Welcome back to Slovakia!
We’re back in Slovakia, though it’s just for the day. Our tour takes us through the mountainous Northern part of Slovakia on our way through to Budapest (Hungary), with tonight’s home-away-from-home being the alpine town of Tatranska Lomnica.
It took us about 4 hours by bus to get here from Krakow, with a change of buses in the Polish alpine town of Zakopane along the way. The bus journey itself was uneventful, though it was nice watching the scenery go past and seeing the plains gradually turn into hills and then into mountains. As the terrain got hillier there was also a noticeable drop in the ambient temperature; it is much colder up here in the Tatra Mountains – our maximum temperature today was just 3C and we’re expecting -7C tonight!
The Tatra Mountains form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland and are peppered with ski slopes and small alpine villages on both sides of the border. They’re not huge mountains (compared to what we saw in Switzerland that is), but there are still numerous peaks above 2,500m within the mountain range. It snows here from October to March, and given that today is the 3rd of October, we were a little nervous about whether we would get snowed on up here. We did get sleeted on a tiny bit, but so far no real snow. Thank goodness – we may have thermals to wear to help keep us warm but we are most certainly not equipped to deal with snow!
The town we’re staying in tonight, Tatranska Lomnica, is just a few kilometres across the Polish/Slovakian border and sits at the base of Lomnický štít (translation = Mt Lomnicky), one of the regions highest peaks at 2,634m. It’s a tiny village whose main claim to fame is that the only cable car in Slovakia is here. The cable car takes skiers and snow boarders up to the piste in winter and hikers up into the national park during spring, summer and autumn. Which is exactly why we’re here: to go hiking!
We spent our afternoon trekking through the Tatra Mountains with most of our tour group (a couple decided to forgo the hike as they do not have the kit to cope with the cold). It was very, very cold, but wonderfully peaceful.
Much of the forest we walked through was almost stripped bare, with many trees having no leaves at all. The destruction we saw was caused by a freak tornado-like storm that swept through the area in 2004. There are signs that the forest is already beginning to regenerate, but we could also see that it is going to take decades for a the forest to return to its former glory.
The mountains up here are pretty rugged – nowhere near as well “tamed” as in Switzerland or Austria. There’s a lot more wildlife up here as well, with mountain goats, deer, chamois, boars, marmots, squirrels, lynx, wolves, foxes and brown bears being relatively common. Luckily we had no scary animal encounters, though we did see a few squirrels and heard a stag bellowing somewhere out in the woods.
We finished our walk at a mountain hut with a warm cup of HOT APPLE®*. It was lovely sitting inside the chalet, warming our hands around our drinks and marvelling at the eclectic mix of skiing and hunting paraphernalia up on the walls.
*HOT APPLE® is this amazing drink Eliza, our tour guide, introduced us to. It is widely drunk in Czechia, Poland and Slovakia and is basically like a sweet, nonalcoholic hot apple juice. It is sooooo good – good enough that when I saw some sachets of it in the supermarket today I had to buy some!
Upon returning to our lodgings we freshened up and then went out as a group for dinner to a local restaurant that specialises in food “as grandmother would have cooked it”. We decided grandma must’ve been a great cook, because the food was fantastic! And so, with full bellies and tired legs, we’re off to sleep nice and early because tomorrow we leave at the crack of dawn for Budapest and the next part of our adventure!