Here’s me with a random bar dog friend I made.
Today’s trip is to Hollóháza, a Hungarian town on the border with Slovakia where Papa Rovská has a summer house. It’s a good thirty-minute drive from Košice, and we stop for ice cream along the way. The hills are rolling and covered in trees, and I’m pretty jealous I don’t have a summer house here. But I guess I’ll take one anywhere.
We arrive and are greeted with lovely weather and a berry and apple covered garden. There are apples strewn everywhere, and it’s a beautiful garden. It’s constant upkeep for Papa Rovská, and there’s always something new every time Ivana comes to visit. Papa Rovská hunts for goodies at flea markets across the country, so his house is tastefully designed and covered in cool momentos of the past.
Photo cred to Ivana. We drink some Slovakian wine and wander around the garden.
We spend a good thirty minutes picking gooseberries and raspberries, too.
While we pick and clean up some dropped apples, Papa Rovská assembles a veritable smorgasbord of goodies for us to snack on before dinner.
Soon after, dinner comes in a delicious plate of squash and sweet potato pasta.
Hot damn, this man can cook. He brings some homemade slivovice, a hard alcohol made from the plums in the garden, for us to sip with the perfect pasta. After the pasta, we head back to Košice. It’s a quick trip, but well spent regardless.
For me, the next few days sort of blend together. Such is the case when one is home. Days are spent being overstuffed with cake, visiting friends and family, and getting as much time to yourself as physically possible. However, there are of course some highlights for the next few days.
The first being a walk through the forest to the Košice castle. Mainly, the walk through the thick forests up to the castles ruins. Posed on top of a hill, views of the entire city can be seen from outlooks around the castle. They also have some captive ravens, which is a bit sad but they’re extremely interesting to watch for a while. Surprisingly huge.
On Saturday we go for Ivana’s favorite walk up into the hills. We go with both parents and have a nice time. The views are nice, and we enjoy the fresh air and rolling tree covered hills together while flicking off adventurous ticks.
Next, we go to the cottage to visit the Grandparents who are having a barbecue. Uncle Roman is in charge of the meat (and Ivana’s vegetables), cooking by a hot fire with his shirt off. Ivana’s aunt Katka and two little cousins come by too (there are three little blonde guys, but the littlest three-year-old is home sick), and the two of them immediately run into the stream next to the house and start throwing rocks at each other. I spend most of the time sitting and listening, which I honestly don’t mind.
Photo cred to Ivana. Here, I am very deep in thought while Ivana’s sister, Petra, realizes she’s on camera. This time, it’s not raining so we’re sitting outside and I can at least enjoy the flowers and beautiful trees around.
More photo cred’s to Ivana. Grandma’s goulash and local walnuts. We begin eating, and as soon as we start the rain begins to pour. We get drenched bringing everything inside, but that doesn’t stop us from feasting. Nothing like soggy grilled turkey and sausages.
We get back after the barbecue and Ivana and I head downstairs to the grandparent’s apartment. When they’re not at the summer cottage, they live in the apartment below Ivana. We get downstairs where Ivana begins to play piano and I take pictures of the amazingly retro apartment. I’m shown photos of the apartment in the 1990’s, and the decor hasn’t changed at all since then. Amazing.
I peruse around grandma’s pickle storage and think about how close this family is. Living above your grandparents must be amazing, but also a little strange. I haven’t really lived closer than a three-hour flight from my grandparents. I was always jealous of people that lived so close to their grandparents, but of course, maybe all of that family creates drama as well. But the thought of having the family so close was something I always craved as a child.
At the barbecue, Aunt Katka tells us she’s taking the kids up to her friends’ vacation home in the Tatras mountains. She assures us there will be space, and that her friend would love to have us. She also invites me to a photography class through the Moroccan Sahara next February. So many adventures, so many wonderful people. But for now, we can’t deny a great opportunity like this.
So the following Monday, we board a train to Poprad, in the middle of the country, followed by a bus to the mountain town of Ždiar.
The whole journey takes about two hours, and by the end of it we’re walking along a beautiful blue and clear mountain stream and sipping the sweet clean air. It’s perfectly serene.
Katka’s friend, Emma, lives and works in Vienna with her husband and two kids. But they have a restored cottage here in the Tatras mountains that was originally built in 1947. They rebuilt it in the traditional Slovakian style and improved it to the size that can take in a good fifteen people at once. It’s simply massive and so beautiful. Ivana and I have our own room and bathroom (to keep the five kids quarantined on the other side of the house), and the experience is so extremely humbling and unique. We’re offered mushroom soup, cooked with mushrooms foraged just up the hill.
Photo creds to Ivana. I take notes particularly on the grouting between wooden logs. They fill them with straw, but they roll the straw into tightly wound balls and decoratively arrange them. Insulating and interesting.
At night, we drink wine outside and watch the kids play while talking and meeting each other. Emma is an incredible host and makes sure we’re well fed and cared for while we’re here. She’s the kind of person that loves hosting, and she’s taking some more friends in as soon as we leave in a few days. It’s something I wish I could do, but whenever I host someone I need at least a day to myself before taking someone else in. We sit and enjoy the night mountain air, and get a good nights sleep.
We wake up, surprisingly not to the sound of screaming children, and go down for breakfast. Of course, the house is as one would expect with five children under the age of ten living under its roof. But I think the kids are pretty well behaved. Yes, they’re little crazy monkeys and they’re constantly making messes and hurting each other, but they’re kids so whatever.
We eat enough fresh picked wild blueberries to turn our tongues indigo.
Ivana and I finish up with breakfast and get outside into the hills. We walk through forests and wander aimlessly for several hours, enjoying the view of the Tatras. They’re “Europe’s smallest mountain range”, meaning they’re the smallest mountains but the biggest hills in Europe. They’re pretty adorable. They’re rocky and craggy but in a very cute size.
Houses in Emma’s neighborhood are all done in the traditional style, so we spend time just looking at the gorgeous wooden houses. The whole time I’m taking more notes on future dream houses.
We get home and relax with some more wine and play with the kids a bit. They’ve found some thistle heads that like sticking to fabric, and they use me as target practice. These are the kind of kids you want to be the fun uncle for. They’re awesome, but god damn raising three little blonde boys has to be crazy. Great job, Katka. We have a more ‘peasant’ dinner of roasted potatoes with mounds of butter and salty goat cheese on top. It’s delicious, but I eat way too much and get a cheesy potato related food coma. It’s been perfect up in the mountains.
We wake up to a pack of tiny elephants tearing the house down the next morning. But it’s alright, and we switch the sheets out for Emma’s next set of guests. It’s been a fantastic time up in the Tatras, and I feel like it was such a unique ‘Slovakian’ experience for me. Even Ivana felt like it was pretty unique. This is the Slovakia I want to remember, up in the clean air surrounded by adorable mountains.
We head to the bus stop, where we meet a couple that has been waiting there for two hours and hasn’t seen a single bus pass by. They call a taxi, and we hop in as well. The buses are coming from the Polish ski resort town of Zakopane, and the taxi driver says that if no one shows up to ride, the drivers don’t bother to even drive the route. Sounds like Eastern Europe. So the driver takes us a town just a few kilometers away where we can get a Slovakian bus, charges us a good ten euros, and goes on his way. We make it just in time for the next bus, and get out in the little town of Kežmarok.
Ivana has been here a few times and recommends we see the unique church in its downtown. We arrive around 13:00, and find out the church is closed until 14:00. So we walk around and stumble into a castle that is having a falcon show.
We sit and watch giant eagles and owls eat chicken meat. I can imagine a falcon on my arm. Pretty perfect accessory, really. Handsome, badass, and it can catch you a rabbit dinner.
We wander back into town and grab a coffee before getting to the church. It’s beautifully done, covered in wood and featuring a painted sky ceiling. It’s protected by UNESCO, and I promptly whip my phone out for a photo. A stewardess, who’s giving a tour, comes over and gets very upset that I’ve taken photos and that I’ve interrupted her tour. I didn’t realize that the ‘no camera’ sign meant no photos rather than no flash. I apologize, and she says that it’ll be two euros. This is in Slovakian, so my interpretation was a bit off. I interpret this as two euros to take photos and put a two euro coin into the little indulgences box at the entrance of the church. We go outside for a bit, and I re-enter just to walk around and see it a bit better. She gets mad at me in Slovak, and I say I speak English so she says “3 euros to enter”. I suppose she forgot my face or didn’t see I put in two euros inter her indulgence box, or plainly didn’t like me. Terrible misunderstanding. Rather than argue that I already paid, I leave before I interrupt her tour once again. Spectacular church though…
I’ll place my one forbidden photo here (even if I may go to hell) and hope it’s okay with the Lord that I share the beautiful art that was created to house his people, even though his people may not appreciate me doing so. But hey, I paid two euros for this photo. Forgive me, and enjoy.
Now we sit on a train back to Košice. Today is Wednesday, and we leave for Krakow on Friday. So we’ve got one more day to be stuffed with cake and enjoy Slovakia before heading on to the next adventure. I’m excited for Poland but enjoying not having to carry my giant IKEA backpack around. Guess I’ll have to suck it up.