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.
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.
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.
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.
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.