As the end of the year draws near, here’s a collection of highlights from the Klobasa’s 2016
My student looked at me with a quizzical look which he often reserves for a complete lack of comprehension. “You’re going to Myjava?” He seemed genuinely puzzled. “OK, if you want…”
Later that day I was telling Ralph about this reaction while we were standing at Brno’s main station, waiting for the first of three trains to take us to the small town in western Slovakia. He seemed both surprised and concerned. “Honestly mate, I remember this town being beautiful… honestly”.
Three trains, and an incredible journey through the Czech and Slovak countrysides, later we alighted to one of the saddest-looking train stations this side of Ryde Esplanade. The highlight of the station “Bufet” would have to be saved for later though because we’d been long travelling and needed to drop our bags at the local guesthouse. We left the decaying station behind and found our abode lying at the bottom of the hill and well in the shadow of a tower block lifted straight from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. “Are you sure about his place, mate?” I asked. “Honestly mate, I remember this town being beautiful…” To be fair, the guesthouse was superb and the staff very friendly, which is certainly not always the case.
We were eager to immerse ourselves in this gem of a town and so we headed out on to the main strip to take in the sights. It was at about this point that Ralph had to concede that he may have somewhat misremembered the town. Now, I wouldn’t say there was much wrong with it. There just didn’t seem to be much at all.
Of course, we were unfazed by this because, to steal a Crowded House lyric, everywhere we go we always take the weather (Blansko) with us. We headed on with high hopes, and had a quick look at the centre’s, admittedly notable, Evangelic Church, built in 1711. After a quick pint by the trickling river we entered one of the town’s real highlights, the Spoločenský dom, and sat among the football memorabilia decorating the Reštaurácia Fontana. It’s worth taking a moment to talk about the football team here. Spartak Myjava have a stadium capacity of 2,709 in a town of just 12,000 people, and 2016 sees them enter the UEFA Europa League for the first time in their history, following promotion to the top league in 2012. It’s fair to say that they are well supported in the town, and you can see the club’s colours in abundance. We would find out more later, but having polished of a pizza covered in Slovakian bryndza cheese, it was time to tour the town’s finest watering holes.
For a Slovakian town is was surprisingly difficult to get a Slovakian beer, and our luck didn’t improve upon entering the “Blue Bar” situated in the Kulturny dom, where we sat and mulled over a Czech Bernard. We love Czech beer above all else of course, but when in Rome…
We drank up and headed to the football. The stadium has been recently reconstructed in preparation for the European debut and on a night like tonight it looks perfect under the floodlights.
The home side ended the season with a win, finishing a fine third in the league and with Europe League qualification already in the bag. The fans were ecstatic and much to their delight the victorious team did a lap of honour to cap off a great evening. Next season will be a big one for the club and it was great to see them finish off the year in style tonight.
Myjava is a developing town, and many of the bars are centred around a singular modern complex. Always on the looking out for a more interesting experience we avoided these and wandered in to the town’s hottest hangout – the Bowling Klub, where we promptly made friends with a Slovak man of an advanced age in a Man Utd baseball cap and only a few teeth, who upon closer questioning expressed support for both the Manchesters, plus Liverpool FC. Covering all bases there then. Ralph felt the need to widen his options and handed him a Wales badge, but having never seen a pin badge before needed a little help from yours truly to pin it on to him. An intimate moment for sure. What would we do without these people? To be fair he seemed to more interested in supporting the derrière of one of the waitresses, which he kept demonstrating to us enthusiastically with cupped hands.
We finished the night in the Movies Bar where they were showing some ice hockey, but no one seemed to be interested and the house was hardly rocking, most people appearing to have vacated the town for the weekend.
The next morning we woke up early and arrived at the station for find the train delayed. We gathered the last of our Euros together to afford two half pints in the station “Bufet”. Thank god we could only afford halves because it smelt like death in there. Although everyone was too busy watching a Hollywood film about the marriage of two talking dogs to notice. The train eventually rolled in and we rolled out, leaving a Myjava behind us that upon reflection offered more in the end than we had expected. Now we were on our way back to the Czech Republic to prepare for Blansko’s penultimate game against Žďár nad Sázavou.
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…
With the winter season keeping some of us off the drink (one of us) and no football to speak of anywhere in Central Europe, we decided to travel down to Komarno, a town on the Slovak side of the Danube and twinned with Blansko, heart of Klobasaland. We’d also heard on the grapevine that the Hungarian klobasa is pretty spicy, so that was firmly placed on the menu.
Originally, we had discussed adding Dunajska Streda to the trip, mainly to meet Batman. Yes, Batman. He lives in Slovakia, don’t you know? His other name is Zoltan and he protects the people of the town against all evil. We probably would have been put in the “evil” category, so crossed it off the list fairly promptly.
The night before was one for celebration, we were all back on the pivo and headed on a pub crawl of a few pubs in Brno, finishing in Flexaret, owned by Tereza, fellow teacher and all round good girl. When we polished off our final beer and said goodbye, we didn’t exactly expect Tereza to turn up at the train station for the 8.21 out of Brno. Not only was she looking a lot better than both of us, but she was also armed with a return ticket and more worryingly, a video camera. Shortly after joining the train, the ticket inspector told us to get off the train. This train was stopping in Breclav and not going any further. Although, it quite clearly said Budapest on the departure board, it was not going there. Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but perhaps we should have followed the train into the depot and left it at that, but we swapped it for the the fast train to Hungary and at 9.00 we were in the buffet car, drinking our first beer of the day. Our waiter for the duration of the journey to Nove Zamky, no doubt enjoys a beer himself in the morning as by our reckoning, he’d had a few himself and was struggling to deal with large number of passengers in the dining carriage. 5 of them.
As the train took us through the lowlands of Slovakia, we sometimes looked out of the window, but spent a lot of the time listening to Tereza’s story of how she left communist Czechoslovakia for Vienna as an 5 year old. Most Czechs filled in application forms and waited for confirmation from the government they could go on holiday to Tito’s Yugoslavia. Once they had crossed the Hungarian/Yugoslav border they would drive to Austria border and claim political asylum, it was as easy as that.. not. However, the Richter family were a bit special. The Communist Party actually wanted them to leave and allowed them to go legally. The reason being both parents, one a psychologist and the other a sociologist had signed Charter 77 and were therefore considered troublemakers. The Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky didn’t quite share the same opinion and welcomed the family with open arms. The story continues (it was a long train journey) and of course the family struggled with settling into their new home. Mum and Dad took jobs as bricklayers, cleaners and also washed dishes to make ends meet before retraining as computer programmers. The girls changed schools a few times and struggled with a new language and the trauma of leaving family behind.
We had been assured that our connecting train at Nove Zamky would be awaiting our late arrival at the platform, and we were happy to have this confirmed when we were sitting comfortably on the service to Komarno. Finally we touched down at Komarno’s grand station and set off in search of adventure, only to find that the town’s centre of excitement was nestled firmly between two of Europe’s bastions of questionable-quality groceries – Lidl and Billa. Unimpressed, we decided to switch country. Ralph stopped a man in the street and politely asked ‘Where is Hungary?’, leading the kind man the inform us it is over the bridge, helpfully pointing at it to avoid any confusion on our part. So off we went – to Hungary.
If we thought adventures in Komarno’s supermarket’s wasn’t our cup of tea, then Komarom offered little else in the way of solace. We wandered idly through empty streets, beneath the half-sized tower blocks, looking in vain for entertainment or interest. Eventually, however, we did happen upon a pizzeria, where we had our first Hungarian beer and used a supermarket brochure to practice the local lingo, while the locals eyed us with a suspicion usually reserved for aliens. Our first pint here was a Soproni, or a Soprano if you choose to misread the label, and it went down a treat before we decided to quickly move on and back Komarno to give it another shot.
Our return to the Slovak side was more successful and we quickly fell in to an Irish bar for a quick Czech lager (we like to mix cultures here at the Klobasa), and a couple of games of table football. Ralph’s growing excitement at his winning streak was helped along by Tereza’s story involving table football, a lot of alcohol and risque bet, the details of which we can’t go in to here – but let’s just say Ralph’s head was hot and positively glowing.
All that sport and talk made us hungry and the bartender recommended Restaurace Hubert, and it was evident why. The fake rock-pool and hunting decor were delightful, and it was heartwarming to eat opposite a carved boar-head candle holder. If it’s taste you want, Hubert has it in spades. That, and garlic soup, which was the size of the real boar’s head that hung on the wall by the hanging ivy and flat screen TV. The staff were sincerely lovely, and offered us a menu in three different languages – non being Hungarian though, so we had no chance to continue practicing, although we would get our chance to learn a lot more later.
Our goal was Esztergom, a small town tucked-in neatly to the Hungarian side of the great Danube river, but before that the bus would sail through the evening (affording us some kip) to the town staring directly from the opposing bank of the river – Strurovo. Our stop here would be brief, but certainly worth it, as we headed for the one bar we needed – the red London bus, otherwise named the Bristol Pub. This pajzl (a pub with ‘atmosphere’ – boozer) was packed solidly in to the double-Decker, adorned with odd bits of British memorabilia and, much to the chagrin of Ralph and the sniggering delight of the rest of us, a large England flag to accompany you up the stairs. We stopped for one quick one and just as the barman had said ‘hello’ to welcome us, he said ‘hello’ again to bid us farewell. And on we went, in to the freezing cold night and over the Danube in to Esztergom.
As we crossed the cool flowing waters of the Danube, Esztergom’s breathtaking basilica (otherwise known as The Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert… and breathe) came impressively closer in to view, prompting Tereza to ask, ‘is that a pub?’ It did truly glow like a pub to a Klobasa, but our ascension would have to take place in more modest surroundings, for although blessed are the Klobasa, I think the Basilica’s incumbents are just not ready for our kind of awakening.
So instead we marched forth and happened upon a bar that appeared just to our tastes – Art Bistro. Walking in to this endearing establishment, and braving the attack of an aggressively insecure dog, we found seats in our favourite space in any watering-hole – the bar. Amidst the stickers, posters, and ramshackle furniture we set up camp for the rest of the evening, learning to order drinks in Hungarian from the charming and helpful barmaid, Dora, who had to suffer our endless questions about Hungary, the language, alcohol and the relationship with Slovaks. By this point of the trip the beer had perhaps started to take it’s toll, and as our English started to sound more Hungarian Tereza got more happy with the camera and we had trouble staying on our high stools. One final beer and a palenka later, Dora looked on nervously as we emptied our pockets in desperation for enough florints to pay the bill. All nervous smiles were laid to rest when we scraped it together, only for Ralph to find, much later, a whole bucket full of them buried in his bag.
We left the bar merrily, and walked back to Sturovo, singing our way through a wide repertoire of songs including Living on a Prayer and Heaven is a Place on Earth, and encoring with some Roxette before we stumbled in to the drunks at Sturovo train station for another quick pivo, and to show them that we were perhaps more drunk than they were. Enjoying life as we were, we forgot about the train and had to sprint faster than Linford to get on it, but beer is a wonderful thing and with that power we achieved it! The train was packed with night-goers, but for some bizarre reason no one wanted to join us in our musical compartment, and after securing some alcohol from some dodgy box room in one of the cars we were happily one our way home. Unfortunately we had to make a stop at Breclav, where our eventful evening continued. Craggy, frustrated with the delay in departure (1 hour – thank you Czech transport), decided to pop out for a quick smoke. No sooner had he lit his coffin nail than the train doors closed behind him, delighting of a group of guys in the carriage entrance. Panicking about being stuck in Breclav without a warm coat, Craggy shouted a string of pleasantries and waved politely down train and someone kindly opened the doors once again. This whole event escaped the notice of the other two who were fast asleep, Ralph with beer still resting gently in his hand. Much to the amusement of a group of Japanese tourists this beer fell out of his hand and soaked his leg and, not so much to the amusement of Tereza, her woolly hat. Finally we all arrived in Brno safely in the early hours, bidding farewell to Tereza and to eventually fall asleep at home, kebab in hand.