeways, railways, lots of towns and traffic, so bucolic charms were a little diminished.

We passed a village this morning in which loud speakers throughout were broadcasting traditional music and spoken messages, presumably by the mayor or other pillar of society, exhorting the residents to higher levels of citizenship. Actually Google research has just revealed that they are mainly community announcements and local news.

We took a small road out of the valley and, leaving Ian in a quiet spot to entertain some sheep with his trumpet warm ups and scales, I continued a few km into the next village, called Udiča, to look around. I was discovered map-reading in front of the Udiča church by a local man on bike who asked if I needed help. I indicated ‘no’ so he went off, only to return a bit later in his car, laden with gifts for me – large blue Udiča t-shirt, 2 Udiča postcards and blue Udiča whistle on keyring. He also had his mobile phone with an English speaking friend on the other end. It turned out that he was Jozef, mayor or at least Main Man of Udiča. He spoke English about as well as I speak Slovakian. I conveyed my story to the friend on the phone. Jozef then went off but returned to me twice to give me another t-shirt and then a bag of apricots from his tree. What a man! And now I find that the fine village of Udiča doesn’t even rate a Wikipedia entry. So I am making up for that by giving it a big promotion here!

Other notable events of the day: 3 punctures (Ian – 9; me – 0); hot morning with massive thunder and rain storms in the afternoon – we sheltered and stayed dry.

We are now in Trencin, small city with impressive hrad (castle).

Mountains and valleys

18 July 2012

An ascent of Lomnicky Stit has been done (famous peak of High Tatras at 2600m)! First you take a ride in a little ski lift bubble car part way up the mountain, then change to the red cable car that takes you to the summit. We admire and thank the German and/or Austrian engineers who built all this and made it work. We had wonderful views to the plains in the south and east and could see the city of Poprad at the foot of the Low Tatras.

Summiteers get 50 minutes at the top. It’s cold up there – plenty of ice on the ground and on the metal railings. The clouds were swirling around but lifted enough for us to see glimpses of alpine tarns, precipitous drops, rock faces and zigzag walking tracks way below.

There is a cafe of course – it has a  rather sophisticated James Bond style ambience with white leather furniture and people drinking spirits. We fitted in well.

Returning to lower altitudes we had another puncture to fix (Ian – 6, me – 0), then a ride of about 60km along a road skirting the mountains and giving spectacular views to the bare peaks on one side and the valley and Low Tatras on the other. We were still at 1000m so it was cold.

A long descent brought us to Hradek whereupon a discussion of route options influenced us to travel by train to Zilina. We had only a 30 minute wait for an excellent train service, inexpensive, with bicycle storage included. We have now avoided an area that would have placed us in unacceptably heavy traffic with few other options.

Zilina is one of those pleasant surprise towns. It has two large squares and a lively atmosphere. In the lower square there was a big screen showing The Big Lebowsky dubbed into Slovakian and about 20 people in chairs watching it!

Cycling facilities

17 July 2012

We had to ride on a bad road this morning – narrow, two-lanes, heavy traffic including trucks, no shoulder and a metre-deep culvert. Only 8 kms but too long. We had a longer similar stretch into Krakow but that stretch had a ridable shoulder. These have been exceptions to quiet roads and tracks.

We met a friendly and helpful bike shop proprietor, Martin Kostka of Bicykle Kostka, Stefanikova 38, Spisska Bela 059 01 – all a passing cyclist might need.

This afternoon we enjoyed 10 kms of dedicated bike track with smooth, hotmix pavement and no cracks – please take note SA Department of Transport.

Prague has few cyclists, few facilities and medieval pave. Apparently a recent pro-cycling campaign has stalled following the death of its director (cycling fatality). We found Prague quite good for cycling but had to take care with all the tram tracks.

Krakow has lots of excellent veloways, dedicated lanes and contra-flow lanes. Quite a few cyclists too.

The Doors in the Tatras

17 July 2012

We’re sitting in the lounge of the Tatry Hotel at the foot of Lomnicky Stit in Slovakia. The Doors are being played – pretty cool. I spoke too soon, someone has changed the music to some more contemporary rubbish. 😦

Two flats today (Riders on the Storm just started – things are looking up.) I’m annoyed that the Prague bikes guy couldn’t supply Kevlar-belted tyres as requested.

Dunajec Gorge to the Tatras

17 July 2012

Our accommodation last night was a room in a family house – simple, cheap, clean with good hot shower.

But on waking before 6am, ready for an early start, the weather looked all wrong with low cloud completely obscuring the beautiful scenery. Alas! We started out anyway and the clouds began to lift and gradually the scenery reappeared. Hurrah!

The most spectacular section of the Dunajec Gorge is accessible only by foot, bicycle or raft. The river winds around some dramatic bends for about 9km with steep limestone cliffs and dense forest along the way. The cycle/walking path is on the true right bank of the Dunajec river and provides a great view of the river and surrounding peaks.

We emerged at Lesnica to find a cafe open for coffee and breakfast – this is just one reason why Europe is perfect for a cycling tour! Other reasons were confirmed as we continued – low traffic country roads, villages full of interesting and delightful sights, houses painted in bold colours, men scything, countryside full of ripening wheat and barley, eastern European style haystacks, storks feeding in freshly mown fields, shepherds minding sheep, sheep with bells, mountains in the distance.

At Spisska Bela we found, at last, a helpful tourist information office and we now have a nice map of Slovakia. We also found a bike shop for chain oil and pumping up tyres. The proprietor was interested in our trip and presented us with 2 energy bars to help us along the way – so kind!

Today was our first cold day, although we have been putting on and taking off jackets depending on gradient of road. Now we are at Tatranska Lomnica, in the Tatra Mountain region of Slovakia. From the hotel window we can see the cable car to Lomnicky Stit, one of the highest peaks at over 2600m. Clouds are coming down now, so we will hope for clear weather in the morning.